By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jul 09, 2014 at 5:46 AM

In 2011, a new Milwaukee band called The New Red Moons released its self-titled debut album to happy listeners and some strong local reviews. With the first album a success, attempt number two would seem to be the obvious next step, so a year later, the trio hopped back into the recording studio.

Nearly two years later – after a successful Kickstarter campaign, years of mixing and production, a new child and more – the resulting songs are finally ready to go, compiled together on "Mesmerisme," The New Red Moons’ rich, sophomore attempt. It’s been so long that the band – made up of lead singer/guitarist Joe McIlheran, bassist Jeff Brueggerman and drummer Kavi Laud – had to refresh itself on how these songs work before hitting the stage for the album release show Friday, July 11 at Club Garibaldi.

After an uphill climb and a few warm-up gigs, they’re happy to say they’re ready. Before the big night, however, got a chance to talk with McIlheran and Brueggerman about the band’s origins, the new album, the state of rock on the radio and more. How did you guys all come together and make this band?

Joe McIlheran: In 2008, I had been doing solo stuff as like a singer-songwriter. I recorded a solo album and put it all out myself in late 2008. I didn’t have a band or anything, and I obviously wanted be a full show for the release party, because there were drums and everything on the album.

So I contacted Jeff and Kavi, who both I had worked with in the past, and we played a couple of shows together – the release party and a couple of subsequent shows – and decided, "Well, this is fun. Let’s be a band, and let’s get a real name" (because we were just going under my name).

Jeff Brueggerman: Which they slaughtered his name every show. (laughs)

JM: So we became The New Red Moons. It started out with those songs I had written previously. We kind of grew in, and I started writing more songs and then we could arrange them all together.

OMC: What were your early inspirations on some of that early music?

JM: As a songwriter, I grew up with a lot of old folk music from the early 20th century and even earlier, really rootsy music plus a lot of ’30s and ’40s traditional, jazz-influenced pop music. Those are like subconscious influences; it’s not like I’m trying to channel that. I’m also a big fan of late ’60s/early ’70s rock and roll – The Beatles, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, early Pink Floyd. I guess that comes across in the music.

The early stuff was a lot more singer-songwriter, acoustic-ish to start with, but when I added the band, it turned into something else.

JB: Kavi and I like to bring the rock and roll. I think that’s a part of the sound: He brings these delicate songs to us, and Kavi and I just kind of want to rock and roll. We find a way to guide it in that direction if at all possible.

OMC: At Summerfest, during the Fall Out Boy show, Pete Wentz lamenting about how there aren’t bands that play guitar on the radio anymore (other than Fall Out Boy, of course). How do you feel about that statement?

JM: Well, I don’t completely disagree with it. It depends on what radio you listen to, I guess. Top 40 … there might be some guitars in it, but they don’t sound like guitars after all the Autotune and compression. It sounds like a child’s music box to me. (laughs) But then again, if somebody’s going to b*tch about that, I’m going to ask who gives a sh*t. Radio’s not that relevant anymore anyways.

JB: Also: Is Fall Out Boy still on the radio? (laughs) That’s an odd statement to make from a band that I didn’t even know still existed.

OMC: If you are hearing guitars on the radio, it feels like it’s a lot from the modern folk movement. How do you feel about that little genre movement, especially as a band with a foot in the folk rock door?

JB: I dug it when, like, Fleet Foxes came out, but then at some point, I felt like it got contrived and everybody was hopping on board with whatever sound that was. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Mumford and Sons. I feel like every song sounds the same: big beat behind acoustic rolling guitars and shouting.

JM: There’s always shouting for no reason. (laughs) I feel like every other musical movement that pops up, the first couple of popular people have something to say and then everybody jumps on. That’s the unfortunate thing. It’s like any other movement; you have so many wannabes, and in today’s radio, there’s so much room on these major labels for these wannabes and cardboard cutouts because, yeah, they’re not original, but they’ll sell for another five years.

OMC: What do you look for when you’re trying to find that genuine spark of originality and trying to say something?

JB: First, I need to hear something that is at least relatively interesting in what they’re doing. There are so many ways to hear bass, drum guitar and vocals. But hearing something interesting connects your ear and then you listen deeper. You might be able to find something that doesn’t sound contrived. 

JM: It’s hard to say what moves you, but it has to move you. You have to feel like the artist is being honest and that they’re not trying to play a trick on you. That’s not necessarily something you can detect on a first listen, but after three listens or hopefully a whole album, you’ll know if there was something underneath or whether these were just cute pop songs that were played on a banjo.

OMC: What was going on with you guys when putting together your latest album, "Mesmerisme"?

JM: I do the songwriting, so I do the words and melody and chord changes, and then I bring it to these guys and together we do all the arranging. But I think the main difference in writing these songs, I was consciously not arranging them in my head for a symphony or whatever. I wasn’t trying to confine myself to The New Red Moons sound, but simply the instruments and voices we have, our limitations. I wasn’t trying to retrofit it to the band, whereas the original material on the first album, I was doing just that. This one was written and definitely arranged collaboratively with the band. I think it’s a stronger album for it.

JB: There’s like a bass line our drummer wrote for me. In one section, he like got up and was like, "I have an idea for this section." He ran over to the piano and came up with a bass part. He was like, "You got that?!", and I was like, "Yeah, play it again. Okay, yeah, that’s actually really cool, man!"

JM: It’s awesome because we’ll be thinking of ideas for each other’s music as much as our own. Yeah, I’m writing the words and the melodies, and I’ll come in with chords. But sometimes the chords will change, and sometimes the structure changes. That’s what is fun; I don’t know what’s going to come out at the end. That’s what these guys are for, and it’s always unexpected and so much more fun to play.

OMC: On your recordings, you go out of your way to not add extra stuff and make it as close to a live show as possible, correct?

JM: That’s right. I’d say it’s an ideal live show, so it’s nothing we couldn’t do live with the people we have. It’s not necessarily something we’re going to stick with or something that every band needs to do. I just feel it sets limitations for yourself. Otherwise, you could be in the studio for years and years and years.

JB: We could’ve turned the album into "Pet Sounds" if we had spent enough time on it. (laughs)

JM: Yeah, but who says that’s better, right? I do feel like your art is defined by your limitations, so why fake it? Then we come to a show and sound completely different. If on our next album, we really want a kazoo player on it, well, that’s an idea too. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but for this album, this is the idea we had and the sound we felt was the best we could come up with.

To my mind, these songs with anything more on them would be redundant because we feel we filled every space with something good. It’ll almost certainly change in the future, but right now, it just felt really good to play as a band and be completely gelled as a band. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.