“I like the freedom of not having a specific sound,” drummer Tyler Soule says. “We've adopted influences from all the members' tastes. We can do softer songs with different instruments or do something that's driving and harder and mean.”
Thanks in large part to Dark Sun, the North County band's catching a break in the local scene. Earlier this year, they started landing shows at more prominent clubs and getting lots of radio play. But while they're making moves, they've stayed grounded on their home turf, working day jobs to pay the bills.
Most of the guys in Dead Feather Moon—Soule, vocalist Justen Berge, lead guitarist Jesse Kling, bassist Chris Bowling and multi-instrumentalist Greg Peters—grew up around Vista and still hang out there. Their practice space is on a back road off Highway 78, in the office of a decades-old, family-owned used-car lot. The building is also where Berge lives with his bride-to-be, Ana Nicole.
When CityBeat visited recently, American flags were draped on every wall of the practice space. The place was startlingly tidy, minus a few brown-bagged bottles of Bud Ice and a stack of Grizzly Chew sitting on an old Fender amp in the corner. But the clerk of the neighboring liquor store suggested that maybe this wasn't the room's regular condition.
“You see that pile of empty 32-ounces out front?” he pointed. “That all came from me. They're my best customers.”
As they play, Dead Feather Moon seem like they've come from the Fillmore Auditorium in 1967. Berge has slicked-back hair and a bold gaze; his wailing vocals show traces of Gregg Allman. Bowling, who taught himself bass so he could join the band last year, thumps out progressions reminiscent of Cake. Kling pits shivering glass-slide solos against raucous chugging on a half-busted old Gibson. Peters glides up the frets of his lap-steel guitar, flails a rain-shaker over his keyboard and works a freestanding snare drum. Soule keeps the rhythm on a tattered drum kit with an industrial-size cowbell.
“When we first started writing songs, we tried to sound like the bands we loved— the Stones, Led Zeppelin,” Berge says. “But as time's gone on, the whole ‘classic rock' thing is starting to give way to more original sound. We're kind of honing our craft.”
You can hear their evolution between their debut EP, 2009's Leave Heaven to the Birds, and Dark Sun, which came out in July. Where they once had a basic southernrock vibe, now they've incorporated more sounds and styles. The most popular song on Dark Sun, “1907,” is a catchy, chugging, up-tempo ballad about a new hire in the West Virginia mines. “Everything I Haven't Said” slows the pace with bayou-style slideguitar riffs, a harmonica melody, romantic lyrics and harmonized vocals.
Dead Feather Moon began in 2007, when buddies Berge and Kling started writing together. They took on additional members and started networking with other artists at shows around town. Last February, they laid down half the tracks for Dark Sun with producer Aaron Swanton of White Horse Recorders, whom they'd met through friends in the band Transfer. They say Swanton liked what he heard and put in a call to local radio guru Michael Halloran, who now hosts Loudspeaker at 91X; Halloran stopped by the studio the following morning, and the buzz began from there.
With help from Transfer and Swanton, Dead Feather Moon were headlining shows at Belly Up tavern and The Casbah long before Dark Sun's release. In August, they were chosen for 91X's “The Local Break” and the alternative radio station played their music every day for the month.
Dead Feather Moon practice four nights a week, three hours a night, and while they've caught some breaks locally, they can't exactly give up their day jobs. Peters' job is brewing beer at The Lost Abbey in San Marcos—a little Wipeout IPA and they're jamming well beyond Vista's 10 p.m. noise curfew.
“We've put everything we have into this band,” Berge says. “We work regular jobs, but only so we can play. I have a math degree, but it's sitting in an envelope in the closet.”
Dead Feather Moon play with Holy Rolling Empire and Old Tiger at Kensington Club on Saturday, Nov. 19. They also play with The Mattson 2 at a benefit show for the San Diego Food Bank at Mossy Scion (4555 Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach) on Wednesday, Nov. 23.