From 2004-2013, Travis Atria was a member of acclaimed Gainesville, FL-based indie rock act Morningbell, which released six critically applauded albums of material, which includes songs featured in film and television. The band also played sets at Bonnaroo and SXSW and commissioned a custom star show at the Kika Silva Pia Planetarium while on tour to support 2013’s excellent album Boa Noite. Travis also had a side project The Slims, which released two albums and kept him pretty busy bon top of his Morningbell duties. In 2014, Morningbell went on indefinite hiatus when his brother Eric and his sister-in-law Stacie Thrushman-Atria started a family.
After spending a decade of recording and touring, Travis Atria turned to another lifelong dream of his — books. In 2016, Atria co-wrote Traveling Soul, the first biography of the legendary soul singer/songwriter and producer Curtis Mayfield — a major influence on Atria’s music — with Mayfield’s son Todd Mayfield. Traveling Soul received praise from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. He then wrote Better Days Will Come Again, a biography of jazz trumpeter Arthur Briggs, who was among the greatest musicians of Paris’ Jazz Age — and who spent four years in a Nazi prison camp during World War II, where he conducted a classical orchestra of prisoners.
Adding to a rather productive period for the now-acclaimed musician and author, Atria had been writing new material, which would eventually become his soon-to-be released solo debut, Moonbrain, and at the tine he had started he was searching for the album’s heart. Of course, that process came about in stages: While working on his Arthur Briggs book, Atria went to Paris in August 2017 to see the site of Briggs’ prison camp. On the night he had visited Briggs’ prison camp, the Parisian news reported on the now-infamous Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA. For Atria, who was studying World War II history in Paris, it was a chilling to see his own countrymen staging what was a pro-Nazi rally.
The following year, the IPCC released their updated climate report, which said that we were maybe 20 years away from permanently damaging the environment as we know it. Atria, who had been involved in climate activism since 2004 began to fear the world the his niece and nephew would inherit, and decide that the album had to be more than the sensual rock ‘n’ soul he had been known for in Morningbell. Taking Curtis Mayfield’s “painless preaching” as a model fo this solo work, Atria focused on creating the material’s grove, initially steering clear of lyrical polemics — but while still trying to write about the truth about the world. “I felt too few artists were trying to deal with what we’re going through,” Atria says. “I owed it to these kids to try.”
Unsurprisingly, Moonbrain’s material is a reflection of our time — and it pulls no punches about it, even if they sometimes seem like love taps. The album’s first single “Jazz Cigarette” is a shimmering Quiet Storm-like slow jam featuring shimmering guitars, twinkling keys, smooth horns, and a sinuous bass line paired with Atria’s plaintive crooning. But underneath the sultry, late night grooves, the song is focused on the dire state of the globe’s climate, suggesting that things are really even more fucked up than you think.
The accompanying video was shot primarily on the streets of New York — with most of the footage set in and around the 59th Street Bridge, Roosevelt Island and Long Island City. Throughout, the video reminds us all of the city’s constant activity and constant motion; but with the uneasy reminder that those beloved sites may at some point be in endangered, and real soon.
Moonbrain is slated for an April 2, 2021 release through Gold Robot Records.