Hogan & Moss
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Hogan & Moss

Austin, Texas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2008 | SELF

Austin, Texas, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2008
Band Folk Country




"Jon Hogan and Maria Moss Embrace a Timeless Sound"

Maria Moss flips open her instrument case and pulls out a worn reproduction of a resonator guitar.

"This thing is a cannon," she says.

Sure enough, the guitar - a hollow-bodied instrument with cones inside that project a booming sound - is easily heard. Her partner Jon Hogan's archtop guitar also looks like it has survived decades, but it's a fairly recent creation by Arkansas luthier Bayard Blain.

Hogan and Moss are dressed in warm, unforgiving fabrics, particularly for Houston, and topped by vintage felt headgear. "We didn't dress up for you," Moss says. "This is just what we do. We'll hit the Stop and Go for a Topo Chico and get strange looks sometimes. I guess young bands tend to prefer flip-flops and baseball caps."

Hogan and Moss then strike up "In Dreams I Go Back Home," a song that sounds decades old even though it was written by Hogan for Moss and isn't old at all. They work through "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane," a song that sold a half-million copies for Fiddlin' John Carson in 1923. Then they play a newer tune: Leonard Cohen's "The Future." Despite the three disparate sources, the songs flow together like tributaries into a river. They're informed by Hogan and Moss' playing, which is crisp and assertive, as well as their voices, which dance closely in harmony.

"Authenticity" is a word bandied about carelessly in music criticism, often to convey contemporary music that sounds older and is unfettered by modern measures like sales or downloads. But Hogan and Moss present an authentic music, not because of the songs' ages, or how they dress or the instruments they use. Theirs is authentic because of an earnest belief that a song is a timeless narrative device.

"It's the simplest things," Moss says, "the idea of history in writing. Old-time music is about the story. It's in the line of a tradition of storytelling."

Hogan adds, "It's such a deep and rich and exciting, almost-unknown history we draw from. Some people are more interested in others where it all came from. If you sing a Carter Family song you get a lot of people who say, 'Johnny Cash!' And that's great. But there's so much more to it than that."

Which is the point Hogan and Moss try to make in their shows, which include musical stories that span nearly a century. Little themes arise here and there, but the big two are love and death, which lend themselves to the duo's two primary modes: the bleak minor key "scorch folk," in which they belt out tunes about dying, and the ballads, which balance the mix lest it tiptoe toward the void.

Sometimes, of course, the love songs are about death, and the death songs are often about love. But that's what makes music from the first half of the 20th century so universally appealing. Past, present, future - it all melts together. Cohen's song may be about the future, but it's not an optimistic one, with its refrain of "repent" and the observation, "I've seen the future brother. It is murder."

Carson's tune concerns one man's last days. "He sings, 'I ain't got long to stay here,'" Hogan says. "So on one hand he's letting you know the song's almost over. He's stopped feeding. He's too old to work his farm. He's trying to live contented while he remains. That song has this thing inside all of us. That's human experience. It reaches across time and space. The things we'll remember."

Moss gets sentimental about "In Dreams I Go Back Home." She grew up here, studied journalism at the University of Houston and always worked in or near the arts, serving for years on the board for the alternative art space the Orange Show for Visionary Art. She was involved in the inaugural Art Car Parade in the '80s.

"The Orange Show was crucial to my development as an outsider artist," she says. "I don't think I'd be playing this music if I hadn't grown up in Houston and taken in this 'outsider' art. Life just changed, and now I'm on the other side of it."

Moss, 58, took a stab at music years ago, but decided the indulgent lifestyle that went with it lead nowhere positive. She kept her guitars, but quit playing in public. Ten years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "It was a life-changing experience," she says. "I had to deal with my body in a new way. I got my guitars back out. It was a physical therapy that also aided my spirit."

A year later she met Hogan at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Hogan says he grew up in "the American West" in a family that played 78s - the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers - rather than contemporary music.

"I guess I respected some of the pop music of the day, but the music of the '30s intrigued me more," he says. "It's about understanding what came before. You hear the wildness in Fiddlin' John Carson and you can understand where Aaron Copland got 'Appalachian Spring' from."

Hogan started playing guitar as a teen and writing songs at 24, mostly performing out West. He had only recently moved to Texas when he and Moss met and bonded over their affinity for old-time music. Today, they play around 220 shows a year, which means the closest thing they have to a home is Austin. "We get our mail there," Moss says, "and we keep a storage unit there. But it doesn't make sense to pay rent."

They spend most of their time working nights, keeping a century-old tradition feeling alive, "a spiritual mission," Moss calls it, "because you're not going to make a great living in folk music." They travel with a dinged-up trailer that Hogan, 42, built with know-how and duct tape. Though their music requires a stand-up bass, the instrument is so bulky they don't travel with a bassist. They find assistance where they play. They've enlisted Ned Mefford from Spring for their Houston shows.

Hogan and Moss have made albums of old material and originals. They have a new set of original songs recorded, with hopes to release it next year.

As for the old, they like to tug on the loose strings of songs and see where they lead. They hear a lot of old-time music - especially the Carter Family - in the music of Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. They've worked "Choctaw Bingo" by rock/roots singer-songwriter James McMurtry into their sets. They will tiptoe around the source material when it's older: "A lot of younger people do the Carter Family, and it's soft and folky, too sweet," Hogan says. "We do it as straight and pure and true as possible."

Other times they take a familiar song and make it almost unrecognizable. They listen to songs deeply, which is how they identified the possibility for a sugary vocal in the '90s alterna-psych-rock hit "Pepper" by the Butthole Surfers. "Pepper" is a surreal song - even without the odd video, which starred Erik Estrada - but one that fits the tradition of songs about the end of the line.

"They were all in love with dying," goes its refrain, "and they were doing it in Texas." - Houston Chronicle

"Jon Hogan and Maria Moss"

On the 2011 album Go Lightning, Jon Hogan has taken traditional tunes and made them sound like they’ve been lit on fire. No wonder he and his band call themselves “scorch folk.” This is music for those who love Devil Makes Three, Murder by Death, Scott H. Biram and Drag the River. Hogan and his guitarist, Maria Moss, are less punk, more folk than those bands, but the sound and sentiment is there. The group’s rendition of “Shady Grove” is intimate but still wildly danceable, lovely yet creepy. (I’ve always shuddered at the line, “If I had a needle and thread as fine as I could sew / I’d sew that pretty little girl to my side and down the road we’d go.”)

The band also makes awesome old-time originals. They recently recorded six tracks in Nashville with the bass player for Robert Plant’s Band of Joy who also plays with Emmylou Harris. They also had the fiddler from Ricky Skaggs band, Andy Leftwich, on board for the session. Moss has an interesting background: She wrote for the New York Times, edited a few of Houston’s city magazine and freelanced for a decade. She left journalism after fighting breast cancer, and finally landed in the band with Hogan.

“We’re serious songwriters with roots in Appalachia, the Carter Family, and the old-time mountain music that predates bluegrass,” Moss tells me over email. “We’re more Shovels & Rope than Gillian Welch, but we share listeners with a pretty broad post-Oh Brother Where Art Thou listenership.” The band hosts an annual Townes Van Zandt tribute near Big Bend National Park. They’re big fans of the late Blaze Foley, who wrote songs that became hits for Merle Haggard (“If I Could Only Fly”) and Lyle Lovett (“Election Day”) and John Prine (“Clay Pigeons”). The duo creates posthumous co-writes with the singer.

This is a group that feels like they’re on a quest. That they once received the Key to the City of El Paso for preservation of American heritage music is no surprise. Live, the band seemed uncorked. Hogan and Moss both look like strumming maniacs, possessed by old time music. It’s as though if you touched them, they might electrocute you, they’re so saturated with energy.

—Erika Fredrickson - Missoula Independent


Recent Recordings:
"Reuben's Train," five songs, original and trad., recorded in Nashville in August, 2013.

"In Dreams I Go Back Home," 14 original songs, produced by Jonathan Byrd.

"Go Lightning: The Old-Time Album," released in 2012
Fourteen old-time songs recorded onto half-inch tape. Most of Jon Hogans arrangements are based on songs recorded between 1927 and 1958, and featured on Harry Smith's Anthology of Folk Music and Mountain Music of Kentucky Vol II. (Smithsonian Folkways) The Go Lightning series of session videos is easily searchable on YouTube.

"Long Shot," a duo CD, 2010. Mixed and mastered by Jonathan Byrd for a raw, natural sound, it is "two guitars, two vocals, three songwriters and the truth." It features songs by Hogan, Moss and Byrd, plus two traditional songs.

Every Now and Then: Songs of Townes Van Zandt & Blaze Foley, 2010. Includes Jon Hogan's three posthumous co-writes Blaze Foley, plus three more Blaze covers and six by Townes.



Jon Hogan and Maria Moss play scorch-folk: Old-time music with a modern edge and original songs with old souls. Half power-folk, half vintage valentine, with a fiery intensity straight from the Old Weird America. It's Appalachian trad revived, with rich mountain harmonies, scat, yodeling, Maybelle-Carter-style picking and a percussive rhythm guitar chop. "Exhilarating, heartbreaking, wild, epic, microcosmic, toe-tapping, head-nodding, gut busting, soul searching...They  made us live an extra year of our lives in a couple of hours." (Navasota Current)

Here's an excellent article from the Houston Chronicle:http://www.chron.com/entertainment/music/article/Maria-Moss-and-Jon-Hogan-embrace-a-timeless-sound-5...

Hogan & Moss have created a unique, powerful blend of old-time and original songs that's uplifting and dark, modal, modern, and haunting. Their "soulgrass" adaptations of traditional mountain music leave listeners feeling they've experienced something timeless and meaningful. Original songs are inspired by the 1920s and '30s recordings of artists such as the Carter Family, Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley, and Uncle Dave Macon.

Hogan & Moss will perform more than 200 shows this year throughout the Southwest, Southeast and the Rocky Mountains. Their shows range from high-energy full-band dance celebrations to captivating house-concert duo performances. They also lecture on old-time music at colleges and libraries. They've played some of the top venues in America, including Anderson Fair, Houston, Poor David's, Dallas, the Blue Door, Oklahoma City, the Top Hat Lounge, Missoula, the Back Yard, Austin and the Evening Muse, Charlotte. They've found shared audiences opening for New Riders of the Purple Sage, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Baskery and Jonathan Byrd. They were chosen for an Official Showcase at the National Folk Alliance in 2014, and in 2013 and 2014 they were selected for summer residencies in Gatlinburg, TN, playing five shows a week as featured artists in the mountain-music revue "Tunes& Tales." 

Jon Hogan has been a regional winner in the Kerrville Folk Festival's New Folk songwriter contest and was awarded the Key to the City of El Paso for preservation of American heritage music.

Jon Hogan has been a full-time folk musician for more than twenty years. He grew up in the American West, immersed from childhood in traditional  mountain, gospel and country music. He’s written hundreds of ballads, love songs, and waltzes rooted in his love of traditional music. He’s also an engaging speaker on the history of Appalachian music, helping listeners understand the difference between old-time and bluegrass, and illustrating their connection to modern popular genres.

Maria grew up in Houston, but spent summers as a child soaking up the music of Eastern Tennessee, where her Dad grew up. She began playing guitar at age 14, drawn to mountain music and the Texas Picker Poets. On the Gulf Coast, she found a deep connection between roots music and the Southern folk, self-taught, outsider and visionary art that she loved, studied and wrote about. After graduating from the University of Houston, she had a career as a journalist and editor. In 2007, while recovering from a serious illness, guitar took center stage in her life, and she found her unique, driving finger-picking style.

Recent Recordings 
"Reuben's Train," recorded in Nashville in August, 2013 with Andy Leftwich (Ricky Skaggs), fiddle and Byron House (Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant's Band of Joy), bass.

“In Dreams I Go Back Home,” an album of original songs, produced by North Carolina songwriter Jonathan Byrd. A kickstarter will complete mixing, mastering and release. View the video about the recording here: https://vimeo.com/62958832

“Go Lightning: The Old-Time Album,” 2012 
Fourteen traditional songs recorded onto half-inch tape. Most of Jon Hogan’s arrangements are based on songs recorded between 1927 and 1958, and featured on the Smithsonian’s “Anthology of Folk Music” and “Mountain Music of Kentucky Vol II.”

"Long Shot," a duo CD, 2010. Mixed and mastered by Jonathan Byrd.

“Every Now and Then: Songs of Townes Van Zandt & Blaze Foley,” 2010. Six songs by Townes, six by his friend Blaze Foley. Three of the Blaze songs are Jon Hogan's official posthumous co-writes from lyrics found in Blaze's effects after his death and commissioned by his estate. Foley's catalog was recently purchased by Merle Haggard.

Band Members