Houston first set eyes on Roky Moon & BOLT! in early 2009 at the now-shuttered Walter's on Washington. In the two years since, the band has burst out of the insular local scene with regular touring and gigging, all the while adorning their modern glam-rock with female backing vocals, piano and saxophone. So far.
Saturday at Fitzgerald's, the band debuts their second full-length album, American Honey, which was recorded over four takes in one day at SugarHill Studios earlier this year. The album is markedly different from BOLT!'s previous recordings, including last year's self-titled LP, but Honey finds the band coming ever closer to completely perfecting their now-signature sound.
The road to getting Honey made was paved by the band's live show. The throwback sound and over-the-top delivery — despite the creamy melodies, BOLT! pushes themselves as hard as any punk or metal group — almost militantly wowed SugarHill co-owner Dan Workman.
"The first time I saw Roky Moon and BOLT! perform, it was love at first sight — I knew that I had to record this band. Hell, I wanted to be in the band!" says Workman, obviously beaming even through e-mail. "I just got it: Bowie, T. Rex, Meat Loaf. Here were the new glam-rock kids of the 2010s and the star of the band dressed like a slacker!"
Zenfilm creative director W. Ross Wells, who partnered with Workman to form ZenHill Records last year, says BOLT!'s noise made him feel decades younger. The group was one of the first acts the brand-new local label signed.
"Hearing them for the first time was incredibly satisfying musical comfort food that took me back to my '70s pomp/glam roots," Wells says. "As I listened, I realized they were much more than that. Rather than just paying tribute to their heroes, they were interpreting the genre for a whole new generation."
Simply put, no one in Houston sounds like Roky Moon & BOLT!, and all their influences are godheads and legends. There's Meat Loaf in "Hot Saturday Night," David Bowie in "Monster" and Andrew Lloyd Webber on "The Lioness." They even managed to snag permission to use Bowie's "Watch That Man" on Honey.
As much as the band's lyrical content seems to come from a mythical stratosphere inside lead singer Moon's wooly brain, there are undeniable allusions to a Houston music and drinking scene that holds as much drama as any nightly CW soap opera.
"The fourth track on the album ('Unhinge the Youth') speaks openly about getting high with people we have met," says Moon, the Ziggy Stardust-like alter ego of longtime local musician Mike Hardin. "Every story worth telling in life should deal with some sort of loss. I tend to have a lot of that in my writing."
"There are certainly some parallels that could be drawn, especially since we see those personalities all the time in everyday life, doing what we do," agrees drummer Jeoaf Johnson. "None of us are strangers to the Houston bar scene. You can pretty much catch any of us out somewhere on any given night, so it's definitely an undeniable part of the band's DNA."
Moon's creative cooking is the nucleus of the band, which also includes guitarist Aaron Echegaray, bassist Chad Pinter and keyboardist Cassie Hargrove. Mink bartender Moon works alone and then presents the skeleton of a track to the band at their rehearsals on the bar's Backroom stage. (Johnson and Echegaray also work at The Mink when not gigging.)
"I spend a great deal of time working on writing the songs at home and crafting the structures, then we spend an even greater amount of time in the practice room letting the fine musicians that call themselves BOLT! throw in all of their magic," says Moon, as grandiose in conversation as he is onstage.
"By the time that is all said and done, we have ourselves a RM&B song," he continues. "If you're asking where they are born, I would say typically between 4 and 8 a.m. in a dark room somewhere in the Montrose."
Wells says this Honey tastes so great to the ears because the band doesn't think inside modern music-industry fences.
"Roky Moon is a wunderkind. He creates not songs but albums, in the '70s sense of true 'Album Oriented Rock,'" the filmmaker offers. "Each project is thematic and crafted like a good film script. The creative process is not happenstance, it's very cool and a little scary. For me, listening to Honey is like finding some long-lost recording treasure from a band you have never heard before. You fall in love with it."
Engineer Chris Longwood, who co-produced Honey, recounts that the day the album was made became something of an epic all-day party.
"Working on the album was unpredictable and a really, really good time. It was one of the few times we've been able to meld a 'party vibe' and an über-talented artist to make a session run flawlessly," he says. "The band was totally rehearsed for the 'one-take' recordings, but they also managed to exude all the energy and showmanship of their live concert, all while strapped down by headphones."
Longwood adds that Johnson had to literally strap his headphones to his head à la Alex Van Halen because he was playing his drums so hard during the sessions that the headphones kept falling off.
Guitarist Echegaray is responsible for some of the licks and lines that make Honey such a stunner, especially on "She Goes On." For him, the album has a multifaceted concept.
"It refers to those things that feed a lavish, decadent and overindulgent lifestyle, characteristic not only of the glam music we play, but of all of our lives as Americans," he says. "Everyone has their own weakness for such sweet things — is it the stuff you find in bottles and baggies that keeps you up all night wanting more? Is it the screaming girls at the foot of the stage?
"Above all, (Honey) serves as a reminder to not get lost along the way, that we still need to come out on the other side in one piece," Echegaray states.
While the band is in the midst of promoting and talking up Honey, they are also looking ahead to making even more additions. Since Roky Moon & BOLT!, they've added horns and cooing girly backup singers, but the next edition should have even more ingredients.
"I have definitely been on the lookout for someone to help with acoustic, percussion, backing vocals and other stuff I want, but I haven't been successful," says Moon. "I am also always on the lookout for another saxophone, maybe a tenor or alto. Of course that is hard to find, especially if you aren't willing to just go and hire some studio player."
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Johnson admits that adding so many things could put the band on a slippery slope.
"How much more instrumentation do you pack on before it becomes too bloated? Then again, considering the type of music we're making, is there even a point where it becomes too bloated?" he says. "It'd be nice to have Freddie Mercury around so he could point out the line in the sand and give us a proper lesson in excess."
The band's plans for Saturday night's release show are confidential, but from what we have seen and been told by the band, it's going to be a smashingly vintage affair, sure to please longtime fans. Workman is even getting in on the fun himself.
"Roky has invited me to live out my fantasy, playing the guitar solo to 'The Pony Man' alongside Aaron onstage at the show," he says. "I'll be the guy dressed in the flowing robes of rock. I'm old enough to wear whatever costume I want."