Put together through their mutual love and dedication to the genres of blues and rock, Baker and his bandmates – Andrew “APB” Paine Brandbury, Steve Cuiffo, Joe Sweeney, Scott Nutt and Ricky Gordon, have pushed their classic-music intuition into the changing NYC music scene.
Today, they are playing shows just about every month and working toward releasing their first ever LP at a party on June 6 at Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan.
I met up with Baker at Agne Noire Café, located at 247 Varet St. in Bushwick, to discuss his own road to Brooklyn and how the band Midnight Moan formed.
Where did you get the name Midnight Moan?
We named the band after a Howlin’ Wolf tune, “Moaning at Midnight.” And we thought that embodied what the response we wanted to elicit from the audience. Ya know what I mean? Some kind of midnight moan – something sensual, something primal as well.
How did you guys come together?
Bass player Joe Sweeney is my boy from Philly – we’re both from Philly. And I played with Joe in a couple bands back in the early 90’s. We lived in the same house in West Philadelphia for two and a half or three years. I think I moved up to New York before Joe, and Joe followed his brother up here.
When I found out he was here, we talked about maybe doing some music. In the interim Joe met Andrew – the singer-songwriter for the Moan. So he said, “ Hey, you want to come down and play guitar for this project that I’m working on?”
And I said, “Sure,” and that was the end of the conversation. I had no idea what the genre was, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just showed up to Welcome to the Johnsons – that bar on Rivington and Essex, which was adjacent to the practice space – and APB came up and got me. I was the only one in the bar, and he rolled in – he’s like 6'3”. He was a pretty imposing figure, so I thought, “This has to be the dude.”
He said, “If you want, you can come downstairs.”
And then, I still didn’t know what I was getting myself into. There was no talk of the style or genre. I got my guitar out, plugged in and started playing, I was just working on that John Lee Hooker tune, “Boom Boom.” And just that little riff [sings riff] and I started playing that and Andrew just kind of turned around and looked at me, and he said, “Yeah, you’re going to fit in just fine.”
Little did I know, Andrew can play and knows the lyrics to about a thousand blues tunes. He’s a super blues-roots aficionado and just excited about the music. It just really worked out well.
Is rock and roll a dying genre?
Well, I’ve read some of the reviews of our music, and I really enjoy some of the influences that people name, like New York Dolls, Johnny Thunder, Lou Reed, and of course Rolling Stones comes up with every review. And every one is saying it’s an uphill battle and they’re saying that the state of rock and roll in New York is pitiful, but I don’t feel that way because APB is so positive about the music; there’s never a question as to where we’re going or what we’re doing. It’s a very organic situation that’s just kind of insular I guess.
Had you lived in New York before?
No, and I hadn’t taken advantage of New York. Being only 100 miles away in Philly, I was very green as far as NYC was concerned, and I still am. I’m still finding stuff out daily after nine years.
Did you feel that it was a risk?
The best thing about coming up here in the beginning definitely wasn’t the job situation. My apartment - it was an illegal sublet, rent-controlled building, on top of the Mogador Café (101 St. Marks Pl.) - so you know, it’s right across the street from the cover of Physical Graffiti, the Led Zeppelin album. So I brought my bike up on the Chinatown bus to go to my apartment for the first time, I turned the corner onto St. Marks and I turned around and there was the album cover. Then the Physical Graffiti boutique is right there, and I was in hog heaven, and that never wore off for me.
How do you find a niche to play in NYC?
We’ve had a couple well-curated shows and formed a relationship with a couple of bands. There’s a band called the Slim Kings that we’ve played with at Hank’s Saloon for three Wednesdays in a row. We love playing with those guys. There’s a friend of Andrew’s that we’ve played with at the Gutter and also at the Lit.
The Lit was our first gig, and we had been in that basement on Rivington for damn near a year. I was like, “Guys, come on. Let’s do this. We have a set. Let’s get out there.”
But APB was very deliberate, and in retrospect, I’m very glad that he was. I’m used to rushing into the spotlight with bands, and it often times is a disaster. So he was right to get the set down, and we started to play out at The Lit. We only had a gig every three or four months, and now we’re pretty much gigging every month.
How has promoting a group changed?
I remember in Philly it was just a lot of handshakes and eye stuff, whereas now, so much of it takes place online. I guess I’m talking about the early 90s, but now so much of it is contractual and electronic. I’m not so much of a tech-o-file.
It’s definitely half of APB’s time. Make no mistake, he has the tech reigns of the band. His job – he works for Urban Daddy – so he spends a fair share of his day dealing with electronic correspondence and Midnight Moan is a part of that.
Have you guys been releasing EPs?
We have digitally released singles right now. We have the actual release date on June 6 and it’s our first full-length LP. We haven’t done any releases previously, just these two singles from the new album. That was a great experience in itself, recording at Pyramid Recording Studios (12 E. 32nd St.) in Koreatown.
I think the idea for us, it’s really more about getting people to blog about you and talk about you to bring out a live crowd, to get a live audience. Before, the recorded music was the be all, end all. Now it’s almost an accoutrement, which is crazy to me, but that’s the way the industry went. I’m hoping that we will sell physical copies of the records at shows and on June 6.
The release will be on Spotify and iTunes also, so we are hoping to recoup the money we put into it at the very least. We worked with some heavy cats and session players.
Check out the Midnight Moan at their CD release party at Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton St., on June 14.