In music circles, "industrial" means something very specific: an aggressive, experimental meeting of electronic sounds and noise, popularized (a relative term) in the mid-1970s by bands like Throbbing Gristle, and later hybridized by Ministry and Nine Inch Nails.
But for the Hartford quartet Wise Old Moon "industrial" implies growth, rebirth, new beginnings from old roots, a turning away from earthy folk and traditional sounds in favor of harder, 1970s-leaning rock.
That rebirth has an address: Parkville, specifically the area around Bartholomew Avenue and Park Street, where the band and some of its friends relocated six months ago, in search of lower rent and higher ceilings.
"This is a hidden gem," says singer-songwriter Connor Millican. "I don't even want to tell people what we're paying. It's way less, and the space is more creative."
In Parkville, Wise Old Moon now has a full basement studio, where it can rehearse any time of day. There's an additional commercial space, where band members operate a separate printing concern. In New York City or Nashville, Millican says, they'd be working full-time jobs just to afford time to make music.
"It has taken a long time to feel like Hartford is a good home base for our band and our business," says Millican. "But it's been worth sticking it out and becoming a big fish in a small pond. That has been really advantageous for us."
In 2014, Wise Old Moon was Millican alone, performing his songs with whatever musicians would back him up, while he earned money painting interiors of houses. "The Patterns," the first Wise Old Moon album, was a folk-leaning collection of real-life, world-weary tales and homespun melodies.
Soon, Millican moved to Hartford's West End, where he met like-minded musicians: Stephen Cusano (who also plays in Broca's Area), bassist Sean Rubin (Ladyhips) and guitarist Dan Liparini. They recorded and released "Don't Take Off," a second Wise Old Moon album that didn't stray far from the sound of the first.
Still, something wasn't working. Playing music in split-family houses was challenging. Rent in the West End became increasingly expensive.
The new space allows them to rehearse any time of day. It's cheap enough to live. And the ceilings are 30 feet up.
"Now that we're in a much more comfortable environment and we have our own space, we're getting the best out of this city," Millican says. "It does really feel like home. We're starting to see more people come out to the shows."
At a recent Arch Street Tavern gig, Wise Old Moon — Millican, guitarist Ian Meadows (of the Meadows Brothers), drummer Cusano and bassist Greg Lake — located its new sound, mixing wide, lurching, Les Paul-drenched songs with uptempo, bar-friendly blues-rock. It was an alluring mix of time-tested sounds and youthful energy; if part of the trick was not to sound cliche, Wise Old Moon pulled it off.
Last August, in the former Hartford Rubber Works building across the street, Hog River Brewing Co., founded by Benjamin and Joy Braddock, opened a 3,700 square-foot brewery and taproom.
The factory once made pneumatic tires for automobiles and bicycles. "A lot of breweries are reusing industrial spaces," says Joy. When the Braddocks leased the factory, it was completely raw, lacking both electrical and plumbing.
After moving in, Millican wasted little time getting to know his neighbors, quickly working with the Braddocks to organize Twang Thursdays, where Wise Old Moon and other invited musicians perform intimate sets from 7 to 9 p.m. The fall lineup at the brewery includes Wise Old Moon (Sept. 7), Brian Dolzani (Sept. 21), Chris Ross and the North (Sept. 28), Alpaca Gnomes (Oct. 5), 5J Barrow (Oct. 19) and Plywood Cowboy (Oct. 26).
Wise Old Moon recently announced a fall run of dates across the Northeast, including a triple-header (three shows in one day) in October. The band is on the verge of signing a booking deal, which would bring even greater exposure, and will return to the studio (in Holyoke, Massachusetts, at a repurposed factory, naturally) where it will track a new EP.
"We're staying true to the spirit of the industrial towns of the Northeast, which we just can't seem to get away from," Millican says.
The long-term goal, Millican says, is to focus on the music, expand its management and booking team and to always bring creative and financial gains back to Hartford, where being a working musician is notoriously difficult.
"Not every band has to educate themselves and their audience on how to attend shows and how to listen, and we felt we had to do that, in a way," Millican says. "But it's always a kind of a compromise. We've grown with our audience. We still seek out all of these little niche markets where they have these listening towns and great venues and bars. We go all over the place to find those. We see that beginning to happen in Hartford, and we think it's been here before. ... We're not the first people to start a music scene in Hartford. We need consistency and support from the city."
He believes the city of Hartford can do more for creative types: more public spaces for live music, more events and festivals, and so on.
"There's a lot of culture and art that could stay in this city. With all of these large companies leaving town, this is the time for the Renaissance, for artists to come out of the woodwork. There are cities with murals on every blank wall and space. We can pull young creatives into the city, and we don't have to focus on keeping the bigger industry here. It's about smaller, longer-term growth."
TWANG THURSDAYS run from 7 to 9 p.m. at Hog River Brewing Co. in Hartford. There is no cover. hogriverbrewing.com/