Interview with Moonchild on 10 Years Working Together, Releasing Starfruit, and Collaborating with Black Female Creators


You can probably feel the excitement in my words, talking to one of my all-time favorite bands out there.

The legendary LA soul & jazz trio Moonchild have a special anniversary in 2022 – 10 years “working & growing together”, which was marked by their truly outstanding 5th studio album Starfruit (read my album review).

The funky record features amazing acts like Lalah Hathaway, Rapsody, Alex Isley, Tank and the Bangas & many more and shows a new cool sonic side of the trio – something I would describe like the energy of them playing live captured in a studio record.

Amber, Max & Andris dropped for a chat for the Artist Stories segment for our Fox Tales podcast and shared so many cool stories on their musical background, creating Starfruit, working with Black Female creators & more. Enjoy the full conversation on your preferred platform (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Google) here.

Transcribed some of the interview below, too.

[01:05] On the beginning of Moonchild

Andris:

The whole way we got together was pretty random… We all were in school for jazz studies and we met on this tour for Amber’s solo project and the most random thing about this was that initially I wasn’t going to be on that tour and there was a different trumpet player that was going to play. But because he bailed a week before, I got called to be on this tour where we were all together in the car driving and bonding over the same music. That was the time when we wrote all these first songs that were on Be Free for Moonchild.

Amber:

When we were on that tour, we went stargazing as a band one night and we bonded and talked about starting the project. So, when we were trying to come up with what our first song would be about and what our album title & our group name would be, we kinda drew upon that experience together and it just kinda became the theme.

[03:48] On 10 years working and growing together

Amber:

We met in college and since then we’ve grown a lot, personally & musically. When we first started making music together there was a lot we didn’t know and we all learned how to produce, how to play different instruments and I think with each album you can kind of hear that growth.

[04:40] On Be Free & Voyager from 2022’s perspective

Max:

I think looking back to Be Free is pretty funny for us because we literally didn’t know how to engineer or mix, or record ourselves, we were learning as we made the project.

Amber:

I feel like Voyager is the place I’d want fans to start. That’s where I feel we really sound like us, and we were stronger at producing and mixing.

[06:38] On their “sound”, the creative process & songwriting

Andris:

I’d say we never had the conversation about what we’d want the Moonchild “sound” to be, we all bonded over the same music and there were elements from that neo-soul music that we wanted to recreate.

Amber:

We’re all beatmakers, so we’re always producing on our own. We’d bring our beats to each other and whichever beats everybody loves are the ones that end up becoming Moonchild songs. So, what starts as a Max’s beat, I’ll add a verse to, and Andris will add a horn line or the bridge, or the outro. So, by the end of the song, everyone has contributed to the initial idea. That’s always kinda been our process.

The two big topics [I write about] are love and self-empowerment/supporting each other.

[09:46] On how Starfruit came together

Max:

Most of the songs from this album came from us coming off tour when Covid hit and we were just at home with all this pent-up energy being on tour and not being able to produce. And each made a beat a day for a month and most of the tracks on this album came from that process. It was really fun and inspiring, I found that writing every day forces you to be a little more experimental, you don’t want to make something that sounds like what you did yesterday. But then you also kinda get into the flow, kinda like practicing an instrument every day.

[13:35] On the new sonic approach in Starfruit

Andris:

On Starfruit I played a lot more electric guitar, I was working on my funk guitar playing a little more – you can hear it on tracks like “What You Wanted”, I was trying to bring a little Prince into a Moonchild song, you could say.

Max:

We’ve been touring a lot more recently and on our live show, we take it to that funky place a lot more. And maybe that crept in and influenced our record.

[17:03] On collaborating with Black Female creators

Amber:

One of my personal goals in music is to build empowering, supportive community of creatives within the music industry and the music scene that I’m in, so I think in order to reverse a lot of the discrepancies in the representation of women, you have to be intentional about who you call, who you’re working with, who you’re posting about, who you’re supporting. Without that intentionality, I think things are gonna change a lot slower. So, it’s always been a goal of mine to just work with women, support women and along our journey as a band, we’ve had the opportunity and honor to meet so many incredible women artists. So, this is kind of what we went into when we were looking for who we wanted to be on each song. We had this list of people that were “Ah, it would be a dream to collaborate with these people”. I think because of Covid everyone was unable to tour, so people were available to record in a way they might not have been if everyone was on the road and everybody’s schedules are kind of conflicting. It all worked out.

[19:52] On working with Lalah Hathaway, Rapsody, Tank and the Bangas & more

Andris:

It was a dream working with Lalah Hathaway, we’re such enormous fans of hers and her music. It’s still kinda hard to process she’s on a Moonchild song.

Amber:

The coolest moments for us were when we got stuff back from people. Most of the songs we left on open space and we were like “Do whatever you want”. […] Even though because of Covid we weren’t able to be in the same room, it still felt collaborative & exciting.

Max:

To me, the coolest was the first time we got back Lalah’s part because she recorded verse 2 & chorus of “Tell Him”. But that was actually a verse that Amber had already written, so we were used to hearing Amber singing it, and then to get Lalah’s track with her interpretation of the words and melody was just really cool.

Andris:

When Tank and the Bangas sent over their stems for “Get By”, it was originally over different music, so that was a cool thing to experiment with – we had Tank’s vocals and we messed with the track underneath her. And the way it turned out was super well.

Amber:

In retrospect, we’re really lucky that everyone was so down. As someone who sings on top of other people’s stuff, when I get the track back and it sounds totally different, I’m like “What happened???”, haha, but everyone was so generous and just open to our ideas once they ‘ve already done their thing – something I’m really grateful for.

[27:20] On playing live vs working in the studio

Amber:

The studio feels so experimental, exploratory, like “let’s try everything” and find the perfect thing & fine-tune it. It’s really about crafting a piece. And the stage is about the experience that the audience is having – how can we get them involved, how we can make this come alive, incorporate a horn solo here or a cover song here. For me, they’re totally different but it’s good to have that balance, so you’re not in just one place all the time.

[28:41] On writer’s block

Max:

The best part in being in a trio with two other producers and writers is if I get stuck, which seems to happen every time I make a beat, haha, I can pass it off to one of these guys and they’ll come up with an amazing verse or bridge, or whatever.

Andris:

Something that helped me with writer’s block is setting a timer for myself and saying: “Just go nuts for like, 15 minutes”, doesn’t matter what you make. Sometimes I find my writer’s bok to be me hesitating to start because I want it to be good from the get-go.

Amber:

I’d add, have some time away, find inspiration somewhere else, or reading poetry, listening to music or going to see a live show – just being inspired by other creative things really helps me when I feel stuck.

[30:27] On improving musicianship

Andris:

Be okay with experimenting with different instruments or jumping into different camps. If your previous album was one thing, it doesn’t mean you can’t make something totally different for the next album. You don’t have to put yourself in a box, we only get one life and to be able to explore and just be curious in music is a worthwhile skill to have that has helped me with my musicianship.

Max:

Improving as a musician is a long-term process, it might take years. And that’s fine. So be patient and trust the process. Just take a step back.

Amber:

Consistency & having grace with yourself – not being down on yourself for where you are. I feel like so much of music and growing is mental. And if you’re in a place where you’re just crapping on yourself all the time, you’re holding yourself back more than you realize. I think in the jazz world, where we came from, there’s a lot of pressure to be the best at one thing. For some people that is their calling but for others it’s more of a broader thing, like, we all play a lot of different instruments. So, don’t let this pressure of being the best at everything you do be overwhelming, find joy in your art and stay true to your creative voice, that’s the best you can do.

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