I'm trying to come up with some clever way to twist the metaphor of a hangover clearing up and a band named after one breaking up, and I'm coming up short. But after a half-decade, Moonshine Hangover calls it quits this week, and I spoke to bassist/vocalist Will Johnson about the life and death of the band. Hair of the dog, anyone?
LocalCut: How did you reach the decision to split?
Will Johnson: Over the last couple months, it became clear. We're all family guys with day jobs. Our band wives have, between all of us, had five kids in the past three years. And over time we've been pulled this way and that way, and there was a level of burnout, or people were bored or wanted to do something different. So we had some frank discussions over the last six to eight months. And our guitarist Kris, about a month and a half ago, told us he just had to leave and do something different, which was not a real surprise, so we decided to wind down. We didn't want to continue. We talked about finding another guitarist, but Kris was such an integral part of what we did, it wouldn't have felt right.
So how long was the band actually together?
We were together in this lineup for five and a half years. Before that was another band including myself and YD and Greg, we were called 24 Bitches on Mezcal for a couple years prior. Then, actually it was [local promoter] Lisa Lepine who told us, "Your name is really awful," and that was right around the same time our guitar player had some legal troubles, so we placed an ad in Willamette Week for a guitarist, and met Kris, who had just moved to Portland. Our guitar player left the band and actually ended up in prison, and we changed our name and went on. But YD and I have been best friends since we were 16, and we've been making music in one form or another since shortly after college. We like to drink beer, and playing music is one of the things we do when we drink beer together.
You said Kris moved here, but the rest of you are natives?
The three of us are Oregonians. Kris is orginally, technically, from North Carolina, but he's been a complete nomad. Let's see, he's lived in North Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, Las Vegas, out here... never any place too long. Part of that restlessness might be why he needed to move on from the band.
Was the idea of breaking up around while you were preparing your last album [Resplanador, released last July]? Was there any sense of, "We'll see how the album does," and then when it didn't really take off or whatever, you decided to pull the plug?
Not really. We didn't really put a lot of energy into getting it out there, even though we worked on it far more than the previous two, and I think it's the greatest work we've done. But it did feel like work. I said music's something we do for fun, but while we were putting it together, it became work more than just a hobby. One of the things that kept us going as a band is that we didn't have any delusions or rock star dreams. We were happy with the band at a level that allowed us to play cool shows, but recording felt more like work. So the truth of the matter is we didn't have a real hard push when the record came out. Sales haven't been bad at all despite that.
You said your guitarist was eager to start other projects, and I hear he's been working with drummer/producer Chris Hutton. Is there a next project in the works for you or the others?
Well, there are irons in the fire, but I don't know what will come of them. I think I'll just take some time off for a while. I'm sure I'll end up doing something, but whether it's with a band, or just for recreation, I don't know. We've all spun off and had side projects along the way. Our drummer's got a new band, well it's actually just two guys, but they're called Goatsucker, and they've got a disc out that's basically instrumental, Norwegian-style heavy metal.
Well, thanks for taking the time to fill me in on the breakup.
Sorry there's not more drama! We had great chemistry as a band, there wasn't any superiority, it was always a democracy. There was no megalomania. So I don't see why we won't all remain friends.
Moonshine Hangover plays its final show this Friday, Nov. 9, at Dante's with Michael Dean Damron & Thee Loyal Bastards, North Twin and Scottland Barr & the Slow Drags. $7. 21+.
Photo courtesy of Moonshine HangoverSpace