For the members of Moon Taxi, their third album, Mountains Beaches Cities, represents the idea of exploration — searching both the world and themselves for new experiences. The Nashville rock group, who had honed in on a notably compelling aesthetic with their previous album Cabaret, focused on extending the sonic landscape they’d created in earlier recordings, but this time around they amp up the speed and turn up the volume — creating an overall bigger sound. The album was self-produced by Moon Taxi’s own guitarist Spencer Thomson with the help of keyboardist Wes Bailey and was mixed by Vance Powell (Jack White, The Dead Weather) and mastered by Greg Calbi (Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes).
“One thing we didn’t want to do was stray too far from what we did before,” Wes says. “We really knew that things for the band had shifted in a good direction and we were growing because of our last record. We wanted to continue the energy we created from that record.” “Like Cabaret, this project started with rough demos that slowly evolved into a statement from not just the initial songwriter, but evolved into a representation of what each of us individually have experienced in this band and how we’ve grown over the years as players,” Tyler adds.
The band, which was founded in 2006, toured extensively in support of Cabaret, appearing at Bonnaroo, Forecastle, and Lollapalooza. Additionally, they have opened for such artists as Matisyahu, Dr. John, and Dirty Heads, and ended 2012 selling out multiple theaters on their own. While on the road, the musicians began to stockpile song ideas and demos, inspired by the trials and tribulations of traveling around the country to play shows. In early 2013, the band went into the studio to begin recording Mountains Beaches Cities with these touring experiences in mind. Much of the recording was done in Spencer’s apartment with only a few days of drum and bass riffs laid down in Nashville’s Sony Tree studio. Although Mountains Beaches Cities feels like an extension of Cabaret’s aesthetic, the new album is explorative, and its lyrics recount a new narrative for the musicians.
Each song on the album, and even the album title, generates its own story and imagery, but all come back to that idea of exploration and searching. “Beaches,” a surging, borderline experimental track Spencer calls “risky and ambitious” transports the listener with its haunting, emotive melody while jangling acoustic song “Young Journey” encapsulates the eye-opening experience of travel. “Morocco,” a propulsive, hooky track about a place none of the musicians have ever been, seeks adventure in the idea of going abroad. The album as a whole is grandiose and invigorating, each track revealing a new chapter in the LP’s overall story. This record, in particular, is important for Moon Taxi, who has been known in the past for its boisterous live appearances, but with Mountains Beaches Cities, it highlights the nearly perfected balance between the recorded material and how it translates to a live stage.
“We made a conscious effort with the last record to write meaningful songs and produce them in an exciting way,” Trevor says. “That is still the ultimate goal. We strive to produce something that will outlast us as a band. I can see this record reaching an even broader range of people because the song themes are universal.”
The sound of Moon Taxi pulls from the many different facets and interests of its members. Trevor, who got his start in music playing trumpet in school, is driven by his love for reading, cooking and yoga; while Tyler, who spent his younger years jamming on a drum kit with friends, is driven by an immense appreciation and knowledge of pop culture. Spencer, who used to record himself in his parents garage, has transformed his knowledge of film into producing videos for Moon Taxi’s music. Wes, meanwhile, developed his musical process from classical composers like Mozart and spends his time on tour searching for golf courses while Tommy spends his free time going to concerts and carefully following Nashville’s local music scene. “I think the exploration aspect of the album came from trying to understand and explore ourselves,” Tommy says. “Personally and musically. As we get older we tend to know ourselves better, but there is always more to understand. You try new things, but continue some of the good habits you’ve learned. As we explored our music, we learned more about ourselves and matured as a band. I think it’s a concept that won’t stop at this record, but will carry on to our live shows and other records down the road.”