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Pushing for an "ego-less" product
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Once upon a time, fledgling rock bands scrimped and saved to finance their own demos in the hopes that by sending those tapes (my, how times have changed) out to a blue million record executives, perhaps one would see fit to fly out to wherever they lived, sit in on a rehearsal or two, check them out in front of their hometown fans, and maybe – just maybe – offer them a deal.

But that was then and this is now. With the industry in full-on hair-tearing mode, and more and more determined artists using the tools of the digital revolution to cheaply and easily record, master, replicate and distribute their material, such business models are steadily becoming a thing of the past.

Will Robinson knows this truism all too well. As drummer and backing vocalist for the Middle Georgia jam band Moonshine Still, he’s seen the landscape of his chosen field go through a number of transitions since the group’s current lineup finalized itself a half-decade ago.

And, while his band is far too concerned with high-fidelity to cobble together a home-made album on some inexpensive computer equipment in their practice room (as so many others are apt to do these days), he’s certainly not interested in wasting any precious time courting big labels who may (or more likely, may not) be able to do things for his band that they can’t do on their own.

To that end, he and his five hard-touring bandmates have recently tracked an extremely professional-sounding album in one of Atlanta’s most esteemed recording studios with a Grammy Award-winning producer. That’s a major leap for any independent group – especially one with no plans to hook up with a major.

“We’re not looking for a label,” explains Robinson. “We’d rather just do it all ourselves, you know?”

Lucky for them that someone else not only understood their resolve to keep things as close to their vest as possible – but had the means to help.

“Robert Hannon actually produced and mixed the whole album,” Robinson explains. “But Paul Diaz made the whole thing happen.”

The Grammy-winning Hannon is riding a wave of notoriety and respect for his work on the international smash Speaker Boxxx/Love Below by Outkast’s André 3000 and Big Boi. Diaz is the owner of Tree Sound, one of Atlanta’s nicest and most in-demand recording complexes.

“Paul approached us and helped out on the recording costs since he owns the place, and we pay him out of our sales on the back end,” says the drummer. “We might partner with someone for distribution, but once you have enough of your own sales, that usually comes along by itself.”

That means the group has to bust their collective ass to move as many of these babies as possible, as quickly as possible. But – given the fact that Moonshine Still play an average of 175 shows a year in venues ranging from fried chicken and pizza joints to outdoor festivals -- that’ll be a challenge, but not a serious problem.

Their ever-growing grassroots following is drawn to the band not only for their infectious grooves (which draw comparisons not only to Phish and Widespread Panic, but to fellow buzz bands like The Gamble Brothers and Savannah’s own Perpetual Groove – with whom they often share bills), but to the refreshingly unpretentious vibe that shines through in their songs.

Chalk that up to what Robinson says is a solid working relationship built on mutual trust, immense respect, a shared goal, the close bonds that come from touring (and sleeping) in a modified 1988 schoolbus. And the occasional brawl.

“Yeah... we’ve had a few fistfights,” he admits with a chuckle.

“But, usually when someone’s fighting, someone else is finding it extremely funny. (laughs) We’ve just learned to put the music first and let everything else follow. We keep ourselves in check that way. We’re pushing for an ego-less product. At least that’s my goal.”

Until that day comes, the band keeps criss-crossing the country, billing themselves as playing “Macon Georgia Music.”

And what does that mean, exactly?

“Well, to me, Georgia music is all about soul,” Robinson opines. “All this talent comes outta here. James Brown, Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge, to Little Richard and Otis Redding... I don’t know why that is. It’s a mystery to me. There’s a weight here, obviously. That’s the best way I can describe it.”

Moonshine Still (with special guest Cecil “P-Nut” Daniels) plays Locos Deli & Pub on Saturday night.