Though it can be hard for emerging bands to distinguish themselves, Moonlight Graham, a Californian folk rock group, has been able to navigate their local scene and spread their music across the United States and even as far as Eastern Europe. Their music borrows from similar artists in the genre, but feels fresh and new, incorporating relatable storytelling, catchy melodies and recognizable grooves.

In a phone interview with The Daily, members of the group discussed its foundation and how they’ve grown since. They described their go-with-the-flow attitude and how it has affected their band.

“(In the beginning) we didn’t really have a project in mind, or a name or anything,” said Wesley Chavez, the lead vocalist/guitarist. The name “Moonlight Graham” comes from a short-running joke involving a trip to San Francisco. Basically, a few members of the band were cooped up together for a long car ride, and after an extended time of boredom, Chavez started doing James Earl Jones impersonations from the movie “Field of Dreams,” saying, “We gotta go back and find Moonlight Graham.” Once the group started to solidify, they needed a name: “And we fell back on Moonlight Graham.”

Moonlight Graham wasn’t always the five piece it was today. It started out as a three piece: Chavez sang and played guitar, Jordan Sachs played bass and Andrew Border also played guitar. After a change of drummers, they eventually locked in with their current drummer, Trey Everett, but finding a violinist presented a little bit of a problem for the band.

“We found our current violinist at the same time we had our old violinist, and we realized our current violinist, Alyssa Gantt, was a much much better violinist,” Chavez said. “So we were really stressed out about how to tell our former violinist that we wanted to take things in a different direction, but she was really cool about it, and it has worked out really well for us two and a half years later.” 

Over those two and a half years, some elements of the band have changed, and some have stayed the same.

“When we started, it was all acoustic guitar,” Border said. “Wes was on an acoustic guitar, I was on banjo, Jordan was the only one on electric with his bass, but still. Since then, we’ve picked up some electric instruments and gotten a bit more rocky.”

“But the songwriting elements have pretty much stayed the same,” Chavez said. “It’s still written stand alone with an acoustic guitar, and then it just evolves with four of five different people putting their signature on it.”

The band has certainly stayed true to its roots since its formation two years ago. But even with their growth and increasing audience, the band manages to stay humble by working hard.

“For every big show we’ve played, we’ve also played a sweet 16 or a backyard party, which, to be honest, are some of the most fun shows we’ve played. But then we’ve been fortunate enough to play at bigger shows around L.A., like at the House of Blues.”

Some bands blow up and get tremendously popular overnight, while for others, it takes a little while to gain traction. For these overnight sensations, their fame and music seems almost accidental. Artists like Moonlight Graham that build up a following and start to climb the ladder of success at a more gradual pace see more long-lasting results, and they appreciate their fans even more so.

Recently, the band has released a few singles in preparation for an upcoming EP they’ve been working on in the studio with Ryland Steen, former drummer of the ska-punk band Reel Big Fish. Aside from getting that new outside help, the band is very much do-it-yourself. With the growth of their social media (which is personally managed by Everett) the band has seen a lot of growth and exposure around the world.

“I got hit up by someone in Hungary asking if they could cover one of our songs,” Everett said. “I was super excited. Without social media and all these things, we would have never gotten this exposure, and it’s really cool that this is something we set up all on our own.”

Moonlight Graham, and many bands like them, display what it’s like for a modern band to grow in the modern musical landscape. Gaining exposure is easier than ever before, but an oversaturated market means it can be hard to stand out in the crowd. Despite this, the band has proven to slowly develop their sound while sticking true to their roots.

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