With their debut album Moonshine Corner, Franco-American band Joon Moon present an elegant, discerning retro sound they’ve built quite literally from the ground up – producing it in their custom-designed Studio 237 in Paris. “We wanted total freedom to produce the music as we liked, without rushing during the sessions,” explains Joon Moon’s primary songwriter, Julien Decoret. “So Studio 237 was built in 2015 over four months of hard work by our hands.” Their analogue approach lends an authenticity to the project that harkens back to the legendary jam sessions of L.A.’s Wrecking Crew and Motown’s Funk Brothers, but with a modern, world-travelled twist.
Decoret met his co-producer, drummer Raphael Chassin, in 2005 on a recording session for French electropop band La Boetie; eventually, both toured with Bossa Nova new wave cover ensemble Nouvelle Vague. Both came from musical families; Decoret’s early forays into musicianship arrived via classical guitar and the influence of his flamenco-playing father, while Chassin idolized the American bands that performed in his parents’ small private jazz club in Never. Chassin fueled his 50’s rock ‘n’ roll fascination by collecting vintage percussion kits, like Slingerland’s sought-after 1940s Radio King drum set. Decoret, meanwhile, began picking up new and strange instruments during his travels. “As I became interested in world music, I bought a lot of small instruments from Europe, India, South America, and now have quite a big collection.” One of his favorites is the eerie-sounding glass-rod Cristal Baschet organ, but many find their way into Joon Moon’s evocative songs.
“We always start the same way: recording piano and drums, then bass, keyboards, vintage organs, and voice,” says Chassin. “The initial structure is all Julien’s influence. He loves classical music, which shows in the way he writes string arrangements.”
“There’s my influence, but also Raphael’s influence,” adds Decoret. “Even though he’s not directly writing the notes, he’s got a real artistic vision. I know jazz records, I know Motown, but it’s not my culture. He finds a way to open the doors, to influence me.”
The duo initially tapped longtime friend and “Fade Out Lines” vocalist Phoebe Killdeer to write simple lyrics that would cleverly hint at broader, more universal themes within the duo’s heartfelt, jazzy melodies, like the yearning, romantic ode to faded love, “Call Me”. But Killdeer’s solo success pulled her away from Joon Moon, and so Decoret and Chassin found themselves in search of a new singer, one who could translate the soul, depth, and drama of Bill Withers, Howlin’ Wolf, and Nina Simone to Joon Moon’s modern-retro aesthetic.
No match could’ve been more perfect for this than Krystle Warren, a Paris-based, Kansas City-born expat with gospel roots who moved to France in 2008 to promote her first solo record, Circle, having worked with such wide-ranging acts as Rufus Wainwright and Hercules & Love Affair. With her androgynous, smoky contralto, Warren is a dead ringer for the likes of Simone, as well as husky-voiced pop stars like Sade and Q Lazzarus. “The first time we heard her voice we were almost crying,”
Chassin remembers. “She’s got something really special which you don’t see so often with other singers,” agrees Decoret. “Usually with Krystle you don’t need more than two or three takes on a song. It’s as if she were hearing it before the songs are written. She breathes the music.” Live, she brings an effortless, commanding power to the stage; Joon Moon wowed audiences at this year’s KCRW Austin City Limits SXSW showcase, as well as Los Angeles’ infamous School Night! parties, where the band made their U.S. debut. “It was really packed and hot, but even without knowing the songs, the crowd was really fun and by the end got really into it,” Decoret says. “That’s something really special with the American audiences – when people feel that you are really into it, they come to you at the end of the show (even the body guard at the front door!) and explain in a really good way why they liked it.”
Warren also brings adroit songwriting chops to the table. Take, for instance, “The Tiger,” which pulls inspiration and structure from the rhetorical William Blake poem of the same name, updated to call out to spurious characters in both personal and political realms (topped off, naturally, with Decoret’s brassy sax arrangements and a rollicking outro on the Philicorda, a Sixties Philips organ). Warren’s Southern Baptist upbringing especially comes through in the bluesy, existentialist “Get Down;” through her retelling of the allegory of Job, Warren encourages listeners to keep striving through difficulties and appreciate blessings no matter how few.
After the runaway success of their first single “Chess” (which found American audiences thanks in part to the support of KCRW) the band released a four-song EP of the same title, followed by two more extended plays (Call Me and Tiger). Some tracks from each of these reappear on debut full-length Moonshine Corner, alongside unreleased gems that concern themselves with topics as sweeping as going to the movies alone (wistful piano-driven ballad “Crash”), odes to drinking the night away in dive bars (the playful, stuttering “Jimmy Thirsty Cow”), and of course, unrequited love. Scattered throughout are clues to the bands’ influences and origins: a haunting French-language cover of Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong” references the alt-rockers at the height of their Amnesiac-era experimentation.
Like Radiohead, Joon Moon seek to infuse each of their songs with an otherworldly aura courtesy of their unusual choices in arrangements and instrumentation, but their universal lyrical themes bring them swiftly back to earth, while layering Decoret’s double bass Phil Spector-style with a 1968 Hofner bass identical to the one Paul McCartney played with the Beatles lends a certain nostalgic familiarity as well. “We believe in the songs we record, we believe in this voice with incredible force, and we try to show this as simply as we can,” says Decoret “We’re not concerned with what the market wants, we are just doing what we love with the instruments we love in a studio we built with our hands. Even with our different influences, we are totally honest in the way we produced this record.”
Perhaps most telling is the album’s snappy lead single “The Mask,” which humbly takes the music business to task: “If I play it nice and sweet/Push it on the beat/Will I move you?/I could be your favorite/But are you even worth it?” Warren asks, then breathlessly references Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” before acquiescing to the commands of music’s most basic drive – “Everybody clap your hands/Everybody dance.” Joon Moon are the real deal – forgoing the kitsch of other bands with vintage proclivities and instead forging a genuine and convincing brand of jazzy pop bursting with intelligence and soul. Perhaps we aren’t worthy of it, as “The Mask” suggests, though anyone listening through Moonshine Corner would be hard-pressed not to hum along, tap their toes, or otherwise feel as though they’ve stumbled on the exceptional house band of some secret Parisian jazz lounge, where the smoke of a thousand Gauloises drifts lazily toward the rafters. They could be your favorite, too.
Moonshine Corner is out 9.29.17