When J.B. Horrell started the local minimalist punk band Moving Finger, he had two words in mind: simple and strange. After enlisting bassist Patrick Glass (with whom Horrell also played in the local band Noise Choir) and his wife Laurel on drums, Moving Finger quickly began turning heads at bars and house parties. The band became a four-piece last spring with the addition of Natalie Hoffmann on second guitar (Hoffmann also fronts the ferocious no-wave act Nots) and released their debut seven-inch on Goner Records last month. We caught up with Horrell to talk about Moving Finger's first single, the past and present state of the Memphis punk scene, and what it's like to play in a band with your significant other.
Flyer: First off, where did you get the name Moving Finger?
J.B. Horrell: It's from a Dorothy Ashby record called The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby. The last song on the record is called "Moving Finger," and I just really liked the effect on her voice.
Is that an old soul record?
It's this weird record on Cadet, which was a subsidiary of Chess Records in Chicago. Cadet started putting out more experimental shit. Dorothy Ashby plays a weird Japanese instrument called a koto, and she plays it over tracks that have crazy drums and fuzz guitar on them.
Your debut seven-inch just came out on the local label Goner Records. Did you write the songs specifically for the single or were they taken from a demo or collection of songs?
On the A side are newer songs that we've started playing since Natalie joined the band. She'd been playing with us for about two weeks when we recorded those. When we recorded those tracks, we knew there was going to be a single out on Goner, but we didn't know what songs they would pick, so we recorded a handful. The B side was recorded last year with Andrew McCalla, and we had that lying around.
Why were the two sides recorded by two different people?
I have recorded a lot of stuff with Andrew McCalla over the years, and some of them were projects that he and I played on together. So it was natural to want to record the Moving Finger stuff with him. When he moved to Austin last summer, we didn't have the option of recording with him anymore. So the next logical person to record with was Keith Cooper (of the Sheiks). Keith uses the same equipment as Andrew. It felt like a natural progression to record with him.
As someone who's been involved with the punk scene for over 20 years, how would you say the contemporary scene compares to the Antenna club or the scene at Barristers?
It's similar in the sense that there are still a lot of different bands doing a lot of different things, which is cool. Back in those days, there were a lot of bands playing a lot of different things that could probably be described as punk, and it's the same way now. It's also similar in the fact that the scene is still really fragmented. There are all these little sub-scenes within a larger one. So, in a way, nothing has really changed.
Your wife, Laurel, plays drums in Moving Finger, and you guys practice at your house. What are the advantages of playing in a band with your significant other?
It makes it so that being in a band isn't restricted to one time and place. We don't have to wait for that one night a week when the whole band can get together and write. Anytime we have an idea, we can start working on it immediately as long as it's at a reasonable hour and won't disturb the neighbors. We can work on stuff anytime, and that's a huge advantage. It allows us to write music a lot faster.
The use of a delay pedal on the snare drum and the trumpet solo on the B side of the record is pretty unconventional in punk music. Where did those ideas come from?
I always liked punk bands that had a certain aesthetic or an ideal but used unconventional instruments to express themselves. The first punk band I ever saw that had a trumpet was Nation of Ulysses, when I was 15 or 16. I was like, "That's different." Later, I heard the Contortions and how they used horns as a dissonant instrument, and I thought that was really cool. As far as the delay on the snare drum, that influence could be anything from King Tubby production to weird movie soundtracks I like. It's just the idea of taking a really simple approach to songwriting and seeing how strange you can get with it.