By Rosa Barney
Attempting to describe the type of music that the guys from Mansions on the Moon create is pretty difficult, even for the members of the band. It’s a unique blend of catchy pop and ambient rock that doesn’t fall neatly into any particular scene of the moment, and it’s got a lot of people talking. And oh yeah, Pharrell, Chad, and Shae of N.E.R.D. are pretty big fans.
I had the chance to sit down with Ben Hazlegrove, Lane Shaw, and Ted Wendler during one of the stops on the Lightyears Tour about this young, evolving band that’s sometimes labeled with the “chillwave” tag.
“I think people say that because of the reverb effect that we use at times but I think that our lyrics are more audible and they have a lot of harmonies. I think that the chill quiet vocals have sort of put us in that category and the ‘dreamy synths’ probably make people feel that way as well. But then you listen to ‘Rest of Your Days,’ and that is a complete acoustic track done in a bedroom just with a guitar and vocals… so not chillwave. We have songs in our pocket that we are just waiting to release that have an upright bass, banjo, and acoustic guitar. We have songs that are like ’70s dance, so if people want to call us chillwave for now that is fine but I think they will see that we have a lot more to release that is a lot of genres. We just write the music that we want to write that day and figure out what it is later,” said Wendler.
By virtue of having friends in the right places, their music wound up in the hands of Shae and Chad. “It was a long time coming, explained Hazlegrove. “We were working with Charley [Feher] from Illusive, he is a graphic designer, and living with him in Atlanta. We started making music there and then we went from Atlanta to Colorado and continued making music. We sent some to Shomi [Patwary] from Illusive Media who works with Karmaloop now and he introduced our music to Shae and Chad and when we were out in Colorado they reached out to us and wanted to get together. So we got together and the rest is pretty much history.”
The influence that Pharrell, Chad, and Shae had on the guys in MOTM began before they even entered the studio. “Ben was especially influenced by the Neptunes and N. E. R. D. growing up,” said Wendler. “He says that he bought that album so many times, it is one of those albums for him that when you lose it you buy it again. Working out of the Neptunes studio was really cool, it was kind of like a dream. There were really creative people in there all the time. Watching Chad play the piano just doing whatever—it is pretty amazing that they came out of that generation that still played awesome instruments and that is what makes them great producers, because they are players. It is really cool. Nowadays some producers are not really fluent on the instruments and they can do midi mapping and stuff like that well but [The Neptunes] really can play those instruments and that is a really neat thing to see.”
Shaw’s admiration for them has roots in their distinctiveness. “For me it is has always been that their sound is something that you can always hear and tell it is them. Their choice of chords, their synth tones and their drums are so clean. I mean, Pharrell has made beats with just a couple of noises, beats that have played on the radio forever. That shit is pretty fucking cool. They are really high class musicians, and we are all players so we look up to them,” said Shaw.
Their mutual respect for each other as musicians led to Pharrell being the executive producer on their Lightyears EP, which came out in February. Now just a few months later, MOTM already has their sights set on the next release. Shaw explained, “There are talks of doing another mixtape. We have a lot of material already stored up for that. We are working on a bunch of remixes that we can’t talk about, but that will be awesome and we have our album that we are really focused on. We have a couple of songs off the album that we are really excited to put out.”