Tunneling its way out of the West Philadelphia netherworlds, Make A Rising is
a band that is beyond unique. The quintet’s debut record is a swirling mix
of violin, keyboard, guitars, drums, saxophone, trumpet, bells, whistles and
assorted noisemakers, — all swelling together for subversively addictive
pop gems. With orchestral crescendos combined with off-kilter vocals and
fast-changing tempos, Make A Rising is the sound of chaos, bliss, bravado,
nerves and naïvete — avant chamber rock at its most dynamic —
like Daniel Johnston singing Beach Boys songs interpreted by Naked City. I got a
chance to sit down with Make A Rising member Jesse Moynihan and chat about the
group’s origins, Japanese pop band tour diaries, dirty West Philly punks
and, of course, MySpace.
Let’s start with the basics: Please introduce yourselves and what
you do in Make A Rising.
I’m Jesse. I play guitar and violin. I also
sing. The other members are Justin, my brother, on piano, ukulele, accordion,
Brandon on guitar, John Pettit on bass and trumpet, John Heron on drums.
Where are you guys all from, originally? When and under what circumstances
did you guys all get together?
Justin, Brandon and I went to boarding school
together. Afterwards Brandon moved to Boston to go to Northeastern. Justin and I
stayed in and out of Philadelphia for a while. At some point we decided Brandon
had to come live with us so we lied and told him we were close to discovering
the secret of levitation. That’s not a joke. Brandon moved to Philly and I
started going to Temple for film. That’s where I met John Pettit who would
eventually play trumpet on our first album and then join the band later.
Meanwhile, we met John Heron through our friend Andy. I had a talk with him
about Milford Graves and decided that he should join the band. After a few weeks
of convincing I got him to join.
What significance does the band’s name have, if any?
The name was
taken from the title of a tour book of a Japanese pop group called Speed. The
title of the book was Speed: Yes Love, Make A Rising. Actually our name
originally was New Planet Make A Rising. But we dropped the new planet bit
because we didn’t feel like writing it on fliers anymore. “New
Planet” was the name of our house that we were trying to model after Sun
When I saw you guys open for Lightning Bolt, I noticed you were all
reading from staff paper and as I listened more closely to the songs, I noticed
a hefty modern classical influence, maybe some Stravinsky or Bartok, in your
meticulous use of density, dynamics and how the songs seemed to have this
dramatic, almost orchestral feel. But I also really appreciated how you used
these techniques to serve the songs rather than oversaturated them with
information just for the hell of it. So, my question is, how do you manage to
resolve your more avant-garde impulses with your poppier tendencies? How do you
find that balance?
I don’t think we really worry about maintaining a
balance between our heftier and poppier ideas. It just so happens that each of
us, to greater and lesser degrees, love complex and simple music. Both worlds
have power and in writing music I can’t favor one over the other. I think
the only goal we have with our writing is that we try to approach it in the most
Did any of you have experience studying music formally?
Justin and I
took private lessons from about age 6-14. Since then I’ve gotten worse at
violin and Justin has gotten better at piano. None of the other members have
been formally trained. Our sheet music is a secret code that only we understand.
How would you describe Make A Rising’s music to a distant relative
who wasn’t so familiar with genre specifics or individual musicians?
make weird rock music that’s influenced by modern classical music with
singing that you probably will think is bad.
How does the live show compare to the recording? What would you hope
people take away from each?
About a year ago our live shows suddenly became
convincing. We crossed a bridge of some sort. I don’t know what happened
exactly. We stopped wearing our white costumes and got more into a nature
aesthetic. All of a sudden I felt like we were a great live band. It’s
still a bit of a mystery. We try our hardest to replicate the album as closely
as possible. Of course that’s impossible. Some of the songs on the album
have 30 or more tracks. But for what we lack in accuracy, we make up for in
theatricality and interplay between the members.
Tell me a bit about “Rip Through The Hawk Black Night.” Is
there an underlying concept behind the record? What was influencing the band as
you were writing and recording it?
There was no set idea for the album,
except for an idealistic vibe of sorts as to what we should be producing as
artists and how we should be living in conjunction with art. I think that had a
heavy influence on a good portion of the lyrics on the album.
I know we were listening to large doses of Cheer Accident, After Dinner,
Flaming Lips and Faust while recording that album.
What effect do you feel the city of Philadelphia has had on Make A
Rising’s approach to songwriting and the way you function as a band and as
I think we’re too close to it to really tell. Lot’s
of times we get labeled as a West Philly band — which has its
connotations: usually meaning wacky, dirty, hippy punks. I don’t know. Are
we wacky, dirty, hippy punks? It’s hard to say. We wash our clothes in the
Would you say there’s a tight-knit sort of group of whacked out
musicians converging on the city — Need New Body, Dysrhythmia, George from
Infidel?/Castro!, Man Man, Espers, Snack Truck, etc.? Do you feel any sort of
kinship towards these bands?
The scene in Philly is getting more and more
open-minded as time passes. There seems to be some sort of creative momentum
building. And some of these bands are definitely reaching out to other
like-minded groups. I wouldn’t call it tight-knit, though. There is a bit
of competitive spirit, which I think is good and bad. It would be better if
every fucked up band in Philly got together and supported each other, which
hasn’t quite happened yet. But I do feel a kinship with people like
George, Powerlunch and Man Man, etc.
What are your pre-game impressions of Oberlin?
We have a bunch of
friends who went to Oberlin. We stopped by there once on a previous tour. There
was a nice bike co-op. We went to the dollar theater and watched Bruce
Almighty, which I wish we hadn’t done.
Last question: MySpace — grassroots networking tool in a corporate
conglomerate’s clothes or a monstrosity more despicable than anything you
or I could ever imagine?
I help MySpace and MySpace helps me.
Make A Rising are opening for the Dirty Projectors at the Half Beard (102
Union Street) on Nov. 6 at 9 p.m. Special guests Sensual Massage With Release
will also perform.