Willy Moon may look like a pre-Beatles teen idol, but there’s more than retro and revivalism beneath his skinny ties, pompadour hair and “Mad Men” suits.
Before signing to Cherrytree/Island in the U.S. last year, the 23-year-old New Zealand-born, London-based singer’s snappy pop tracks caught the ear of Jack White, who released his debut single “Railroad Track” via his Third Man Records imprint. Shortly before hitting the road with White for a run in the U.K. last fall, his single “Yeah Yeah” soundtracked Apple’s future-is-now iPod Bounce TV spot, giving the young artist one of the most coveted means of exposure in the music industry.
“I knew it was something that would, in a way, change my life,” Moon tells Billboard of the Apple sync, which has helped “Yeah Yeah” enter the Digital Songs tally at No. 70 and sell 155,000 downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. “Somebody from Apple actually came over to London and spent a few days with me, sitting there and kind of just mapping everything out. I made that record at the beginning of last year, at home in my flat… so the thought of that going out to 40 or 50 countries around the world was validating in a different kind of way.”
Moon began making songs with Pro Tools on his personal computer in 2009, when he had just moved to England and didn’t yet know any other musicians. Two years later, he had written “I Wanna Be Your Man,” the oldest track set to appear on his first album, “Here’s Willy Moon,” due for a Apr. 2 release. Also on “Here’s Willy Moon” is “Railroad Track” and “Yeah Yeah,” as well as the work of Pulp’s Steve Mackey as a co-producer.
“What I’m trying to do is get the song across in the most direct way possible,” says Moon of his songwriting style. “I’m taking a lot of inspiration from old rock and roll music. The songs were really short, very simplistic. I grew up listening to a lot of punk music as well.”
He’s not kidding when he talks about song length — “Here’s Willy Moon” features 12 tracks clocking in at less than 29 minutes. But there’s a bounty of cross-genre, era-hopping ideas injected into his tightly-wound pop songs: soul choruses, James Brown-esque cries of “Hit me now!,” pummeling beats reminiscent of modern hip-hop production, and straight-faced new takes on classics like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” and Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’.”
Moon is a throwback performer, and is certainly dressing the part: the suit-and-tie look was all over the singer-songwriter’s press shots and stage show long before Justin Timberlake was hinting at a musical comeback. Yet Moon is not playing a character. “I travel around with a bunch of clothes, so the suits I wear onstage are the same suits I wear when I go out on Friday night or even when I’m hanging around the house,” he says.
Ahead of the album release, Moon is playing shows across the U.S., with a gig at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles slated for Wednesday night. Next up is a U.K. run of select shows that will be broken up by a heavy slate of performances at South by Southwest next month in Austin, Tex.