It’s news to no one that the Fleet Foxes are a talented group of guys. In their six years as a band, the harmony-loving Seattleites have given us two stunning albums, one killer EP, and enough chill-inducing live shows to rival bands twice their age. As of late, the band’s also been churning out some phenomenal pet projects. Earlier this year, following his departure from the Foxes, drummer Josh Tillman reinvented himself as Father John Misty, a heavenly voiced and hip-shaking folk crooner with more than a few wild tales to tell. A few months later, we got Poor Moon, the brainchild of Fleet Foxes bassist Christian Wargo and featuring Foxes keyboardist Casey Wescott. (Buddies and brothers Ian and Peter Murray round out the lineup.) On the band’s self-titled debut, Wargo beautifully taps into his musical touchstones, mining the feel of ’60s folk records and AM radio favorites while embracing his love of classic recording techniques.
“It started with an ABBA tape I found in a graveyard,” Wargo recently recalled. “I was really into the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, the Beatles, the Animals. My parents had a few Harry Nilsson records. I grew up listening to whatever I could get my hands on.”
This Monday, December 17, Poor Moon plays Muddy Waters Café alongside the equally heavenly Pure Bathing Culture. Below, we chat with Wargo about stepping in front of the mike and getting back on the road.
Tell me a bit about how Poor Moon started. Well, the guys around me — Ian and Peter and Casey — had been trading demos back and forth to each other, so whenever I had a new song, I would send it out to them. Eventually Ian, who had been going to a recording school, came home and set up a studio in his house, and we started laying stuff down for nothing else than to just prepare for when we could make an actual record. Then during the recording for [Fleet Foxes’] Helplessness Blues, we had a lot of time at home because we weren’t touring, so it seemed like a good time to just go for it. And that’s what we did.
Was it a pretty easy transition into being the main songwriter in the band? Creatively, I’ve never wanted to be a straight-up dictator, especially with this group of guys. We all have an appreciation for composed music, whether there’s collaboration or not. It’s more about developing musical relationships. You have to sort of develop your own musical language, and that’s something that just takes time. With these dudes, it’s something that I’ve tried to encourage, and it’s sort of understood at this point. But I’ve also been down the road of being a frontman, and I definitely take it as a responsibility. I want to take care of these guys. I try to make touring as comfortable as possible. It’s just about being a bro.
Is it nice to get back to playing smaller rooms? Yeah. There’s a lot that’s really cool about it. We get to interface with the people more, and that’s really fun. And it’s just more intimate. I mean, I love the theater shows. Sonically it’s really satisfying when the club has a rad PA and you can really dial it in, but there’s something raw and cool when you’re just dealing with a 12-channel Mackie mixer and you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got.
There’s a distinctly nostalgic feel to your records. Did you guys go into the recording process trying to capture a certain mood? When we started recording [the song] “Phantom Light,” I felt like it had a certain mechanical quality that helped me paint the picture for where I wanted the rest of the music to go. I think I’ve always been drawn to angular melodies and things that feel a little bit cumbersome. There’s just something satisfying for me when a song feels like it’s about to fall apart but it doesn’t, like songs with a lot of intricate melodies but not in a math-rock sense. We went in that direction with “Bucky Pony,” too. Pretty much any chance we had to add some sort of sparkle on top [of a song] that was whimsical without being cute we took. But that initial song was what helped me. When I heard that and played it, I knew where I wanted to be.
Poor Moon plays Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) with Pure Bathing Culture on Monday, December 17, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, visit clubmercy.com.