September 01, 2004

Moving Units - Adventures in Moving

By Jin Moon

After relocating to L.A. from Detroit, Moving Unit's Blake Miller pursued his Dreams

Moving Units

Moving Units

There was a time was when indie hipsters refused to dance at rock shows. A quick glance at a rock crowd in New York or Los Angeles, and it was as if people had their Converse sneakers Krazy-Glued to the floor. But slowly, the tide is changing, and it's mostly thanks to bands like Los-Angeles based Moving Units. Their incredibly catchy, beat-driven songs pulsate with sexuality and desire. Their frenzied energy is reminiscent of older bands like Gang of Four and Wire. The music will make you lift your tired feet and shake your hips like a fool. It's that addictive, and can now be heard on their debut full-length, Dangerous Dreams.

Lead singer, guitarist and principle songwriter, Blake Miller, along with Johan Bogeli on bass and Chris Hathwell on drums, formed the band in 2001, after moving to L.A. from his hometown of Detroit. Miller originally was pursuing a career in filmmaking, but discovered the music track was a lot easier to navigate and ultimately more fulfilling. "It was a lot easier to buy a four-track and record at home than to buy a film studio," Miller said, half-jokingly. "I really just needed to have more creative control over my ideas and imagination."

Miller recently took some time to talk to Playback about realizing his Dangerous Dreams.

Would you say you were more influenced musically by Detroit or L.A.?

The period of time I spent growing up in Detroit was during a really formative stage of my life. So I'm sure there's a lot of psychological residue that I probably still tap into now. I didn't have the cooler older sister to turn me onto really good records that were under the radar. So I'd stay home from school, and I'd listen to the rock station on the stereo without any idea of really what I was listening to. But now in retrospect, I can recognize the stuff that I was listening to then - Bowie, Queen and Zeppelin. They had a profound effect on me in terms of hearing music and shaping my imagination.

How did your musical tastes develop as you grew up?

When I was a teenager it was what was playing on the radio and what was playing on MTV. Then I went to college and met people who shared similar experiences as I did as an outsider. So I connected with these people later in life, but realized they had discovered more challenging music at a younger age. So from that point on, it's been a constant process between distilling stuff I've heard on the radio - radio friendly hits - and super art-damaged experimental music or just sloppy garage and punk. When I come up with ideas and when I think about writing a song, there are two ends of the spectrum that I draw from for that reason.

How have Moving Units grown as a band over the years?

Being in a band for any length of time has an effect on you. You become a little more street-wise, a little more seasoned as a band member. I think we all share a sense of urgency when it comes to challenging ourselves musically and conceptually. We're really united by the fact we share a passion for performing music. On a more abstract level, we're all trying to figure out a way to keep making music that sounds exciting - not necessarily straying too far away from the original impetus behind the band - the sound, the style, the feeling - but a direction that has us evolving.

What was your inspiration behind your debut full length, Dangerous Dreams?

We're kind of fascinated by the whole paradigm of rock music -- the idea that it's a lifestyle or an experience and the fact that there's an industry built around this form of expression that in itself is really simple and primitive. So I guess the title is sort of a way of referencing that sense of awe or fascination you might feel with the notion of rock stardom, which has always been a bizarre contradiction in our minds. There's the sort of ridiculously unattainable idea of a rock star like Iggy Pop or David Bowie, someone who's this huge, larger-than-life persona that you can't imagine relating to as a simple individual. If you're an individual who starts playing music and try to be in a band, at first it's just a completely simple, undaunted experience. And then if you get any sort of reaction or enjoy any kind of success, then suddenly whether you intended to or not, you're playing with that same abstract magic. That title, Dangerous Dreams, is the idea of being seduced by a fantasy.

How does a Moving Units song usually get written?

You can't discount the value of an almighty riff. It never hurts to wake up in the middle of the night and hear something that sounds undeniable. But unfortunately that only happens once in a while. I usually let that dictate the next step. Lyrics aren't really that important to me in terms of appreciating music. I enjoy listening to really good music and then if there are really interesting lyrics to go with the music, then all the better. I don't have a stereo in my car so a lot of times when I'm just driving around, I'll just hear some sort of sequence of notes in my mind. When I get home, I'll grab a guitar and start messing around and figuring out a part. I'll stumble onto an idea like that, and then once in a while it's good enough to pursue.

Tell me how you wrote the song, "Between Us & Them?"

I came up with the bass line for the song, "Between Us & Them." It was really different than anything that we'd been messing around with, fresh and interesting. I quickly recorded it and came up with a guitar part and drum beat on my ProTools and sketched out a demo. I played it for Johan and Chris, and we decided to go into the rehearsal studio together and taught ourselves the song. Immediately thereafter, we just came up with five or six hundred ideas that were similar in spirit and realized we had made this musical connection.