For regional artists working out of the Pacific Northwest, finding places to play beyond the I-5 corridor proves challenging. For many bands, Missoula can be a key stop in the rotation, which explains the connection the Seattle band Moondoggies has with the city.
"A lot of times the booking guys will send us to some small place, and we're wondering what it will be like, whether there will be more than four or five people there, whatever," says singer/guitarist Kevin Murphy. "After playing Missoula, we were like, 'More of this, please!'"
The band's headlining spot at the Zoo Music Awards at the Wilma will be their fourth visit to Missoula. This trip comes between 2010's Tidelands record and the forthcoming release of their third effort, Adios, I'm a Ghost, due in early August. The band likes to keep its '70s-country-rock-reminiscient music simple, whether it's louder, electric songs or a quiet acoustic track.
"We came out of a philosophy where you can write a song with two chords, then go any direction from there," Murphy says.
As for where that philosophy originally came from, Murphy admits his introduction to music is almost a Seattle cliché. Born in Everett, Wash., the youngest of five children, Murphy heard Nirvana in 1991. "Hearing Nirvana changed me from being interested in dinosaurs to being obsessed with rock music. After that, my older sister introduced me to the Beatles, and that was it." Murphy laughs. "I remember I had a tape that I played all the time," he says, "with Nirvana's Nevermind on one side and on the other was The Phantom of the Opera. So my interests were pretty wide."
Often cited as the principal songwriter in the band, Murphy is quick to share the credit. "Maybe 30 percent of the time I'll bring in a complete song," he says, "but mostly I just bring in a skeleton and we fill it out very much as a unit. The other guys add their own parts to it and it always makes the song better. Especially live, the more everyone gets into it the better it sounds."
The Moondoggies play rock 'n' roll that would have been right at home coming out of the twisting roads of Hollywood's Laurel Canyon back in the '70s. An eclectic mix of electric and acoustic songs with big harmonies are signatures of their sound—vocal comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are particularly apt—yet they don't come across as angsty or trying to be overly sensitive, a trap many indie bands fall into.
The band seems to have more in common sonically with outfits coming from the South, like Drive-By Truckers or Lucero. These are bands that dabble with different approaches in the studio, yet deliver rock shows with a power and energy that leave the unsuspecting rubbing their ears wondering why it was so much louder than they expected it to be.
"We have gone over pretty well in the South," Murphy says. "The crowds have been very appreciative of what we do. We're hoping to get down there more; we're hoping to get all over the country more."
This Missoula jaunt is just a quick trip to keep the juices flowing in anticipation of the new record, which they just finished recording. A stop in Spokane, then the Wilma show, then home. If Missoula delivers as expected, when it comes time to book the tour in support of Adios, I'm a Ghost, the Moondoggies will certainly be asking for "more of this."
Moondoggies play the Zoo Music Awards at the Wilma on Sat., March 2, at 7 PM. $18/$15 in advance at Rockin Rudy's.