Call him Reverend.
The cargo van in which he sits has seen better days, but Micah Mackert lights a stick of incense before speaking, plants it in the dashboard air vent, and lets it slowly ash into a paper coffee cup. There he sits, his hands folded in a pose of perfect piety.
"We derive a lot of inspiration from the Ford," he says, gesturing to its door panels, its cassette deck, and the Mercado Central tarmac that stretches beyond its grimy windshield. "We like to spend a lot of time together in the Ford, just trying to channel resonances. In the Ford, you can get back to a tactile exploration of your surroundings. There's a lot of fabulous textures in the Ford. Plastic textures. Glass textures. Upholstered textures. Having those around is conducive to opening the channels."
Know this—if you're looking for the truth, you've come to the wrong band. In Moonstone, the five-piece band for which Reverend Mackert is spiritual seer and sole spokesman, facts are made into trifles, replaced by layers of beguiling myth. As holy keeps go, the cockpit of a full-size van, cluttered with jumper cables and crushed cigarette packs, is most humble. In a green sweatshirt and hand-me-down slacks, Mackert doesn't seem a man of the cloth. The mythical "Ford" in which he now sits, talking about the crossroads advent and the death of first Earth? It is, in fact, a Dodge Charger. The centuries of Lunarian history and religious oppression that he claims have informed Moonstone, and the tomes of spiritual texts he claims to have translated, and the leagues of practitioners he claims, without a whiff of irony, to represent don't jibe with the facts—it's all a cosmic fish story.
But drop a needle on the band's debut, an album that dazzles like a sequined cape, with lengthy overtures of synth and twin guitar solos that soar in proggy musical epiphany, matching Mackert's grandiosity blow for blow. How to reconcile this miraculously well-informed rock 'n' roll with Mackert's confounding sermons and outrageous claims? What is Lunarianism—the faith that Mackert claims, in language as dense and technical as that of a Sufi canto, has survived centuries of oppression? In its heart of hearts, what is Moonstone? Satire? Art? Or good music with a fascinating gimmick?
"All three," says Reverend Mackert. If he's fazed by the question, he doesn't show it. "We're very genuine about trying to get the message of Lunarianism across to the younger public. It's a religion that's had a tough, sadistic journey, and it uses whatever methods are necessary to achieve that end. Satire? Yes, as far as satirizing other spiritual approaches to life. Gimmick? Sure. It's a flashy religion. That's why the kids have always loved it. It's a mixed bag."
Scarcely a year young, Moonstone have enjoyed a meteoric ascent. They toured east to much ovation in December. They headlined the Best New Bands show at First Avenue in January. And this week, they debut with their breathtaking record release, complete with Mackert's spiritual texts bound in pebbled vinyl like a Holy Bible.
But as Mackert's sermonizing becomes more familiar to the band's fans, as this bewildering spiritual backdrop gets mapped more and more completely with each and every show, what may once have seemed little more than a fascinating absurdity becomes something more meaningful. Fabrications and all, Moonstone's spiritual dimension engages listeners in wild hallucination. It's an act of daring mind-fuckery to which all their fans, like any devout parishioners, submit themselves. So when Reverend Mackert says that he believes, the improbability of this strange yarn ceases to be problematic. After all—what is religion in the end but white lies and good art?
"All the material we present is predicated upon the spiritual approach that we all firmly believe in," he says. "We don't indoctrinate. We're all faced with a casual nihilism that we're interested in doing away with. The spiritual implications of the band are entirely sincere."
And yet, what is Moonstone? Capable rock music with a dazzling twist? A work of concept art? Or is it, as Reverend Mackert would have us believe, bona fide holy scripture, which, like anything immutably beautiful, edifies, instructs, and makes us all, somehow, more pure?
"I don't see where at any point in time, if you look at any other religion, that distinction has been made," he says. "You can't disassociate spirituality from an art that's trying to answer fundamental questions." The last of the incense burns out, expiring in a skein of lavender smoke. "I could never make that distinction."
MOONSTONE play an album release show with Tender Meat, Thunderbolt Pagoda, and Children of Euler on SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27, at the TURF CLUB; 651.647.0486