Emily, a New York born musician, broke off from her bandmate, Leah, as she streaked towards their lead singer up the block, past Union Pool. This would be the bar at which the trinity would be playing their debut album, “I Met My Band At A New Years Party” on Wednesday, the 23rd of October. Leah, the drummer of their band who coined “Moon Kissed,” threw her head back, dark curls wild, peals of laughter escaping her throat as she watched her bandmates/forever girlfriends embrace in a mess of glee, a halo of matching curls cascading down their backs. The three had met at a New Years Eve party the previous year. Emily, the synth player, and Khaya had been looking for a new drummer. The band, started by Emily and Khaya, gave Leah, a jazz-trained drummer, a test: learn three songs out of the seven they had already recorded. She came to the next rehearsal with all seven memorized. As we settled into the bright café in Brooklyn, Khaya giggled as she remembered insisting that Leah was still on “probation” after the original evaluation: the two founders still needed to determine whether Leah could play live. Anyone who has seen Moon Kissed perform will know that to see the three play live is to know this need not be a worry for any one of them.
Khaya (22, lead vocals), wrapped in a bubblegum pink denim jacket, hair half tied up in a high ponytail, turns into a veritable dynamo when she takes the stage, her voice seamlessly transitioning from a guttural growl, her lips wrapped around the mike, to a crystal clear belt. It’s almost hard to believe that the girl I walked alongside with on a sidewalk in Brooklyn, bubbly and sweet, is the same singer who, two weeks prior, spit a mist of beer into her drummer’s mouth mid set, collapsed onto her knees and let out an exalted scream, throat exposed to the moon. She’s the one that got away, she’s the girl next door. She’s the one you don’t mess around with.
Emily (22, synth, harmonies), more subdued in a dark jacket and jeans, sits in the café, legs uncrossed, her laugh hearty and deep. Her on stage persona is dark and intense at times, her upper body methodically oscillating over the synth, her ringlets, long and dark, masking her face. At other points, her face is open and beaming, as she pulls her keyboard off its stand and lays down on stage, inviting an audience member to play it with her, whipping it back into place just in time. She’s swagger and a glass of beer. She’s technically flawless, playing the synth with the precision of a classically trained pianist.
Leah (20, drummer) bounced alongside me, big, diva sunglasses atop her own curly head of hair, contrasting paradoxically with a grungy pair of boots and a bright smile. She answers my questions with eyes wide and sincere, the movement of her hands perfectly choreographed with the cadence of her voice. She plays drums like they are an extension of her pulsating body, like they are giving her power. Her face contorts, her mouth wide. She is in ecstasy, and the audience gets some of her afterglow, as she controls their bodies with the beat. She is a calm sea. She is an explosion.
They all are.
Their four singles, released before the rest of the album, serve as the cornerstones to the rest of the album: the major thoughts that are filled in and connected by the rest of the tracks that will be released. The four, “Drama Queens,” “Muscle Memory,” “Run Away,” and “Lost It,” tell a story of the exhilaration of first glance, the intoxication of infatuation, the complication of a break up, and the bittersweet freedom that follows. While the trio admits their first songs are more characteristic of a younger band, what comes through is a repertoire reminiscent of a group who has been together for a decade. Though their first songs read as more simplistic, in-your-face descriptions of the highs and lows of the journey from attraction to love to separation, they don’t ring as anything other than truth.
Of their writing process, the trio communicated an egalitarian strategy. While each have different ways they produce music and lyrics, there’s no hierarchy to the way their art is created. Emily likened the process to filling in a coloring book: a melody will be sent to the band, Khaya will write lyrics over them, and Leah will meld the track with a beat. They will fill in the gaps together, adding a brush stroke here, modifying a rhythm there. There is no ego: they pour into each other, an equal trinity.
Khaya, the main lyricist, writes because she must: her life experience infuses Moon Kissed’s first album. She tells me: “A lot of this album was me processing a lot of heavy things that happened in my life. I don’t overthink things—I write about what I go through.” In their third to last track, “Last Time Trying,” love is wary, cognizant of the thrilling danger of allowing intimacy and the maturation it takes to decide to give it one last shot or abandon it once and for all:
“Mirror mirror on the wall Just tell me that I didn’t fall For nothing
Stare right back into my eyes
I might be a bit unwise
But fuck it
My mind says let to let go let go
This will be my last time trying
We’d be shooting moonbeams
We would be so happy
Listen to the old me
Telling me what could be”
– Last Time Trying, Moon Kissed
Khaya’s approach to writing reminds me of Didion when she explains in her eponymous essay “Why I Write” that “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear”. Khaya writes to understand the “rollercoaster” of her life and experiences, to divine that which she has gone through. She strikes when the iron is hot, when her brain is on fire, burning with the desire to get something out, to purge, to remember, to access, to crystallize.
Leah chimes in, explaining that making music to her is akin to being a child and exploring the outskirts of a familiar neighborhood or walking a well-worn path in a forest but feeling that you have discovered something that not one person has found before. It’s a secret and an escape. It is powerful and precious.
And there is something veritably divine, perhaps even magical, about Moon Kissed’s music: it is raw and polished and authentic. But what truly confirms to a listener that they are listening to something beyond this world is watching the trio perform live.
Every audience transforms the moment they play their first note: people push closer to the front, mouths become wider, eyes sparkle, and bodies move freely. At their album release party at Union Pool, everyone watched with delight as the three gave them an explosive show. They exchanged conspiratorial glances as they threw themselves into their instruments, flung flowers into the audience, and lay their bodies on top of the crowd, surfing, every person delighted to support their bodies, to feel a part of the world that was being built note by note. I pushed my way to the front and watched as Khaya belted into the mic, snaking closer and closer to the front of the stage, seducing the front row with her hypnotizing eyes. The drums built, the synth went wild, and, at the peak, she leaned down and sung to me before kissing my lips and throwing her head back, finding the next beat flawlessly.
It is no wonder that, as they played their last song, the audience screamed for an encore. We had all fallen in love in the span of thirty minutes.
This is how Moon Kissed has built their fan base: no gimmicks, no social media gags. They do it old school—you get what you get, and what you get addicts you.
And once you’ve been hooked you’ll keep coming back for the high.
If you’d like to see what love at first sight feels like, Moon Kissed is playing at the FunHouse with a lineup of up and coming New York City pop musicians this Saturday, November 9.
Their residency at MuchMore’s are the first three Thursdays in December. The theme: Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll.