The Blood Moon Howlers roar into our lives with a gale force. Featuring dual male and female lead vocals with whisky drenched blues rock and flecks of smokey burlesque. Matt Wayne’s shimmering, but powerful, growling guitar riffs and blistering leads propel bassist JuJu’s haunting, ethereal vocals. The group established their command of bluesy, psychedelic rock on their 2017 EP Wasteland, which revealed their sure-handed songwriting prowess with songs such as “Lady Daydream” and “Long Way Down.”
The band’s powerful blues rock slams into our lives, grabbing us by our hearts and shaking us to our core, refusing to let go. JuJu’s soaring vocals transport us on songs such as “Sugar Babe,” where she demonstrates her mastery of phrasing and her canny ability to establish her voice as an instrument as compelling as Wayne’s guitar and Evan Hatfield’s sax. The band layers note upon note, building each song on a blues structure that provides a mesmerizing repetition while allowing the music to roam freely to follow its own innovations.
The Blood Moon Howlers grew out of the collaboration between Wayne and JuJu. “We met when I was doing a Halloween show,” says JuJu. “My brother-in-law knew Matt, and he asked him to be the guitarist in the show. After that show, the band I was in at the time had a gig booked at the House of Blues in Hollywood and we needed a guitarist so we asked Matt. We started playing acoustic gigs, some covers as well as originals. We started writing jamming together, and then we created our band Orchid and Beryl. We started writing more and more. Our first EP was a mix of covers and originals. As we kept writing, the song styles started changing and morphed into The Blood Moon Howlers.” Drummer Brandon Cooke and saxophonist Hatfield round out the band, each contributing to the band’s signature sound.
The Blood Moon Howlers’ distinctive sound grew out of the different musical backgrounds of the members. “We both had different musical backgrounds growing up,” says Matt. “When we started a band together we decided to work with each other’s differences and find a common ground.” Matt and JuJu found common ground in Tom Waits’ music: “Matt gave me a Tom Waits album, Nighthawks at the Diner” JuJu says, “and that was the first album we bonded over.”
Guitarist Wayne grew up playing in a lot of metal bands, and his influences run from the three Kings, Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf to Led Zeppelin, Marc Ribot, and Tom Waits. “I recall when I was 14 I told a friend I’d love to play in a blues rock band,” he says. He focused on playing guitar but started singing because he couldn’t find the right lead singer for his bands. Though he says it was never a goal for him to sing, his raw, gruff vocals provide a dynamic counterpoint to JuJu’s translucent blues vocals. JuJu’s voice channels crystalline perfection, as well as out-of-this-world vocal flights. “I’ve been singing since I was two-years-old,” JuJu says; “my three sisters and I had a group, and my main thing was harmony.” While Wayne’s influences are rock and roll and blues, JuJu’s influences were soul and jazz: Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Motown.
The band named itself one night after a party at their place. Back in 2015, there was a Blood Moon, and we were all outside, drinking and hanging out. “We decided to go up to the roof to be closer to the moon, and after a bit we started howling at the moon,” they said. They decided that night to name themselves The Blood Moon Howlers.
On their new album, Mad Man’s Ruse, the Blood Moon Howlers develop their distinctive sound, rocking off the rails with the propulsive opening track “Drunk ‘n’ Cold” while at the same time offering a slowed-down, more mellow take on the same song, the “Hangover Sessions” version, that showcases their throaty vocals and layered instrumentals. The band’s innovation lies in their love of exploring various takes on their songs. “One thing about our sound as a band,” Wayne and JuJu point out, “is we all come from different musical backgrounds so there are many influences and layers to each song and it keeps it kind of fun and spontaneous in the writing/recording/performing process because we never really know how a song is going to turn out in the end.”
Mad Man’s Ruse was “influenced by a focus on writing the blues,” Wayne says. “All the songs on the album are built around a blues structure.” “Lose Myself (Bar 9),” he says started out when we were trying to walk into a song on the ninth bar of a twelve-bar blues song. Although that didn’t work out as well as the band would have liked, they had fun recording it, he laughs. “It’s the longest one for sure and we used a gong in it so immediately it became our favorite track! Lots of different interesting types of percussion throughout the song, on the verses Brandon is literally tapping a Perrier bottle as one of the percussion tracks. As we were making this song Brandon said, ‘This song is either going to make people want to $&@? or cleanse their soul of demons!’”
“Drunk ‘n’ Cold is the first song we wrote for the album and really set the whole process into motion,” point out Wayne and JuJu.
“Sugar Babe,” which the band wrote for an indie film of the same name, showcases JuJu’s transporting vocals. On this one song, she opens in a lower register and ascends to a higher register as the song progresses; she takes the listener on a memorable musical flight they won’t soon forget. Wayne and JuJu say that they wrote this in the shortest amount of time they’d ever written a song. “We just pulled a couple of all-nighters and got the chords, melody, and lyrics done and then we took it to Brandon, and he helped us finish it and arrange the structure to what it sounds like today. Also on the recording, there is a ghost marimba sound in the first few measures of the song on the guitar track and no one knows how that happened. Just recording magic!”
The Blood Moon Howlers’ innovative songwriting, their relentless drive to explore various musical styles and structures with different versions of their own songs, and their perfectly matching vocals and instrumentals deliver inventive sounds that both build on and depart from their traditional musical roots. Mad Man’s Ruse delivers a breath-taking variety of musical innovation and sheer fun.