Should you ever find your boots crunching across the grass at one of Moonsville Collective's backyard hootenannies, remember two things: Always keep track of your tall can, and be prepared to party like it's 1929. On a glowing stage flanked by hay bales, rickety wood fencing and late-night revelers in dust-bowl attire–the old-timey sound of this Costa Mesa octet thrives on sputtering, banjo-driven country riffs. As drummer Drew Martin's snare gallops with ease on "Millionaires"–a track from their latest album, Cradle to the Grave–a crowd of OC locals quickly turns into a rowdy congregation of hand clappers.
Judging by the smiles on the faces of bandmates Ryan Welch and Corey Adams, it's obvious this is definitely their element. After all, these house parties at bassist Seth Richardson's house eventually led to the birth of their band, inspired by all things Americana: bushy beards, hillbilly twang and lightning-fast fretwork.
Drunk off the legacy of such great American songwriters as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Levon Helm, Moonsville's current incarnation came together about a year ago out of the ashes of several other projects that all fizzled out around the same time. Having been friends and, in some cases, bandmates in past outfits, the idea to start a local super-group seemed a natural progression. As the band coalesced, the importance of it for this seasoned crop of musicians, mostly in their late 20s, wasn't overlooked.
"None of us had planned on playing music for much longer in serious bands before starting [this] band, but the small amount of success we found early on intrigued us," says Adams.
Over the past several months, the band have parlayed that "small amount of success" into a series of packed shows at community street fairs and the Observatory, plus a live OC Music Awards showcase on Jan. 29 for Best Live Band in 2013. But the true spirit of their collective was mostly forged during long trips up California's central coast to a cabin nestled in the unincorporated town of Los Osos in San Luis Obispo County. The group were turned on to the area by their guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Dan Richardson (a.k.a. Seth's dad), whose brother owns a cabin there. On a regular basis, they'd drive up to the house they simply dubbed "Nancy & Court," after the cross streets it sits on. Rollicking jug-band jam sessions were a common occurrence as the sun went down. "We'd basically just stay up, drink wine and play all night," Welch says.
Part of the band's appeal and the authenticity of their sound stems from the older members in the group, including Richardson and fiddle player Bill Bell (both in their 60s), who've played folk and Americana together in various bands over the decades. As they harnessed the fervor and emotion behind crowd favorites such as "Rum Runner" and "Doghouse," it was clear that both Dan and Bill became invaluable assets to the outfit's sound.
"You can learn any sound like math or science, just listen and learn how to play it," Adams says. "But what makes this special to me is that having Dan and Bill, we have people who were around playing this music when it was really happening."
It's a sentiment that comes through on most of the track list for Cradle to the Grave, which they recorded during three months at a friend's house in Whittier. Since releasing it on Jan. 20, Moonsville have set their sights on touring up and down the coast, this time as a band on a mission to spread their sound instead of just refining it. But even though their flannel-wearing, antiquated vibe could work in just about any rural town in America, don't expect them to stray too far–at least for now.
"We're trying to be really strategic about when we tour. . . . We're not the 'Get in the van, go out for 30 days, spend all the money you saved up all year' [kind]," Adams says. "We're a little more strategic and frugal that way in terms of how we build our fan base."