The debut album from Charleston electronic project Moontalkr, called Blue Door, is the product of a deep-rooted spiritual transition for the project’s frontman and songwriter Jeff Wilson. Jeff’s background in and close ties to spirituality stand at the core of his artistry, and have been at that core since he started releasing music under the now-retired project name Get With It., and even before that. Ever since I first met Jeff and listened to his music, this spirituality has always been apparent, so when we sat down last month on the back porch at The Royal American too discuss Blue Door, I knew that’s where our conversation would lead.
According to Jeff, his connection with a greater spiritual presence started when he found himself alive after flipping a car across four lanes on a highway in his hometown of Rock Hill. Jeff was 17 years old, driving drunk, and his car was upside-down and totaled in the woods next to the highway. The police and his parents arrived on the scene, and Jeff was nowhere to be found.
“I come to standing in my parents’ basement, looking at myself in the mirror, 2 miles away from the wreck,” Jeff explains. “I have no idea how I got there, no idea how I survived. Had a huge gash on the back of my head. I have no clue how I made it home. The cops came home and found me in my bed. It doesn’t make any sense at all. From that point on, it was kind of just like, ‘There’s something different about my life. There’s some reason I survived the wreck.’ I didn’t really know anything about it, but I’ve always felt something different.”
While that accident was a major eye-opening experience for Jeff, it took much more than that for him to reach the place where he currently stands. After the incident, Jeff spent a few more years in Rock Hill before enrolling at the College of Charleston to study jazz performance. This is when he first started to pick up music, and where his spiritual development really began.
“I was really self-conscious about myself, because I felt like I was older than everybody else, and when I got to school there were all these amazing kids who were playing really well, and I had just started,” Jeff says. “I didn’t even know what the fuck was going on for a long time. I’m convinced that none of it would have come down unless I had started working with the spirituality element of it. I’ve seen it just yield so much beautiful shit in my life.”
According to Jeff, when he graduated from the College of Charleston, he was in a dark place. He knew he wanted his career to have something to do with music, but he didn’t know exactly what it would look like. He had regular gigs at both the Commodore and Bar Mash playing in a funk cover band, but he didn’t think he was any good and he didn’t feel that he was getting any recognition or respect. At the same time, he was in a relationship with a beautiful artist, but things went south in that relationship and she decided to end things without warning, and she cut all communications with him. Jeff had also been part of the founding of Ohm Radio, alongside Thomas Kenney (Terraphonics, Doom Flamingo), Vicky Matsis, and renowned jazz guitarist Lee Barbour. Jeff managed the station and handled the programming, but had some trouble with relationships there as well.
“I was just a cocky fuckin asshole when I was working for Lee, and he pulled me aside and just told me all this shit about myself that I wasn’t ready to hear,” Jeff explains. “It was really disorienting, but it opened me up in a different way and started making me conscious of the way I was treating people.”
The glimmer of hope through all this, and what ultimately led Jeff to devote himself to a spiritual path in life, was that working at the radio station introduced him to the lectures of the famed psychedelic advocate Terrence McKenna. One of the central components of Terrence McKenna’s lectures is Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in what are commonly known as magic mushrooms. Jeff had taken mushrooms several times before, but he had never done so with the intention to make a change, or to learn something about himself, which is something that Terrence McKenna talked extensively about.
“It was the day after Christmas or something like that, and I was finally ready,” Jeff recalls. “I drove home and didn’t eat anything for like 12 hours, and came home and had this trip.”
Terrence suggests taking what he calls a “heroic dose”, which is 5 or more grams of dried magic mushrooms. He recommends taking them on an empty stomach, in silent darkness, completely alone with your thoughts. This is exactly what Jeff did, and it changed his life.
“Dude, I’m getting chills thinking about it right now,” Jeff says. “This entity came down over my body, and it like, scanned me and checked me out and made sure I was okay. When it started getting really intense I felt my nose pop and my sinuses opened up completely. It was like being pressed on. And this thing pulled me out of my situation. I was laying on my floor for like two hours and when I was finally able to get in bed, this entity that looked almost like when you throw a stone into a calm pond, you know? It was just this ripple that was all around me all the time for like 5 or 6 hours. And it was like, ‘I’m gonna show you what it’s like to be able to experience life without any trauma or pain or any of the things you’ve ever been through.’ It jumped into my throat and I felt all this energy compacting in my chest. It literally felt like I was about to have a heart attack. And then it broke open and leapt out of my throat and I fucking just turned into a puddle. I burst into tears, and it was like I was a baby again. I just started my life over.”
Not long after Jeff’s first time taking a heroic dose of magic mushrooms, he met his mentor, David Michael, an old Native American man who was living out on Folly Beach at the time. The two met through Ohm Radio, where David had a show called Inspire, and Jeff started driving out to Folly every week to talk to him. David teaches about a concept known as nondualism, which is a state of consciousness that comes through extensive meditation and acceptance of an innate connection between nature and the mind. David also teaches about choice and consequence, the idea that everything that happens in your life is related to a specific choice that you make. Essentially, David’s teachings, along with the epic trip, inspired Jeff to take control of his life and start moving it in the direction that he wanted it to go.
“Without him, without his guidance, without really taking a look at like, God and pulling all this stuff down and removing the ego and shit, none of this music would have come out of me, you know?” Jeff says. “Because I was doing it the other way for a long time, and it didn’t make any sense. It didn’t resonate at all. I was just going through the motions.”
It was during this time that Bon Iver released his highly-regarded record 22, A Million. Jeff explains that he was completely blown away by this album, and it’s what essentially inspired him to start pursuing electronic music production. He formed the band Get With It., and released a record under that project, but there were some problems there as well. Jeff’s attitude still hadn’t reached the right place, and that was apparent right down to the name of the band itself. Despite releasing music that he himself was proud of, he still wasn’t connecting with people in the right way.
“There was this swagism kind of thing happening, and that was kind of how I interpreted everything, kind of this arrogant, cocky, brash persona,” Jeff explains. “I was also masking some of my sensitivity, like “Get With It.” It’s almost like talking shit, you know? Like if you’re not with it, the assumption is that you should get with it, you know? It’s kind of an abrasive thing to say to people. It got to the point where people would ask for the name of the band and I just didn’t even want to talk about it.”
The decision to change the project name from Get With It. officially came about when he was at Rialto Row tracking out Blue Door with producer and engineer Wolfgang Zimmerman. Jeff recalls Wolfgang telling him bluntly, “You gotta change that fuckin’ name, bro,” and citing it as one of the reasons why the music wasn’t hitting with people in town. So Jeff did what he already knew he needed to do, and he left behind a final piece of his old personality in favor of the new band name, Moontalkr.
“The Get With It. thing was just a different version of me that was being represented, and that I was representing,” Jeff says. “I wasn’t fully conscious of who I was or how I was being interpreted, or how people were perceiving what I was doing. I was just kind of tooting my own horn for a long time. A lot of people probably mistook it for arrogance, but I was just blind to a lot of stuff. The change came when I started realizing how powerful the music was and how powerful the things I have to say as a writer, and the only way to bring people in is to invite them in. Not to shame them or force them, or whatever it is.”
Blue Door was recorded at Rialto Row after a year of pre-production at home, in Jeff’s “cave”. Before going into the studio, Jeff sent demos to his friend Rodrick Simmons, whom you might recognize as the brains behind Four20s, the band that Benny Starr frequently performs alongside. According to Jeff, Rodrick has always been a big supporter of his music, regardless of the negative mindset that Jeff might have been in at any given time. Rodrick gave his feedback on the demos, and rearranged a few of them in the pre-production phase. Then Jeff gathered his band, which includes Caleb Harper, Tim Khayet, Jonathan Lovett, and Alex Kellner, with Rodrick and Wolfgang contributing instrumentation in places as well.
Jeff’s more positive outlook on life has already started bringing about positive changes for him, and that outlook is still constantly evolving. Before going into the studio, he received a call from an old family friend whom he had been sending demos to for years without much response. This friend decided to invest in Jeff and his music, and he was able to pay for the studio time, pay the musicians what they deserved, and live his life as a creative for a few months in the process. That’s just one of many things that are looking up for him right now.
After recording the album, Jeff took a trip out to Los Angeles where he stayed in an AirBnB owned by Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds. Laura is also part of the Los Angeles-based collective Our Secret Handshake, which helps support women in music by building communities and offering platforms for them to make their voices heard. Jeff and Laura connected while he was in LA, and after hearing the record Laura decided that she wanted to help him reach a larger audience. With Laura’s support and extended network, Moontalkr and Blue Door has an opportunity to impact a fanbase well outside of the Charleston music scene.
Blue Door will see release in mid to late August, but there are two singles out now, “Blue Door” and “Ode”, which can give you an idea of what the record sounds like. Jeff will perform with Moontalkr for the first time this coming Thursday, August 1st at The Royal American, where he’ll be joined by Durham, NC neo hip-hop artist Young Bull. Facebook event here.