Mike and the Moonpies Interview: We talk about recording in the historic Abbey Road studios, new album Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold, plus we announce an incoming UK tour!
For fans of the Texas music scene, Mike and the Moonpies are a staple. The Austin-based band are known as one of the hardest-working bands in the honky tonk scene, their sound has been honed by playing hundreds of shows a year. Their latest album Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold was (perhaps surprisingly) recorded at Abbey Road studios in London, marking their return from 2018’s triumphant Steak Night at the Prairie Rose. We recently chatted to frontman and songwriter Mike Harmeier, where he told us about recording the album and let slip some big plans to head back to the UK.
First off, I’m a long-time Moonpies fan, which is why I was so excited to hear that you’d recorded your latest album Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold over here in London at Abbey Road. Why did you decide to make the trip over here to record the album?
We really wanted to make something different to before and we wanted to try to surprise as many people as we could with it. We wanted to make this country record and our friend, Dave Purcival, who works where we usually record had been over and worked at Abbey Road several times. He knew we could get in and get the London Symphony in with us, we had travel worked out for some festivals we were playing in Italy and France, so we decided to try and land Abbey Road. The scheduling and travel worked out so it came together nicely.
What was it like recording at such a legendary studio? So many bands would love to play and record there…
It was very overwhelming at first. The heaviness in that room is palpable. What got us through it was the fact we only had two days to record there, so we kind of had to take it all in and get to work immediately. Only having two days meant we just had to let it all sink in later on.
Did you have the songs ready to record before you arrived or did they all come together in those couple of days?
When we decided to make the record we didn’t have any songs, so before we decided to go we spent about a week together over here in Texas and wrote all of the songs within three or four days. We’d recorded some demo versions before we left but we were still writing after we left. We had two weeks of travel, so we were still writing songs until the day we walked in.
Were those songs written with the orchestra in mind or did it came together naturally?
They were written in that mindset. I started listening to a bunch of old Ray Price stuff and some Sinatra. We tried to write the songs with chords and melodies that we thought would lend themselves to the orchestra. When we recorded the demos, we gave them to Dave Purcival who came over and arranged all of the strings.
Were the strings recorded afterwards or live with the band?
We recorded for two days there in studio two, then on the third day we had to leave for the States and the strings came in on that third day.
It’s got a cool, 70s lounge vibe to the record, you can feel the Sinatra and Glen Campbell influence…
Yeah, that’s true. I listen to a lot of that stuff, a lot of Glen Campbell, things like that to get inspiration for the songs.
Did you feel the cultural differences between Austin and London affected the songs and how they came out?
I think so. We had never been out of the States as a band, we’d already had two weeks of travel in Europe and the UK, so we were really in the zone of being somewhere different for those two weeks prior to recording. It did affect us. Basically, we’d record and go out and have pints at night, so it was a different experience for all of us that really put us on our toes!
How did you find being in London and the cultural side. You say you enjoyed a few pints, a very important part of being British, did you get to enjoy much else?
The morning we left, we rode around a little and I filmed some stuff for a documentary about it. We didn’t really get to see the things we wanted to because we only had two days, so it was all work and no play this time round.
That leads me nicely into my next question, do you have any plans to get back over here and play some UK shows?
Yes. In 2020 we’re going to come back over and play some shows, probably do a whole tour, maybe even twice we’ll come over and do tours.
Do you get any of the vibes back home as to how many people are listening to Mike and the Moonpies or other Texas music?
Yeah, we do. We have really great numbers for streaming and social media. A lot of my friends have been touring the UK and Europe, especially Germany. They’ve been doing really well over there for a number of years, so we’re hoping to come back.
The first thing I thought when I saw you’d recorded an album over here was “what the hell! Have I missed a tour somehow!” So I’m glad to know you’ll be back! Speaking of Texan music here, we’ve had the likes of Wade Bowen and Aaron Watson coming regularly now, do you see the UK as a long-term touring prospect?
I do. I always have, I think. It’s been on our radar for a long time and having this album should set the foothold to do that. Now, with guys like you at Six Shooter, we’re getting press there and we’re going to be able to hit the ground running next year.
Texan music has a lot of fans, almost separate to mainstream country, there seems to be a similarity in the principles, with strong songwriting being a the core – just look at the band that made Abbey Road famous – do you have many British influences?
I do. A lot of the Texas music I used to listen to as a kid was more Jerry Jeff Walker and the songwriters and Armadillo movement. A lot of those guys influenced me really. It’s funny though, we have the same cultural divide over here with the Texas music scene in one place and the whole over mainstream country thing in another. My heroes have always been the songwriters and the Texas swing kind of guys.
Moving forward, are we likely to see another album in the near future with this being more of a standalone thing?
Every time we make a record, we wanna make it different to the one before, I didn’t wanna make a Steak Night record again. I don’t really wanna make this record again. We already have some ideas and we’ve already started recording for the next album, so that’ll be something for next year probably, in-between our two hopefully UK tours. It’ll be different to what we have now and maybe more of a return to some of our honky tonk stuff.
Well, I’m a huge fan of your live album Live at the Winstar Casino and Resort, so can’t wait to see you live.
Well I can’t wait to meet you!