In 2012, Minneapolis-based trio Night Moves released Colored Emotions, a soulful country-psych record that howled with slide guitar, faint analog synths, and front man John Pelant's rusty yowl. It was a striking album that could be played over and over and sounded even better live. Since then, Night Moves has downsized to a duo (Pelant and Micky Alfano), released a new single, "Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry" from a forthcoming EP, and has quietly worked on their second album, Pennied Days. In this exclusive interview, Pelant gives us the lowdown on where it all started and what's become of the band since their debut.
MP: When did the three of you initially meet and what inspired you to form a band?
NM: We all met in high school. Everyone played an instrument. We all dug the same sounds and skateboarded together, so it was only a matter of time before we started a band together. We each had different bands with one another and it wasn't until I moved away to go to college in Milwaukee that Mark and I decided we wanted to continue to write and play together. It was at this point we decided that it would be more mature and detailed, less high school dance band -if you catch my drift. Having a mutual interest in the same sounds kept us moving in the right direction. I should note that Mark Ritsema is no longer playing in the band.
MP: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the video for "Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry"?
NM: The video was the idea of the filmmaker, Anthony Sylvester, who took us to an abandoned psych ward in upstate NY. He knew about the place, which is supposedly off limits to the public. I guess the facility went under in the 80's after President Reagan pulled funding. It was a wild place, tons of derelict buildings on a huge plot of land, most of them still had furnishings inside. Really eerie vibe, almost something out of a horror film setting.
The other place he brought us to was in the Catskills, which happened to be an abandoned resort hotel compound in the 80's and 90's. That was also an amazingly odd place that required us to sneak onto the property. Most of the video was shot there in the great pool room, as well as on top of the roof, which overlooked the mountains and highways. The buildings were each about 10-12 stories each and still had lots of things left in them from years past, such as pool chairs, juke boxes, vanity mirrors, fireplaces, toilets, shower rooms, desks, curtains, old pay stubs, event signs, and other miscellaneous office filings. The whole decaying compound was being overgrown and taken back by nature. Lots of moss, leaky ceilings, vines, mold, grass everywhere... A lot of it was unstable and pretty shoddy...
I think Anthony just thought these abandoned and decaying places, both natural and man made, were visually stunning and fit the vibe of the song. Also, his mixing of Super 8 footage with new blissed out visuals further helped move the video in a complimentary direction to the track.
MP: What's your all-time favorite movie and album?
NM: Shawshank Redemption / Neil Young's After the Gold Rush
MP: How would you describe your music?
NM: Space folk rock with country tinged guitars (this is as basic as I get when distant relatives at family reunions ask me about my band).
MP: What sets Night Moves apart from other indie rock bands?
NM: I don't think any other indie rock bands have the blend we do. It sounds pretentious, but its all in the subtleties of the songs. I think the layering of all the things we use gives us a distinct vibe. I try and mix up the vibe of the tunes so its not all just a monotone mural. The next record is really all over the place and will display this aspect.
"Changing "Cosmic Titties" to "Family Tongues" was my idea, no one forced me. That initial title was always a joke."
MP: What was the process like of getting signed with Domino Records?
NM: The head of the label flew out to see a show of ours at this outdoor festival(Square Lake) an hour north of Minneapolis. Two months later he invited us to come out to New York to play for the head of UK Domino. A couple months passed and then we were offered a contract. The whole thing was facilitated by our manager who knew folks at Domino and gave them the first version of Colored Emotions. I think after having seen us live and hearing the album, they knew.
MP: How did you guys feel about making changes (song title and production) to your debut album before it was released on Domino?
NM: Changing "Cosmic Titties" to "Family Tongues" was my idea, no one forced me. That initial title was always a joke.
I was very hesitant to changing the production on the Domino version of Colored Emotions and I still prefer our first version of the album. I just had so much more control and input on the first version, also the vision was very clear to me at that initial stage. After having lived with the record for years and being offered an option to make it better I wondered if I could do such, even got excited by the challenge. I learned a lot about myself in working with a producer and seeing the record from the perspective of a guy who does production/engineer work for a living. I will say there are pros and cons to each version (Micky will tell you that, he can be the voice of reason for me sometimes...). Best thing to come outta the Domino version was the title track Colored Emotions.
MP: What was your favorite part about touring for that album?
NM: There was one night we went to these hot springs. It was just outside Big Sur at 1 AM. We soon found out it was a nudist hot springs experience, and there were all these hippie couples there. Pretty soon everyone was hooking up except the four dudes who fell outta the van blarring Pink Floyd. We all kinda looked at each other...and the general glance conveyed 'f***kk, I wish I wasn't with 3 other dudes right now' but also, 'man, so glad to be with my 3 dudes right now'
MP: It's been almost four years since Colored Emotions was released. What have you guys been up to and how have you changed as a band since then?
NM: We have been writing a lot and rehearsing for the live show. We've since got a live keyboard player and a new guitar player, Mark left the group to do his own thing. We finished our second record (Pennied Days), which is going to come out in March, just after an EP of all new material drops sometime before then. Also, just working to pay rent and shit. It's tough to have the band pay for life when you aren't playing out as much. Gonna start playing out more though...
MP: Are you working with Domino for your upcoming releases and can you talk a little bit about those upcoming albums? Will they feature "Stevie" and "Border on Border"?
NM: Yeah, the new record is going to come out on Domino. It will feature "Border on Border", but not "Stevie". Stevie currently exists just as a random song floating in the ether of the internet. Maybe someday it'll be formally released...
I would say the sound has definitely changed. It may seem drastic to people who dug Colored Emotions, but to me it sounds like a natural progression 4 years down the road. It just may seem different because there wasn't a record for each one of those years in between Colored Emotions and our new album, Pennied Days. There's less reverb, more clear vocals, still flangey, hookey, and groovy though. This one is a little more folk than the last one, but still has lots of synths and disorienting effects.
"I tried to make stuff that wouldn't just be Colored Emotions pt.2, which I really wanted to do cuz I still dig that sound."
MP: Who are you working with to produce the album and what are some things that have inspired (musically or non) these forthcoming projects.
NM: We recorded the new album with John Agnello, who brought out the warmth and woody tones of the acoustic elements really well while focusing in on our song's various genre hopping elements and making the entire album more cohesive, creating a commonality in the overall tone of the record. He did the last two Kurt Vile records (Smoke Ring For My Halo and Waking On A Pretty Daze), which I absolutely love.
The album is called Pennied Days and it chronicles that period after Colored Emotions where I had a bunch of old stuff, new stuff, and drastically newer stuff. I tried to get out of my comfort zone. The time frame between CE and Pennied Days was so long and the breadth of the material spans a period of time that even pre-dates Colored Emotions. I basically tried to make a record that pulled from all these various periods I have gone through. That sounds pretentious to me "periods," but ya know various sounds and sonic elements that I fell in and outta love with over time-- as is the case when you spend such a long time writing and revising...I tried to make stuff that wouldn't just be Colored Emotions pt.2, which I really wanted to do cuz I still dig that sound.
Thematically, the record seems to be about love- but I couldn't really say much more at the moment. I am still trying to figure out exactly where Pennied Days is coming from lyrically.
MP: Can you tell us about any rituals you guys have when recording an album?
NM: No rituals really. I try to listen to my demos and stuff I am working on in various places and head spaces, just to sort what works and what doesn't. It helps me understand where I am coming from when I don't really know where I am coming from...ya know?
MP: What do you spend most of your time doing when you're not recording?
NM: Probably partying or working. We all have day jobs in Minneapolis to pay our rent and various bills...
MP: Lastly, how do you guys nail that sweet, psychedelic, soulful country sound — what inspires it?
NM: Hah! I guess wanting to create something in the vein of what we love- Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers, Curtis Mayfield, The Band, The Flaming Lips, Pink Floyd, Jackson Browne, Kurt Vile, Sly and The Family Stone, Leon Russell, so many more. Just trying to take it all in and put it back out there through our lens.
Pennied Days is out now