Lyrical departure: Local academics get creative in psychedelic-emo outfit Mouzon Bigsby

Lyrical departure: Local academics get creative in psychedelic-emo outfit Mouzon Bigsby

A Charlottesville trio with literary inclinations has released a catchy new LP. But none of the three band members are sons of Bill Wilson.

Mouzon Bigsby, which dropped its debut full-length album, Kino, on August 24, formed after a 2015 Christmas party when UVA English professor John Parker met JMU English professor Brooks Hefner over cocktails. Parker had been playing acoustic guitar almost exclusively solo for 20 years and wanted to plug back in. When he mentioned he was looking to form a band, Hefner said he’d come to the right place—he played bass.

“I told him after the first time we played…his chops were through the roof,” Parker says of Hefner.

The pair of profs commenced collaborating in Parker’s garage, tinkering with a lo-fi, alt-country sound highlighted by Hefner on lap steel. The duo went into the studio in 2017, and released a sparsely produced five-track record featuring Darby Wootten on drums. The three-piece played six or seven shows around Charlottesville to whip up support.

The concerts were well received, and the musicians thought they’d put together an LP in short order. They had completed several recordings in the studio session that leaned in a garage-rock, post-punk direction, and the tracks promised to lend themselves to full production.

But life served up some complicated riffs. Parker and his wife had twins. Wootten had other band commitments and a baby of his own. “We got upended,” Parker says.

By 2020, Parker had finally recorded the additional lead vocals and guitars needed to round out the record, and Mouzon Bigsby was ready to release the seven tracks that would become Kino. Life riffed again. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the mixing process and the musicians won’t be able to gig to support it in the way they anticipated—at least in the short term.

The full-length LP, recorded and mixed at Virginia Arts by Chris Doermann and Sean Dart and available on Bandcamp.com, may very well stand for itself. Parker’s melodic, soft-spoken vocals contrast with his scratchy guitar riffs, and blend seamlessly with Hefner’s Motown-influenced basslines. Anchored by the funky final track “Elon Musk,” Kino offers a sound ranging in influences from The Cars to Joy Division, Dinosaur Jr. to Curtis Mayfield.

“I think of it as a psychedelic wash over this power pop—a sheen that comes through the fuzz and distortion and other effects that are critical to the sound,” Hefner says. “I think the melodies are quite beautiful.”

Hefner brings a softer side to the band via his love of ’70s soul, and Parker says he’s embraced that music, at least in his singing voice. Not only does the Motown sound give Hefner and Wootten a place to lock in as a rhythm section, its R&B sensibility offers Parker’s oblique, pithy lyrics a chance to play off the band’s fuzzy guitar effects.

Awash in a profession known for verbosity—Parker studies medieval and Renaissance drama, while Hefner focuses on 20th century American lit and pop culture—the lead singer says his lyrical approach is an intentional departure from his day-to-day life.

“The whole point of this is it has allowed me an outlet and relationship to language that my professional life doesn’t have,” Parker says. “It’s an opportunity to have a much lighter, carefree approach. I don’t want it to be too cerebral.”

Most of the songs on Kino find that non-cerebral niche without falling into the mundane. The tracks are about relationships and loss, society and loss, finding oneself and, well, losing oneself.

Parker and Hefner say they don’t want their work in Mouzon Bigsby to be overly commercial. Both in their mid-40s, the bibliophiles-cum-musicians aren’t looking to sign a major record contract and tour the globe.

“When you decide what you are going to do for a living and pay the bills, you’re lucky if you can do something you love, but you are instrumentalizing what you love,” Parker says. “If we wanted to try to pay the bills, that would put a lot of pressure on us, and I think it would potentially hurt the music.”

At any rate, Parker and Hefner aren’t sure what to expect when the world emerges from its COVID-induced slumber and again celebrates live sounds. “I’m just hoping the venues are there. You hope they can hold out until it’s safe,” Hefner says.

The duo—sans Wooten—has been recording material for another album remotely, going back to their alt-country roots with Hefner now on pedal steel. They’re also sitting on a number of recordings from the original session avec Wooten.

Parker and Hefner would like to see Mouzon Bigsby back in the studio as a full-strength trio at some point, but before the pandemic clears, they’re just hoping to be back in the garage. According to Parker, it’s been too humid—a problem the songwriter grapples with esoterically in “Elon Musk.”

“What if Elon Musk can’t save us,” Parker sings on Kino’s finishing track. “What if after dark we go to the park / If it gets too hot we’ll stay in the car.”

Or stay in the house, for that matter.

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