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Right now, Max and the Moon are only a silhouette of the band they think they could be. The elements are all there: ear-worm catchiness, rumbling polyrhythms, sparkling keyboards, tight harmonies and starry-eyed ambitions. With all this potential, the time to step into the spotlight is now. That sentiment comes across as you watch the stiff, shadow-puppet images of the Fullerton/Chino Hills quintet bobbing around in the video for "Out of My Head," the lead single from their 2012 EP, The Way I See. As side characters in the first of a three-part video trilogy dubbed The Trail of the Dead, the band go on a Pixar-esque adventure, following the video's loverboy protagonist—sailing the ocean, escaping a vicious sea dragon and facing death all in the name of love. With one well-received EP and another offering slated for 2013, the band are journeying toward a breakout year.
"Me and Matt [Couchois] talk about it like we're having a baby," says singer/guitarist John Velasquez . "Last year, we did the EP and met all our goals with the hope that 2013 will be huge for us. We've had round one; now it's time for round two with much better songs."
Picking through their brief catalog offers obvious clues about the influences orbiting songs such as "The Way I See" and "Lighthouse." But even if you're a fan of hometown talent such as Local Natives, Young the Giant or the Fling, the sense of childhood wonderment in their approach to pop helps to keep their sound distinct. Built on the songwriting chops of Vasquez and Couchois, their vocal chemistry is colored by sweeping guitar chords and added harmonies from Couchois' brother/drummer Dillon and bassist Zachariah Weaver. Add some splashy piano tones and ambient laptop tracks, and it's a formula that has FM tastemakers sniffing them out.
"The first time we heard our song on Kat Corbett's Locals Only radio show [on KROQ], it was definitely a That Thing You Do! moment," Velasquez says, referring to the 1996 film. "'No way; that can't be us coming through the car stereo.'"
In 2010, the band cut their first demo in the Couchois brothers' dad's home recording studio. (For decades, Chris Couchois has been playing drums in bands professionally; he and two of his siblings were even signed to Warner Brothers as the Couchois Brothers. Both Matt and Dillon grew up playing drums.) Last year, the band stepped things up and moved to ArtiSans Label in Fullerton to record The Way I See (released last March) with producer Barrett Slagle. While they're all singer/songwriters in their own right, Velasquez and Couchois shouldered most of the writing early on, playing coffeehouses as a two-piece before adding the others and hitting the Fullerton bar scene. They've also played some notable LA gigs, including a headlining set at the Satellite earlier this month. Watching the band perform definitely brings on waves of nostalgia for the days when Local Natives were just starting out—namely, Couchois' proclivity for extra percussion and the spirit that allows all of their instruments to move as one unit. Some of them even went to high school with Local Natives drummer (and former Weekling) Matt Frazier.
"We got to watch them from the time they were called Cavil At Rest all the way up to the fruition of their career," Couchois says. "They're one of the many band influences that we pull from when it comes to harmony and rhythm."
But when it comes to placing an aesthetic to their sound, Max and the Moon seem to have their own niche. After releasing the "Out of My Head" video last summer, they are planning two more for the coming months, creating an overarching story that the band are keeping close to the vest for now.
"The character goes through a journey of really finding himself. Something really big happens at the end of it all, but I don't want to give it away," Vasquez says. He says it with a smile, as though he's praying that life imitates art.
 John Velasquez's name was misspelled in the original. Changed on Nov. 12, 2012.
This column appeared in print as "Orbiting Stardom."