Snag Moon Tooth's new album, Phototroph, on vinyl at Revolver's shop.
There are so many bands out there doing so many interesting things, it's hard to know where to turn. That's why we've created Uprising, a recurring feature offering a concise introduction to a band or artist that we think slays, covering their origins, process and vision.
Our latest subject is Long Island's Moon Tooth — whose fresh, adventurous take on prog-metal is showcased on their new and third full-length record Phototroph (dropping May 13th via Pure Noise Records).
We recently caught up with singer John Carbone to find out what makes Moon Tooth tick. In the following wide-ranging interview, Carbone talks how working at a nature reserve influenced Phototroph, the time his "soul left my body" when he met a member of TOOL and much more.
WHO IS MOON TOOTH? PLEASE GIVE US A BRIEF HISTORY ON WHAT INSPIRED THE BAND AND HOW IT CAME TOGETHER.
JOHN CARBONE Nick Lee, Ray Marté, Vincent Romanelli and myself on guitar, drums, bass and vocals respectively. We formed when Nick and Ray's previous band Exemption ended as their singer-bassist Tom Moran was moving on to make incredible music of his own. I was playing drums in our brilliant friend Derek Smith's band Rice Cultivation Society. Nick had joined that band on second guitar so that's how I met him [and] Exemption and fell in love with their music. When they had disbanded, they made it clear that Ray and Nick were gonna keep going. So I wrote Nick a letter telling him how passionate I was about his music and that I knew I was the singer for the job. I got the gig after they watched me sing with my own band and saw what I did with a demo of theirs. Vin was their friend, playing bass in a band called Give Up the Goods and they said he was the first choice both musically and personally. I met Vin at the first practice and we both immediately felt like we had found a brother in each other. Then it was writing and playing 100 shows all in the first year. It all clicked right away because it was clear that the four of us needed to not only make music but throw absolutely every part of ourselves at it. It's been life or death for us from day one.
IF YOU HAD TO DESCRIBE YOUR BAND'S MISSION STATEMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
To follow our truth, our adventure, our muse at all costs. Living free and real for ourselves, but also to show others that they can do it too, in whatever form it takes. To show them that the man will try and keep them down for following their dreams but when that happens, you eat the fucking man and spit his bones on the rule book he tried to slap you with.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO HEAVY MUSIC?
When nu-metal hit, I was 11 years old and I ate it all up. Korn at MSG was my first show. I shaved a mohawk that my sister dyed green — it came out blonde — and drove me and my friend Brian to the show. The next morning, Brain and I went to middle school graduation. Parents made me shave the mohawk, though.
IN TERMS OF MUSICAL INSPIRATION, WHO WOULD YOU SAY ARE YOUR TOP THREE INFLUENCES WHEN IT COMES TO MOON TOOTH, AND WHY?
I can never comfortably answer the "top 3" questions, so I'll just say Otis Redding, on the track and on the stage. Because you can hear his soul bleed when he sings. He can crush your heart or lift it up from song to song. And live? That's a fucking entertainer, any rock & roll frontperson would be wise to take notes. The rest you'll have to sniff out for yourself. I get compared to several singers and some of them I definitely listened to a lot growing up, so the influence got in there. A challenge as I started to develop my voice in this band was to not rip off my heroes. It's an easy trap to fall into.
MOON TOOTH HAIL FROM LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK. HOW DOES YOUR BAND FIT INTO — OR STAND APART FROM — THE MUSIC SCENE OUT THERE?
The Island has a pretty diverse scene. We fit in by sharing stages and miles with great bands, the camaraderie is strong, even if the sounds are different. There's enough heft and enough melody in what we do to fit in with different bills. But, I feel that the particular way we instinctively blend heft and melody is pretty unique and sets us apart on the Island and frankly anywhere.
BEING IN A BAND, WHAT'S THE HARDEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE COME ACROSS SO FAR, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
The hardest challenge is the whole fucking thing. Going for it. This lifestyle will chew up and spit out anyone who doesn't have to do it. It feels like having to hold on to a lightning bolt and withstand the volts. There's so much that has to be sacrificed — comfort, security, stability, personal relationships — but if you have to do this, the reward is a truer freedom than you'll find anywhere else. I'll be facing the challenges of this for the rest of my life, but I'll be able to overcome them because of the peace it brings me. It's home.
THIS PAST TWO YEARS OF THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC HAS BEEN COLLECTIVELY, AND INDIVIDUALLY, CHALLENGING. WHAT HAS LIFE BEEN LIKE FOR YOU — AND DID YOU DEVELOP ANY NEW CREATIVE ROUTINES OR HOBBIES TO HELP YOU COPE?
Years of touring teaches you to suck it up the best you can. Drank a ton, played guitar, drums and piano more. Wrote material for Moon Tooth and some songs separately for my own album that will come out some time in the next 40 years! [Laughs] I was lucky enough to be living with two of my cousins so we had a lot of fun watching movies, playing baseball, board games, poker and having fires in the yard. I'm very grateful for that.
SPEAKING OF TOURING, DO YOU HAVE ANY PRE-SHOW RITUALS THAT ARE ESSENTIAL TO GETTING YOU IN THE RIGHT HEADSPACE TO PERFORM?
Short vocal warm up, tall whiskey neat and I stretch like I'm gonna run a marathon.
OUTSIDE OF THE BAND, AND MUSIC IN GENERAL, WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS? LIKE, ARE YOU INTO MICRO-DOSING OR UNION ORGANIZING OR DIRT BIKES …
Hah, I like a good trip every now and again, sure! I'm big on the outdoors so as I said, having a fire with loved ones, camping, hiking always feel good. I care greatly for my loved ones so spending time with them is very important to me. Outside of that? Honestly, this pandemic has forced most touring musicians to look at themselves and ask, "Who am I outside of this?" I don't know, there have been many times where I found myself answering that by saying, "Who am I outside of this? I'm not. And I'm not sorry for that. This is what I love, it is who I am."
DO YOU HAVE ANY "UNEXPECTED" MUSICAL INFLUENCES THAT MIGHT SURPRISE LISTENERS — AND HOW DO THEY IMPACT YOUR OWN CREATIVITY?
I don't know how surprising it is but I'm a big indie rock fan. Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses to name a few. I can't think of ways they actually make it into the writing process but I'm sure their lessons have gotten in there. At the very least by teaching me how to think outside the box.
WHAT BAND OR MUSICAL ARTIST ARE YOU THE BIGGEST FAN OF? ANY SUPERFAN STORIES?
Not easy to pick favorites but finding TOOL at age 13 changed my life forever. I can say "The Patient" is my favorite song of all time. Around 2016, Intronaut took Entheos and us on tour and at the last show, about 5 minutes before we were about to open the show, I was hanging in their dressing room. My soul left my body as I realized one of their friends hanging out in the room was [TOOL bassist] Justin Chancellor. It fueled me to put on the best show ever as he was watching, laughing and cheering along. Turns out the reason he was there was because Intronaut borrowed his gorilla costume to storm the stage on our last song with signs saying, "Bush did Harambe" and "Shine on you crazy gorilla" — a hilarious and touching way to end the tour. Afterwards, I didn't want to punish Justin, but I needed to at least quickly thank him for the music he's made over the years and how dear it was to me. We ended up chatting for like 20 minutes, absolutely lovely man.
Also, Coheed and Cambria. They've been heroes of mine since I was 15 and we've toured with some of the same bands. Coheed, for the love of God, please take us on tour! We've been putting in the miles and the work for 9 years, we won't let you down! I mean they've been in Revolver — you guys could hook that up, right? Right? Okay great, thanks.
YOU'RE ABOUT TO RELEASE YOUR THIRD ALBUM PHOTOTROPH. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT FOR REVOLVER READERS?
Bluesy, metal-ish, sometimes-proggy rock & roll. Hooks, heft, hard times and ultimately hope.
THE PRESS MATERIAL SAYS YOU DISCOVERED THE NATURAL PROCESS OF PHOTOTROPISM WHILE WORKING AT A NATURE RESERVE. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THIS JOB — WAS IT SOMETHING YOU TOOK ON TO MAKE ENDS MEET DURING THE PANDEMIC WHEN LIVE MUSIC WAS HALTED?
This was a job I used to work in between tours. It was also a museum, so I'd teach little kids on field trips about nature/geology/archaeology, either taking them around the forest and harbor or showing them around the museum. The other half of the job was maintaining the preserve, lots of fun using axes and chainsaws to clear trails and remove invasive plant species. The trail work was great because it was both peaceful and challenging. And while I worked, many times I'd write lyrics in my head or start to come up with melodies for demos Nick would send me. It was a great environment for that.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW PHOTOTROPISM INFORMED THE LYRICAL CONCEPTS YOU EXPLORE ON PHOTOTROPH?
While staying at Orlando Bandcamp on tour a couple years ago, I took a kayak out to a small island on the lake to write the vocals for what would become "Nymphaeaceae." The island was surrounded by water lilies, and I started to see the metaphor for strength in the flower. Something that grows up from under the muck to bloom and become magnificent in the light. Our last album [2019's] Crux was about being at a crossroads and dealt with a lot of negative emotions. There is some of that on Phototroph, but this album needed to be about choosing the light, to heal, etc. It also informed the artwork. I wanted to represent how hard it was to heal and grow. How even if you're at your best and everything's great, sometimes it's rooted — previously or even currently — in struggle and hardship. The mirrored hands, the flower and these themes were some of the things I discussed with Caroline Harrison as we were planning the album cover. The painting she came back with absolutely blew my mind and perfectly captured the record's themes. I feel that the hand violently gripping the roots underwater and the hand gracefully celebrating the flower in the light, are both sonically represented on this record.
YOU HAVE SOME HISTORY WITH LAMB OF GOD'S MARK MORTON — HE DID PREPRODUCTION WORK WITH MACHINE FOR CRUX AND ALSO TAPPED YOU AS TOUR SUPPORT IN 2019 FOR HIS SOLO RUN. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT, IF ANYTHING, YOU LEARNED FROM WORKING WITH MARK OR WATCHING HIM PERFORM UP CLOSE ON TOUR?
In terms of writing, Machine and Mark showed us how to trim the fat on the songs and how to work with a producer — something we had never done — in a healthy way. Mark had a unique perspective. Even though he was producing, he had been in our shoes as the musician who was having his songs picked apart, specifically by Machine. So there were growing pains but with those two at the helm, we got some amazing material out of those sessions. Although, I never want to fucking hear the phrase "kill your darlings" again, hah!
On his Anesthetic tour, Mark gave us a shot at the biggest stages we'd played at that point. We're ravenous for chances like that. Give us the stages, give us the crowds, the bigger the better and we'll fucking do the rest. So I can't explain how important that tour was to us. Mark's fun to be around and he's got a warm and wise presence about him. That made me like him already but for giving us those opportunities, he'll have my loyalty for the rest of our lives.
YOU WORKED WITH PRODUCER JOSH WILBER ON PHOTOTROPH. HE'S ALSO A LONGTIME LAMB OF GOD COLLABORATOR. DID THAT COME ABOUT VIA THE MARK MORTON CONNECTION — AND HOW DID WILBER'S INVOLVEMENT INFLUENCE THE ALBUM?
Offering another amazing opportunity, Mark invited me to write and record a song, "The Fight," with him for his Ether EP — Like I said, I'll smack the shit out of anyone who speaks ill of Mark. Josh was producing the EP so that was our first time meeting and working together. I felt a good shorthand develop quickly, it was very comfortable tracking with him at the board. So it was an easy choice to work with him for our own stuff. Josh's involvement built on the lessons we learned making Crux. One of which was for us, mostly me, to not fight the process too much. There were things we agreed and disagreed on creatively, but once again the collaboration made for some amazing stuff. I flew out to L.A. alone to record vocals with Josh for a week. I had a great time with me in the booth and Josh on the board but also just really enjoyed getting to hang with him.
THROUGHOUT PHOTOTROPH, MOON TOOTH PRESENT A UNIQUE MIX OF TRULY HEAVY AND SOFTER TOUCHING MOMENTS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU ACHIEVE SUCH A BALANCE?
I think it's just a reflection of who the four of us are as people. The spectrum of pummeling chaos and tender grace you hear in the music is what goes on in our heads/hearts. It's why we work well together.
IF YOU COULD PLAY ONLY ONE OF MOON TOOTH'S SONGS — FROM ACROSS YOUR ENTIRE CATALOG — FOR SOMEONE TO INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR BAND, WHAT SONG WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Ooof! Impossible but I'll play ball by going with a new one. "I Revere" is the first track on Phototroph and it's got a healthy mix of our varied tendencies. There's flashy riff/drum work, steady hooks, at different points it's heavy as fuck and gentle as a kiss. Lyrically, it shows disdain for an unadventurous life, the bravado of Babe Ruth calling his home run, the lament for things, places and loved ones lost along the road and as ever with us — furious hope.
WHAT'S THE REST OF 2022 LOOK LIKE FOR MOON TOOTH — ARE YOU COOKING UP ANY TOURS?
Only thing I can mention now is that we'll be hitting the road with Dance Gavin Dance, Memphis May Fire and Volumes throughout April and May. We'll be headlining a bunch of shows before and after that as well. Beyond that? Like I said, it's life or death with us. We're going for that fucking throne.