Debut Release Moonlight Vision- Part 1
Text Oliver X
Photos Chris Stanton
Local music heroes The Sextones, the newly renamed soul group formerly known as The Mark Sexton Band, released their debut 11-song album Moonlight Vision this month. On this impressive freshman self-produced outing (recorded on 2” tape I might add), Sexton's richly colored, textured, breathy vocal styling is on full display, as the baby-faced singer croons on throw back tracks that swing from deep soul and uptempo R&B, to electric 60's rock. Anchored by the crackling rhythm section of bassist Alex Korostinsky and drummer Dan Weiss, the pocket grooves on tracks like my favorite song--“Push on Through” where Sexton turns in his best vocal performance on the record – are spiced with ample servings of stank from Ryan Taylor on Hammond B3, with Billy Preston-esque sprinkles on the clavinet. “Push on Through” opens the album and sets the retro tone, evoking the mood and memory of Angel Flight bell bottoms, big apple hats, RC Cola and Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch.
Sexton and Korostinsky were very mindful of the soil from which this album would spring. One could even say they were calculated. But absent in that process was sterility. This is a passionate album where their hearts are put into it and where the musicianship and production is first rate. I especially enjoyed the record's deep album cuts. Track 6 “Goodbye Yesterday,” sounds like it came right off of Prince's debut album For You, released in April of 1978. Track 7 “Blame It On My Youth” features a wicked horn arrangement and some stellar long fingered fret work by Korostinsky on bass. The Hendrix-Isley Brothers inflected closing track “The End” might be the best sounding track on the entire record. Sexton's vocals are high in the mix and the instrumentation is recorded with crystal clarity. This track buttons up the album tightly and could find its way onto radio playlists this summer.
If you ride with this record, it will pay dividends because it isn't a quick fix 1 minute ejaculation. This is late night house party music at your aunty's house, that's not afraid to get steamy, funky and real. It's also a mother may I giant step forward for Sexton as a songwriter and band leader.
To capture the warmth they wanted on Moonlight Vision, the lads turned to the rustic recording compound at Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati, California. The Sonoma County community that sits on the Petaluma River is known for playing host to many of music's notable live acts at the venerable Cotati Cabaret, where the likes of Tower of Power, John Lee Hooker, Leon Russell and Fishbone performed. The Sextones record was cut on a classic Neve console over a five day lock out period. They then tracked vocals at their home studios in Reno. Guest appearances were turned in from sax man Eric Johnson, trumpeter Ben Caiazza, violinist Graham Marshall and singer Jessica Vann. The result is the Sextones signature soul sound that will serve to elevate the band as it builds its national audience at premier concert venues, regional festivals and national tour stops.
Oliver X: The album is titled Moonlight Vision, tell me about that name.
Mark Sexton: Moonlight Vision is the rock song of the album. It's our inner Hendrix/Band of Gypsies. It's basically a song that is us trying to take the best of what we liked about the Band of Gypsies era. I had just seen the movie Easy Rider and the soundtrack is chock full of Hendrix and bad ass rock songs. Shortly after that, we knew we wanted to write a Hendrixian song. A real guitar-heavy, driven song. The song is about the feeling that you get when you're up late into the night and you're letting your mind wander and you're thinking about your next move. I'm the type of person (and I think I share this with a lot of other people) where you feel the most creative before you go to bed. Like, the hours that you would be sleeping, you instead are saying, I want to take on the world; I want to do something big! The song is about those moments, where, even when you're dreaming, you're practicing for your goal. It's your vision; it's your dream.
Alex Korostinsky: Mark and I lived together pretty much during the entirely of the writing for this album. This is an album that we have been writing for almost five years. So, since our last release in 2013, this album has been in the works. We wrote the album at all times of the day, but we would find the most luck when we were doing all night writing sessions. These would usually happen at like 3am.
Mark Sexton: There's something happens to your brain when you should be sleeping. You're fighting sleep. I feel like your brain is hyper active and it's hyper emotional late at night. That's my favorite time to write.
Oliver X: We'll talk about the album more in a bit, but tell me about the name change. You've been the Mark Sexton Band for years. Why change now?
Mark Sexton: I feel we found ourselves kind of hitting a glass ceiling in a sense, where we were in a pool of a million bands that had first and last names. So we wanted to find a way to rebrand ourselves in a way that said a little bit more about the music in the name. And at the same time we wanted a name that sounds like you've already heard it.
Oliver X: And yet nobody had the name.
Mark Sexton: Oddly no. Nobody had the name.
Oliver X: Well, it really edged you up.
Mark Sexton: Yes it did bring more edge to our name for sure. But we weren't thinking, We're gonna write sexy songs 'cause we're the Sextones. But the crazy thing about it is that people would often offhandedly call us that. Whenever I heard people jokingly saying, “Mark and The Sextones,” I would always kind of cringe because that name sounds like a casino cover band that wears sequinned vests or something. But The Sextones is a cool name that kind of sounds like a British soul band.
Alex Korostinsky: We wanted a name that was timeless and simple, like The Beatles. We kind of lucked out because people think that they recognize The Sextones name.
Mark Sexton: Some of the best band names are names that people think they've already heard.
Alex Korostinsky: It adds an image to the music that we weren't getting with the Mark Sexton Band. Like nobody knows the style of the music when they hear that name. But with The Sextones, they can make a pretty good educated guess about the style of music we play. We didn't want to pigeon hole ourselves into a style based on our band name. So now all of our band imagery associated with The Sextones is more modern, so you know it's current. The Sextones is a dope, old sounding classic name.
Mark Sexton: I think what we're trying to do is unique. There was an era in the 60's and 70's where there were a lot of bands that had “tones” in their names—like The Softones.
Oliver X: Like The Heptones...
Mark Sexton: Yes. There was a lot of falsetto-style soul music that was coming out. We were trying to revive that old band name style while carving out our own way with it. We were lucky enough to grow up on some really classic shit, so our influences are from eras where the music was so good.
Alex Korostinsky: We're in trouble now because we just started getting into Little Feet. So we have no idea of what we will sound like on the next recording. My dad was a huge Little Feet fan, so I kinda just found his vinyl collection, but I never gave it a chance. I was like, That's just dad rock. That's not cool. But now I understand why they're great.
Oliver X: Production values and songwriting.
Mark Sexton: You can get caught up with liking what's in instead of liking what you find interesting. I believe that soul music can be from any genre. Like, Joni Mitchell is soul music; Neil Young is soul music. Soul music doesn't have to be what calls itself soul music. It doesn't have to be Sam and Dave. That's soul music, but it doesn't always have to be The Temptations. Soul is in everything. James Taylor has soul. Little Feet is like southern rock country acoustic soul and has so much emotion. And that's what we're drawn to.
Oliver X: How did you arrive at the sonics on this record creatively? Is this the culmination of the best of the old and the new from the band, or what?
Mark Sexton: I could answer that in two different ways. But I'm going to talk about the production end of it first.
Oliver X: You did not record this on ¼-inch tape [Laughter].
Mark Sexton: [Laughter] No, we did it on 2” tape. This was something that we always had on our bucket list. This was done on a big boy Studer 2” 24-track machine through a Neve, the ultimate old-school board. As classic as it can get.
Alex Korostinsky: We went to a very prestigious analog vintage studio. We used real plate reverbs. The record was engineered by a completely bad ass analog engineer who knew his shit.
Oliver X: Who's recorded on that Neve console?
Mark Sexton: For all the gear nerds reading this, it used to be Pete Townsend's board. This was Tom Waits' favorite studio, so he had recorded Rain Dogs and Mule Variations there and a few more. But we didn't even know that. We just knew we wanted to record there and we got there and took the tour and they were like, 'This is Tom Waits' favorite room to record in.' We were like, 'What?!'
Oliver X: Talk about soul, eh?
Mark Sexton: There was some soul in that room for sure. Aside from Tom Waits, a lot of famous artists have recorded there, like Van Morrison. It's called Prairie Sun Studios and it's actually like a farm. There's several barns there and in each barn there's a super dope studio. And we stayed there on site. We stayed there for five days in a little cabin. We'd wake up in the morning, stretch out and walk into the studio and start recording. The beauty of it was that we knew what we wanted and we knew we were going to have limited options because we were recording in this fashion. It wasn't like, 'Oh, we're going to track drums today and have a million microphones on the drums.' No. On most of the stuff you hear on the album, there's like four microphones on the drums. Nothing crazy. And all the sounds we had to commit to. Like, we know we want to have this reverb on it and we had to commit to that. We know we want the snare to sound like this and have this distortion on it. You can't change it after the fact. We had to commit to it. We were recording with a lot of dirt in the signal and it wasn't something that we could go in and clean up after the fact.
Alex Korostinsky: We were making conscious moves before we would start tracking a song. We'd tell engineer Matt Wright, 'Okay, we want to really hit the tape really hard on this song. So we'd crank the gain on it. And you can hear the tape distortion on certain songs.
Oliver X: And you wanted that?
Mark Sexton: Yes we wanted that. And we knew there was no other way for us to do it. Because plug-ins fake it pretty well, but there's nothing that comes close to the sound of hitting tape at +12db.
Alex Korostinsky: There's a moment in recording history in the mid to late seventies where they perfected recording. And then it kind of got weird in the '80s. There's this moment in time where recording technology is super bad ass and the know how is on point. We wanted to do our best to emulate that era of recording. I hope it translates because we spent a year and a half working on this shit and I think this is probably our best sounding record.
Mark Sexton: It's definitely unique. No one in a home studio can recreate these sounds the way that we've done them. We just wanted texture and character to the sound that nobody else was going to be able to duplicate. It's like shopping at Macy's or something and you know that ten other dudes are going to be wearing the short that you bought...We made our own shirt. [Laughter].
Next month we will get into how The Sextones are positioning the record and all the cool things – like a new video, a Kickstarter pre-order campaign, a call-in listen line—they are doing to promote it. And don't miss The Sextones Record Release for Moonlight Vision featuring Hopeless Jack @ 8pm at The Saint located at 761 South Virginia Street in Midtown Reno. 21+ w/ID. Order the record at http://www.thesextonesmusic.com/
This article is featured in the 2017 April RTT: