Wild Moccasins, bless their hearts, are already tired of telling "the bird story." The winsome, unfailingly cheerful local indie-pop crew would much rather talk about Skin Collision Past, the debut full-length LP they're releasing this Friday at Walter's.
It's hard to blame them. Six months in the making, Skin Collision builds on and fleshes out the exuberant sound of 2008's Microscopic Metronomes EP, which remains so popular it reappeared in Cactus Music's list of weekly top sellers earlier this month.
The vocal interplay between real-life couple Zahira Gutierrez and Cody Swann, who formed the Moccasins in late 2007, and the equally intricate layers of keyboards and guitars produce, as the Austin Chronicle wrote, a "pure pop swell" that's as charming as it is effervescent. Much like the Moccasins in concert, Skin Collision never stops moving for a second.
Unfortunately, that bird story is just too good not to repeat at least one more time.
About a month ago, the Moccasins were in the home stretch of the band's second extended tour — like the first one last summer, a three-week trip through the Southeast, East Coast and Midwest they booked themselves. Among the cornfields of rural Iowa, on their way from Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas, the band was jolted out of their late-afternoon highway hypnosis by what Gutierrez originally thought was a gunshot.
"I thought somebody was trying to kill us," she says. "[Guitarist] Andrew Lee was asleep when it happened — I turned around and there was blood and guts on the side of his face."
Luckily, the gore that suddenly exploded throughout the Moccasins' van belonged to neither Lee nor drummer John Baldwin, who was sitting nearest the window that was struck by an errant (and possibly suicidal) turkey. Bird and band were both traveling at such high velocity that the doomed fowl took out windows on both sides of the van, showering several Moccasins in glass, blood and entrails.
This entirely different sort of skin collision forced the Moccasins to cancel their Lawrence and Norman, Oklahoma, shows — they did make it back to Houston in time to make their Houston International Festival debut — and the pictures the band posted on their Twitter page were as gruesome as any Blood on the Highway-type safety film. Although their van still isn't repaired, the Moccasins are understandably ready to move on.
"We're hoping this story will die down now," admits Swann, gathered with the other Moccasins save newest member Baldwin (who couldn't get off work at Cactus) around a picnic table outside Midtown's Nouveau Antique Art Bar.
"The interview's done now, right?" laughs bassist Nick Cody, who was driving the van when it was struck by the feathered missile.
Nope. Not quite.
Houston Press: Seriously, and not just because of the bird, do you think this tour toughened you up?
Cody Swann: I feel like we're able to be closer and stronger as a band. Maybe tougher as a band, and tighter.
Andrew Lee: I don't necessarily realize it until someone points it out, that they notice something different about me. But I can't really tell the difference because I grew into it.
Zahira Gutierrez: We spend so much time together that we all know each other so well now. I wouldn't be able to tell either.
HP: You say closer and tighter — do you mean musically or personally?
CS: I think both. I think they're kind of interchangeable. I think you need to be close as friends to be able to play tight as well.
ZG: This last tour was the best. I know we've only had two, but it was so much fun.
HP: You do your own booking and management — how do you guard against getting caught by the shadier side of the music business, like club owners who won't pay?
CS: All I'm doing everything for is my own band, so [that's] the only real focus. If someone asked me to book a tour for their band, honestly, I wouldn't be able to do it because my ultimate drive is helping something that I really care about. I never really get caught up in anything like that, where someone would be like, "Hey, you should do that as a job." The only reason I have this drive to do it is to support the creative side.
Nick Cody: We kind of got screwed in Boston. This club we played, which I don't want to name, it was a Monday or Tuesday so there wasn't a bunch of people. But enough people came to where the audience was decent. They probably took in about 90 dollars of door money, but they were like, "See, the thing is we've got to take in $150 before we can pay the bands." It was like, "When was that spoken of? You didn't tell us this before." You just live and learn sometimes. We'll never play there again.
HP: How do you think the group has grown musically in the time it took to make the album?
CS: I felt like just being in the recording studio that long, there was a lot of maturing. You get to know what you're doing a lot of, and understand what you're doing too much of. You learn to hold back a lot of stuff, and not just do it to do it or because you have the time to do it.
It's a layer-savvy record — there are a lot of tiny, subtle things, and there's a lot more we could have added than what there was. Just knowing how to communicate with each other and being able to tell that person, "This would be a good time to stop doing that, because right now it sounds great. You could add that extra keyboard part, but it's going to take away from something else."
HP: How do you keep from overanalyzing a song or a part, and just know when it's good the way it is?
Nick Cody: It takes that sixth person — John Griffin, who recorded it, saying the sound is pretty good.
ZG: Or that no one else who's going to listen to this is going to hear this. It's gonna only be you.
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AL: We kind of had a due date, so to speak, because we had a tour and we needed to have the CD finished so we wouldn't have to come back from tour and do it all over again. Plus it would be like 1:30 in the morning.
CS: We had a lot of late nights.
NC: It wasn't that hard, though. A lot of it came really quickly.