Smooth rockers Shake the Moon have learned that playing in a quintet of proficient, eager performers can sound like a runaway freight train if they don’t exercise a little restraint. To that end, frontman Johnathon Gehringer often raises a time-tested question during rehearsals.
“We like to ask ourselves, ‘Do I need to be playing right now?’ ” he said with a wry smile.
That question has become the band’s motto of sorts.
“With five great musicians who want to be playing at all times, when we first started, it was a cluttered fuck-mess with everyone riffing,” he said. “We’ve been working on that real hard this year.”
There’s added urgency to their work. Later this month, Gehringer, keyboardist Drew Harakal, guitarist/keyboardist Morris Holdahl, bassist Jacob Pullig, and drummer Jason Whorton are recording their second EP, this time with in-demand producer Taylor Tatsch (The Orbans, Jetta in the Ghost Tree, Shadows of Jets) at his AudioStyles studio in Colleyville. The band’s first three-track effort, Centipede, was engineered by Ben Napier at Green Audio Productions and released last year.
For the first time since forming in early 2013, Gehringer said he feels like his group is getting some traction locally.
“I’ve played open-mics my entire life to challenge myself and get exposure,” he said. “When we started Shake the Moon, we did just that. We’d do The Grotto’s open-mic, and it was slow. This last month, it feels like we’re taking off. We’ve been getting compliments, and people are asking when the album is coming out. That’s been motivating.”
Last Sunday, the bluesmen got confirmation of that support at the Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards ceremony, when their band was voted best new artist. Harakal said he and his bandmates were making bets on the winner before the announcement, but they never imagined it would be them. Gehringer said they’re all still “in shock” and very grateful to their fans.
Part of the group’s popularity may be attributed to its groove-based dance feel.
“We’re doing rock songs with a pop sensibility,” Pullig said. “We want to get people’s asses on the dance floor, shaking what they got. The crowds seem to respond to that.”
His band shoots for the middle ground between making themselves happy (with complex rhythms) and keeping the audience engaged.
“I’ve seen a lot of bands shoot above that mark,” he said. “You’re trying to connect to make people feel something. You don’t want them to feel bored or lost in the ramble.”
The band originated with Gehringer, Pullig, and Whorton. Shake the Moon was originally envisioned as a quartet with Holdahl on keys, Gehringer said.
“We had one show where [Holdahl] wasn’t going to make it, and I knew [Harakal] from a country band we were playing in,” Gehringer recalled. Holdahl “ended up being able to play the show, so we ended up being a five-piece and enjoyed it. That’s the night we decided on the band name.”
Harakal brought to the table his jazz and funk influences from studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
The musos see eye-to-eye on a range of topics, Pullig said. Shake the Moon collaborates with other bands and books its own shows rather than being hired guns for long stints in dive bars.
Pullig said the hours-long gigs for crowds that just came to drink can become a slow death spiral for bands. He should know –– his father made a living that way for part of his life.
“I saw him playing for the booze crowd, and it gets to the point where it’s more of a job than a passion,” he said. “I really don’t want that for this band.”
Another bright spot, he added, has been working with a manager, Lyndsay Cole, founder of band promotion company Red-Empire (and sales exec for the Weekly).
Cole recently booked the quintet for the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Iowa this fall. Pullig said that will be around the time the album will come out.
“This’ll be our first ‘big boy’ album,” Pullig joked. “We’re hoping this will be five to six tracks. We don’t want to spend a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on 10 tracks. Tatsch did a great job with The Longshots and Gollay, we thought, so we’re really excited. … We want to write the catchiest songs we can and have fun with it. You need to keep a decent head on your shoulders in this business. But we’re all friends first and foremost. I think it’s a good combination.”
[box_info]Shake the Moon
9pm Sat w/Hella Zealous at Lola’s Saloon, 2736 W 6th St, FW. $10. 817-877-0666.[/box_info]