London-based tastemaker Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings and his genre-defining Bubblers compilations have become golden-tinted ambrosia for modern experimental groove junkies over the past several years. Current semi-underground standards ranging from José James and Hiatus Kaiyote to The Hics and Nick Hakim have been featured on Bubblers — as have Los Angeles trio Moonchild, who found a new audience of hungry listeners when the lead single to their 2014 sophomore album, Please Rewind, “The Truth,” surfaced as a clear standout track on Bubblers Eleven.
“It was luck, word-of-mouth and the internet,” says Moonchild's Max Bryk, who makes up the group alongside Andris Mattson and lead vocalist Amber Navran.
On "The Truth," Navran sang a sweet melody and lyrics of self-discovery (“Serenity rest in me/Far from the things I used to know/I found the strength to let it show”) over a bounce that was part otherworldly jazz, part J Dilla. In fact, the trio described their sound during an interview with Brownswood Recordings as "electronic Dilla soul."
“Dilla is a big inspiration because he’s inspired so many of our favorite artists,” says Mattson of the Detroit legend.
Following Please Rewind’s release, the group started receiving co-signs from notables including Robert Glasper, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, The Internet and Tyler, the Creator. Among the many fans they earned were North Carolina production legend 9th Wonder and his Jamla Records labelmate, Rapsody. The relationship between them got so tight that Rapsody featured Moonchild on her Crown EP last year (on the track "Fire") and the L.A. group lent her and 9th Wonder all the individualized stem tracks to Please Rewind and their 2012 debut, Be Free.
“We sent them all of our stems so 9th Wonder can use our stuff to sample whenever he wants,” Navran explains.
“We’re huge fans of sampling culture," Bryk adds. "9th specifically expressed that he loved sampling artists of the now [as well as] old-school stuff. We’re just honored anytime we get flipped by him ’cause he’s so good at what he does and is clearly in the hall of fame of producers. It’s a no-brainer.”
According to Mattson, the respect gained from both traditionalist hip-hop and jazz/soul circles is motivating. “It’s amazing and sort of surreal to have co-signs from those people because they’re some of my favorite artists. To have that is mind-boggling. It keeps us going for sure and gives us the encouragement and validation.”
Moonchild linked up with storied British indie label Tru Thoughts Records (home to Alice Russell and Quantic) for a rerelease of Please Rewind in 2015 as they prepared to release their third full-length album, Voyager, which finally arrived on May 26.
“We're kind of just internalizing new influences,” Bryk says. “We didn’t specifically set out for any goals with Voyager. We just wanted to make music that we like. We added some new instrumentation to the album. Other than that, we wrote songs that made us want to dance and got us excited.”
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Voyager sounds like nearly a decade's worth of fine-tuning their sound. Lead single “Cure” is a living-room jazz number that transforms into a head-nodding beat that’s begging for 16 bars. Meanwhile, tracks like “Hideaway” and “Run Away” sound like they’d fit right into anyone’s Donuts playlist.
Bryk, Mattson and Navran met in USC's jazz performance program and toured together as a horn/woodwind trio; Navran plays saxophone, Mattson plays trumpet and flugelhorn, and Bryk plays sax, flute and clarinet. “We rode in the car together and realized that we had the same music taste,” Navran recalls. “When we were on that tour, we tried writing a song together and it was really easy, so we decided to come together as a group. It wasn’t that calculated really. We were doing well so we kept going.”
Looks like 9th should be expecting another set of stems soon.
Moonchild headline the Troubadour on Friday, June 23. Tickets and more info.