Silverada’s Solid Country Gold

Mike & the Moonpies rebrands and reloads

l-r: Omar Oyoque, Taylor Englert, Mike Harmeier, Catlin Rutherford, and Zachary Moulton (Photo by David Brendan Hall / Design by Zeke Barbaro)

It’s the Friday before SXSW, and Silverada are playing their first show in Austin. The atmosphere at the Sagebrush is more reunion than debut, though, as the packed local crowd waits to see exactly what this new manifestation of Mike & the Moonpies will bring to the stage.

On the tour bus parked out back of the South Austin honky-tonk, Mike Harmeier and his bandmates entertain a parade of guests. Shots are passed around between Miller Lites, and Harmeier’s 6-year-old son dashes from the back bunks out the front door. The conversation revolves around the only conversation that the Austin quintet seems to have these days: After 17 years and having built up a hardcore national fan base as Mike & the Moonpies, why change the name?

The answer is always a little different. It was a long time coming; the band has evolved; the music industry hasn’t taken them seriously; they needed to shake things up; it’s about the future of the band for the long haul. All of those responses reflect a truth but also only really emphasize the absence of some deeper motivation.

Perhaps most importantly is the personal mindshift that the name change signifies for the members: Mike & the Moonpies was a bar band ripping it up at the Hole in the Wall for free drinks; Silverada is a hard-charging, impeccably tight, and versatile engine that has been declared one of the best live bands in country music from publications ranging from Rolling Stone to Saving Country Music.

Back inside the Sagebrush, the remaining Mike & the Moonpies merch is flying off the table, shirts and hats being snatched up by fans who will say, “I liked them back then.” The band takes the stage with the growling roar of “Wallflower,” the rocking lead single from their upcoming 10th album, their eponymous LP as Silverada.

Harmeier, in a jean jacket and ball cap, is flanked centerstage by longtime conspirators Catlin Rutherford and Zach Moulton, the latter’s pedal steel pushed to the edge of the crowd. Behind them, bassist Omar Oyoque pops with energy, bounding around the stage to Taylor Englert’s propulsive backbeat.

If any fans were anxious that the new name signaled a dramatic change in sound, they’re quickly reassured by the burning Southern rock swagger of “Danger” and the natural sing-along spirit of “Beaches of Biloxi.” Harmeier pulls a sentimental nostalgia from “Steak Night at the Prairie Rose” and lets his Texas drawl drop on “Rainy Day.” Favorite set list covers like a rocked-out take on Willie Nelson’s “Pick up the Tempo” and countrified version of Fastball’s “The Way” mix in with smooth honky-tonk dancers like “You Look Good in Neon” and highway band anthems like “Hour on the Hour” and “Paycheck to Paycheck.” It’s a set of classic amped-up Moonpies country-rock.

“My name is Mike Harmeier, and we are Silverada,” delivers the frontman with a wry grin. “Like it or not, motherfuckers!”

Mike Harmeier (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The Real Country

“It’s supposed to be about freedom, I think, really,” offers Harmeier of the decision to change the name. “I think that we want to make the music we want to make, and not necessarily be tied into anything. Like I’m not writing to the set anymore is a big thing, just writing whatever I want. I feel that way – I don’t know if you guys feel the same way.”

“Not being tied to a scene, as well,” adds Moulton.

A storm is brewing on the outskirts of New Braunfels on a muggy Thursday night in early May. Harmeier, Moulton, and Rutherford are gathered around the makeshift back-patio bar of the band’s former tour manager, Caleb Allemand. Tomorrow morning they’re headed to the Gulf Coast and will meet up with their rhythm section for a run of weekend gigs.

Since announcing their name change at Mile Zero Fest at the beginning of the year, Silverada has heard just about every response imaginable. In predictable online comments, they’ve been accused of everything from selling out to going “woke.” Some venues still insist on booking them with a “formerly Mike & the Moonpies” parenthetical.

The band tries not to pay too much attention to the comments, knowing that the fans they have cultivated over the past decade of endless touring will follow them into this next chapter. But it has made them consciously reckon with some existential introspection about where they have been and where they want to go.

“The only thing we can control is how creative we can be with it,” says Harmeier. “It’s throwing out rulebooks about whatever we thought it was before, and anything artistically that we want to do, we’ll chase it down. Hopefully we can maintain the status we have, if not grow it into higher-profile things. I think we’re all just at a period in our lives where we just want to create and not have any restrictions on that.”

“I feel like, no matter what you think, if you go back and listen to all the other albums, even going back to [2010 debut] Real Country, you can hear that we’re not just trying to stay in a lane,” says Moulton. “For a while, maybe we wanted to keep doing this kind of in-the-pocket honky-tonk thing, because it was our bread and butter. We’re still doing what we’ve always done, but now we want to experiment with some different stuff.

“It’s hard, because our live set has just always been power, you know?” continues the steel man. “We hammer through all these rowdy songs, but maybe we should do this or that, or do some acoustic stuff.”

“In that regard, that’s what we’ve been working on the most, making a more dynamic set,” adds Harmeier. “I think the records we’re making are lending themselves to that a little more. But I’m fucking self-conscious, and it’s always been like a crutch for me to just go out there and do the 90 [minutes] and just really power it. It’s hard to get out of that, because you build a show that feels really good, and it’s hard to back out of that and take a chance.”

That challenge is familiar to any successful band as they evolve. Mike & the Moonpies was a band built for and bred on the road, playing more than 200 dates a year. The high-octane sets and hard-drinking club crowds are part of their DNA, an appeal that extended to their somewhat tongue-in-cheek name. Silverada at least signals something more professional, a name that would sound good on the radio or atop a festival bill.

At a time when independent country music has never been hotter, the clean slate may be just what the band needs to reach the next level and build something lasting. Regardless, the rebrand is a gamble that the band has made with a renewed sense of purpose and an excitement to explore whatever comes next.

The Hard Way

“These guys work harder than 99% of the bands I’ve seen in this town,” attested Denis O’Donnell to the Chronicle in 2013 (see “The Real Country,” Aug. 9, 2013). O’Donnell has followed the band through his venues over the past two decades, from holding down raucous Monday nights at the Hole in the Wall to weekends at the White Horse to hometown returns at Sagebrush.

Although the lineup behind Harmeier has shifted since he first formed the band in 2007, the core catalyzed when Moulton and Rutherford folded their band, the Doolins, to join the Moonpies in 2009. Mike & the Moonpies’ hard brand of country gained an immediate local following, but the band never quite fit into a distinct scene: too hard for the dance halls, too country for the clubs.

“Looking back, those gigs at the Hole in the Wall and Mohawk I think made us want something more than just the dance hall thing,” reflects Moulton. “It wasn’t about a dance floor or keeping these people out there; it was just about all these people screaming lyrics back to us. It was about the party, and everyone was there just to get into it.”

A rose by any other name would still rock just as hard: Silverada performing at Radio/East on June 7 (Photos by David Brendan Hall)

By the band’s 2012 sophomore LP, The Hard Way, Mike & the Moonpies had become known as relentless road dogs, and signed to powerhouse red-dirt booking agency Red 11. 2015’s Mockingbird and tours opening for Turnpike Troubadours and Cody Johnson raised their regional profile, but they didn’t exactly fit with the Texas country scene either.

Mike & the Moonpies has always felt like a band just on the cusp of a breakout, but their popularity was a slowly building boil heated by grinding the road and winning new fans in small clubs. 2016’s Live at WinStar World Casino & Resort captured the live adrenaline of their shows and foreshadowed the raw boogie of 2018’s Steak Night at the Prairie Rose.

The band remained fiercely independent, with Harmeier founding Prairie Rose Records with longtime producer Adam Odor to release their music. In 2019, they took another leap when they recorded the exceptional Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold at Abbey Road Studios, with the London Symphony Orchestra providing string arrangements for a lush Seventies country sound. The album earned Mike & the Moonpies their first Austin Music Award for Best Country Artist.

COVID brought any momentum for the hard-touring troupe to a standstill, though. In the meantime, they worked with Gary Stewart's daughter to record an album of songs that the late influential country star had never released. Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart showcased Harmeier's powerful croon that rivals his hero. 2021's One to Grow On and another live album with last year's Live From the Devil’s Backbone saw the Moonpies returning to familiar form.

With the release of Silverada, the band is gearing up to get back to their tireless touring schedule. It’s a welcome return to the road, with the band excited to reintroduce themselves to fans.

“I just want to focus on the show and doing what we’re doing,” says Harmeier. “Doing weekend warrior shit doesn’t really lend itself to that. When you’re on tour, it’s just fucking happening to you, you’re just in it, and I think the shows are better because of it. I think we thrive on it.”

Silverada's self-titled LP storms the masses on June 28 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

One to Grow On

The early May storm crashes the back patio in New Braunfels with a burst of hail on the roof. The ribs in the smoker are done, though, and another round of beers settles the crew in to wait out the weather as the talk turns to their fathers.

A couple years ago, Harmeier, Moulton, and Rutherford all lost their fathers in short succession. When they made their debut at Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium in 2023, they dedicated the show to their dads, who had all been fervent champions of the band but didn’t get to see them reach that pinnacle.

On Silverada, Harmeier pens “Stubborn Son” in tribute to his father, a sentimental but stomping ode that sits at the heart of the album. When they return to headline the Ryman in July for their official album release show and jump-start the next chapter of their career, the song will ring even more poignantly.

Nothing on Silverada should surprise longtime fans of Mike & the Moonpies, but the touches of the band continuing to evolve their sound stretch across the LP. “Americana is a myth, I told ya,” growls Harmeier on the anthemic opener “Radio Wave,” evincing a restlessness that boils over into “Anywhere But Here” and the hypnotic Southern-psych swirl of “Eagle Rare.” The album’s slower moments prove equally compelling, with “Doing It Right” delivering a tender, heartbroken barroom waltz and “Stay By My Side” twanging remarkably like Willie Nelson.

The album closes with the band’s classic highway sound, road-worn but still firing on all cylinders. “Something I’m Working On” recruits Brent Cobb to duet, while “Load Out” plays like the weary end-of-the-night companion to Steak Night opener “Road Crew.” “Hell Bent for Leather” caps the LP, torquing an epic six-and-a-half-minute roller-coaster ride of life on the road making music, warping into a wash of distortion at the end.

“It’s like two worlds for me,” says Harmeier. “I have this one idea about how I want the shows to go, and this other idea that I love making records and want to go as far with it as I possibly can. It’s like they live in two separate parts of my mind. But our bread and butter is only touring. So if we’re going to get championed as a live band, that’s great. I want everyone to come see the show. The only way that we survive any of this is by people buying tickets.

“I feel like we have this fan base that really just loves us and we can do whatever the fuck we want, and they get that,” he adds. “We have people all over the country that are really into this thing. The goal is to just continue to do it, to just make sure we can do this forever.”

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