Interview: For Niko Moon, It’s All About Commitment
A country music newcomer who tastes success for the first time will often hold open the door for a favorite co-writer. Niko Moon also lends his his jacket, fills her gas tank and pulls the car around when it's raining.
Perhaps we exaggerate his chivalry, but Anna Moon, Niko's wife, helped write each of the 13 original songs on on Good Time, Moon's debut album with Sony Music Nashville, out Friday (Aug. 27). The husband-and-wife team are the left and right arms of one shared vision, to the point that there's no separation of their workday and domestic play.
Fans of the couple's Stir Crazy series on Instagram figure that out real quick. It's tempting to call Anna Niko's hypewoman, except that he brings the same energy as she does to the platform.
All of it speaks to what you'll find on the album. It's the kind of effortless commitment to brand that marketer's charge millions of dollars trying to conjure. The Moons just needed to say "I do."
"She’s brutally honest," Niko Moon says of his wife, flashing a smile that's not quite as wide as the brim of his signature hat, but close. "I told her from the beginning, ‘Please be … because you’re gonna tell me the truth.'"
The beginning was six years ago, plus a courtship that began after both Moons decided separately that music is where they belong. Niko's path was as a full-time songwriter, and he scored big hits with the Zac Brown Band ("Homegrown," "Keep Me in Mind"), Rascal Flatts and more. It gave him some needed confidence, which was more important than the needed money.
"There were some nights where I knew that I loved music more than anything and wanted to do it with my life, but I didn’t know if the world wanted to hear me," Moon says, smiling again and laughing, but not joking. A gumball machine rests behind him, and later, he'll tell the story of being asked by the owner of a Mexican restaurant to take his show to the building's entryway, in front of the advertorial newspapers and vending machines.
It was his lowest point, but then a 10-year-old walked over and stopped, looking interested. "And I’m like … ‘Hey, buddy, is there any song you wanna hear?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, no, man, I just want some gum,'" Moon recalls, laughing again.
Resilience and commitment are two qualities you need to make along Nashville's Music Row. The Moons have them.
"We’re all in, both of us, 100 percent," Niko gushes. "My whole life is making this music for everybody and being an artist, and her life is completely focused on this as well."
It helps that they're both really good at what they do.
Set aside the well-written, if intentionally frivolous, title track, a song that notched Moon his first No. 1 hit earlier this year. The follow-up single, "No Sad Songs," and the upcoming single "Paradise to Me" are similar, if just a little deeper. With these three songs on repeat, it's easy to overlook the depth on an album that bends to Moon's unique, but not rare, mix of influences.
"Alan Jackson was 30 minutes south of me, and Travis Tritt was 15 minutes away from me," the West Georgia-raised Moon says. “But also, being so close to Atlanta, I had all that influence coming in as well — like Outkast and people like that."
What separates Moon from others who've traveled that same I-75-to-I-24 route to Nashville is how unabashedly he fits the hip-hop rhythms he grew up on with traditional country instruments and themes. Not since Sam Hunt has a country artist mixed hip-hop and R&B with country so effectively across an entire album.
Like Hunt, Moon has several smartly-placed stop-and-thinkers on his debut album. He provokes your base senses while satisfying your spirit. A Jack Johnson-like love ballad called "Dance With Me" is perhaps the best example: Steel guitar tones seem to hold the windows open for an airy reflection on going all-in on the girl you love.
"Without Sayin' a Word" pulls back even more layers of Moon's character. The song seems to name check "My Old Man," a song Moon helped write for the Zac Brown Band; indeed, it's about Moon's father, but that's where the comparisons end.
"It's what you do, not what you say / Learn to bend and you'll never break / Keep your word and finish what you started / Fall in love with a woman's heart," Moon sings to begin the chorus. "My old man taught me everything he learned / Without sayin' a word."
“He wasn’t like, 'Hey, man, you need to work hard in life,'" Moon remembers of his dad. "He just got up at 4:30 and went to work ... He just let his life be an example.”
The downside of marrying your favorite co-writer is that it's awfully difficult to melt her heart with a song. There are other ways, though: While "Dance With Me" shares Moon's heart, others speak to a beautiful love story — and they got to create that, together.
Plus, you get days like one earlier this month, in Boston, when the two posted up outside Moon's tour bus at a festival, enjoying the fresh air and maybe the smell of a barbecue grill as what they've accomplished — what they're accomplishing — hit them.
"We were just hanging out, sitting next to the bus, going, 'Can you believe that three years ago, this was just an idea, and now we're sitting next to our tour bus hanging out, getting ready to play a show in front of thousands of people?'" Moon recalls.
"We're doing what we love, and we're doing it forever," he adds. "Couldn't ask for more than that."