Mike and the Moonpies Talk Gary Stewart, Alan Jackson and Uniting Cowboys and Hipsters
It's a Tuesday night at Austin's Horseshoe Lounge and two members of the band Mike and the Moonpies are here to do an interview. Frontman Mike Harmeier is wearing snakeskin boots and a Dwight Yoakam trucker cap. Lead guitarist Catlin Rutherford vaguely resembles Chris Hillman when he wears a mustache, but he's just shaved it off.
Mike and the Moonpies
Harmeier's from a suburb of Houston, and grew up going to the rodeo. He says his favorite movie is the George Strait vehicle Pure Country, but Pulp Fiction is a close second. Rutherford's family used to own a dance hall in South Texas. He recalls a time Johnny Paycheck came through and asked for a glass of water before the show; instead of drinking it, he startled everybody by plopping his dentures in.
Mike and the Moonpies are a professional honky-tonk band. They are self-managed and don't have day jobs, gigging four or five nights a week at bars and private parties around Texas. A typical Moonpies set is a mix of '70s hardcore country standards (Doug Sahm, Gary Stewart, Freddy Fender) and their own songs, which have good hooks and lyrics about heartbreak and hard living.
"We're gonna start getting out of state more but right now it pays for itself to go in the same circle: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin," says Harmeier. On one hand, this makes them a throwback to an earlier breed of dancehall-circuit performers. On the other, they're just doing the practical, 21st century thing: constant touring, digital record releases and self-promotion online.
The parking lot is its own spectacle at the White Horse, where they play every Thursday.To get to the door you'll pass Cadillacs, choppers, and the occasional mule. Mike Judge has been spotted there, and is a fan. He makes a cameo in their music video for the song "Tape Machine," from their new self-titled EP on Phono Records.
In advance of their show Friday, May 4, at Adair's, here's an excerpt of our interview.
You play a lot of covers, which you probably wouldn't do if you were a rock or indie band. It's similar to what Dwight Yoakam was doing, and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Mike Harmeier: For the country music genre in general, it's always been big to play covers. For us it's partly out of utility. We play private shows that are long and you have have a good set of covers to keep people interested. We dig ourselves a hole sometimes. Once we play five or six covers, we get on a roll, go into cover territory, and never come out of it. But it doesn't bother me. We mix it up. As long as people are dancing, it doesn't matter.
Catlin Rutherford: That's our job.
Every time I go see you, the crowd seems to double. And it's an unusual mix of people.
MH: In the '70s, it was the hippies meet the rednecks. Now it's like, dancehall cowboys and hipsters, all in one room. There's nothing better than seeing cowboy hats next to skinny jeans.
You've filled a niche.
MH: This scene of the country people and the stuff we're playing, that's what I've been wanting for a long time.
Here's a taste question. Recently I was having a conversation with somebody about loving George Strait but hating Alan Jackson.Thoughts?
MH: I'm in that boat too.
What's that about? Is there some kind of Alan Jackson vs. George Strait thing?
MH: I've felt that way for a long time. But I don't think you feel that way, Catlin.
CR: I like them both. I mean, I like George Strait more.
MH: George Strait was my number one forever, since I was a little kid. I like the music, I think the production value's good. I know every lick I hear on every George Strait song. Alan Jackson, I don't know what it is. I don't like his voice. There's something about it, I'm not sure if I can explain it either.
CR: He's not a Texan.
More like that Florida sound. "It's 5 O' Clock Somewhere."
MH: Yeah, Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. That gets played on the radio a lot. Buffett's on all those Zack Brown songs now too. Zack Brown is probably at the top of the country charts right now and it is terrible. I remember my friend said, "Once you go to the island, you never come back." And that's kinda what he's doing.
MH: Yeah, Beach country. I cannot stand that stuff. It's everywhere, like Kenny Chesney and now Zack Brown.That's what happened to Jimmy Buffett. He used to run with Jerry Jeff Walker back in the '70s. Then they went to the islands one time, and Jimmy never came back.
CR: He went to Margaritaville and stayed.