Howlin’ At The Moan

photo by Carlos Sanchez

Howlin’ At The Moan

 

By

 

Samuel Munoz

 

It was a full moon on a cold Santa Ana Wednesday night. I’m walking down 4th street in Downtown Santa Ana towards an underground studio where I am to meet with The Moan, a rhythm and blues, soul style rock and roll band whose existence of less than a year has not deterred them from already making waves on the Santa Ana music scene.

I walk past The Bistro towards what used to be the Tommy Pastrami and see a dark shadow waiting at the entrance of the studio. It was The Moan’s main back up singer, Dominique Collins, sent up to welcome me. He leads me towards a flight of stairs and as we step down I could hear the faint sound of the band vibrating through the walls.

We arrive at the studio. Roman Brambila, the saxophone player (or sexyphone player, as bassist, Julio Chavez, likes to call him), is sitting by the door working on what seems to be a musical composition of some sorts. I come later to find out it was only homework. Roman is 19 years young and already plays the sax like some crazed jazzman who has spent decades working those smoked filled nightclubs of the bygone years. The rest of the band, Julio Chavez (bass), Manny Monreal (drums), and Lux Roy (singer, guitarist), are working on a new tune that apparently Lux just introduced to the band. I’m amazed that the song already sounds as if it has been rehearsed for much more than the hour or so that they have been there.

Manny (drums), Dominique (back up vocals, tambourine), Lux (lead vocals, guitar), Julio (bass): Photo by Carlos Sanchez

The Moan effectively began as a trio (they did not add the sax and back up singers to the lineup until very recently), and as a trio, it seems from my observation of their rehearsal on this day, the songs are given shape and fine tuned until they are ready to receive the final coat from Roman, Dominique, and the signing duo of the Moanettes (Maria and Kim, who unfortunately could not make it to the session). The main songwriter is Lux. Lux is a Huntington Beach resident whose passion for the classic rock is evident from his Jim Morrison tattoo on his forearm. His songs, however, are more reminiscent of the Motown music of the 1960s. As the full band, The Moan presents its audience a kind of music drenched in Motown rhythms and played with a beautiful simplicity that only musicians with years of experience know how to do (the main trio of Lux, Julio, and Manny are all in their early thirties and have been working as musicians in countless projects for over ten years). The music of The Moan is entertainment at its best. Although the music takes its lead from a style rooted in the infancy years of rock and roll, The Moan never sound plain or outdated. In fact, they are a breath of fresh air in a mainstream musical environment of emo punk and Biebermania.

After their session was over I sat down with the five members of the band who were in attendance. The following conversation ensued:

 

Samuel Munoz:

Tell me a little bit about yourselves individually.

Lux:

I was born in Orange County, but I have lived all over the country and other parts of the world. I’m sort of a CIA agent [the group laughs]. I was born in Newport Beach and I live now in Huntington Beach. I like the ocean.

Dominique:

I was born and raised in Santa Ana. I went to Valley High School for about a semester and a half, then went to Middle College for a bit. I got booted back to Valley and then I went to Long Beach for school.

Julio:

Born in Santa Ana, I went to Santa Ana High School.

Manny:

I grew up in Santa Ana. I went to Edison [elementary], Macarthur [Intermediate], and Saddleback [high School].

Roman:

I live in Huntington Beach, but I grew up on the east coast actually. I moved out here when I was twelve.

 

Roman Brombila: photo by Outourdoor.com

Samuel Munoz:

So tell me about how the band got started.

Julio:

Roman! It’s really Roman’s band [everyone laughs].

Dominique:

Yeah, the band should be renamed Roman and the Polanskis featuring the Moanettes [more laughing]!

Lux:

In all seriousness, in the summer of last year I was working with a friend of mine who is a drummer and we were looking for a bassist. We somehow scooped up Julio from an ad on Craigslist.

Julio:

Yeah, I was on the road with like a Motown, disco funk band, and they were breaking up. So two weeks prior, before I got back, I wanted to make sure I had something to keep myself busy because when you go from playing every night to nothing, it really sucks. So I was looking for people to jam with and that’s when I met this guy [points at Lux]. I was thinking “ah this guy’s going to suck! These guys are bunch of jokers!

Lux:

The feeling was mutual [the group laughs].

 

Samuel Munoz:

So who was the drummer at this time? And what happened to him?

Lux:

He was just a friend of mine. He just wasn’t cutting it. He was good drummer, but just not for the style that we wanted. So I suggested another person I knew named Dave Perez. And he played with us for a bit before Manny came in.

Samuel Munoz:

Yeah, I remember Dave he was the drummer that played with you the first time we did a show together with Inkblots in Long Beach. What happened to him?

Julio:

The thing about Dave, he was a great great drummer, very professional, but he was a very busy guy. I think he had a steady gig with Disney and it was just really hard to get him down here and play with a bunch rag tag fucking bastards like us.

Manny Moreal: photo by Carlos Sanchez

So how did Manny get in the band.

Manny:

I was the last option [everyone laughs, Julio nods]

Lux:

Actually, Manny was one of the first options, but he was busy at that point.

Julio:

Yeah I had another project with him at that time and he just wanted to focus solely on that project, but our bassist left and that project sort of fizzled out. So he had free time again, and he came to play with us full time.

Samuel Munoz:

And how did Dominique get into this shindig?

Dominique:

We bumped into each other at the Olde Ship [British Pub in Santa Ana]. Julio started talking to me about the band and he said that they were looking for a back up singer. And Julio said, “I know just the guy!” and he pointed at me.

Dominique and Lux: Photo by Carlos Sanchez

Julio:

We had a vocal class together. We had some other friends that were equally as talented, but they were doing some other stuff. So, I thought of Dominique. I was like, “Dominique doesn’t do shit with himself. He ain’t got no job. He’s got nothing to do.” [everyone laughs]

Manny:

Alright nice, I don’t feel so bad anymore [more laughter]

Dominique:

Yeah, so I went to see them at the Tiki Bar and after that I was hooked. I said, “I’m in!”

Samuel Munoz:

And Roman? Julio, you knew him from your previous project right? That’s how he came in?

Julio:

Yeah, it was from that funk band I was on the road with, The Nova Bosses. We found him playing on the beach. And I love the guy. He works well with the crowd and he brings in the high school chicks.

Dominique:

Yeah, Julio is a dirty old man [hysterical laughing].

Samuel Munoz:

So was it always the plan to have a band such as this with a sax and back up singers or was this something that sort of evolved from working on your sound.

Lux:

It was something that I definitely needed to grease the wheels a bit with Julio. He was, at first, very adamant about keeping it a power trio, and I understood why he felt that way. Coming from working with a lot of bands, he knows that when you start adding more ingredients to the mix it gets a little harder to keep it all together, but he slowly started to warm up to the idea.

Julio:

Yeah, I was always ok with it when it came down to recording, but to have them as permanent members, I’m always scared of that. I like to have a small strong unit of good musicians. However, with this type of music you need an expanding roster that adds that color to the music. Dominique hates playing it, but he doesn’t know how important his relentless tambourine is.

Samuel Munoz:

So Lux, you are the main songwriter right?

Lux:

Yeah, I write most of the songs. Julio of course helps me go through them and cut out the shit as you saw today, and Manny is always giving great ideas that we use.

Lux: photo by Carlos Sanchez

Tell me about the sound of the band. This music you guys are playing is something that no one is really doing right now, at least in this area. When people listen to The Moan, I think people enjoy the fact that it sounds familiar, but, at the same time, it’s refreshing and unique because you guys are kind of giving it a modern twist. I guess the question is where does that come from? What are the influences?

Lux:

Well, both Julio and I have really strong backgrounds in funk and soul that includes not only our interests in the music itself, but in our previous musical projects. But especially for myself, at the same time that this band got started, my life changed completely. My wife had a baby, and, as a result, everything changed about the way I thought about life. Everything just started to explode: emotions, my spirituality, my belief in something more. And that’s when songs like “Walk on Water” and even “Cut You Up” were created that helped me to express my new found spirituality. Soul music, I think, is the only true expression of the gospel.

Manny:

He is a man of the cloth. [everyone laughs]

Julio:

I think what is exciting to me is that we are playing music that talks about that [acknowledging what Lux said] when it is not in vogue to be singing about that. And no, we are not a Christian band. We just love the vibe of a kind of music that is not afraid to talk about that and have it be a true honest expression. […] I also think its great that all of us come from backgrounds that started with rock music, and we have been able to mix that in with the funk and soul.

Lux:

My whole life I have loved classic rock and the blues. Jim Morrison, who was very much about the blues, Led Zeppelin, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, these guys were big for me. Then it went to James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, The Ojs, Prince, The Jackson 5, Parliament Funkadelic, all that music has touched me in some way through out my life and has played a part in the music I create. […]

Julio:

For me, my biggest influence for this band was without a doubt James Jamerson. Once I got turned on to him, there was nothing else. He wrote everybody’s bass lines from Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, everybody. He was the guy everyone called for their bass lines during the 60s.

Manny:

For this project, I’ve been listening to a lot of Mayer Hawthorne. The drummer is very minimalist. He just supports the rest of the musicians. Simplicity is what this music calls for in regards to the drums. It’s a different aesthetic because the more notes that I try to play, the muddier it becomes. So I don’t like to do more than what is necessary. Just keep it tight and that will go a long way.

Dominique:

For me, I definitely look back to the Motown and doo-wop groups of the 60s: The Temptations, The Supremes, The Ojs. The back up singers knew that they were the back up singers and they were there to put on a show, just like the front man or woman, and provide that space needed to fill up the sound and keep everything tight. The back up singers are like another instrument. They provide not only a visual but their own sound. […]

Roman:

For me, Dexter Gordon is the man. He is by far my biggest influence. However, as far as being a performer, I look towards Jimi Hendrix. He was “The Performer.” […] He would do a solo and he would do that bend and you could see his body feel that bend. He knows that that is what he wants to play. That is how I approach my improvisation. My brain and my soul really want to play this and I am making my fingers and my lungs and my whole apparatus reflect what my soul wants to express.

Lux:

…And I have to say that, even though I may not be from here, Roman might not be from here, the girls might not be from here, the heart and soul of this project is in Santa Ana. The feeling of being in this place that is so old, that has so much history, so many people with passion for art and life, everything about that gets drained into our music.

 

****

 

The Moan will be playing there next show in Costa Mesa at The Avalon Bar, February 17, 2012, and in Long Beach, February 21, 2012 at The Prospector. Their next show in Santa Ana will be at the Downtown Soul in the Bistro 400, March 29, 2012. You can learn more about The Moan here. You can also hear some of their demos here.

 

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2 Responses to Howlin’ At The Moan

  1. Carolina says:

    Very interesting. :)

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