A Time to Play

Nowadays it takes verve to even start a new rock band let alone make enough of a splash to attract new fans and go on tours. But that’s what the emerging group Moonlight Social has accomplished. Lead singer Jennica Scott and Jeremy Burchard first met when they played together in The University of Texas Longhorn Band. Later the two musicians joined talents as songwriters in early 2011. The group also won the GRAMMY U “Show Us Your Hits” competition. Things changed for the band when nine-time Grammy-winning artist Ray Benson and the board for the Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy voted for them to perform at a Grammy sponsored showcase during the 2011 music festival South by Southwest. In this interview with the band, Scott and Burchard answer some new questions about their music and hopes for their creative future.

Jupiter Index: What was it that drew you both to music?

Jennica Scott: I’ve been drawn to music all my life. My whole family is musically inclined. Pretty much everyone can either sing or play an instrument… and we’ve been making music together for as long as I can remember.

Jeremy Burchard: Music has always been a really personal thing to me. I think it all started with an innate sense of curiosity when I picked up viola in 3rd grade. Then my mom was patient enough to pretty much let me pick up any instrument I wanted, even if it was only for a few seconds. Some summers I would have a lot of time on my hands. I began writing lyrics to whatever rhythm I could tap out on a table. They were ridiculously childish, but pretty soon after I picked up the guitar again I figured I should give it a real shot. Unlike Jennica, I don’t really have anybody in my family who was a musician to drive me towards it…I just had people who were willing to foster my musical whims, from viola to trumpet to drums to guitar etc. etc. Now one of my mom’s favorite things to do is get me a random musical instrument for my birthday or Christmas. Last year it was a Chinese lute (Pipa).

Tell us how you decided to write the songs on your recent album?

J.B.: Our entire musical philosophy is to write music we like. It comes out the most honest when you’re not trying to fit a particular mold or genre. So in that sense, each song has its own individual “feel.” But at the same time, it’s all held together by this sort of theme of big melodies and harmonies and the idea that we’re not going to try to fit any classic convention of a song. In some ways, they come out very conventionally structured (Neither Are You), and in other ways, they don’t (Well, That Was A Mistake). But we always try to be conscious of what works best for the song. And there’s really no rhyme or reason to how they’re written…sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes the melody comes first. Sometimes we email back and forth, sometimes we sit down to hash it out. I do know this: any time we sit down and say, “let’s write a song,” it never feels as good as when you’re not trying to write something. It seems the less hard you try, the smoother it comes. But we were always very cognizant of the fact that this is our first album. This is our introduction to the world. We have to believe in every little thing we’re doing, and we have to be honest with the music we make. If something doesn’t work, don’t force it etc. It seems what people really connect to in music is honesty, and that’s something we always strive to convey.

What was the hardest song to write on your recent CD?

J.S.: The hardest song to write on the album, for me, was probably “The Better Part.” It was one of the only songs that we truly wrote together from scratch and it was definitely a long process.

J.B.: Yeah, parts of “The Better Part” were pretty difficult. Musically it came naturally, but lyrically it took a lot of finagling. It’s like we’d get a line right where we wanted it, and then had to work everything around until the rest of it felt right. It’s a very “anthemic” chorus, and if you’re going to write an anthemic chorus, you better be damn sure it’s one people will sing along to. I’d say some of them were lyrically a bit emotionally draining to write, but the truth is, the situations they were written around were difficult; the actual process of writing the song was therapeutic.

Do you go to a special place when you write?

J.S.: When I write, it’s usually to relieve some sort of emotion. A lot of times, I’ll write about something that’s frustrating me or bothering me. I think to get those emotions out you really have to be alone and able to think the situation through. For me, that can be anywhere. I’ve written songs in class, in my room, on the bus… really it’s just wherever I have time to myself to think.

J.B.: For me, it doesn’t really matter where I am, but I do feel 8 billion times more comfortable with a guitar in my hand. I love writing with an instrument. If I’m waiting in line or driving and something pops up, I immediately drop what I’m doing and find a guitar to work it out.

What do you use to record? (Pro Tools?)

J.B.: The EP we recorded in my old house was done in Logic. I used an Apogee Ensemble and a smattering of mic’s, my favorite of which was the AKG c414 Xlii. I always felt a bit more comfortable in Logic. Once we moved on to do the real record, I didn’t engineer anything, so it was done in Pro Tools. Both the brand spankin’ new version and old school 7.

Can you tell us what are some of your favorite guitars you have and use?

J.B.: My Taylor T5 is my baby. It’s incredible versatile (I run it through an A/B box and use both an electric rig and an acoustic rig), and it gets the best acoustic sound EVER out of a DI on stage. I also used a road worn Telecaster on the record that I loved so much I bought it from our producer after we finished the record. Those are my two go-to guitars right now.

How do you explore new areas of your music?

J.B.: We just consistently want to write things we enjoy. And the fact that we enjoy a lot of different things keeps it all pretty diverse. A lot of this material is older to us, because we’ve been working with it for so long, but it’s new to most everybody. That makes the material we have and are working on now feel that much more interesting to us, but at the same time, we’re constantly adding things and tweaking parts to the live show. Which is very exciting. We love doing acoustic versions of the songs, and as soon as we’ve got the space, we’ll be bringing an auxiliary instrumentalist along with us to play the banjo/fiddle/mandolin parts we wrote and recorded on the record. But I think we’re constantly inspired by other musicians, and really all forms of art – so it makes us want to do new and exciting things all the time.

Are there new directions you want to still explore in music?

J.S.: I definitely would be interested in exploring different feature instruments, like fiddle or more piano songs. I also like the idea of having more songs with unique subjects or song structure. My next big goal is to write a waltz…. Because who doesn’t love a good waltz?

For Moonlight Social, I think the sky is the limit. We have any variation of tunes that we can “pull off,” I think, as long as nothing seems forced and it has those strong anchors of our vocal melodies and harmonies. I love using different instruments. The most fun thing about this band is that we’re not trying to fit any mold, but still manage to fit in nicely in a few spots. It’s kind of like…when people cherry-pick parts of something they like out of a stir fry. You eat all the chicken and snap peas and broccoli because that’s what you love most, but there’s still all this other stuff in there somebody else may love. You don’t have to be a country fan to like our music, even though we have people swearing we’re a country/Americana band. Other times people who really don’t like country are determined to call us an adult contemporary band just so, I suppose, they can justify liking it to themselves. If you like it, that’s all that matters. We don’t care what you call it, as long as you’re in the front row singing along!

What advice do you have for musicians wanting to perform their music?

J.S.: Work hard. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. Be persistent with venues and, if it’s important to you, don’t give up.

J.B.: Work. Your. Ass. Off. Don’t shy away from the business side of things. It’s not going to “taint” your music, and it’s incredibly important that you come across as a professional. People don’t want to invest time/money/energy in wannabe rock stars anymore. Be genuine and good to people. It’s a business of relationships. The best thing I ever did for myself was decide to drop any unflattering sense of ego and surround myself with people who are way better than me. Most of all, be fearless. You can be your biggest enemy or your biggest asset. I prefer the latter.

Would you like to add anything else that you have not mentioned?

J.B.: We love meeting new people, so come talk to us at shows! Oh, and be good to each other : )

- Jupiter Index