Moon Taxi Take a Nostalgic View of their Evolution On Silver Dream LP

Photo Credit: Don VanCleave

When Moon Taxi went into the studio to create their sixth studio album Silver Dream, they didn’t expect the topic of mental health to become so prevalent throughout the artistic process. The band had headed to Los Angeles for a near two-week trip to craft the album in collaboration with various writers, one of which was busbee, the acclaimed songwriter and producer who’s worked with major pop and country acts ranging from Shakira and Toni Braxton to Maren Morris and Keith Urban. Within moments of meeting busbee, the revered producer began opening up about his journey with the rare form of brain cancer he was battling at the time and ultimately succumbed to in 2019, much to the shock and grief of many in the music industry.

“He was saying some very personal things about his life and things he was going through and opening up about all sorts of things he was dealing with. It was beautiful because all of a sudden, everyone was far more vulnerable and we’re talking about stuff that we as a band don’t really ever talk about, and that set the scene,” Moon Taxi guitarist and producer Spencer Thomson tells Audiofemme of the formative session. “Everyone felt very open and willing to talk about things that aren’t part of our normal conversation.”

A big part of that conversation was the importance of mental health, each band member reflecting on their relationship to it, which soon became a recurring topic in writing sessions for Silver Dream. “Whether we intended it or not, a common theme in the lyrics throughout the album is dealing with all the tricky things in life,” Thomson says. 

The theme of mental health manifests itself in various ways across the dozen songs, including “Take the Edge Off,” co-written with busbee about the feeling of being lost and troubled: “Everyone’s here but I still feel alone/Trying to run with my feet set in stone.” “Keep it Together” finds the musicians seeking refuge from the feelings of intensity and pressure that are commonplace in modern society. Thomson also points to the chorus of “Above the Water” as holding a mirror up to the mental health theme as they sing, “No, it never lets go/It’s just getting harder/But you keep my head above the water/And you’re pulling me along so much father/Father than I thought I could go.”

“[That song] speaks to when it feels like you can’t catch a break and everything’s getting harder and harder; that one in particular’s about somebody or some people helping you along,” Thomson explains. In turn, the band extends a hand to those experiencing the emotions and challenges they sing of with such tracks as “Lions,” an edgy pop number that counteracts these oft-deflating feelings of anxiety with a tale of strength and resiliency that lives in all of us, while “Say” encourages listeners to be fearless and speak one’s truth.

“I think the hopeful side of the record is that with other people to help you and be companions along the way, we get through all the tricky things in life,” Thomson expresses. “The songs that we write, we do like to offer hope. That is who we are and what our music represents. We’ve always done plenty of writing in that domain, where it’s finding hope amidst everything.” 

Moon Taxi’s origin story begins in Birmingham, Alabama where vocalist Tommy Terndrup and bass player Trevor Putnam met and started a band. After graduation, their musical aspirations lead them to Belmont University in Nashville where they connected with drummer Tyler Ritter, who coincidentally attended the same Birmingham high school. Terndrup and Putnam approached Thomson on his first night at Belmont, as he played guitar on the steps outside of their dorm. After going through a few iterations of the band, the current lineup was complete when they were joined by Wes Bailey, a keyboard player with a vast musical background and sharp songwriting capabilities from Knoxville, Tennessee. “The longer we’re together, the more everyone finds their spot. That evolves too, because the way we do things evolves and with each thing everyone falls in line,” Thomson shares with Audiofemme. Early Silver Dream single “Hometown Heroes” immortalizes the earliest part of their journey as a band.

After playing gigs throughout college, the multi-faceted band faced a crossroads after a “defeating” tour in 2010 that took them across the country without a firm plan or dream in place, feeling as if they’d hit rock bottom. “We realized is we needed to figure out how to make a good record that we liked – we can’t just go around and expect by playing a bunch of live shows that’s going to work for where we want to go,” Thomson recalls of the pivotal perspective. “Having that epiphany, we really started taking things seriously – stop and focus on making a great record, or at least something that we were proud to leave behind.”

From there, the band set their sights on blending contemporary production elements with their live musicianship, which led to the indie-rock-meets-electro-pop sound they’re known for today. Their newfound focus made way for their breakthrough 2012 album Cabaret and landed them a slot at Bonnaroo Festival that summer, catapulting Moon Taxi to the next level of their career. “I always point to that as where things started going well, having that epiphany making that album,” Thomson says. “Then, Bonnaroo was a great springboard for people to discover and talk about us and something we could use as a jumping off point for conversation.”  

Subsequent albums saw Moon Taxi opening up their sound even further, and their sixth and latest album Silver Dream certainly continues that trajectory, the title itself representing nostalgia, imagination and leaving the door open for interpretation. “We wanted something that had imagery to it, which was where ‘silver’ comes from; thinking about the way dreams in the past can feel more idyllic than they were, or that you look at them in that way,” Thomson says, noting that the band was intentional about maintaining “mystery” and “strangeness” around the title. “The intention is that [the songs] be vague enough for the listener to imagine their own memory attached to those [images],” he explains. 

With Silver Dream, the band continues to evolve, setting the stage for a fruitful future where no ambition is out of reach. “We explored quite a bit of new ground on this album sonically, and covered a lot of ground. Going forward, I don’t know specifically what the next thing we do will sound like, but I feel like it could go in any direction. It feels like we’ve positioned ourselves in a way that we can go in several directions at once. We can set ourselves up to be pretty diverse and able to go wherever we feel like going at the time, as far as the music is concerned, which I think is a good position,” Thomson says. “I think our thing is about constantly evolving and seeing how we can evolve with the times and stay true to ourselves at the same time. It’s not necessarily about getting better as much as it is trying to stay evolving. We listen to all sorts of music, and it’s inspiring to find how we can fit into the broader musical landscape while still retaining whatever it is about us that makes us, us.”

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Zoë Nutt Turns Challenges Into Triumph on Sophomore Album ‘How Does It Feel’

Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Zoë Nutt has a reliable sense of grit that sees her through any challenge.

Raised in Knoxville, Tennessee by a musical family, Nutt spent much of her childhood analyzing lyrics, yet believed at the time that music was an “unreachable” profession. In high school, she auditioned for the female lead in the school’s musical. Instead, she was cast in a small male role. But that’s when her determination kicked in – she hired a vocal coach to teach her how to sing classical music in order to attain the leads in the musical theatre productions. “And I did,” she asserts.

Nutt later enrolled at Nashville’s Belmont University as a classical performance major and was a few classes shy of graduating when she felt compelled to apply for the university’s esteemed songwriting program. When she got the acceptance letter, she knew she had both the talent and determination to make music a full-time job. But the new adventure didn’t come without strife. Since the age of eight, Nutt has been totally deaf in her right ear. She also has severe tinnitus, impacting the way she hears specific sounds and communicates with others. “All these sounds, like someone grabbing a water bottle or closing the door, would make me not want to leave the house,” she explains. “It’s strange – you lose your hearing, but you end up being extremely sensitive to certain things at the same time.” Then, during her first semester as a songwriting major, Nutt woke up to discover she had lost a large part of her hearing overnight.

Though the experience was “shocking,” it hasn’t stopped Nutt from pursuing her passions. Though hearing loss is not fundamental to her identity, it does play a noteworthy role in her songwriting. “Although a lot of my songs aren’t about hearing loss, a lot of the themes started focusing towards positive things happening in negative situations,” she describes. “I was definitely feeling that way of having gotten this great opportunity and then basically being told by the universe ‘that’s not in the cards for you with the hearing loss.’ So I’ve always felt that up and down feeling in my songs.”

While recording her sophomore album How Does It Feel, Nutt lost her hearing for an entire month. After multiple suggestions from her doctor, Nutt decided to go through with cochlear implant surgery to help improve her hearing, spending a year recuperating from the surgery before heading back into the studio to record the 10-song album. It was finally released this year, and thoughtfully captures the singer’s stories, which range from reliving her heartbreak due to a cheating ex on “Rewind” to a young woman aiming to break the mold on the self-fulfilling prophecy, “Girl of My Dreams.” But the album closer “Like You” tells a deeply personal story, one that Nutt hasn’t lived yet. The heartbreakingly beautiful song finds Nutt foreshadowing to the day she becomes a mother, saddened to be unable to hear her newborn child, yet hopeful in knowing she’ll feel her child’s love within. “I won’t ever hear you say you love me/I’ll never know whether you can sing/But I can’t wait to watch your lips speak wonders/Cause no one will ever sound like you,” she sings, her voice floating angelically over a melody of strings and subtle steel guitar.

“I’m not one to talk about my hearing loss a ton – it’s a very personal thing. For me to put that out there, that was really hard for a moment,” she says. “I think it’s one of those songs that later on in my life, I’m going to look at differently too, because when I wrote it, I was feeling this immense fear of not being able to hear anyone and that moment of thinking of all those important things in my life that I’m not going to be able to hear.” Writing the song, though, brought healing and new meaning into her life. “Now that I’ve moved on and I’m handling my hearing loss, I’m not in that moment when I’m thinking about it that way. But later on, I think this song is going to hit me really hard in a different way.”

Describing herself as someone who’s often felt like an outsider looking in, Nutt hopes that How Does It Feel will allow her fellow outsiders to feel not only accepted, but understood. “I think that’s what we all want down to our core is to be heard and to be understood,” Nutt refelcts. “I hope people listen to songs and feel a little understood.”

Follow Zoë Nutt on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or visit her website for ongoing updates.