Night Moves takes its time.
“I knew back in high school that when I started this band, I didn’t want it to be some ephemeral thing where you’re really embarrassed about it three weeks after you release something,” says the band’s singer and guitarist, John Pelant. “I wanted to make stuff that I liked to listen to, and that has stuck as my thing, that more permanent effect to the music. I don’t want it to be disposable.”
Can You Really Find Me , which appeared this past June, is the band’s first album in three years, and even in December it summons up a peaceful beach scene or a long cry after the most perfect summer day. Its moody grooves are equally suited to chilling or dancing, its string flourishes contribute a new air of sophistication, and Pelant’s voice, which so often was a murmur buried in the mix, is now bolder and more prominent.
Celtic music plays softly in a Whittier bar where I meet Pelant and bassist Mickey Alfano, and the two soon get to talking about how they’d met in high school through a mutual skateboarding friend. They’d played in separate bands as teens, but after graduation Alfano joined as bassist while Pelant was recording Colored Emotions, Night Moves’ first album, in 2012.
“I think the key was and still is to take things step by step,” Pelant says. “The biggest thing that I wanted was to have Colored Emotions come out on vinyl and then we got signed to Domino so that was even better because that meant it came out in the U.S. and in England.”
Since then, the band has toured in support of big names like Lord Huron and Father John Misty. They’ve undergone lineup changes, with keyboardist Mark Ritsema leaving to form Suzie while drummer Mark Hanson and guitarist Chuck Murlowski joined the team. And they’ve released just two more albums:Can You Really Find Me and its 2016 predecessor, Pennied Days.
The methodical process of crafting a Night Moves track begins in Pelant’s apartment mini-studio. Here, surrounded by keyboards, pedals, an amplifier, a tape machine, and a recording interface, he demos their songs, which may remain in the works for months, even years.
For instance, Pelant had begun work on “Mexico,” the opening track on Can You Really Find Me, way back during Pennied Days. “It wasn’t really ready for production,” he says. “It’s a quality care type thing. I want all of the songs to be right.”
Once Pelant is confident with something he’s made he brings it to his bandmates. With their feedback, Pelant returns home to tinker further. He lives with these pieces, he says, testing them repeatedly, through various seasons and times of the day, during different feelings and moods.
“We never just go into the studio and vibe,” Pelant says. “It’s highly structured, and everything is mapped out from the thorough demoing process.”
Then it’s on to the production stage. For their debut, the band worked with the relatively hands-off Thom Monahan in L.A. For the follow-up, Jim Agnello, known for his work with the Hold Steady and Kurt Vile, interjected himself more forcefully into the process. For Can You Really Feel Me they travelled to Austin, Texas to work with Jim Eno, the drummer of respected alt-rock veterans Spoon, with a specific goal in mind.
“Jim was always on our radar as a producer option, as we admired his work in Spoon,” Pelant says. “Also, him being a drummer was a plus because we wanted to focus in on drum tones for this album and make sure they were great. We emailed him, and he got back to us rather quickly. We then hopped on the phone and the ball just started rolling.”
And the drums on Can You Really Feel Me are more prominent, as are Pelant’s vocals, which sound more confident than ever as his lyrics dig into self-reflection, memorializing time’s passing, love come, and love lost. On “Waiting for the Symphony” Pelant lilts with remorse for holding out for something he knew would never come (“I shouldn’t have spent the time/Aw, shouldn’t have spent the time”) while “Angelina” raises the question, “Would you still want me/If you’d known just where I’ve been last night?/Would you still hold me/If I hung you out to dry at times?”
Night Moves toured with the album much of the summer. There were long, sweaty drives through the southern U.S., glittering autumn evenings in Paris, and makeshift showers in venue bathrooms.
And there was drama: Alfano’s vintage bass and Hanson’s cymbals were lost in the flux of a flight transfer on their way home from the European tour. They were told there was no record of the instruments and the band had little hope they would ever see them again. But miraculously, and with impeccable timing, the lost gear rematerialized just an hour before soundcheck for their first show of the tour in Asheville, North Carolina.
Back home, Pelant reflects on starting again on a new album from ground zero.
“I have a lot of ideas about songs and am just focusing on figuring out what kind of record I want to make right now. I don’t really know what it’s going to be like exactly, but I know that as long as you trust the process it will be OK,” Pelant says. “I feel like there’s still plenty of territory to explore with the band and with myself.”
With: Kansas Plates, Free Music
Where: Turf Club
When: 9 p.m. Sat. Dec. 28
Tickets: 21+; $15: more info here