How does the Austin, Texas band Moonlight Towers win such lofty praise as “amazing”
(Performing Songwriter) and “simply wonderful” (High Bias)? Just by doing what
comes naturally: writing, recording and playing real rock’n’roll with a hearty pop kick, and being a genuine band.
It’s really that simple.
That not so secret key of creating “good pop/rock music with hooks, heart AND heartache” — as Dagger
Zine describes Moonlight Towers — has made the group “Austin’s favorite three-minute heroes” (Austin
American-Statesman) and the renowned musical city’s “finest power pop export” (Pop Culture Press). And on
Day Is The New Night, their third long-player, the foursome deliver their finest and richest sonic offering yet of
what’s already been hailed as “perfectly molded power-pop” (Chicago Reader) and “radio-ready, popaccented
guitar rock” (Texas Music).
Such superlatives become viscerally tangible the moment the band steamrolls into “Heat Lightning,” the disc’s
aptly named lead track that declares “Oh baby can you feel it? Shaking the ground like thunder?” Yep, you sure
can on that and such other infectious powerhouse rockers like “What Else Can I Say,” “Baby Don’t Slow Me
Down,” “Not A Kid Anymore” and “Black River.” The band struts their soulful tail-feathers on “Can’t Shake This
Feelin’” and “The Easy Way Out,” and casts a Lennonesque spell straight from Abbey Road Studios on “Distant
Wheels” and “Comes A Time.” The timeless potency of two mighty guitars and muscular bass and drums bristles
with an urgency ripe for these modern times, buoying vocals that alternately sear, soar and seduce as alluring
harmonies and choruses deliciously ice the album’s layer-cake of sonic pleasures.
Augmented by a panorama of keyboards as well as punchy horns here and swirling strings there, Day Is The
New Night is melodic to the max, as energizing as a mainline shot of vitamin B-12, and boasts unshakable hooks
galore. It’s music that you can’t help but sing, shake, rattle and roll along to as its songs explore the album’s title
theme of meeting adulthood with the vigor and spirit of youth, albeit informed by the wisdom and smarts that
come from truly living and learning. And in the final analysis, it all boils down to simply rock’n’roll at its finest and
“We just want to make people dance,” is how lead singer, main songwriter and guitarist James Stevens summarizes
their musical mission. And Moonlight Towers do just that by creating “good rock that sounds familiar
and fresh at the same time,” as Punk Planet observes. And in the process they’ve evoked an honor roll of
complimentary comparisons from the music media and listeners.
First and foremost of course there’s The Beatles. Given the music Moonlight Towers plays — plus the Fab Four’s
everlasting seminal influence — “Kinda hard to avoid, right?” notes Stevens. And such notables as Wilco, The
Replacements, Tom Petty, Radiohead, Black Crowes, Big Star and Badfinger. Plus diverse acts like Bruce
Springsteen, Yo La Tengo, Superdrag, Matthew Sweet, Flaming Lips, Buddy Holly, Built to Spill, The Everly
Brothers, even David Bowie, Gram Parsons and The Plastic Ono Band.
Not that Moonlight Towers even try to be like anyone other than themselves. What the many and myriad references
ultimately say is that the band plays high quality rock’n’roll with hooks that stick like Superglue and carry
a broad, timeless appeal. And boast what All Music Guide calls “a sound that has been a constant in popular
music for 40 years.” Yep. It’s called rock’n’roll.
When Stevens was writing the first batch of songs that birthed the band some 10 years ago, he was listening to
such classic acts as The Beatles, Kinks and Neil Young, and honing the art of writing his own indelible melodies
and songs that said something. He was also refining the recording skills that led him to build and run East Austin
Recording (with producer/musician/songwriter Stephen Doster), one of the city’s top studios, plus produce and
engineer critically-acclaimed albums for a range of acts from proletariat pop-rockers The Service Industry to
visionary country neo-traditionalist Lucky Tubb.
Given Stevens’ Mississippi youth, it’s no surprise that his band’s “well crafted power-pop” (Performing
Songwriter) comes with a distinctly Southern accent among its many qualities. He grew up in the small town of
West Point within an Old South milieu that could have come straight out of Faulkner or To Kill a Mockingbird.
Church choir and piano lessons set his musical foundation. And with Tupelo about an hour away, “Elvis was it,”
notes Stevens. Sharing birthplace with blues master Howlin’ Wolf, he was also indelibly struck by smokestack
lightning at an impressionable age.
The electricity that beamed from the radio glued to his ear from an early age fired his imagination. Stevens
switched from piano to guitar while still in short pants, and made his debut public performance at a second grade
talent show playing “Eye of the Tiger.” It felt right.
His early teen rebel years as a skatepunk who dug bands like Black Flag and The Circle Jerks sealed his fate
as far removed from the expected path to an Ole Miss frat house and middle class professional respectability.
Soon he and older brother Rogers were both playing in bands. When his brother’s group made a demo, James
thought, “Hey, I can do that.” So he started “recording on VCRs, hooking them together and bouncing tracks” in
the barn behind the family house that doubled as a practice space.
At 16 his already changing life nearly ended and was slammed out of the orbit of normality when a train hit the
pickup truck he was riding in at a railroad crossing. During Stevens’ many months in a hospital as his shattered
and pained body healed, his brother moved to Los Angeles, was introduced to a singer named Shannon Hoon
by Axl Rose, cut a demo, and inked a deal with Capitol Records as Blind Melon. “While I was laying in my hospital
bed, he called to say they were going on tour with Soundgarden,” Stevens recalls. Hmm. Maybe that rock-
’n’roll thing wasn’t just a pipedream….
When college failed to take, Stevens moved on a lark to Austin “because my brother had played here and said
it was cool.” He did time in a few bands playing the local clubs, “but something was missing.” He bought his first
professional recording rig and took a year off to simply write and record songs and find his true musical soul.
He followed no trends or templates, but instead just let what was inside him come tumbling out. “I had no idea
if it was good. I’m just a redneck from Mississippi. I don’t know what’s cool,” notes Stevens.
Not long after he was joined in Austin by his hometown pal Richard Galloway, who drummed in their school’s
marching band and for three years with marching music’s major league, Drum Corps International. On a lark
they got together to play music. Though Galloway had limited previous time on a drum kit, from the first moment
he sat down at the set he had a natural knack for a mighty and propulsive groove. The two also shared an immediately
magical vocal blend that has become a signature sound in the Moonlight Towers mix. “It was great,”
recalls Stevens. “It just worked.” A friend referred bassist Jason Daniels, who came with a one-two knockout
combo of punch and musicality. Their organic unity as players and pals said one thing to all three: Hey, we’re a
Taking their name from the tall vintage streetlights that illuminated Austin’s nights of yore, Moonlight Towers selfreleased
an eponymous debut CD that immediately sparked a buzz. The Austin Chronicle dubbed it a “perfect
summer album” with tracks “that just scream for radio play.” The Oklahoman noted how the band “echo some
of the great pop powerhouses of the past.” Guitar and keyboard player Jacob Schulze heard that siren sound
at a gig and announced to the trio afterwards that he was joining up. His crafty and cracking riffs, licks and lines
amped up the Moonlight Towers shine even further.
For album two, Like You Were Never There, the group traveled to New Orleans to cut the disc at Piety Street
Studio with producer Mike Napolitano (Joseph Arthur, Neville Bothers, Ani DiFranco, Twilight Singers). And the
critics raved even more. Pop Culture Press hailed it as “a blazing, shimmering nugget with soaring melodies
and vivid songs to spare,” while Sonic Slang praised the disc as “a seamless, warm, country-flavored
piece of pop-rock that instantly sounds both timeless and contemporary.”
The foursome hit the national road for some concerted touring and the press hits kept on comin’ as they won
fan after fan the old fashioned way, and sold thousands of albums on their own DIY Spinster Records label.
Tucson Weekly was wowed at one show by “the kind of energy, animation and commitment that deserves the
big room with a capacity crowd. Their alternately ringing, hard-charging, bouncing, swooning power pop felt like
a personal gift…. Hooks are Moonlight Towers’ stock in trade; every song has a melody line, a chorus, a guitar
part or an unexpected twist that will reach out and pull you in like a grapnel.”
But as Stevens notes, “It’s not just about playing. It’s about sleeping in a tour van in a Memphis truckstop parking
lot together during Hurricane Katrina because all the hotels for miles around were full. I see it as kind of like
going to battle. It’s like war. It’s a major commitment, like being married.” Or as already said, it’s about being a
And their “drum-head-tight power pop” (Austin American-Statesman) offers near limitless musical possibilities
that Moonlight Towers continues to expand on with Day is the New Night. “There’s no lines we try to stay
within,” Stevens observes. “We’re always trying to push it further with whatever the song calls for, whatever it
takes to make it a fun listen.
“I’m just as excited about this album as I was when I went to Memphis at 16 to record my first demo,” he adds.
“I still feel the same way about it.”
And after all, what else can a poor boy do but play in a rock’n’roll band? “I have no choice. I can’t hide from it.
I can’t do anything else,” Stevens concludes. “I have no fall back plan. There never has been. There’s never
really been anything else for me.”
James Stevens - Vocals, Guitar
Jacob Schulze - Guitar, Pedal Steel, Keyboards
Jason Daniels - Bass
Richard Galloway - Drums, Backing Vocals
Moonlight Towers "Self Titled" Debut - Released 2002
Moonlight Towers "Like You Were Never There" - Released 2005
Moonlight Towers "Day Is The New Night" - April 12, 2011
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Having a band in Austin, Texas, is a little like having a Mexican food restaurant in Tucson: If it's...Having a band in Austin, Texas, is a little like having a Mexican food restaurant in Tucson: If it's not great, it's out of business practically overnight.
Moonlight Towers is great. In fact, it's a current favorite of at least one Austin Chronicle music news writer. We know this, because he was among the half-dozen people who attended this show, and he said so. (Where were the rest of you, anyway? It's Tucson's 231st birthday. You're supposed to be out celebrating!)
Moonlight Towers performed a 20-song set in the Plush bar, with the kind of energy, animation and commitment that deserves the big room with a capacity crowd. Their alternately ringing, hard-charging, bouncing, swooning and power pop felt like a personal gift in that intimate space, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one struggling not to get off my chair and dance around like an idiot. But you know, when there are chairs for everyone, we sit. It's Pavlovian or something.
Drummer Richard Galloway seemed to hold back a bit at first in deference to the room size, but three songs in, he and the band were full throttle, leaving much of their own decorum in their wake. Multi-instrumentalist and lead-guitarist Jacob Schulze applied tasteful touches of keyboards and pedal steel, while bassist Jason Daniels played intriguing but disciplined bass parts, all arranged in service to James Stevens' songs about love's rougher edges. The overall effect was that of a tight unit in which every note and beat matters.
Hooks are Moonlight Towers' stock in trade; every song has a melody line, a chorus, a guitar part or an unexpected twist that will reach out and pull you in like a grapnel.
Soul-flavored songs, like "If We Make It to the Light" and "Born to Die," both from their 2005 release, Like You Were Never There, and the Cosmic American "Every Second Drags," which actually brought some two-steppers to their feet, kept the pace varied, as did the offbeat covers: Electric Light Orchestra's "Can't Get It Out of My Head," Big Star's "September Gurls," the Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile" and Television's "Marquee Moon."
Moonlight Towers takes its name from a lighting system Austin installed in 1895. Seventeen of the willowy, 150-foot spindles still stand, antiques looking for all the world like space needles or contemporary sculpture. This band is clearly in it for the long haul.
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.Speaking of well crafted power-pop, don't not miss the amazing Moonlight Tower's album Like You Wer....Speaking of well crafted power-pop, don't not miss the amazing Moonlight Tower's album Like You Were Never There. I've had "Everybody Knows Why" on repeat all day. (Issue 89 Vol 13 November 2005)
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One might complain that the music this Austin quartet plays lacks regional flavor, but I don't think...One might complain that the music this Austin quartet plays lacks regional flavor, but I don't think that's a bad thing: lots of Austin bands claiming to have regional flavor sound as phony as a plastic shaker of "Cajun seasoning" that's actually 40 percent MSG. I'm racking my brain for some way to resist the glistening, hard-surfaced, perfectly molded power pop on the Moonlight Towers' second album, Like You Were Never There (Spinster), but the only complaint I can make is that listening to a bunch of their songs at one sitting feels like too much--the same way one hard butterscotch candy is the best thing in the world but a whole bag makes your mouth hate you.
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One good thing about the weather here: Those perfect summer albums go a long, long way. It has pro...
One good thing about the weather here: Those perfect summer albums go a long, long way. It has probably been pretty close to a perfect summer for the members of Austin's Moonlight Towers, who've sprung from out of nowhere and grabbed a piece of both the local barroom pie and the radio-ready-rock pie, even piling up some notable airplay time. Give them all the credit for putting a quality product on the shelves. As the opening harmonica lick crosses paths with the ascending Yo La Tengo riff of "Holding Back," it's immediately evident that the goal of Moonlight Towers isn't to be clever, cool, or challenging, but to comfort, caress, slap on the back, and buy a round of tall cold ones. If you find yourself in tune with the gods of eternal sunshine and cold pale ales, "Goin' for Drinks" is as great an anthem as anybody could want. It finds the Towers at their most Grand Champeen/Paul Westerberg, but has a Big Star/big rock sound that fills the stereo like a classic summer blast. It's one of at least three cuts (along with "Built to Last" and "Sixteen") that all but scream for radio play. Moonlight Towers are the equivalent of a cold, creamy vanilla malt on a hot day. If you want complexity and intrigue, go elsewhere. If you just want to blast some quality rock spiked with a double shot of sincerity and fun, get behind the Moonlight Towers. Who knows, bands like this might just make the radio a tolerable place again. 3 stars
All Music Guide
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Austin's Moonlight Towers are a four-piece rock band (two electric guitars, bass, drums) with a soun...Austin's Moonlight Towers are a four-piece rock band (two electric guitars, bass, drums) with a sound that has been a constant in popular music for 40 years. The guitars dominate the arrangements, alternately jangly and twangy, and over them James Stevens sings romantic lyrics in a gruff tenor. Small bands have been playing this music since a bunch of American competitors began to emerge to challenge the Beatles in 1964, and they have gone on playing it, without as much commercial success, in the decades since, whether they were called the Dwight Twilley Band, Big Star, the Replacements, or the Black Crowes, and whether they were branded mainstream rock & roll, alternative, or indie rock by critics and publicists. Moonlight Towers don't really bring anything new to the formula, but they execute it as well as anybody, and this style of melodic guitar rock has been consistently played for 40 years because it's been consistently appealing, so there's always room for another band.
Cincinnati City Beat
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Finally, some Southern-fried Pop Rock from Austin, Texas, which has nothing in common with Spoon! Mo...Finally, some Southern-fried Pop Rock from Austin, Texas, which has nothing in common with Spoon! Moonlight Towers is a refreshingly straight-ahead quartet that is brimming with energy and talent. Restraint is the name of the game, but not minimalism -- the sound is full, but not dense. Formed in 2001, they take their name from a bygone urban lighting system that used six carbon-arc lamps on tall, triangular towers in place of streetlights. Austin is the only city that maintains these devices, which cast light up to 3,000 feet. The band chose the moniker well, as their back-to-basics, hook-laden tunes remind you that simple, tuneful bands have become somewhat of an anachronism. Starting as a trio, they released a self-titled disc that established their trademarks -- James Stevens' brown-sugar voice and chugging/soaring guitar, and the bash-and-thump grooves of bassist Jason Daniels and drummer Richard Galloway. Jacob Schulze asked to join shortly thereafter, bringing slippery leads and counterpoint. For their latest album, they traveled to New Orleans and enlisted the services of Mike Napolitano, whom Cincinnatians will recognize as the producer of ex-Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli's Twilight Singers. (Napolitano's credits also include Blind Melon and Joseph Arthur.) The fruit of their labor is Like You Were Never There, a solid effort that, like baby bear's porridge, is just right. Not too rough but not too slick; not too heavy but not too delicate; not too busy but not too sparse. The album sounds very live and direct, like it would not take a crew of seven musicians to re-create it faithfully. They've had a lot of Superdrag comparisons, which are fairly apt. The Towers have been on the road quite a bit since releasing their latest album last summer; the band's Cincinnati stop is part of a one-month jaunt around the Midwest.
Pop Culture Press
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Austin's Moonlight Towers play a style that splendidly blends the guitar rock of Replacements an...
Austin's Moonlight Towers play a style that splendidly blends the guitar rock of Replacements and Oasis but can't hide its southern upbringing. The band's 2002 self-titled debut caught a lot of Austin scenesters by surprise when it came out and led to both a local following and some national attention. Hoping to make the next step up the career ladder, Moonlight Towers decamped to New Orleans to record the follow-up with producer/engineer Mike Napolitano (Blind Melon, Squirrel Nut Zippers), and the resulting Like You Were Never There is a terrific sounding record that effectively captures the band's gritty, melodic sound.
Musically, Moonlight Towers inhabit the spaces between defined musical genres but with a very classic four-on-the-floor rock foundation. They're twangy but steer clear of being too alt-country. They rock but never lose the focus on the songs. James Stevens has a classic nicotine-stained barroom rock singer's voice with plenty of soul. He also has a good sense of which high notes to try to hit, and what his lyrics may lack in poetic flourish is more than made up for in heartfelt honesty.
The record kicks off with a bang with the rousing "Never the Same Again," which sounds expressly written to get a room of passive listeners to pay attention to a band they may not know anything about. The second song, "I Sleep Alone" is terminally catchy and uses great dynamics and well-placed harmonies to become the real standout track. From here, things mellow out and never really crank back up again. The next two songs, "Born To Die" and "Everybody Knows Why" ratchet up the drinking and weeping quotient and would find good homes in neon beer signed roadhouses. The fifth track, "Sparks Will Fly," is the best of the record's plentiful slow-dancers with a lovely, aching riff, great keyboard accents, and some of Stevens' best singing.
From there, Like You Were Never There settles into a sort of mid-tempo rhythm that showcases the band's knack for great tunes but lacks the heights of the earlier songs. Within certain songs, little nuggets of potential glory reside in individual parts (i.e. the excellent chorus in the otherwise prosaic "End of the Rope"), but no one song seems as fully realized as either "I Sleep Alone" or "Sparks Will Fly." But even though it may end up being a bit too consistent, that may be exactly what some listeners want in.
There is no doubt that Moonlight Towers have both a knack for writing great tunes, and a gifted vocalist in Stevens, but they need to avoid the roots-rock potholes which may work well live but lack fire on this record. Overall, Like You Were Never There is a mature, professional sounding record loaded with well-written, tuneful songs, but the really thrilling moments scattered around the record make me think that we haven't seen the best of this band yet.
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(Spinster) You know, progressive rock, psychedelic improvisation, black metal and balls-to-the-wall...(Spinster)
You know, progressive rock, psychedelic improvisation, black metal and balls-to-the-wall power rock are all good things, but sometimes you just gotta have some straightforward, no-bullshit songcraft, y'know? Some catchy melodies, heart-on-sleeve lyrics and unfancy performances. Moonlight Towers more than delivers on its latest album Like You Were Never There. The Austin band infuses tight, tuneful cuts like "I Sleep Alone," "Every Second Drags" and the beautiful "Sparks Will Fly" with a dusty, Southwestern edge, keeping slickness at bay while retaining a strong sense of craft. And though frontguy James Stevenson stays within the bounds of taste in his vocals, it's easy to tell that he means every word he sings. Simply wonderful.
Punk Planet Summer 2006
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A point of frustration I have with country-inflected rock is that there are one too many bands para... A point of frustration I have with country-inflected rock is that there are one too many bands parading down the same path that the pioneers (from Gram Parsons to Uncle Tupelo) blazed. So it came with a sigh of relief to hear a band that sounds like they studied latter-day Beatles albums closer than anything considered alt-country in the past fifteen years. The songs found on this Austin-based quartets second album feature grabbing melodies at the forefront while being supported by some of the atmosphere you would find in most alt-country. The songs and lyrics are sung like vocalist/guitarist James Stevens is looking through the bottom of a nearly-empty bottle of beer, but his lyrics dont reek of complete gloom and doom. The southern country touch is definitely there, but its more indie rock at its best than alt-country at its worst. Like You Were Never There has a straight focus on being good rock that sounds familiar and fresh at the same time. The production is clean and open, bypassing clever studio tricks to cover up whatever weaknesses hamper a bands sound. Basically, its a rare combination of seeing a band play incredibly well in a live setting and it translating to a T on record. Just like the bands live set-up, this album shows a rock band with a great understanding of what sticks and what doesnt. Though certain songs feel a little samey when listened to it as a whole, Like You Were Never There is a steady, consistent album. Where exactly a band fits in anywhere in the indie world is really a moot point. They may be destined to the Recommended if you like alt-country bin, but listen to Like You Were Never There and you may realize how much more a band has to offer using such spare parts.
Tampa Bay Weekly Planet
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This Austin-based quartet goes easy on the roots, favoring instead a clean, power-pop approach, repl...This Austin-based quartet goes easy on the roots, favoring instead a clean, power-pop approach, replete with hooky songs, crisp vocal harmonies and beats right out of Badfinger. The danger in this, of course, is sounding like the 977th iteration of The Beatles, but Moonlight Towers delivers the goods with swagger and integrity - and they don't fall into the power-pop trap of being too coy and clever for their own good. 3.5 stars.
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The second outing from Austin's Moonlight Towers features lot of good singin' and good playin'. "Ano...The second outing from Austin's Moonlight Towers features lot of good singin' and good playin'. "Another Castaway" calls to mind Matthew Sweet while the tender "Born to Die" suggests the Plastic Ono Band in a supersession with Big Star. It is after all the songs that come to the fore throughout and "Everybody Knows Why" and "Got Your Love" stick with you long after the record's spun to its close. Catchy and contemporary with strong ties to guitar-driven pop's past (and its present) Like You Were Never There is a record you can't help but love, and you'll always remember where you were when you got turned on to it.
Austin American Statesman
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On this band's new 'Like You Were Never There,' Austin's favorite three minute heroes show everyone ...On this band's new 'Like You Were Never There,' Austin's favorite three minute heroes show everyone else how to write drum-head-tight power pop.
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