The members of Moonboots have the Pixies to thank for first pulling them together.
Five and a half years ago or so, the Las Vegas act began as a band dedicated to playing Pixies covers. Well, that was the plan anyway, according to frontman John Coulter, who originally came up with the idea. The moment of inspiration, he says, came at a Tokyo Police Club show at Beauty Bar back in 2010. A friend of his was wearing a shirt that he’d made depicting a deceased likeness of Donkey Kong along with the words “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” written in Nintendo font.
“We were in the back, and it was full,” Coulter remembers. “I was like, ‘We should start a Pixies cover band,’ just to open shows, you know. ‘Everyone will love it.’ That set us down to the road where we were going to be a Pixies cover band,” he recalls. “Not a tribute band,” he clarifies, adding with a laugh, “I don’t look like Black Francis.”
Alas, the project never quite made it off the platform, and after a few years of plugging away, the group ended up changing its name and started writing songs of its own. “We just kind of bumped along and did it for fun. We’d get together once in a while,” Coulter says. “We were like, ‘I think we better start writing originals.’ The Pixies thing wasn’t really working,” which led the act to start heading in a different direction once the lineup slowly started to solidify.
The core of the group at that point consisted of Coulter, drummer Ryan Brunty, a colleague of his from Vegas.com who had kept time for another local act called Last Action Hero, and guitarist Clyde Barnett, who joined the group after Brunty appeared as a guest at the radio station where Barnett was working and mentioned that he was in a Pixies cover band. That was partially true, Coulter acknowledges. “We never played a Pixies set. We couldn’t hold on to anybody, but we had a whole set. We could’ve played, I don’t know, 20 Pixies songs.”
Turns out, practicing a pile of Pixies songs and plowing through a plethora of players ultimately did pay off, just not in the way the guys had originally planned. “It was almost like the Pixies got us the right people,” Coulter says. And so with a new name and new tunes, Moonboots, which by then had added guitarist Wade Schuster to the roster after finding him through a Craigslist ad, played its first show at Backstage Bar and Billiards in the fall of 2014. It wasn’t long before the rechristened combo was attracting attention.
The following summer as the boosters really began firing, the outfit played another gig at the Bunkhouse, and that show proved to be pretty pivotal for the band. Not only did the set inspire bassist Pj Perez, another former colleague from Vegas.com, to join the fold, but Ron Corso of 11th Street Records and National Southwestern Recording Studio happened to be at the show and invited the band to record a track in the store’s new studio nestled in the back.
The tune turned out great, so well in fact that it found a place on the act’s self-titled debut, which was recorded by John Kiehlbauch over at Naked City Audio. (You can pick up a complimentary copy of the album if you’re one of the first 50 people through the door at the Bunkhouse on Saturday.) Listening to the record, it’s clear that Coulter and company have cultivated a strong chemistry with each another, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering their kindred backgrounds. Beyond the music, the guys have plenty else in common; three of the five attended UNLV, and most of the members studied either art or journalism and each hold down similar day jobs in those respective fields.
For his part, Brunty, a muralist who owns a T-shirt company, is the head of social couture at Zappos. Barnett, meanwhile, is still a board operator and producer at the station where he and Brunty first met. Schuster, who moved to Vegas from Wisconsin, is an artist himself, in addition to working as an art instructor at a local high school. Perez, who puts out comics as the publisher and editor of the publishing firm Pop! Goes the Icon, is a digital content editor at Caesars Entertainment and he’s also penned prose for a plethora of publications, including Seven and Las Vegas Weekly. Coulter, meanwhile, utilizes his fine arts degree at Vegas.com in a position that he’s held since the mid 2000s.
After a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, which Coulter joined after graduating from Truman State college in Missouri in the early ’90s, he took a job in Southern California working at EarthLink as an art director. There he met a head of Vegas.com, who enlisted him to move to Las Vegas to become the site’s creative director. While he’s made his home here now for more than a decade, the blazing glare of the valley couldn’t be farther from the tiny Midwestern town where he was raised.
Coulter grew up on a pig farm just outside of Joy, Illinois. As lackluster as life on the farm was, that time period proved pretty influential in terms of shaping his sensibilities. Growing up, Coulter was able to pick up a college radio broadcast being beamed across the river from Iowa, and the station, which touted itself as “the only alternative,” embodied the idea of truth in advertising. That was Coulter’s first exposure to the world outside the dirt roads of his hometown.
“That’s where I first heard, like, quote, college music,” Coulter says, recalling, in particular, an aircheck his cousin, a DJ at the station, had sent him. “I wish I had that tape still. Some of it was classic rock-ish, but there was other stuff that kind of veered into Minutemen or the Clash. For the first time, I was like, ‘Oh, there’s stuff besides Top 40 radio.”
Coulter says he’d discover new artists by recording entire segments of the broadcast day and then going back to listen to the music afterward. Flipping through the pages of magazines at the grocery store while his mom was shopping proved to be equally enlightening for him.
“Of all places, I remember People magazine had a review of ‘Doolitle’ by the Pixies,” he says. “And I remember reading that and being like, ‘Oh, this sounds cool.’ I don’t think I’d even heard ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ at that point. So I went and bought that, and I was like, ‘This is exactly … if I had a band, this is exactly what I would make.’”
From the sturdy guitar-driven sound of his band, Coulter clearly made good on that mission with the help of his bandmates. At the same time, make no mistake — Moonboots is definitely not a cover band or a tribute act. Although you can certainly detect the Pixies dust sprinkled on some of the songs, the outfit has built a broader base with plenty of pop powering its melodies.
Let’s just say if you’ve got a soft spot for great alt-rock, well, ahem, here comes your band.
Read more from Dave Herrera at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at email@example.com or follow @rjmusicdh on Twitter.Preview What: Moonboots EP release When: 8 p.m. Saturday Where: Bunkhouse Saloon, 124 S. 11th St. Tickets: $5 (702-854-1414)