An Interview With Tyler Ritter Of Nashville Band Moon Taxi

The phenomenon of an indie band can be a strange thing—though perhaps there’s a more apt word to describe the energy of fifty thousand people clustered just beyond the lip of the stage, screaming every word to a song you wrote in your bedroom. That’s what happened to the Nashville-based five-piece band, Moon Taxi.

Their music could be described as Kings of Leon southern rock meets the singalong pop of Vampire Weekend, with a dash of jam band hijinks thrown in—though their fans number in the millions, from packed crowds at Bonnaroo to 65 million Spotify plays of their latest single, “Two High,” and counting.

This is a band that wants to bottle up the roar and heat of crowd. But instead of giving it to you straight, Moon Taxi distills it down to something better: technically impeccable riffs, carefully arranged melodies and lyrics with a message for a revolution. We spoke with drummer Tyler Ritter about Moon Taxi’s ten-year history as a band and why they’re most relaxed in the center of the spotlight.

You weren’t the original drummer for the band. How did you become a member of Moon Taxi?
Tommy, Trevor and Spencer had been doing Moon Taxi with another drummer. I was a freshman in college, watching these guys who were juniors in this incredible band, and I kept thinking, “Man, if I could somehow weasel my way in and get to jam with these guys, that’d be so cool.” I wasn’t even thinking, “I should be the drummer in this band.” I just wanted to play with them because they were so good. It sort of worked out where their drummer left—I think to join the military—and they came to see me play at some kind of music school ensemble function. I met up with them at a party—there were was a Moon Taxi house at that time, and they had these huge parties. I met a couple of them out there to jam. The next thing I knew, I ran into Tommy one day while I was working at the Belmont bookstore, and he was like, “Hey man, what do you think about coming to play a couple shows with us?”

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You’ve been a band for ten years now. How has your sound changed over that time?
I think we just really learned how to write hook-friendly songs, as opposed to just being these shredders who could play circles around everybody else [Laughs]. We wanted to try to hone our skill into making music that people would want to enjoy—not just for people to come and gawk at and drink beer, but to latch on to the themes of the songs, get motivated and have a positive experience with what we’re putting out there. I think what’s changed is just us learning how to split the difference between, “Okay, let’s have a great hook here, but let’s also remind everybody that we can still do some really cool stuff with our instruments.”

That’s kind of what our sound is: it’s this mix between radio-, even pop-friendly, melodies and hooks, and these insightful lyrics. With our most recent single, “Two High” specifically, that song’s about this idea that we want to use our art for something good. We want to let everybody know that we think everything’s going to be okay in the long run, even with all the crazy stuff that’s going on in the world right now. If you can just kind of band together and love one another, essentially, good things are gonna happen.

That sense of bringing people together seems really important to who Moon Taxi is. I know you’re huge on the music festival circuit. How has playing for huge crowds impacted your sound and your identity as a band?
Festival culture has taught us how to not just put on a good performance, but the best performance. It’s sort of trying to out-do our last performance each time. We went from playing clubs that were sometimes half full, maybe sometimes they were sold out, and maybe sometimes there were five people there, and now we’re playing Bonnaroo, which had the biggest crowd that we’ve ever had to date. I think any band would say that they thrive off the energy of a large crowd throwing back this monstrous energy at [them], but we really do. It’s one of those things where, if the crowd is going insane, we get amped up. When we have that extreme reaction in front of us, it doesn’t make us nervous. If anything, it relaxes us and we just cut loose.

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How does that energy translate when you move into the recording studio?
For the last album, “Daybreaker,” we recorded live in the studio together, and it was the first time we’d done that since we recorded our very first record in college. In between, we’d been doing things kind of in pieces, some of it live with three of us playing together, some of it done over a longer span of time in Spencer’s apartment, piecing things together on a computer. With “Daybreaker,” it was really fun because we were in this beautiful studio at Blackbird here in Nashville and had all this fun gear to mess around with. As far as the impact on the sound goes, we had some really cool moments where spontaneous things would happen—that whole lightning-in-a-bottle effect, where cool, unexpected licks and riffs happened. It was that studio magic that people always talk about.

We did a little bit of the upcoming record in the same way, but not to the same extent. When you’re trying to capture the feeling of playing live, there’s not really a correct way to do it. It’s a lot of experimentation, a lot of trial and error, and we usually tend to try to find that happy medium between something that sounds like we’re playing it live, but [it’s] also a good, bumping studio track. We don’t want our records to sound exactly like us playing live; we want there to be something special about Moon Taxi in the studio, as well as Moon Taxi on stage.

Photos by Alex Justice.

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