Interview: Mike and the Moonpies Tell the Everyperson’s Story With New Album, ‘One to Grow On’
Mike Harmeier never wants to make the same record twice.
It's a statement musicians often make, but they don't all go to the lengths that Harmeier and his Mike and the Moonpies bandmates do to make sure it doesn't happen.
"I love making records. I love playing live. But they're two totally different animals to me," Harmeier tells The Boot during a recent phone call. "I try to keep those things a little bit separate, just because making a record is such a great experience for me and the guys ... To keep it interesting is very important to me."
To Harmeier, albums — full, thought-out sets of songs, meant to be played front to back — are what keep fans coming back. So, he and bandmates Zach Moulton (pedal steel), Omar Oyoque (bass), Kyle Ponder (drums) and Catlin Rutherford (guitarist) have stretched out and had some fun.
For their surprise 2019 release Cheap Silver & Solid Country Gold, Mike and the Moonpies took their inspiration from the countrypolitan style of the 1970s and recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra at London's famous Abbey Road Studios. In 2020, Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart collected nine unreleased tracks from the late honky-tonker.
Mike and the Moonpies' newest album, One to Grow On, meanwhile, is something of a concept record. Released on Tuesday (Aug. 10), its nine songs are united by the character whose story they tell: a nameless, blue-collar everyperson. He's a nebulous figure, and that's the point.
"It's all about the same mindset throughout the record, of someone who's ... working 9-5 and trying to figure it out and trying to just get as far down the road as you can," Harmeier explains, "but still appreciating where he's at and living his life day to day."
The character has bits of Harmeier in him, though. As he wrote, Harmeier says, he "was learning things at the same time [the character] was." He was also off the road due to the COVID-19 pandemic, spending time working on his property instead of onstage, "and so I was finding a lot of parallels in myself and this character that I was kind of developing."
In fact, One to Grow On's protagonist probably drove the same truck Harmeier does: a 1985 Chevy pickup. He wrote "Hour on the Hour" — the album's second track and the song that started it all — thinking about the sort of songs the truck's original owner would have listened to in it.
"["Hour on the Hour"] came out as kind of a character-driven thing, only because it's a guy that is over the whole sad-country song, beer-drinking, whiskey-reference kind of heartache song, and all of those things are kind of our cup of tea," Harmeier says with a laugh. "... And that kind of is what sparked the idea of 'Maybe I can write some more songs about the experience that this guy had when he first bought that truck.'"
The album-opening "Paycheck to Paycheck" came about around the same time, but Harmeier didn't wrote One to Grown On chronologically. A couple tracks, in fact, he pulled from his repertoire: "Whose Side Are You On" and "Brother" were both written for a movie soundtrack.
In the studio — Wimberley, Texas' Yellow Dog Studios — in late 2020 with longtime collaborator and co-producer Adam Odor, Mike and the Moonpies cut several versions of each song, using the melodies and their instruments to expand on the protagonist's story and emotions. "I have stuff on the cutting room floor of almost every song — it's a completely different version, maybe a different groove, different solos, different arrangement," as well as several songs that didn't make the album, Harmeier shares, teasing that the band is "already kind of working on" release plans for some of that material.
Mike and the Moonpies were joined in studio for their One to Grow On sessions by, among others, Quaker City Night Hawks members Sam Anderson, David Matsler and Jordan Richardson; the Shiny Soul Sisters (Alice Spencer and Kelley Mickwee); Shooter Jennings; and former Moonpies member John Carbone. "It felt really good to have him back in the studio," says Harmeier, adding that he hopes Carbone will continue to join the band for sessions.
"We didn't miss a beat," Harmeier adds. "I think it made a better experience in the studio for us to kind of have that camaraderie back, especially in a time when we were all so separated for a while."
10 Must-Hear Country Concept Albums: