When you think of modern post-rock, you might think of fifteen plus minute creations overwrought in instrumentation and rehashes of what's come before. In defining what means the conclusion or advancement of rock music, it developed itself from bands like Slint or Mogwai, to a formula any kid with an effects rack could try their hand at. But some groups took the foundations of the music style, and expounded upon them in new and exciting contexts, like the band Moving Mountains during their tenure as a band.
Moving Mountains was a band from Purchase, New York that played beyond the spectrum of post-rock. Their music found itself out of the confines of the After The Post Rock boards and wherever "highbrow" discussions on the genre were held. Instead, their mix of post-rock and emo found itself a home with a much larger audience than one might expect, manifesting on their debut LP Pneuma. Instead of going the normal route and creating music bound by the expectancy and normalcy of the genre. The most obvious example of this being the inclusion of vocals on nearly every track. Combined with horns, climactic and apocalyptic guitars it held a necessary inclusion in the record's emotional impact.
The band found themselves in "the scene," touring with bands ranging from Thrice and La Dispute to holding a slot on the Warped Tour. The band was embraced wholeheartedly by communities like AbsolutePunk, eager to show the world how incredible a band people were sleeping on. Pneuma is a record that holds just as much weight and power as it did when it released in 2007. It captures the balance between youthful angst and atmospheric innovation. To celebrate the record and its rerelease (which you can pre-order right here), we spoke with lead vocalist and guitarist Greg Dunn (who now serves as one of Say Anything's touring guitarists). Also, listen to a remix of "8105" by Hammock below, ten years to the day after the original had been written.
NOISEY: So looking at the record, when's the last time you listened to it all the way through?
Greg Dunn: My answer could be said the same for every record I’ve made. It’s probably the last time I listened to it straight through is when I was done mixing it. Like, I always have a habit of never quite finishing a record. Like running out of time to work on it and when it’s done, when I listen to it again all I hear are the things I wish I could have done better. So maybe seven years ago, maybe six years ago.
In that case, what’s the last singular song you listened to?
So we got the whole record remastered by a friend of mine so though that process I had to listen to a lot of the songs, but I also, we did a couple remixed and because I don’t have the files for those songs anymore, they’re gone, they were deleted from my harddrive, I had to rerecord all of the multi-tracks for specific songs like “8105,” I had to rerecord that entire song from the ground up in order to give it to Hammock for him to remix. So yeah, I listed to “8105” I listened to “Grow On, Grow Up, Grow Out” “Ode We Will Bury Ourselves." So those songs because I had to retrack them all for the remix.
Yeah, what’d you think about the Hammock remix? I really dug it.
Hammock is one of my all time favorite bands, like up there, top three. Super influential. And it was cool with them. Typically they don’t do remixes for more rock oriented bands. I thought they did an awesome job. They just loaded it with those noises that only Hammock knows how to make. But I was super excited that they were even down to do it. That was like a moment of fear because I don’t know them at all and whenever you reach out to a band you really admire you don’t anticipate to hear anything back so that was cool.
I guess one of the things I was always interested in is that your trajectory as a band was an interesting thing in terms of the music you played. You could have really tried to court Explosions in the Sky and bands like that, but Moving Mountains has played Warped Tour and other tours in the "scene." How did you decide that was going to be the niche you’re going to exist in?
Yeah, it’s weird. We never quite fit in, and even from the very beginning the first time Pneuma ever was released on the internet we were really deep in that niche of instrumental post rock bands and people were so upset that there was singing on it. So my first experience of having people listen to it was “This band is awesome but the singer is ruining it. Like, why are they ruining this beautiful post rock music. Screw this, I’m going to listen to Explosions or Mogwai or whatever.” And so a result of that I think was us being like “Screw this, this is the music we want to make” and it might have even gotten to us a little too much where we were like we can be a post rock band and we can also be a hard rock band and that sort of pushed us a bit to make these harder, heavier, more live engaging records. Almost as a kind of “We’re not going to pigeonhole ourselves in this very particular post rock genre.” I’m not trying to say anything negative about it, but it’s a very pigeonholing sort of way of forcing a band to be a certain way.
I think in the mid-2000s post-rock was such an insular thing where if there was one thing that sort of went outside that definition people got really weird and upset.
Yeah, with every record we put out it felt like we lost a chunk of fans but then we got a new chunk of fans. That’s what always happened with us. When we put out Pneuma a lot of people liked it but they were confused why there was singing, and then we did Forward and more rock people, people that were into a more kind of strifey kind of music were jumping on board and then by the time we put Waves out and we were touring a lot, that’s when we were doing the Warped Tours and the, you know, Coheed and Cambria, Thursday, those kinds of bands, that’s when we tapped into the market. It’s funny, we went from “why the hell is this post-rock band singing” to “wow, why does this rock band have these fifteen minute instrumental parts.” So we made this total crossover but that was so much better for us because people were more open minded, like “This is so cool this rock band is doing these weird interludes for so long” So I think we were more comfortable in that market for a while.
When did you start screaming?
[Laughs] I don’t know. That’s a good question. I guess around when we started to do the Waves stuff. There was a little bit of it on Pneuma, but I think during that Waves touring cycle was when I started getting really into that. I was really inspired by Dustin [Kensrue], we did a long tour with Thrice and La Dispute and Oh Brother and I was very inspired by all the singers in all those bands are really really talented in their own special and then me I’m like an idiot I can barely sing but I was trying. Being around those kinds of talented people inspired me to try different things with my voice. Screaming and stuff like that.
From the onset did you always know Moving Mountains would have singing in it?
Definitely. It was never really a constant decision to- Like, we didn’t start out as an instrumental band. We always had singing. But for me as a songwriter the lyrics are always the absolute last thing I deal with. I love melody but I write music to express a certain feeling that way I don’t have to talk about it, that way I don’t have to use words to describe that. So I’ve never really considered myself a fantastic lyricist. I’m usually in the studio as I’m writing melodies and recording them is usually when I’m writing lyrics. It’s definitely the hardest part in the recording and writing process for me but usually the most rewarding when it’s done.
Do you still like the album art for Pneuma?
Yeah, that was an interesting topic. There was a moment like, “we’re rereleasing it, we have the opportunity to maybe change it.” I think if I was putting out the record today, would I keep the art? Probably not. But I think it totally fits that time and place, and I’m weird about change. Like I don’t want to pull a George Lucas and go back and change everything, you know? I want to do that so badly, I wish I could go back to our records and change everything. We did a tiny change, a type change but that’s only because we had to because a lot of the original files are lost, but some of the actual vinyl was redesigned by Sam Kaufman who’s done all our stuff up to this point. We kinda wanted to make it a little more cohesive with the rest of the album artwork. Thursday rereleased Waiting and that artwork is so awesome. I was like, man, we should have done something, but the vinyl is going to have some special packaging a special sleeve and stuff like that.
What do you think you’re proudest of the record today?
That’s a good question. I don’t even know if I’m necessarily proud of the tangible content of the record, I’m moreso proud that it has, in the grand scheme of things it’s small, but the fact that it has any effect whatsoever to a single person that is a very cool and powerful thing to have. Because I sort of lost touch with the actual record itself, but the fact that people were inspired by it and people talk to me about it, that is more what I felt claim to and what’s meaningful to me, I guess. The relationship the record has made for me to all these people all over the world. It’s crazy.
Why now for this rerelease?
Well technically, "8105" is August 1st 2005 and it’ll be August 1 2015 It’ll be ten years since we wrote that song which is the first song Nick and I ever wrote together. We wrote that song on 8105, and it was a placeholder because we couldn’t think of a song title.
How long did it take?
It took a long time. Maybe over a year. Because we didn’t have any- no one knew who we were. I didn’t have anyone asking me “Hey, what’re you doing” I would come home from school and work on it, and then I would take two months off from it. It’s really- I had no pressure and no one to check in on me about it.
This is weird, I haven’t done this type of thing in so long. Like talked about Moving Mountains.
Is it weird being away from all that?
It is. It has been very very weird. I took a full year off from doing any music at all, like no Say Anything no nothing for a full year and it was a necessary thing, but now I’m sort of missing it and itching to get back into it. I feel like I’ll have to do it my entire life. It’s like a part of me, you know. But it does feel good. It feels good after ten years I can still have a conversation with you about it. It’s so crazy.
I feel like it’s one of those things you can always go back to. I think Moving Mountains is one of those bands that represents so much for a lot of people. It’s one of those things people will remember.
Yeah, that would be amazing, and that’s so cool. I hope it’s true. Well it is. Even in this tiny, tiny bubble. And that’s enough for me to feel good.
Follow John Hill on Twitter at @JohnXHill