Black Moon Rising

Tucson's Black Moon Graffiti waxes large with a hip-hop/funk mlange that always comes correct @

To a degree, Black Moon's way has been paved by the Fugees, Spearhead, the Digable Planets, Arrested Development, and the Roots--hip-hop-flavored acts with a penchant for live instrumentation, jazzy, urban sensibilities and a positive message. In those groups, however, the spotlight is on the vocalists, and the band, while live, is a revolving lineup of hired guns. Black Moon is clearly more of a whole--the band's tight, and it's only going to get tighter. Plus, it's on top of the post-rock/ambient trend with the loops and samples. Bottom line: Black Moon smoothly pulls together so many elements of pop music that are hot right now that the band sounds like a sure bet. Which makes lead guitarist Bill Mericle's recent decision to leave the band all the more curious.

Mericle, who had been with Black Moon since the first show, told the band in early January that he was out. "It didn't come suddenly, and it was an amiable parting," he says. "I have no doubts the band will go far and that it's about to happen for them, and there are a lot of musicians who would stick with them just for that reason. But honestly, this band is not my passion. I have to find my own direction, probably something that leans more toward classical guitar."

Powell is succinct: "There's much love there, but we're about to go to the next level, so bam, it's like that, he's gone. This was friendly, though. There have been people we had to cut out like a cancer, and they left kicking and screaming. Shit, we went through drummers like Spinal Tap."

The band's current pace setter is Brad Kemp, who industrial-music fans will recognize as the former drummer for Machines of Loving Grace, who scored a crossover hit in the fall of 1993 with "Butterfly Wings."

"Machines was essentially industrial music your mother would like," Kemp says, sitting cross-legged on the wood floor of his apartment in the Julian Drew building, an old hotel in downtown Tucson renovated and subsidized by the Tucson Arts Coalition. The Drew building is essentially a hive of artists. Kemp has a claw-foot bathtub, and Crawford lives two doors down.

"Black Moon Graffiti is a little more balanced than Machines, a little more mutually supportive, and not as angry a band," says Kemp, 29. After he fell out of Grace in 1995, Kemp bought a Tucson pizzeria. "I gave it a year, worked my ass off, the store did very well, and I was bored as hell," he says. So he sold the pizzeria and started playing out again.

Brad charged Black Moon to play with the band for the first two gigs. "They'd just let someone go, didn't want to cancel the shows, and I was in a mercenary mood. But I liked what I heard and felt, and talked with them about joining the band. I said, 'Pay attention to me, I get a sixth of everything, and let's make sure to have fun.' So far, it's been good." Kemp's a precise rhythmatician, but he also helped advance Black Moon to the creative cusp of pop music with his knowledge of sequencer/sampler techniques.

"When we brought on Brad, we also got a horn section," says Powell. "Now, none of us plays horns, and we don't want three more members in this group, but we can all think of a jammin' ass horn line to throw in a song. Or some violins, or some Middle Eastern voices, or some movie samples. And now we have all that. We're taking our music to the next level. We're elevating, and you have to elevate or you sink." Leo stops and snorts. "Look at Hammer."

Also, of the five members still in Black Moon, Kemp's the only one who's already been to the show. "Yes, I remember this phase," he says. "It's this miserable, torturous exercise in patience while management negotiates, and then finally a conclusion is reached and everything moves at warp speed."

Caution is paramount, Powell says. "We're at a critical stage. It's got to be right, every last detail. Because when you introduce yourself to the nation, first impression is a motherfucker.

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