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SXSW 2003

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Photo By John Anderson

Moonlight Towers

It takes Moonlight Towers just 30 minutes to write a new song. Actually, it takes singer/ guitarist/principal songwriter James Stevens longer to come up with the melody and the lyrics, but it takes the local fourpiece -- Stevens; lead guitarist Jacob Schulze; bassist Jason Daniels; drummer Richard Galloway -- no time at all to mold the idea into a stage-ready song.

The song itself is emblematic of Moonlight Towers' piquantly schizophrenic sound, which embraces Brit pop and Gram Parsons, David Bowie and the Replacements. It begins softly, with Stevens picking out shadowy, Radiohead-style arpeggios to accompany his spectral lyrics. At the chorus, the band picks up the tempo to a brisk, three-quarter-time stroll. Stevens' lyrics take a similarly sunny turn: "If we make it through the night, everything will be all right, and our troubles and fears will soon subside."

Admiring the word "subside," Schulze cracks wise. "So you stole that?"

"From a Methodist hymnal," replies Stevens.

Like all good Methodist hymns, Moonlight Towers' songs are simple and effective. Though the band has been around only a couple of years, this is hardly its members' first rodeo. One thing they've gladly let fall by the wayside is musicians' tendency to overplay.

"When you're young and you start writing stuff, you always feel like, 'Oh, I've gotta do this part,'" says Stevens. "The hard thing is to get where you just have two or three chords or two changes rather than feeling like you have to overdo every song."

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As a trio, Stevens, Daniels, and Galloway released Moonlight Towers' self-titled debut, which bowed last summer to favorable word of mouth and led to shows with the likes of Grand Champeen, Masonic, and Fivehead. The Towers became a fourpiece when Schulze (Dismukes, Dumptruck, American People) approached Stevens after a Club DeVille gig.

"I was drunk," admits the guitarist. "I said, 'Y'all need keyboards or something?' He said, 'You wanna do it? We're playing Thursday.'"

I'd seen his ass around town for years," nods Stevens. "I knew what he could do."

There remains some debate over whether Schulze actually learned the Towers' songs prior to rehearsing with the band. Eventually, the truth comes out.

"I wanted y'all to teach me the songs because I hate learning songs from CDs," he confesses.

Several months later ...

Moonlight Towers, helped by the fact that Bridge Studios is conveniently located in Stevens' house, are still learning new songs and may even have one or two more by SXSW. They know a few old ones, too, including a striking replication of the Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile." Helping keep the band motivated is the thought of alternative careers.

"At this point, what the fuck else are we gonna do?" asks Stevens, rhetorically. "Work at a bank?"

SXSW showcase: Club DeVille, Thursday, March 13, 1am

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