More than a decade ago, guitarists Stephen Murray and Matt Martin launched their band, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, as a sort of hybrid between ragtime jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. Seven albums, two EPs and countless gigs later, the band looks much the same, but it sounds completely different. Reflecting that change, the band collectively rechristened itself Moves. Showcasing a more modern soul and R&B-influenced rock sound, Moves celebrates the release of its new, self-titled album with a Saturday, March 9, show at The Mothlight.
From the perspective of the band members, a name change was necessary and inevitable; the idea of rebranding first arose three years ago. “We spent the better part of 10 years touring like crazy people, and we realized that the music that we had put out in 2009-2016 was of one era, one kind of style,” Murray explains. “We were feeling a little stuck. People always associated us with ragtime Dixieland.”
He notes that, as much as the band emphasized its style change in its bios and made a point of not performing older material, “festivals would still market us as having that Dixieland sound.”
Murray recalls the band’s collective conclusion: “We’ve got to do something.”
Discussions centered on the idea of making moves forward. “My fiancée suggested the name,” Murray says. “So we put it in the list of 300,000 other names we were thinking of, and it just felt like the right one.”
Complicating matters further is the fact that the former Holy Ghost Tent Revival now operates under not one but two different names. “Big Sound Harbor has the same members,” Murray explains. “But it’s geared toward Dulci Ellenberger taking center stage and leading the band.” Big Sound Harbor’s repertoire primarily features Ellenberger’s original songs. Moves, by contrast, is built upon a foundation of material arranged by the band as a whole and featuring three lead vocalists.
Acknowledging that the dual identity might be confusing on paper, Murray believes that it suits the creative goals of the musicians involved. All seven of them — guitarists Murray, Martin and Ellenberger; Kevin Williams on bass; Hank Widmer on horns; trumpeter/keyboardist Charlie Humphrey; and drummer Ross Montsinger — are involved in other musical projects as well.
Murray says the matrix of activity “helps keep our finger on the pulse, keeps us motivated and excited. To continually be creating is a wonderful space to be in when you can find other projects that really kind of speak your truth and what you’re trying to put out in the world.”
The collective truth of Moves is reflected in new songs, many of which have a sociological point of view. “Dulci openly speaks about having written ‘Same Thing’ right after the election of 2016,” Murray says. “It’s a call out to everyone that, although we are different, we all want the same things: love, acceptance, human rights.”
The song “Sleeping” is a social statement, too. “It’s a commentary on the economic injustice that we’re facing and the feeling [of being] overwhelmed and exhausted by it all at times,” Murray says. The song’s musical approach is deliberate as well. “The build at the end brings in a little bit of chaos and rawness to the listener’s experience,” he says.
Moves brings an audiovisual component to that experience, too. To date, the group has produced at least five professional-grade music videos for songs on the new album (plus one for a nonalbum track — an impassioned reading of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”). “With the rebranding of the name and dropping this album, we made the choice to create as much content as possible to excite our fan base,” Murray says. “We want to make people realize that we’re doing something new and different, but that it’s still the same people.”
While the group is celebrating the release of its 12-song record, in general, the emphasis is more on individual songs. “We’re not saying goodbye forever to the idea of releasing an album,” Murray explains. “But we are focusing more on singles and meshing that content with videos or some experience beyond just audio.”
To that end, at least two more singles are currently in the works, with more videos to come as well. “We’re going to keep pushing out new music,” Murray says, “so that people understand that this is an ongoing and very exciting project for all of us.” The band has hopes of filling its late summer and fall schedule with festival dates and spots opening for national acts.
The songs on Moves were recorded, mastered and completed in 2017. “It’s been our baby for a couple of years,” Murray admits with a laugh. “It feels incredible to finally get it out.”
WHO: Moves with The Mystery Lights
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Saturday, March 9, 9 p.m., $12 advance/$15 day of show