So as you may or may not have heard, Long Island, New York’s Prog/Sludge/Party Wunderkind Moon Tooth are coming out with their debut full length Chromaparagon next week, with a release party at St. Vitus in Brooklyn on February 4th. Combining instrumental and melodic virtuosity with songwriting chops that have garnered well-earned comparisons to Mastodon, Living Color, Dillinger Escape Plan, and many more musical pioneers, Moon Tooth will be finding themselves a household name before long. I had the chance recently to ask vocalist John Carbone and Guitarist Nick Lee about the album, the band, and well, find out what the hell a Moon Tooth is.
1) State your name, rank, and serial number, or whatever.
Nick Lee: guitar, vocals, scowls, and cab climbing @ Moon Tooth
John Carbone: vocalist/lyricist, steward of the dance floor
2) How did Moon Tooth form?
Ray and I met in middle school. We had first period Spanish together in 7th grade and instantly became best friends because we both had Metallica shirts on, and he had been playing drums as long as I had been playing guitar. After a few short-lived baby projects we became Exemption, a three-piece with our friend Tom Moran on bass and vocals. We released three albums, and toured the east coast as much as we could for the next seven years. Tom started to grow away from heavy music and quit the band in the beginning of 2012. Ray and I were determined to not lose any of the momentum we had built with that band so we wasted no time beginning a new project together. By that point I had been playing with John Carbone for a few years in the Long Island indie/experimental project Rice Cultivation Society. John was the drummer of that band but I knew for a fact that he could sing his ass off from his own solo material (now known as Son Coal). We also lived together at the infamous Centerville House.
John was an Exemption fan so when he heard the news he sent me a long message telling me how passionately he felt he should be the singer of our new band and we really never even considered anyone else for the job. Vincent had been our friend for many years and we knew his work from Painted in Exile, Numeira, & Give Up The Goods. We also knew he was one of the best dudes ever and more than anything, wanted him in the band just cuz we loved him as a human being. We spent most of 2012 getting our first batch of songs together and played our first show in December of that year right before Christmas. In 2013 we played close to 100 shows just to get tight as possible, and released our first EP entitled “Freaks” that summer.
3) What the hell is a Moon Tooth?
Haha! I wish I had a better story for this. Really the name just came from Ray and I getting high and trying to come up with the most ridiculous shit we could. Moon Tooth stuck. We liked the double O’s in each word for the sake of logos, I also liked that “Moon” implied “spacey” while “Tooth” implied being aggressive or having some fangs which is what we wanted. I think a “moon tooth” is an out dated dental term for a fucked up tooth with a bunch of craters in it… We have been followed by dentists on Twitter before.
4) Where do you see yourselves falling on the genre spectrum, for lack of a better word?
I’ve always liked “Aggressive Progressive,” maybe “progressive Sludge” but we really just identify as a straight up rock and roll band. We wear all of our influences on our sleeve but we just want to be loud, fast, and fun.
5) What are some records you guys have enjoyed that came out in the past few years?
Nick Lee: We’ve been hugely influenced by Torche. They were a breath of fresh air and continue to be so. We all really liked both Mutoid Man records a lot. The new Carved Up & Dead Empires albums are amazing. Recently I’ve been listening to Napalm Death, Yautja, Off!, and Failure a lot… That new Cattle Decapitation is also insane. This doesn’t count as recent years but the last two bands that really changed my whole perspective on what I want to do with my writing are Melvins & Jesus Lizard, whether you can hear that or not.
John Carbone: Bon Iver, Bon Iver…… Maps and Atlases, Beware and BE Grateful….. Father John Misty, (both albums)….. Ben Howard, I forget where we were…. James Blake, overgrown…..The Staves, If I was….. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues…. Dillinger Escape Plan, one of us is the killer
6) To Nick: Do you practice your stage moves at band practice? I’m being serious. I couldn’t play a single Moon Tooth riff, and even if I could, I probably would stop breathing halfway through because my brain couldn’t handle all of it.
Haha no! The stage is where all of that practice happens. I think playing music gives me a special ability to balance and climb shit because in normal life I’m somewhat of a clumsy bastard. It makes sense because it’s where I feel the most balanced mentally as well… At least when things are going well. I have fucked up and fallen and hurt myself/knocked over my rig/broken cables and guitars before though…
7) Also to Nick: Any hilarious stories from climbing on amps going bad?
We used to just bang this first low octave doom note and let it ring out to start our set before launching into the first song. Once in Harrisonburg, VA, I hit it and ran to jump onto my cabinet, missed my mark and fell right on my side, breaking my cable in half so the set only lasted all of three seconds before we had to stop and start again… At that same venue I tried to do a roll over Vin’s back while he was leaned over, he stood up too fast though, launched me one way and my guitar the other. I landed on my head but was able to grab my guitar and jump back in while I laughed/cried the pain away for the rest of the song.
8) To John: how did the idea of you getting on Ray’s shoulders to help him drum emerge? Have you ever fallen off him?
I can’t remember exactly. I forget when the idea came up, I just remember being at a gig in North Carolina and talking to Ray like “let’s give it a shot” In my opinion, if a band doesn’t have a good live show, they ain’t got shit. That doesn’t mean there has to be a bunch of antics. Tight musicianship, sincerity, intensity, ability to keep a crowd going, there’s a lot of ways to do it. We just happen to be goofballs so we end up pulling random stunts or gags. We try to balance that with being serious and intense. We wanna give people something they won’t forget. As far as falling off Ray…there have been a couple of heavy leans but I’ve never fallen off him…yet.
9) What’s the dynamic like in Moon Tooth? Who books, who’s the guy that organizes financial stuff, etc etc.
Nick Lee: We make big decisions together but I do all of the booking, correspondence, promotion, social media, merch store/financial stuff, any day-to-day management type of stuff you can think of… Ray handles all of the recording and engineering. He is the most technically minded so he also helps Vin and I make sure our instruments are in good shape and helps us troubleshoot any gear problems we ever run into. Ray (drummer) is also an amazing guitar player and bass player in addition to drums & engineering. I played them on the recording but Ray actually wrote pretty much all of Offered Blood, Igneous, & Chroma on guitar as well as a few other riffs here and there on the album.
John is the talent and Vin is the sex appeal… Just kidding, we all write and pitch our ideas and opinions into every decision and John is very instrumental in guiding the overall message of the band to the people listening which, thanks to him, is a very positive, encouraging message. He’s also the crowd wrangler at shows, making sure they are paying attention. 10) Who are some bands you consider contemporaries? I don’t necessarily mean stylistically, perhaps in attitude and enjoying each other’s company too.
When we tour we always try to have shows with Dead Empires, It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Carved Up, Witch Fist, Rhin, Warm, Problem With Dragons, Roz & The Rice Cakes, Godmaker, just to name a few…
John Carbone: Everybody’s got a leg of the table to hold up. Nick and Ray pull double duty and that’s a HUGE reason this band has come this far. If Ray wasn’t behind the mixing board and Nick wasn’t always busting his ass essentially managing the band, we wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much as we have now.
11) Who are your influences, individually and as a band? Have you ever heard a band and said “we kind of want to sound like them?”
Nick Lee: Some big ones for the band as a whole are definitely Mastodon, Torche, Dillinger, Mars Volta, Meshuggah, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pantera, Metallica, Slayer, Tool, Queens of The Stone Age
For me personally in addition to those, I would add: Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Faith No More, Frank Zappa, Motörhead, Down, COC, Pixies, Weedeater, Sleep, Boris, Jesu, AC/DC, Anthrax, Cryptopsy, Allman Brothers, BB King, Jeff Buckley, Leo Kottke, Chet Atkins, Stevie Ray Vaughan
John Carbone: I worry about personally sounding too much like another singer. I definitely take cues from my vocal heroes but I try to turn what they’ve given me into my own thing. That said, Otis Redding, Tool, Amy Winehouse, Kings of Leon, Incubus, Junior Kimbrough, Muddy Waters, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Dirty Projectors
12) What is a Chromaparagon?
The truest example of the purest form of a color. Showing our true colors, in other words.
13) To John: I really enjoy the spoken word aspect of your vocals. You seem to want to have your message be heard. What do you generally write about? Would you mind discussing the meaning of any particular songs?
The thing about playing in Moon Tooth is that I’m playing with masters. All of my band mates pour every part of their being into their instruments and they know how to work wonders with them. So this is the standard I hold myself to. My instrument is not only my voice but the written word. It’s very sacred to me, I wouldn’t be who I am today without ink and page. So it’s very important for me personally to use it to help others. I fill journals with introspective ramblings and poetry. So sometimes Nick or Ray will give me riff or full structure and something I’ve already written will fit the vibe. Other times I listen to what they send me and try to express with words what the melodies and rhythms made me feel.
With Moon Tooth the lyrical concepts usually tend to be more universally relatable. On this album the concepts tend to revolve around the call to adventure, trusting yourself and relying on your true passion and will to see you through hardships. It gets deeper of course as all the songs have specific meanings to us but I believe once you put a song out there, it also belongs to the listener and every aspect of the sound (including the words) is theirs to interpret and use however they see fit. As the writer, your only hope is that people use your message for good.
In terms of actual musician roles, aside from all I said about the lyrics, I take my role as the “frontman” very seriously. A good rock n roll/r&b singer knows how to handle a crowd. If there’s someone acting like a dick, I see it as my responsibility to handle it before any bouncer or security or crowd member gets involved. If people look like they wanna cut loose but they’re feeling reserved, I like to jump down there and involve them. Be the biggest weirdo so no one else in the room has to feel self-conscious. Defuse tension, encourage enthusiasm, and NEVER tolerate indifference. If you’re looking bored on my dance floor, I’m gonna bite you and shake my ass in your face.
14) To Nick: Are your solos/leads the same every time, or is there improvisation going on?
There are a few moments in our live set that I just get to improvise a solo which I love to get to do. I think it’s really important to stay sharp as a musician. However, all of the solos you hear on our recordings I am usually pretty meticulous over writing them and planning them out. There’s so much you can say with a guitar solo, I like to use the little time I get to say as much as possible without sounding like a wanker.
15) Where do you see your sound developing?
I think it’s fitting that “White Stag” is the last song on Chromaparagon because I envision it being the vibe that carries us into our next album. More patience, more depth, more intensity, higher highs, lower lows, heavier heavies, and softer softies. Really just pushing what we can all do musically but more in the sense of how dynamic and interesting of a song we can write, rather than how many notes can we fit in a riff or how fast we can push the tempo on something. Also growing the bond we have together personally, and thus musically to create something truly unique and “homegrown.”
16) What’s the best show you guys have played? Or at least, one of the best. Why?
Opening for Dillinger at Saint Vitus Bar last year. We’ve had to scratch and scrape to get taken seriously in the Brooklyn “metal scene” at all, then grind our asses off another year to even get some random local show at Vitus. So to be opening for one of our favorite bands that we look up to, to a sold out crowd at the best metal venue in Brooklyn (possibly ever) and have it go well was a huge achievement for us.
17) Same thing, but the worst show.
Playing to three people (the other band, also on tour) in Durham, North Carolina who were talking about where to get good heroin in Chicago, inhaling dust-off, and keeping old Waffle House cheeseburgers in their van, then taking an hour to find a motel only to find it was surrounded by crackheads and junkies… That one sticks out. It’s funny now though.
There was also the time we braved a nor’easter, drove out to Doylestown, PA to play Siren Records with Carved Up, only to have my amp malfunction the entire set, making it an embarrassing, grueling experience in front of friends I was very excited to show the new band. That show still makes me mad when I think of it.
Chromaparagon is out February 5th. Order it directly from the band at: https://moontoothny.bandcamp.com/