For today’s guest, we have Moss Jaw. According to their Facebook, they’re a “compositionally dynamic, organic soundscapes cultivated by four pals from Kalamazoo, MI.” These four pals consist of Evan, Kayley, Max, and Russ. Today we’re speaking with Russ who does keyboards, guitar, and vocals, and Kayley who does vocals and guitar.
GMAT: So, I know you guys played at the Audiotree Live music festival out in Michigan, so that’s awesome. How did that go?
Russ: Well that was a good experience. It was a little unexpected. We wouldn’t have really guessed that that was going to be on our horizon. It was a good number of people and probably the biggest crowd our band’s played to yet. The sound was incredible! The sound was incredible. That was probably one of the best live sounds we’ve ever experienced.
Kayley: We truly got spoiled that day, both from a sound perspective and an environmental perspective. We got to meet a lot of really wonderful folks and had some great opportunities that arose prior and after this. We had no idea we’d be doing this, and it was such a pleasant surprise.
Russ: Yeah, we got to meet a lot of really great bands and have heard a lot more from press since then, so it’s definitely been a very welcome surprise to have more people hear about us.
GMAT: Yeah that’s awesome! How did that opportunity come about? Did Audiotree Live reach out to you?
Russ: Actually, they were partnering with WIDR, our local college station. So they did a smaller stage so they could represent a lot of Kalamazoo bands. We had a pretty close relationship with WIDR. Done battle of bands thing earlier in the year. They floated our name out there. We were more so asked on behalf of WIDR. Yeah that was a pretty easy thing to say yes to.
Kayley: It worked out really nice too since Russ went on a two-week tour in Europe and we were a little worried if that would work out with our schedule. Luckily, we got to play on Saturday instead of Sunday, so it worked out and he was able to fly out the next day. It was right back to back but really awesome we were able to have him play with us.
Russ: Yeah that was a funny thing. I was going to leave a handful of days, I was filling in for another day in Europe. I didn’t need to leave earlier, but mostly would be to see some people a few days, but when we got the offer, but I asked the guy I was playing with the other band in, and luckily it worked out. So we played on Saturday and the next day I woke up in the morning and drove down to Chicago to get on a plane for Germany.
GMAT: That must have been an awesome experience and I’m glad you got to do that! How did the band get started?
Russ: Basically, Kayley and I started getting together to play some music in the tail end of winter of last year, I think around January or February. I was just really eager to start a new project and delve a lot harder into songwriting. I didn’t know Kayley super well all the time but went on a limb and thought she was someone I could jive with. We pretty quickly started jamming, writing some stuff, and before we knew it we employed our buddy Evan to play drums, who quickly said yes. For a while we rocked it like that before we caved in and got a bass player, which I was trying to avoid.
Kayley: It was really nice, after some shows some of our friends would be like “Yo, you need a bassist.” And we were like “I don’t know do we?” and then it ended up working out really nicely that Max came on and added a lot more to the band than we thought. I mean, who knew adding two synths to a band could be so wonderful? It’s done wonders and has been so nice since then.
Russ: It was also a really great fit. Not only did he want to play bass, but he wanted to incorporate some baritone guitar and keyboard stuff. I split duties between keyboards and guitar as well, so he was like the perfect accompaniment to expand that further and get some more gadgets.
GMAT: Yeah, it’s definitely quite the cool soundscape you guys have got going on! How did the band come up with its name?
Kayley: Nothing really too riveting of a tale of the identity, but just mainly throwing a lot of terms back and forth, mainly just sticking to one or two words. We definitely wanted to stick to something related to nature as a whole and somehow found that on the path after verbally ping-ponging it back and forth. it just kind of happened. This is my first project ever, I hadn’t played music much before with anyone before I played with Russell and he showed me the way. I heard so much about finding a band name and that you just know when it’s right, and it was nice how it all came together as fluid as it did.
Russ: I think it’s a nice simple name, and really convenient that it’s pretty easily searchable, and it’s certainly similar to other things, but there’s no other bands named Moss Jaw. It was nice that it hit all those marks and involved nature and anatomical structures.
GMAT: Yeah, it’s nice and simple and sweet, and I think I agree, it hits all the marks, it’s cool! So, what would you consider the genre of the band to be?
Russ: That’s always been hard to pinpoint. I think we’re trying to come up with a quicker answer to that, but it’s sort of a project I’d rather be in and have something that’s harder to categorize. I know that’s a little evasive maybe, but there’s definitely a certain number of tags, but a lot of times we say dark, dreamy, indie rock. I think it’s very emo, that’s kind of a big part of the background I’m coming from, but that has some negative connotations in a lot of people’s minds. It’s one that I own whole heartedly. It’s got a lot of elements of post rock too. I think we were talking about a lot of newer bands we were in too, and a lot of long standing bands like Explosions in the Sky, and, I’m obsessed with Death Cab for Cutie, and that I think comes through a lot too.
Kayley: Yeah definitely Mothers comes through a lot too. There’s definitely a lot of elements in the songs that we try to have sonically manifest in a very novel perspective from our writing and composition and to maybe the emotions that come from the bands as well. We don’t necessarily try to emulate but adopt it into our own unique fashion.
GMAT: Awesome! I noticed on your Bandcamp for your WSS sessions that you have the price set at 420. Was that like a nice little inside joke?
Russ: Yeah, except no one’s paid for it yet.
Kayley: Yeah, no one’s paid for it, if you couldn’t tell.
Russ: Yeah, I believe we’re not really supposed to sell those recordings, but Bandcamp wouldn’t let me just have it be streaming only without being only able to download it, so I figured we could just price it accordingly, so no one wouldn’t ever buy it. We recorded it for free at Western sounds studios in Kalamazoo for free and I believe that’s one of the stipulations, is that you can’t sell this music. So, I figured we’d price it accordingly and hilariously.
GMAT: I think it’s hilarious. It makes a little bit more sense knowing the story. Another question I had was how does the music making process go for you guys?
Kayley: Russ and I are definitely the main forces. I write most of the lyrics, but Russ has definitely written stuff like for Bone & Fracture or Detritus or other things like that where we come together, but mainly lyrically I write the songs. Often, I’ll bring him the skeleton or the mere idea of a song like a lick on the guitar or something. We’ll just jam a lot of times on it and it will end up going in a good direction from there. Then it evolves, and we tried to pick apart the moments. We’ll often shift and distribute the weight though. It’s always a varied process, and that’s what makes it really interesting. It’s a lot less pressure.
Russ: Yeah, it’s nice not having just one primary song writer. I think it’s important just that if anyone’s voice is prominent, it’s Kayley’s, in terms of literary voice and perspective, but yeah we do a lot of workshopping, just the two of us, and then bring it to the full band setting and let it go sometimes and let it grow from there into the way it should go and let others bring something new into it.
GMAT: Yeah, I’m sure it definitely can change. So, what do you guys do outside of the band?
Russ: We all work and are involved in various things like musical projects. Max and Evan play in a band called Vines. We kind of stole them over and they’ve been kind of dabbling in new projects themselves. Kayley plays in another band called First Responders, which started not too long after Moss Jaw first started. I play in another band called Pack Sounds, which just put out a new album and started touring as well. Evan also plays in a new band called Sub City.
The biggest thing with me was this project was for me to put a lot of my heart and knowledge of song writing into this. I played in a band called The Reptilian that just played their last show out in June, so that was kind of on its way out, and that as my main driving force for what I did with my life, so I certainly wanted another outlet for creative ideas and this new-found time I have.
GMAT: Yeah it definitely sounds like it’s been a good outlet for this, so that awesome.
Russ: Kayley works a bunch of cool jobs involving nature.
Kayley: I’m currently going to school, hoping to graduate this spring, so I’m hoping to have more time to write and play, and find a stable job. But yeah, I work at a greenhouse right now and a permaculture farm. I get a little emotional sometimes knowing that I’ll leave both those jobs. They’re just student based, so I’m hoping to pursue something in that field after that, but that’s just the beauty of the uncertainty. It’s really fun that we’re getting more serious with the band and I think it’ll come at a good time where we’ll have more time for touring and other things for the band.
The music scene here in Kalamazoo is unique and thriving and ever-growing, evolving, and it’s been such a staple of this town here. The concept of DIT, DIY really flows through its veins here. We go to a lot of friend’s shows and explore different concepts and sonic ideologies. It’s great getting fuel for writing and also just seeing people that you love doing things that make you happy and seeing them reciprocate that same love.
Russ: It’s certainly an encouraging place to be a musician.
GMAT: Yeah, it’s cool. I know you guys have of course talked to other bands. I know you have the tour coming up with Mother Evergreen and a couple other bands playing in Milwaukee. How did that tour come about with them?
Russ: Evan Loritsch is the main force behind that group. He’s a super interesting individual. I believe he wrote and recorded everything on that record. I became fully obsessed with it. I had known him from playing in a band called Kittyhawk. Reptilian and Kittyhawk had played a number of shows together. I’d know him just from playing around. I never knew him super super well, but once that album came out I had to tell him I was just fully immersed in it. So, I’ve talked to him a lot about playing shows together and he’s been super encouraging as well, and has seen us play, and now happened to be a good time where our band could get together, and it worked out really well with Evan too.
It was nice to talk to a band that was super serious and established. So far, we’ve only played with other bands from our city, so it’s really nice to tour with another band and get that cross pollination from touring with another band with their own connections from a different part of the country and their own fan base.
Kayley: And it’s going to be Russ’s birthday next week.
Russ: That’s true, one of those shows is going to be my birthday, the show in Chicago. I’m super excited.
Kayley: Yeah, we’re going to spoil him rotten.
Kayley: It worked out really well.
Russ: I’m pumped.
Kayley: Yeah all of the tours we’ve done have been awesome experiences, however we’ve definitely learned what it’s like going to other DIT communities and how they function as a well. One thing is we usually end up in house shows, which is completely fine, playing in basement, we love it. Sometimes just maybe not many people show up, there’s just flexibility with DIT shows. It’ll be nice being in more solidified venues that can capture and reflect our sound better. The places we’re playing we hear are good and are playing with a lot of bands that we love and look up to.
It feels to us a lot more mature, because the two previous tours we’ve gone on before with Vines with the two other members of the project, Max and Evan, are in our band so, y’know we’re all good buds, so we went on tour and it was such a blast, but we’re friends and all from the same time, and this is totally different since it’s bigger bands and branch out. It’ll be nice to meet new folks and hopefully establish or start some new friendships.
GMAT: I think at this point, I don’t have anything else, do you guys have anything else or even questions you have for me?
Russ: I think we’re just really excited to play in Milwaukee, we almost played at Quarters in the past, I’ve had a blast there, but I feel like Bremen will be a bit better fit. I feel like that show seems pretty promising. I know Social Caterpillar got it set up, and I love those cats and that band is so good, and I know some of those folks for quite a while actually. I feel like we’re pretty spoiled with the lineup.
I’ve loved Milwaukee. It feels very similar to Kalamazoo in my mind. I’ve got a lot of strong connections in Milwaukee and I’m really excited to bring a new project through there!
To learn more about Moss Jaw, check them out on Facebook (@mossjaw) and Instagram (@moss.jaw). Their bandcamp can also be checked out here (https://mossjaw.bandcamp.com/releases)