An Asphalt Haunting: Introducing Man of Moon

Young Edinburgh two-piece Man of Moon have been enticing audiences for a while. But now, with their debut single The Road/This World about to be released, lunar orbit beckons

Feature by Duncan Harman | 03 Jul 2015

American Gothic is not a genre readily cited in an Edinburgh context. Auld Reekie does Rebus Noir, or subterranean Burke and Hare gimcrack for the tourists – not the widescreen vistas of a northern Texas nowhere, the sky brooding above the miles of empty blacktop.

Except, just occasionally, something arrives to challenge preconceptions. Call it gut feeling, or the labelling of mood. For there’s nothing overtly American about young Edinburgh two-piece Man of Moon, and little that’s gothic, at least in any literary sense. Yet to experience their textured, monochromatic sound – sonic structures that suggest they’re far older than aged 19 apiece – and there’s certainly something present. A sense of space, perhaps. Of place; room in which to close your eyes and sit back amidst rolling clouds, distant shadows, implied ghosts.

A number of high profile support slots for the likes of The Phantom Band and We Were Promised Jetpacks, and a UK tour with The Twilight Sad have seen the duo’s profile on the rise over the last year and a half, and this summer – alongside a busy few months on the festival circuit – sees the release of debut single, the double A-sided The Road/This World; the former not a reference to the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, but it very much could be, such are the stark, grinding contrails Chris Bainbridge (vox/guitar) and Mikey Reid (drums/harmonies) summon. “We wrote it in about two minutes,” laughs Reid as The Skinny catches up with them backstage at Glasgow’s Art School, fresh from opening for Admiral Fallow. “It's one of the only tracks where, when we were in the studio together, we pretty much got the guitars and drums sounding in place at the exact same point,” Bainbridge continues.

“We wanted the first thing we released to be really powerful” – Chris Bainbridge

Although, you’d suspect, both are being a little modest considering the detail a record such as The Road reveals. The implication of shape behind each verse morphs into the strident hooks of the dénouement, all underpinned by a resolute Motorik beat and a vocal hinting at skewed, lost agendas – as much through delivery as the lyrics themselves. It’s not so much fun, fun, fun on ze Autobahn as an endless drive through disenfranchised territory.

Man of Moon were formed in 2012 after chance had paired them together on a college sound engineering course. “Not many people could play,” Reid explains. “They wanted some people just to go up and play bass or guitar.”  Bainbridge recalls their initial sessions: “The class were really encouraging. And then we just skived. Mikey had an electronic drum kit and a shitty little amp, and we started skipping class, going to practice in his room.”

However serendipitous their origins, this period of trading and shaping ideas certainly proved fruitful. Bonding over a shared love of Mogwai, Can and post-rock Chicago trio Russian Circles, the emergent material eschewed immediacy or big riff statements for slow-burn intensity and a lyrical candour flavoured by Bainbridge’s childhood. The name of the band itself is derived from his father’s medication-induced hallucinations; the visions he’d describe lead Chris to see him as some sort of 'Man of Moon' figure.

“We were slowly moulding our sound,” Reid says of their early days working together. “When we started off it was really dark, just really dark music, sort of stone age, and we’ve brightened up a bit… We’re just slowly carving our sound. I think it’s good that we didn’t release something two years ago because we wouldn’t be happy with it now.”

Can they define their sound, or at least get us to the ballpark? “I don’t think we’ve ever answered that question the same way,” Bainbridge admits. “I genuinely don’t know. Psychedelic? Alternative?” Reid concludes: “It’s quite stripped back.” The duo have an endearing way of running with each other’s train of thought, occasionally even finishing each other’s sentences. It suggests a close friendship over and above bandmate duties. “I don’t want to say it’s its own genre, but… well, it’s a weird one. I’ve heard people say that it’s quite weird music.”

Weird or not (spoiler: it isn’t), they’ve no doubt put in the graft, building a word-of-mouth fanbase almost entirely on the back of grinding their way through the live circuit, first in the capital, then more further afield. In an era of immediate gratification and the opportunity for any old Herbert to stick their newly-recorded material online, it’s a little unusual for a band to travel down the route they’ve taken, but it also demonstrates a maturity in how they’ve shaped – and continue to shape – their distinctive yet eerily familiar music. “That’s one of the things I like about us over the past few years, that we’ve kept it really exclusive," Bainbridge explains. "The only stuff people have heard is when they’ve seen us live. We realised what we wanted to sound like through playing live gigs. Some bands are much more studio based, but we love live shows. I guess that helped us develop that reverb kind of sound.”

All of which suggests a band that want to ensure they get things exactly the way they want, rather than rushing in feet first. “With the single, we attempted to record it two or three times,” Reid confesses. “We went into the studio but we just weren’t happy; we’d taken that long to do it, it’s like, ‘If we’ve waited this long let’s do it right,’ especially if it was going to be our first release.”

“We wanted the first thing to be really powerful,” adds Bainbridge. “We wanted it exactly as we wanted it to sound. We actually spent £500 on it and we weren’t happy. We couldn’t be bothered releasing it.” And yet that £500 doesn’t feel wasted. Not when you factor in the steadily growing interest around Man of Moon, which alongside supporting duties for a who’s who of the Scottish alternative scene (The Road/This World also features a production credit from Andy Monaghan of Frightened Rabbit) has seen further flag-waving from the likes of Vic Galloway under the BBC Introducing banner. “Man of Moon immediately grabbed me after I heard a demo of The Road,” Uncle Vic told The Skinny. “Their sound is mature beyond their years, mixing psychedelia, Krautrock, and post-rock textures. It’s simple, minimal, dynamic and direct, with strong melodies and nailed-down rhythms – I’m shocked that they’re only 19.”

Of course, as a guitar and drums combination, there’s going to be inevitable comparisons to The White Stripes and their kin – a trap one national music paper has already fallen into – but the stark and wistful nature of the duo’s material makes such a link superfluous. “I like The White Stripes,” says Bainbridge. “But we’re in no way influenced by them.” Is the comparison a frustration? “Not at all. You’re going to get that though. You just think ‘two-piece’ and you think White Stripes.”

So yes; stop thinking that. If you need a comparison, Bainbridge mentions the drifty lo-fi ballads of She Keeps Bees as a particular influence: “The way they get the drums and guitars to sound so sweet together.” But even that’s far from the whole story. Instead, think of a duo excited about the future, but also keeping their feet firmly planted, happy for events to follow their own course. New material is certainly in the offing, with the loose promise of future releases, but – as Bainbridge admits – “We don’t have a real plan. We’ll work through new stuff, then see what happens. We’ve dropped so many tracks since we started that we’ve kind of forgotten about them. But some of them are good tunes; we’ve just dropped them because we’ve found another track for the live set.”

It’s a refreshing attitude that speaks of wise heads on young bodies. No forcing of issues here. “It’s starting to take shape, dynamically and sonically. I wouldn’t say that we’ll be playing exactly the same set in a year, but it will be the same kind of atmosphere.” And with that, both Bainbridge and Reid smile. The road beckons – quite literally (they play Inverness the next day), but also allegorically – in all kinds of ways; there’s plenty of asphalt out there.

The Road/This World is released on 7 Jul via Melodic. Man of Moon play Wickerman, Dundrennan on 24 Jul; Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh on 30 Jul; Hug & Pint, Glasgow on 31 Jul and Electric Fields, Dumfries on 29 Aug.