In 2011, anyone who sports plaid shirts and a ’70s rock fetish runs a dangerous risk of becoming a living, breathing cliché. Although Seattle quartet The Moondoggies match that description, the band’s sophomore album, Tidelands, is anything but another lazy installment of the latest indie-rock trend. Although it references a wide swath of Nixon Administration-era rock acts like so many of its contemporaries, the band doesn’t wallow in nostalgia. Instead, it blends a heady dose of modern flourishes into the mix and digs a lot deeper into its record collection than the usual suspects. In preparation for the band’s trip to SXSW—where it plays the Hardly Art showcase at Red 7 on Friday, March 18—keyboardist-singer Caleb Quick reflected on songwriting life in the blogosphere’s dim, dim spotlight.
A.V. Club: Your music seems a lot more natural and jam-centered than much of the conceptual material being made by many indie-rock acts these days. Did that help you from melting down when you decided to finish writing Tidelands in the studio?
Caleb Quick: I think that’s fair. All of us have played in different kinds of music. Kevin [Murphy] came from sort of a punk-rock background. I came from a blues and jazz background. Our prior worlds of music allowed us to know that you could just sit in a room and play without having to write stuff down on paper or have some scheme. I think we like to concentrate on the overall feeling of the song.
AVC: Although a lot of bands are channeling the feeling of late-’70s bands right now, The Moondoggies seem to be a lot better at digesting those influences instead of simply mimicking them.
CQ: I think often, and nothing against journalists in general, but often times it is quite the opposite, and they say “Neil Young” or “The Band” and just run with that. I’ll see that and go, “What is he talking about?” Yeah, we love Neil Young and The Band, but I also love Otis Redding and our contemporaries.
AVC: Speaking of journalists, everything you read about The Moondoggies talks about how singer-guitarist Kevin Murphy spent a few months in Alaska before you two started this band. Do you ever feel as if that trip and its mythology overshadows your music?
CQ: I don’t think it overshadows us. I think that Ketchikan, Alaska had a very big impact on Kevin becoming confident as a writer. Before Ketchikan, he was not a very confident singer, and was just teetering with the idea of doing all this. The Kevin that I saw [return] was definitely different and changed. He realized he could sing and write music, and he wanted to do all that. Therefore, I think it was very significant to Kevin. Sometimes, I think journalism looks to make a story. It’s got to be interesting.
AVC: Once a story gets attached to a band, it’s with you forever.
CQ: It’s because it’s written about. I notice other journalists do the same thing. You read up on what’s been previously written, and will assume it to be an accurate depiction of the band. It sort of compounds on itself. I’d say most of the time, it’s accurate. One we just thought was hilarious—and it was like, “This is getting out of control!”—is when they said, “Kevin Murphy of The Moondoggies, who spent countless summers up in Ketchikan, Alaska, where his family used to be.” Whatever. He spent four months up there and he was working. He was in a little touristy town. Sometimes I think people are just outright trying to make a story. People don’t want to read the same story about, “they met here, and they did this.” People like to romanticize and spiritualize things. It’s all true, but if you’re going to ask me, there are other parts of this band that have yet to be discovered or written about.
AVC: Such as?
CQ: What I think is very unique about this band that doesn’t get talked about as often is how a song is written. Every single person is highly influential on that song. That’s the unique part. I’ve played in many different bands before and it’s never like this.
AVC: The irony of that is everyone who isn’t familiar with the normal division of labor in a band assumes every song you write is a perfect collaboration.
CQ: There’s sides where people have assumptions as to what it’s like. Usually, it’s like, “No, no, no, that’s not it at all.” We sometimes refer to ourselves as “The Moondorkies,” because after a show on Friday night, my wife will be there and my little girl will be there. We’ll all be hanging around after the show and she knows everyone’s names. We’re all these guys hanging out after a show and we’re laughing because we know everybody thinks we’re going straight back to the bar to get hammered and do a bunch of lines of coke. We’re sitting here playing with my daughter!