Music News

Black Moon Rising

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Skelton is a nice fit as the strong, silent type--laconic, laid-back and self-assured. "A lot of our best moments you can't put in words," he says. "When we really get there, busting out a beautiful song, when everybody clicks, it's just magic. That's all."

Black Moon played its first gig about three years ago. It was a going-away party for a Club Congress employee, and about 150 people came. Today the band packs any venue it plays in Tucson, and draws a crowd whose diversity is unmatched by any band there or in the Valley, in terms of age, race, sex and look (b-boy to alt.rock, frat rat to hippie).

The audience at recent shows has been peppered with A&R reps from a variety of record companies--including Warner Bros., Epic and Elektra. Band members and management confirm they are negotiating with several labels, but won't say which ones or how close they are to a deal. Leo flirts with specifics: "We're talking with less than 10, more than five, majors and indies," he says. "We're at the point where the ball's clearly in motion, and it's hard to keep track of which label's here this week, who just left, who's coming to the next show." The rest of the band closes ranks, although Crawford says it's already working on video concepts. "Mine are the best," he brags ("Little Quentin Tarantino protege wanna-be motherfucker," Leo mutters under his breath).

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.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse