The Expansive Land-Locked Room
Chatting with frontman Ian McNally of Moon Hound on the duality of New York and thrashing in a different way
By catherine Spino
All photographs courtesy of Sara Laufer
Ian McNally’s voice is warm when we speak. Maybe it’s because it’s a familiar voice that’s always met me when I needed it most at my coffee haunt in Greenpoint (Variety Coffee Roasters until I die). Or maybe it’s because I've grown to feel safe listening to him sing so vulnerably and so openly as the frontman of Moon Hound, the Brooklyn based experimental folk band. They released their second EP, “Wait for Nothing,” this past June.
Moon Hound reminds me of the charming bands of my younger years: the musical richness of Noah and the Whale’s Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, the glorious harmonies of Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues, and the emotionally knowing tone of Ben Gibbard’s early Death Cab for Cutie days. But unlike these bands, two of which were founded in Washington state, Ian has lived the majority of his life in New York—going between upstate and the city (give or take a year when he was in North Carolina, which he categorizes as “a lot of brick”). This fact shocked me when he first shared it—there is something so natural about the band's sound, almost as if the wild city New York is known for hadn’t been able to interfere with its rebel-rousing energy just yet. His mother and him left Brooklyn when he was young and relocated to a lake colony in Westchester, a group founded by Eastern European Jewish refugees at the turn of the century. “It’s my safe place,” Ian remarked fondly, recounting coming of age on dirt roads, attending barn dances every Friday, and spending time on the lake with his friends. You can clearly see this band call on these natural influences, allowing us as listeners to experience moments of peace and safety.
Ian returned to the hustle and bustle of New York City for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music composition, both from Hunter College. He balanced working part-time on his thesis and part-time on the creation of Moon Hound’s EPs with the best musicians he knows—his close friends, some of whom he’s been playing with since high school. Ian speaks about how he encourages play and collaboration in his rehearsal space: “All of us get together to jam, I make a chord chart and see what kind of vibe we can cultivate.” He also reflects on a point he learned on effective collaboration in school: “You should always try to highlight people’s best abilities and not put them in places of discomfort.” You can hear the application of this advice in the band’s sound—Moon Hound moves with each other as effortlessly as minnows following a river’s current, a natural trust that cannot be broken. There’s something very organic and familial, comforting and welcoming within the EP’s orchestration. From the opening group vocalizations in “Once Your Son” to the instrumental call and repeat in “Rhye Moon,” I found myself feeling as though I was a part of this group experience that Ian has nurtured and grown with his band. I felt the vibrations in my body as the percussion, strings, and drum crescendo as if I was in the room with them and I understood the secrets Ian had laced in his lyrics as if he was whispering them in my ear.
To balance out the instrumentals, Ian works on the lyrics himself. “The lyrics are really my own journey and my biggest struggle, it’s definitely the thing I get in my head about most. I’m still discovering how to write about my own experiences,” he said. I was caught off guard by how picturesque all of the instrumental scenes were that I only caught bits and pieces of the lyrics. Going back to listen, Ian’s words could all easily belong to a poetry class inspired by Whitman and Transcendentalist thinkers. He marries internal emotions and narratives with nature tableaus—one of my favorite examples being from the end of “Rye Moon”: “The part of me in sunlit glow / will turn the shadows on their toes / I’ve tried to follow the way / but it's fickle and changed / if I’ve loved one, it’s the sun.” Ian’s words are delivered on waves of the full band’s instrumentals like precious messages in bottles, allowing the listener to discover a new shade of emotions with every listen. And like a child standing on the shore of the beach, I am eager for more.
During their live shows, the band leans into a rugged rock sound, similar to Big Thief's Buck Meek’s live performances that lead to more bouncing instead of bawling. “We rock out more than people think,” Ian laughs. But the band isn’t fearful of having a folky sound in a punk-heavy music scene like Brooklyn. “Everyone is thrashing but you have to be like, ‘It’s ok to not thrash.’ Like you’re thrashing in a different way.” I remarked earlier how shocked I was that Ian had lived in New York all his life, but maybe Moon Hound is the perfect New York band, representing the duality of the state: their album is the pastoral, woody tableau of an upstate fall we all dream about after summer has come and gone, and their live performances have that electric pulse that fits within the city’s rich music scene.
Music has always punctured periods of growth in my life like the needle of routine blood work during yearly physicals. My flesh may change but the rituals stay the same. I say this as I am amidst another period of growth—I’m reporting live from my childhood bedroom as the housing prices in all major cities continue to skyrocket, leaving me sleeping in a twin bed with lime green walls that a younger self approved years prior. My pace of life is different, slower, more inquisitive. I originally felt musically barren, discomforted by the songs I’d listen to prior to my move and even more discomforted by total quietness. I instinctively think I am a stranger in a strange land. But maybe this land isn’t strange. Rather, it’s familiar. I’ve come to this conclusion within the safety net of Moon Hound’s EP on repeat; at first, it was continuous research for this article, but then it became something more. Maybe it’s time to embrace the comfort, to have something that grounds me into the known versus the unknown. Something to hold me while I sit, breath, and listen… even if I am waiting for nothing.
You can stream Moon Hound’s Wait For Nothing on Spotify and other streaming platforms. You can follow Moon Hound on Instagram for more updates on their upcoming LP.