The Moaners lighten their Southern-fried sound

by Ryan Snyder


The Moaners lighten their Southern-fried sound


The idea of a garage-rock duo is nothing new, particularly in Chapel Hill, where the Flat Duo Jets turned the conventional rock arrangement on its head in the ’80s. Dexter Romweber and Crow Smith pioneered a kind of unencumbered musical philosophy that snubbed complexity in favor of the raw magnetism that can only exist between two individuals. The White Stripes would go on to play with the same idea, as would the Black Keys, but there is another duo in Chapel Hill that possesses such profound chemistry that no other accompaniment is necessary. The Moaners’ ( Melissa Swingle and Laura King Ryan Snyder might come from very different musical backgrounds, but neither will ever claim music writer that their union just wasn’t meant to be. They first met at a Local 506 show in Chapel Hill while Swingle was fronting the Southern gothic band Trailer Bride, while King played drums for Grand National. Swingle happened upon their set and described herself as being blown away by her drum work. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the best drummer I’ve ever seen,’ not to mention that she was a girl,” Swingle said. “She was just so much fun to watch.” The two hit it off immediately and exchanged contact info with the intent of getting together for a jam session, though Swingle admits she lost contact with King until several months later. When they finally did have the chance to play together, the connection was instantaneous. The two had already written a song, “Water,” that would appear on their first album as the Moaners. “I started to write songs which fit her style of drumming, which was a totally different direction for me, because my old band was country and I was sick of being categorized as alternative country,” Swingle said. “It’s been a challenge to make it sound good and full and cover all of our bases without a lot of personnel in the band, but we’ve both grown musically.” With two albums in their catalog since officially forming in 2005, the duo is looking to finish recording the third in September, with a release in early 2010 on the Holidays For Quince label. Swingle describes it as possibly being their best work yet. “We’re branching out into all kinds of different instrumentation with Jenks Miller from the record label providing instrumental support,” she stated. “We’re going to produce it ourselves and we don’t want it to be quite as heavy or distorted as the last two.” The band’s previous two albums, Dark Snack and Blackwing Yalobusha, were produced by Rick Miller, of Southern Culture on the Skids, and Jimbo Mathus, from Squirrel Nut Zippers, respectively, but possessed some of the same dark tone that unconsciously permeated Swingle’s previous band. “‘Trailer Bride’ always sounded kind of spooky and that was not what I was going for,” she contends. “Our last record got good reviews but I honestly thought it wasn’t our best and instead of beating a tired mule, I decided to switch over to a stallion. That’s the way it feels playing with such a talented drummer.” Swingle is no slouch herself. Her distinctive swamp-guitar style is marked by odd time signatures and sudden changes in pitch which, when overlaid on top of King’s throbbing blend of rock and go-go, is dizzying to behold. But neither members are completely married to the concept of the two-piece band. Swingle has been hoping to bring her cousin, pianist Earl “Pool” Ball, who has worked with both Johnny Cash and the Byrds, in to add a decidedly rockabilly flavor on the next album. That commitment to adding further elements to their sound may ultimately mean that the touring two-piece may eventually be no more. “If we think we can’t pull off some of the new songs live, then we’re totally not opposed to touring with a bass player or piano player or another guitar player,” Swingle said, before adding with a laugh: “A lot of bass players have already offered to come and play with us; it’s just a matter of finding one we can get along with on a long road trip.”

The Moaners will play the Green Bean on Saturday, June 27 at 8 p.m.