It’s not easy uprooting something you’ve grown for years and moving it from comfortable soil to unfamiliar territory. But in the summer of 2016, that’s exactly what Moonlight Social did. Jennica Scott and Jeremy Burchard loaded up the van, a trailer, a few other cars, the dog and the cat, and, with a bittersweet goodbye, put Austin, Texas in the rear view.
About 14 hours and 850 miles later, they planted themselves in Nashville, Tennessee — roots fully intact.
And then they got to work.
Moonlight Social formed all the way back in 2010, when Scott and Burchard met as members of the University of Texas Longhorn Marching Band — Scott as a trumpet player, and Jeremy as a member of the drumline.
Over the next six years, they toured consistently, playing hundreds of shows throughout more than a dozen states. They played huge festival stages in Wisconsin with the likes of Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line, and they played intimate songwriter nights in Texas with critical darlings like Hayes Carll and Jack Ingram. They performed debut single “Heading South” with the Longhorn Band during an epic basketball game halftime and they completed marathon weeks of seven shows in four days during SXSW.
They also released two singles to Texas radio, building their core fan base the old fashioned way. And their brand of genre bending country garnered plenty of accomplishments and praise in the process, from being named one the Best New Bands at the Austin Music Awards to winning Grammy-sponsored showcases.
As a vocalist, Jennica Scott earned comparisons to some of country’s biggest female stars, like Shania Twain, Martina McBride and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. Jeremy Burchard won admiration for his emotive baritone vocal and eclectic guitar playing.
And even in the band’s early years, the industry took note of the duo’s unmistakably original take on country music. “I’ve heard thousands of bands, and I’ve never heard a musical blend quite like this,” producer CJ Eiriksson (U2, Matchbox Twenty) said after hearing debut album Heading South. “It sounds great.”
“Moonlight Social has managed to create a sound that is as exciting as it is original,” said Monte Warden, award-winning songwriter behind cuts for artists like George Strait and Carrie Underwood. “I also admire and am drawn to their commitment to excellence and stretching for that next rung on the artistic ladder; a quality rarely found in this era of ‘famous-first, game-show celebrity, ball-cap is the new hat act’ pabulum currently inundating us country fans. ”
In 2015, Moonlight Social began travelling to Nashville, taking meetings and co-writing with everyone from bona fide pros to young upstarts. That year, they released “Rub A Little Dirt On It,” which went on to win the SongDoor International Songwriting Contest for Best Country Song (and place in countless other competitions).
Upon hearing the single, Music City’s most well-regarded critic and historian Robert K. Oermann said, “This new single makes me positive that they are destined for stardom. Somebody sign these folks up for the big time.”
So why did Moonlight Social choose to move to Nashville, leaving behind much of what they built over the past half decade?
“We owed it to ourselves and to the amazing people who helped us over the years to give it everything we’ve got,” Burchard says. “There’s an attitude shift in Nashville that is embracing really cool, unique sounds in country music. You see it in artists like Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne and Miranda Lambert. We’ve got an opportunity to be a part of something bigger.”
That opportunity manifests itself in the duo’s first multi-song release since 2012, the Make You Smile EP. Recorded at Prime Recording in Nashville, the 5-song body of work captures the pair’s unique dynamic and puts their originality on full display.
Quite simply, nobody else sounds like Moonlight Social. And nobody else is making their kind of country music.
In addition to Jennica and Jeremy’s rich vocal dynamic and Jeremy’s multi-instrumentalism, the EP features a cast of some of Nashville’s finest players, like bassist Paul Rippee and drummer Donny Marple (of Lee Brice’s band The Love Cannons), guitarist Tim Galloway (Gary Allan, Jake Owen, Josh Turner) and legendary pedal steel player Russ Pahl (Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert).
Following in the vein of their critically praised debut Heading South, Burchard co-produced the EP, this time with engineer Derek Garten. The collaboration allowed the band to capture and layer interesting textures, creating a project that feels both radio ready and decidedly left of center. There’s a bit of an unpolished edge to their well-produced sound, similar to Miranda Lambert and Eric Church. Yet there’s a catchy pop groove and melody at the center of every tune.
Burchard and Scott wrote more than 50 songs for the project, ultimately settling on five that showcased different aspects of their creative range while still capturing the nuances of their personalities. The titular “Make You Smile” (co-written with Jo-Leah Tilbury, who also co-wrote their award-winning “Rub A Little Dirt On It”) flips the typical “hook-up” culture concept on its head, using the pair’s mutual heartbreak as the underlying basis for a “misery loves company” theme rooted in musical therapy. Upon its release, The Huffington Post called the song “one of the best country pop songs of the year” and “simply irresistible.”
Follow-up single “Bad Side” comes from a co-write with Nashville pop darling Jenn Bostic. Lovingly dubbed “steampunk country” by Burchard, the song hints to the narrative tradition of country music with a thick-as-thieves story lyric. But the duo upends expectations by laying it on an up-tempo, driving musical foundation complete with stomps and claps, banjo, ripping solos, and just a hint of synthetic machinations.
“My Everything,” co-written with Byron Hill (who wrote classics like George Strait’s “Fool Hearted Memory,” Alabama’s “Born Country,” and Gary Allan’s “Nothing On But The Radio”), sees the duo tapping into their softer side, delivering a traditionally-tinged song that flirts between romantic and lovelorn, depending on your point of view.
The EP also includes “I Wanna Fall In Love,” a fan favorite and road-tested song written by the duo back in Austin. It underwent several growth spurts before developing into the fully realized song on the EP — a relatable frustration to just about anybody who has felt down and out when it comes to their love life.
The collection closes out with “So Close,” a song co-written with Canadian country star Patricia Conroy (whose song “God And My Girlfriends” Reba McEntire recently recorded). With a triumphant swell of acoustic instruments and thunderous drums, Moonlight Social uses “So Close” as an anthemic ode to optimism and embracing of failure as progress. It’s a fitting summation of Moonlight Social’s aesthetic.
As a band that traversed the country world and underwent all the growing pains associated with it, Scott and Burchard are poised to carve out and occupy their own space in country music. Despite the ever-changing popularity tides of the day, Moonlight Social has stuck to their guns and made the music they wanted to make.
And audiences large and small feel that passion and commitment. Even in story songs about morally corrupt couples on crime sprees, this band is genuine. They can laugh at themselves with a wink and a smile, deliver impassioned anthems with energy, or tug on your heartstrings with subtlety. And they mean it every time.