Sprawled out on the couches of Deep Ellum's Ferralog Recording Studios, Moon Waves emit a restless post-practice ambience. Two members are singing at each other in dueling monologues, arms raised skyward, while a third sips on a glass bottle soda. A fourth laughs as she watches her bandmates goof around and taunt Ramen, the studio's calico cat. There's an unmistakable sibling energy ricocheting between them, which is understandable considering some of them have known each other as young as age 8.
"I basically raised him," says singer/guitarist John Kuzmick, gesturing toward drummer Gus Baldwin, the 16-year-old "baby" of the group. Laying on his back on a sofa Gus replies, "Yeah, I budded off John," to the laughs of his bandmates.
Moon Waves, a neo-psychedelic band approaching two years old, have made noise in Deep Ellum — and only half of them are even out of high school. They've known each other in some capacity for years because of their involvement in the after-school music program Zound Sounds, whose moving partying they played at back in April. Unperturbed, these youths have continued their craft and embarked on tours that have reached to Los Angeles and will soon stretch to Chicago on their quest to spread their intelligent, if morose, lyrics and '70s vibes.
The band made its debut with their first full-length album about a year ago, and guitarist/vocalist Leah Lane says they've got another in the works, provided they find the right label to work with. The Psychosonics, the band which all four of them were previously involved in, was a mostly alternative band, but Moon Waves takes a darker, more psychedelic approach with their songwriting. Fuzzy guitar chords blister through haunted keyboard parts and the dual vocalists navigate a male/female dynamic that's accompanied by their own written lyrics.
A defining quality in the songwriting of guitarist and singer John Kuzmick is his ability to construct crooked characters for has narratives. The voices in his songs come from fictionalized serial killers, schizophrenics and perverts who divulge their twisted delusions through his dark lyrics. That's not to say he endorses mass murderers (as far as we know), but merely the thought processes that might be less distant than we think. "You'd meet us and think we're really nice people, but then you listen to our lyrics and find out we're maniacs who just want to kill you and hide you in our basements," Lane says, remaining vague about how serious she might be.
Lane, the band's other singer and songwriter, draws more from personal experience in her lyrics. When it gets most interesting, though, is when she and Kuzmick lock horns to form a dual-front songwriting duo with trading vocals. Sometimes Kuzmick's warped figures will confront Lane, or she'll condemn mass media alongside him. Whatever their direction, it makes for a deep texture that's further backed by the superb instrumentation of the rhythm section of Baldwin (drums) and Trey Bihari (bass), plus three-part harmonies in nearly all of their songs.
Though Moon Waves has been steadily gaining notoriety during their time in Deep Ellum, their pivotal shift came during a show with Dead Mockingbirds at Crown & Harp. There, their paths made a foreordained intersection with one Jeff Brown, the head hump over at King Camel booking. With his sage wisdom, the band has been able to brush shoulders with Deep Ellum's talented bands and build up a reputation.
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"He's always had our backs," Lane says. "He's looked out for us and we owe him a lot for that."
By becoming participants in the scene rather than onlookers, Moon Waves has become a staple Dallas venues and is now primed to tour the state and eventually the country. On July 14, they'll be kicking off their tour that takes them to Chicago, and the band hopes that the momentum will allow them to pick up traction in Austin and beyond when they return.
"We hope we can get involved with people from Transmission Events or Spune," Baldwin says. "We've played great shows in Austin too, so we want to try and go back there, plus play more Deep Ellum shows."