“The blues came from people who were brought over here against their will,” says Moondog Matinee guitarist Travis Axe. “It’s the best music ever, and it came out of pure grief.”
Moondog Matinee is a blues band. The music touches on other genres—funk, soul and rock ’n’ roll—but at the core of everything the band does is a strong blues foundation. The musicians are all young, but their music sounds like it’s already led a long, full life. The band members say they draw direct inspiration from classic blues artists, like Muddy Waters, as well as ’60s icons like Otis Redding, the Rolling Stones and The Band. In fact, Moondog Matinee is the name of a blues-oriented 1973 album by The Band.
Many of their songs, like “Troubadour,” feature psychedelic flourishes, but it’s old-school blues-based psychedelia, in the vein of Big Brother and the Holding Company. The rhythm section of bassist Adam Carpenter and drummer Ben Ingle maintain a funky, foot-stomping backbeat.
“It’s got a groove to it,” says Carpenter. “You don’t have to be on acid to enjoy it.”
Vocalist Pete Barnato, who also plays keyboards and guitar, sings with a raspy, soulful croon. Guitarist Axe brings a rock element to some of the songs, but guitarist and keyboardist Steve Widmer is a blues purist. He proposed the band cover Leadbelly’s song, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” which the band does as a frenzied triple-guitar attack, without realizing that ’90s rock icons Nirvana covered the song on their acoustic album.
Carpenter is an unusually busy bassist, his fingers running up and down his five-string bass. “I was bored with four strings,” he says. “But then, after I got it, I played it for a couple of years without ever using the fifth string.”
Moondog Matinee evolved out of the band Man the Clap, a “college rock” band from which the members have now graduated. The full current line-up came together last summer. Their debut album, Vacancy at the Wonder Lodge, drops Feb. 22, available on iTunes from Nevada label Outbox Records. The band recorded the album with famed local producer Tom Gordon.
“It’s schizophrenic as far as our sound goes—in a good way,” says Barnato. “It’s all there: folk, soul, blues and rock ’n’ roll”
Lyrically, Barnato writes about some of the classic blues themes. “There are songs on the album about old hooker girlfriends,” he says. “In general, the album is commenting on the shittiness of society at the moment. We’re not singing about wizards and unicorns … not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Barnato then acknowledges that, strangely enough, the band’s practice room, in the Musician’s Rehearsal Center in Sparks, is decorated with a unicorn motif.
Many of Moondog Matinee’s songs last well over five minutes, with plenty of room for blues-based improvisations.
“We play the fuck out of the songs,” says Axe.