Los Angeles is definitely starting to become the worldwide capital of cool. The band that exemplifies the new spirit more than any other is The Moving Units. They play music that is informed by post-punk and dance music. They are on the verge of making it big. In the past few years they have become one of my favorite bands. Things did not come easy for them. They started almost three years ago, and have been gigging ever since. Their reputation is largely based on their exciting live shows and great songs. Songs like “Emancipation” and “Going For Adds” are some of the most rocking songs this year.
The Moving Units were all former members of the hardcore band Festival of Dead Deer. At the end of 2001, they began writing and gigging as The Moving Units supporting The Rapture. They signed to label Three One G and issued an EP in fall 2002. Initially, they were seen as LA’s answer to The Rapture, but now, they have found their own sound and a large fanbase. They subsequently they moved to Palm Pictures, who reissued the Moving Units EP in early 2003. In fall 2004, the band’s full-length debut Dangerous Dreams was finally released. I saw them play in LA recently with The Secret Machines. I spoke to Chris Hathwell right before the show. The Moving Units are Blake Miller (vocals/guitar), Johan Bogeli (bass), and Chris Hathwell (drums).
AL: Are you all from Los Angeles?
Chris: No. The singer is from Detroit.
AL: How did you all meet?
Chris: From just hanging out a lot in the same scene. We were all DJing and partying together in same places.
AL: People seem to know about The Moving Units for a while now.
Chris: We have been touring for a long time. It’s all been word of mouth.
AL: People used to compare you to The Rapture. What did you think of that?
Chris: It’s an easy way to look at it I guess. We are friends with The Rapture and I have known them for a long time. I have played with them before so it is not a negative thing to say. We are different bands with different energies and ideas. People are going to think what they want to.
AL: Maybe when you first started, The Moving Units were more like some New York bands than they were like the rest of the bands from LA?
AL: What did you listen to when you were growing up?
Chris: I listened to a lot of metal and a lot of jazz. We listened to punk and disco. Everyone in the band has eclectic music tastes. We are all music geeks. We all like popular music.
AL: When you play other parts of the country do people have expectations about you being an LA band?
Chris: You are immediately stuck with a bunch of stigmas and stereotypes. Since you are from LA, people assume that you are full of shit. That definitely happens. The expectations are everyone expects you to suck. We have had some good genuine reactions to our music in the Midwest.
AL: Where do you like to play?
Chris: Anywhere in California. Those are our people. We have had really good shows in Texas, Phoenix, and Cleveland. Miami was fun.
AL: Has playing so many live shows influenced how you write music?
Chris: Somewhat. You can develop your ideas by playing everyday.
AL: How do you write songs in the band?
Chris: Usually someone has an idea. We work collaboratively and organically. Blake writes all the lyrics, but the music is all of us.
AL: What are some songs like “Emancipation” or “Submission” about?
Chris: Nothing deeper than what is there on the surface. They are pretty self-explanatory.
AL: There is a feeling about the music that is like “This is party music. Let’s have fun.” Is that the message?
Chris: I wouldn’t say that. The energy of the music is something like that, but there is also a dark underbelly or dark undercurrent to everything that we do. There is too much attention paid to the other element that you were talking about. Blake is a complex with a bunch of abstract thoughts and views. That is what separates our band from a lot of other bands in this genre. If you pay attention to the words, there are a lot of heavy things going down. You don’t get that with your average disco punk group.
AL: What bands have you played with that you have liked?
Chris: A lot of them. We are on tour with this band called Autolux that we like a lot. The Chinese Stars are good. Kill Me Tomorrow from San Diego. Wives are another LA band.
AL: Does the band still DJ a lot?
Chris: Blake does a lot. He is going to DJ tonight. We all play at after parties when we are on tour.
AL: You are playing a lot of shows in the LA Area this month. You are playing four or five venues within a month. Are you playing as many shows as you can?
Chris: We are not playing every show we can. But that is the idea when you make a record. You want to play the songs to people wherever they live. We are playing Australia and Japan. We are coming back and headlining our own shows.
AL: Is that the first time you have played in Australia and Japan?
Chris: Yes, sir.
AL: You have played England too?
Chris: Yes, sir. Many times. It’s alright. It’s cool. We have had some good shows there.
AL: Is there any hobbies that the bands has?
Chris: Bickering. We bicker a lot. We do a lot of philanthropy. We do humanitarian work.
AL: Have you read any good books recently?
Chris: Yeah. I am reading a biography of the Carter Family right now.
AL: Have you seen any good films?
AL: You have been busy. What is going on this summer?
Chris: That is too far in advance. We are hoping to be working on our next record by then. We have some new songs. We have a lot of work to do. We haven’t had any time because we have been on tour for a while.
AL: Who is the most dispensable member of the band?
Chris: That is really an inflammatory question.
AL: I’m sorry.
Chris: I’ll say “Me.” How’s that? I will volunteer myself.
AL: I meant to say: who is the most indispensable member of the band?
Chris: That would be me as well.
AL: Have you been to any weird parts of the United States recently?
Chris: Any part that is not New York or LA is pretty weird.
AL: How did you record this recent record?
Chris: It’s totally live. Everything. We used a lot of tin foil while recording this album.
AL: What do you think about bands who are new wave revivalists?
Chris: It’s 2005. It’s hard to play something that doesn’t sound like something else. If you heard something that you like, and you want to play that, then that’s cool. I would rather hear regurgitated music of something that I liked rather than regurgitated music of something I didn’t like.
AL: Some bands are incapable of making it their own.
Chris: I see what you are saying. It’s harder than it looks though.
AL: People still have to know how to play.
Chris: Do you know who Ian MacKaye is?
Chris: He said that there is a group of kids in every generation who hears a band that they like. This band creates a interest in music that makes people want to play music themselves. They get some gear and go to the basement. They are going to emulate what they heard. But since everyone has their individual life and experiences and individual way that they do things and how they play and heard, it’s most likely that they are going to come up with something totally different than what they set out to accomplish. There are different factors involved and a generation gap. They end up creating something new that is the basic principle or basic idea.
AL: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start a band?
Chris: Yeah. Take good care of your hair. Clothes make the man. Shameless self-promotion is a good thing. I am not saying that is what we do. I was giving advice.
AL: What is the set like?
Chris: We play mostly songs from the new album. We have two new songs. We don’t play any cover songs. We are only playing seven songs when we open up for another band. Some of our own shows are much longer.
–Interview by Alexander