Sometimes the things surrounding you are all the motivation you need to feed your creativity. That’s certainly the case with Moontricks, a rustic electric-folk duo who are based in the Kootenay Mountains of Western Canada.
It’s not hard to be motivated by nature when it’s constantly surrounding you, as it is with Nathan Gurley and Sean Rodman, the cornerstones of Moontricks. They are set to release their debut full-length record Currents next month through Westwood Recordings, an album about feeling comfortable even if you are unsure of the direction you are headed. There is inspiration and happiness to be found in searching and seeking, and these sentiments persist throughout the entirety of Currents, including the recent single “Animals.”
It’s all about the journey for these two gentlemen, and the natural world can be used as our guide. Currents features strong, introspective lyrics, soulful, traditional blues influences, and cohesive, complementary electronic arrangements. Their rural beginnings have led them to this point, and Gurley and Rodman are certainly relishing the journey.
For our latest Geared Up interview, we speak with Rodman about his fondness for an instrument of which many people have an unfair negative opinion: the banjo.
What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?
Sean Rodman: “Moontricks has always paired organic acoustic elements with electronic beats and bass, and when the banjo came into the picture, we realized we really had something interesting happening.”
How did you get your first banjo? Vintage shop, regular shop, borrowed money, gifted. Give us the details…
“I was working in a music shop in a quiet mountain town, and with the slow pace of things there, I had lots of time for pulling instruments off the wall and playing around. I fell in love with one of the banjos and ended up trading work hours to pay it off.”
What made you choose the banjo as one of your instruments of choice, and were there any close seconds or alternates?
“We’re always trying different instruments out and pairing them with our production but it seems like the banjo is what we come back to and what people gravitate towards.”
What about this piece of equipment makes it so important to you?
“The way the banjo sits on top of the mix and cuts through with its sparkling brightness is amazing and one of a kind. It can be played at break-neck twangy speeds or slowly and gently with all kinds of versatility.”
Did you use the banjo to a great extent during the recording of Currents? If so, please elaborate on how and for what parts.
“The banjo riff in our latest song ‘Animals’ really drives the track forward with a rhythmic pulse and conveys the overall sentiments of the songwriting perfectly.”
Do you have a special way that you recreate your album (guitar/vocal/bass) tones in a live setting, or is it more just plug-and-play?
“I generally keep the banjo pretty clean sounding and untampered with. Plain and simple. I use an acoustic guitar magnetic pickup wedged inside behind a brace, and every sound guy asks how I get such a great tone without any of the feedback issues banjos are known for.”
We know you love your banjo, but are there any major cons? (Ok, now you can also list the pros.)
“The banjo can very easily become obnoxious if you’re not careful and tasteful with it… and it falls in and out of tune pretty easily.”
If you could or wanted to (maybe you don’t at all, and that’s cool), what would you tweak or mod on your banjo?
“I’ve seen the banjo used as a drum, a bowed instrument, and a synth. I think expanding that versatility would be really fun.”
How easy is it for you to tweak your banjo and get the tone/sounds you need?
“Like I said earlier, I generally keep it pretty clean and simple.”
How does your banjo hold up with regular touring and gigging?
“Banjos are generally quite robust and able to handle a certain amount of abuse. They’re built quite sturdy.”
Time for some fun. Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story.
“I once had my banjo’s floating bridge (that holds the strings in place on the body) crack in half in the middle of our set and fall on the floor. I managed to loosen off all the strings and wedge it back in place in between songs all busted up, re-tune it as best I could and keep playing as gently and carefully as possible and somehow made it through the rest of the set with a half-functioning banjo.
“The amazing thing that happened was that later that night at an afterparty, I met a luthier and when he heard about my misfortunes, he took my banjo home at 2 am and glued the pieces back together and had it ready before my flight the next morning for the next show. I’m still using it with his late-night repair.”