The origin story of Chicago band Moontype goes like this: A trio of music conservatory graduates set out on a journey together. Along the way, they learn how to bend three distinct sources of sound â€” bassist-vocalist Margaret McCarthy, guitarist Ben Cruz, and drummer Emerson Hunton â€” into harmonious unity. But that version doesn’t tell the full story of how Bodies of Water, their yearning, personal, excellently crafted debut album out tomorrow (April 2), came to sound as versatile as it does, spanning folk, post-punk, fuzzy rock, and chillingly confessional songwriting across 12 distinct tracks. While the closer stretches out to eight minutes, nearly half don’t break past three, making Moontype a decidedly hard band to classify. But they know what they’re not: jammers.
“We don’t really jam that much,” McCarthy tells MTV News. Cruz clarifies: “We goof a lot, but we don’t usually play a part over and over and over and over and over again.” To be clear, no one would mistake Moontype for a jam band. Their songs stem from McCarthy’s solo bass compositions given rich new textures by Cruz and Hunton, while her lyrics evoke Midwestern malaise, the fizz of “fuck-me eyes,” and the inner dilemmas of probing one’s deepest emotions. (“When will I learn to choose pain over suffering?” goes one unforgettable chorus.) After Oberlin College, where Emerson and Ben studied jazz performance, and Margaret was one of “the weirdos playing synths in the basement of the conservatory,” the three linked up in Chicago to add muscle behind McCarthy’s early work.
Four of those skeletal tunes show up on Bodies of Water, invigorated by a collaborative spirit; jittery opener “Anti-Divinity” becomes a full-on firebomb, while “About You” sharpens into single material (the band released it in early February to hype the album). But it’s remarkable how fully formed Bodies of Water sounds, a testament to both McCarthy’s vision and the synergy between the three as they continue to write collaboratively. On a recent Zoom call, they explained how their friendship solidified through playing highly personal music together, something Hunton called unique to Moontype.
“A lot of these songs do feel like they’re really specific and strong emotional experiences that Margaret has. Now, we’re really close, but I remember it feeling very intimate when we were new friends,” he says. “All of a sudden, it’s like, oh, this is what this song is about. It’s really cool, but that was an intense thing. We are sharing this thing right now that is yours. We are getting closer by the minute because of that.” In the spirit of sharing experiences, McCarthy, Cruz, and Hunton spoke to MTV News about how friendship permeates Bodies of Water, where they find inspiration, and math rock.
MTV News: Margaret, you initially wrote some songs on bass alone. What was it like when you all started playing music together and translating those compositions?
Margaret McCarthy: They were kind of fully formed, in terms of sections and the melody and bassline. But I started playing them with Ben first, and I think just because there are only two lines happening, there are no chords. There’s room for flexibility on what the chords are.
Ben Cruz: The first time I heard Margaret, I heard one of her solo sets, and I was like, this is really cool. But also, the songs did feel very fully formed. So I was like, I would love to play these with her, but once I was doing it, I was like, wow, what am I supposed to do? Eventually, it was a matter of trying to figure out what textures things needed, which is when we decided that we wanted to have drums in the band. I called Emerson.
Emerson Hunton: [It was] definitely a fun process for me because all of a sudden, we had a bunch of songs that existed, and I got to play them. It was really nice. I mean, it’s just really fun to have it be that quick and being able to listen to the solo versions of just Margaret singing and playing the bass. I thought it was really interesting how it felt different having just two melodies, one vocal, and one bass â€” two lines moving together. It really opened things up and changed how I thought about where to put the bass drum. Do I just treat Margaret’s basslines as another part of the band instead of just being a static bassline? I think that changed my process at least and opened it up in a really nice way.
MTV News: When you listen to the album, is it like you’re essentially listening to the sound of the three of you getting really close?
Hunton: Yeah, I think that’s a nice way to put it. I’ll sign off on that.
Cruz: The whole process of the band has been becoming close with each other, and the music got better as we got closer. So I think by the time we were ready to record, it was like, we were there. We were at this point where things were very open and we felt very good and close to each other.
McCarthy: I would write a song, and it’s me alone in my room having some tense feeling. Then I’m sharing the intense feeling with Ben and Emerson. They’re picking up on it, and it snowballs a little bit. I might have angst, but it’s like, I don’t have any pedals. I don’t play that loud. So then Ben’s playing really loud, angsty chords. Emerson’s hitting the drum super hard. I feel like I can feel the feeling that I was already feeling but feel it more. We’re feeling it together. It feels really good.
MTV News: I think friendship is a theme of the album, too, and it comes up on quite a few tracks. Have you thought about friendships disappearing or reappearing in light of the past year and being physically separated from friends?
McCarthy: I kind of feel like I haven’t really lost any friends to the pandemic but I’ve maybe had to figure out ways to sustain them more intentionally, for sure. It’s funny because I feel on the album, that theme is more about moving and being far away from people and also changing as people. Then you kind of drift apart, drift together, or whatever. During this year, it’s been more about logistics to stay friends with people. Like, everyone’s definitely stressed out, which is hard. But also, I feel like everyone’s really understanding of each other and trying to stick together.
Hunton: A lot of these songs are definitely about that same push and pull of trying to stay close with friends. I feel like Margaret’s songs are often about friends. I definitely feel they feel different, but still, possibly, there’s a stronger emotional connection to them now. Maybe you think about them in that way. I haven’t really thought about that intentionally, but that is something I’ve noticed. Some other people have said that about “Ferry” when it was first out, [that] it feels like it’s about that. I can definitely read it that way and that feels very relevant right now.
MTV News: This is always a hard question, but musically, what artists do you like? And also, what have you heard that was cool that you tried to maybe lean into in your own music?
Cruz: We all did play in a country band.
Hunton: I’ve been listening to more weird indie bands lately. I’ve always listened to overly complicated, contemporary jazz music and a lot of noisy improv stuff in Chicago. I always have played that since I’ve lived here. Margaret really likes crazy, more modern-produced pop songs, as do I. We like all of that stuff. I think probably what we sound like is just given the instruments we’re playing and we can mimic or maybe think about other things subconsciously.
McCarthy: I remember when we first started playing, I was trying to think about what genre we are. There was definitely a time when I was like, we’re definitely math rock, even though I didn’t really know what that meant.
Cruz: We also do share a lot of music with each other. Like, the number of times I stumbled upon some cool thing and I’m like, Emerson, check this out, or vice versa, or Margaret, or whatever. That is something that’s happening really constantly.
MTV News: Say you’re playing a show and someone who’s either in high school or college comes up to you and says, “I’m just starting to make music. I have questions about sticking it out.” What might you say to them?
McCarthy: It’s funny that you’re asking that question because it’s not like I crucially was ever like, yeah, I’m going to go be a musician. This is going to be my life. This is how I’m going to do it. That is not what happened at all. So I really feel like what I would say is just like: Make music in a way that feels good for as long as it feels good. And if it stops feeling good, don’t do it anymore.