Moon Tooth singer John Carbone was on stage with the band at LA club The Viper Room a few years ago, when he noticed an unmistakable six-foot-seven figure: “‘That’s fucking Dennis Rodman,’” Carbone says, referring to the maverick American basketball player.
“He walks up to the stage, pulls out this big wad of bills and makes it rain a hundred dollars in singles all over the band. Then he gets on the mic and leads the whole venue in a singalong of Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. I heard he got sober right after that.”
Lubricated or not, Rodman picked a great band to gate-crash. The Long Island quartet’s third album, the propulsive Phototroph, draws on everything from metal and hardcore to prog and the blues. Like an urban Clutch, or a less mystical All Them Witches, Moon Tooth aim for the guts and the brain, with Carbone’s lyrics both vividly poetic and opaquely personal.
“Sometimes I feel like we tread a line: we’re half philosophers, half cavemen,” says the singer. “We don’t try to mix all of this stuff consciously. If we tried to force it, it would suck.”
It helps that the four of them are coming at things from different places. Guitarist Nick Lee, drummer Ray Marte and bassist Vincent Romanelli all played in various stoner, metal and prog-adjacent bands before Moon Tooth got together in 2012. Carbone is an indie-rock dude inspired by Grizzly Bear and Bon Iver, although it’s old soul and blues records that are closest to his heart, as reflected in his impassioned vocals.
“When I first started listening to Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters, I reacted to it the way my body reacted to gravity: there was just no denying it,” he says. “There have been times where I’ve felt so low, and you put on some Junior Kimbrough and you don’t feel alone. The blues is a place of power, to recharge.”
Moon Tooth earned their spurs facing down impress-me crowds in hipper-than-hip Brooklyn bars. It was there that Carbone and his bandmates honed their magnetic live performance. The singer has been known to clamber on drummer Marte’s shoulders and play along with him. If there’s a balcony, he’s going to jump off it. And he’ll definitely end up in the crowd at some point.
“If I see someone just standing there, observing, I’m gonna get in their face and be like: ‘I’m here, motherfucker, and I’m a wild animal.’”
He’s not kidding about the wild animal part – he’s bitten people before.
“Only once or twice,” he says sheepishly. He explains: “When I was a teenager, I remember seeing shows and getting so filled with excitement and joy and hope that I wanted to leave and do something myself. That’s what we want to do for other people.”