The most enduring country artists — and artists of every genre — are those who forge their own path, working hard to make music that is authentic to who they are. While the country format is rich with legacy and tradition, many of today’s performers make names for themselves by blending that foundation with a cocktail of diverse musical influences. No matter what the ingredients are, finding the right recipe is key — and that’s exactly what Niko Moon set out to do when he began work on his forthcoming debut solo album.
On the one hand, he tells Country Now, he grew up a diehard country boy. “I mean, I literally grew up 10 minutes away from Travis Tritt,” Moon explains. “He lives in Hiram [Georgia] and I live in Douglasville, so we’re neighbors. I ran track in high school and used to run along the Chattahoochee River while listening to [Alan Jackson’s ‘Chattahoochee.’]”
Even though he sometimes felt like he was in the middle of nowhere, Moon was just a 10-song drive away from a major U.S. city that had a major music scene of its own. “Atlanta was 30 minutes out to me. I was also really close to that influence. Outkast, T.I., all that stuff. And so all of that is me,” he explains.
“I’m completely a country artist at the same time. But I wanted to make country music that felt really authentic to who I am. The way I like to think of it is, the bass and the drums is Atlanta, and everything else is Douglasville. Country lyric, country melody, country lyric — but I just like the way that Atlanta music has that hit to it,” adds Moon.
Early in his career, as a songwriter, Moon gravitated to country artists known for putting their own spin on the style. He co-wrote songs like “Loving You Easy” and “Homegrown” for Zac Brown Band, as well as Rascal Flatts’ 2018 single, “Back to Life.”
“I have a lot of respect for any artist committed to being themselves. When I work with artists like that, it really inspires me, and it’s really encouraged me in my own path of making music,” the singer offers. “I mean, that’s what makes a great artist. When you hear them, within two seconds, you’re like, ‘Oh, I know who that is.’ And the only way to do that is to be completely honest with yourself and what you’re making.”
Easier said than done. By the time he set out to record his next album, Moon had already honed his chops as a songwriter and artist. He’d already learned the importance of listening in to his own musical sensibilities. He knew what the music inside his head sounded like — but translating that music to the recording studio was another challenge entirely.
“At the very beginning, with my co-producer Josh Murty, I called him up. He lives in LA,” Moon recalls. “I gave him the whole schematic of what I had in mind, of what I thought it should sound like. I was like, ‘I want it to be straight up country music, but I want the drums and bass to have this Atlanta thing to it.’”
Murty was on board from the beginning, but as they started refining tracks for the project, Moon got nervous. “I started second-guessing myself, like, ‘Oh, am I pushing it too far with people?” he goes on to say. They brought a real drummer and real bass player into the studio to play over the tracks they’d recorded, in order to see what that sounded like.
“I think that was my moment of realization. Because when I heard it, I was like, ‘This sounds amazing, this sounds like what’s on the radio — but it doesn’t sound like me.’ We took it all down and listened to it again, and I was like, ‘Yup, that’s it. That’s the thing.”
“Bringing in real instrumentalists on the drum and bass side made me realize that that wasn’t the path for the music. But having real banjo and dobro and pedal steel, all those country elements, was the right thing. It was the right fusion,” Moon elaborates. “Because I was looking for that fusion of the worlds. There’s a lot of different ways I could put Douglasville and Atlanta together in my mind. And so it was a little bit of trial and error figuring out how much of both to have and where to do it. In my mind, it’s a real delicate balance.”
That trial and error took place as Moon laid down the 10 tracks he intended to put on the project. From that batch, he’s already released “Good Time” and “Drunk Over You,” two bookends of the emotional spectrum that the music traverses. “Good Time” riffs on an idea that Moon describes as “my little mantra,” a reminder that “life is short and people should make the most of it.”
It’s a simple message. But as every songwriter knows, the simplest messages can sometimes be the most difficult to get across. “Can be! It really can,” says Moon. “I’ve always been such a fan of songwriting that’s simple but thoughtful at the same time. I think it’s one of the hardest things to do as a songwriter.”
“Good Time” may have a simple, upbeat message to share, but “Drunk Over You” comes from a time in Moon’s life that was neither simple nor upbeat. “That song was about a relationship where, I was engaged at one point, and it didn’t work out because I found out she was cheating on me with one of my best friends,” he says. Even though its subject matter recalls a difficult time, Moon still believes that there’s a message of positivity in “Drunk Over You.”
“Now, when I look back on it, I realize that that person wasn’t right for me. And if that wouldn’t have happened, I would never have met my wife, who’s my best friend and the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” he points out. Not only his Moon’s wife, Anna, a close personal relationship — she’s also a singer-songwriter herself, who co-wrote all of the songs on his album with him.
With a core group of collaborators and a strong sense of the kind of music he wants to release, Moon is on a roll. “[Getting the right blend of musical styles] is like second nature now. Now we’ve got it cracked,” he adds. To celebrate, they’ve returned to his 10-song album to add more four tracks. “These four songs have been going so much quicker and so much smoother, because we’ve figured out the path to my sound.
“It’s every artist’s goal to have a thing, and have that thing be completely honest to who they are. It can take a long time,” Moon says. “I’m just really blessed and fortunate that I was able to figure myself out.”