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Moon Maan’s landing

Local Music: Moon Maan’s landing
Former Afghan Whigs guitarist Rick McCollum has two new CDs out this month, and he’s proud of both.

By Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune

It was mostly coincidence, but good timing nonetheless: The same day Rick McCollum finally issued the debut album by his rhythmic soul-punk band Moon Maan, Rhino Records put out the first-ever anthology by his old group, the Afghan Whigs.

“We would’ve loved to have gotten this out two years earlier,” McCollum said of Moon Maan’s eponymous CD, which came out June 5. “But financially, that wasn’t an option.”

Hardly a rock star anymore, McCollum, 42, met up for a happy-hour interview last week at Grumpy’s in downtown Minneapolis after finishing a shift on one of his two jobs, driving a cab. He has been working steadily since his first band broke up in 2001. The Whigs were one of the most critically revered American rock acts of the ’90s, but that’s not a quality its former guitarist can take to the bank nowadays.

Moon Maan’s slow birth wasn’t just ruled by money, though. It took McCollum a couple years to start the band, which comprises a small posse of Minneapolis vets: drummer Erik Mathison (Balloon Guy, Polara), guitarist Bryan Knisley (Push On Junior) and bassist Mark Pakulski (Signal and Report).

“I sort of had to regroup and start the band on my own terms,” McCollum said of the quartet, which is playing a CD-release party tonight at the Triple Rock. “It was a good thing to step away from being in a band, because I did eventually start to miss it.”

McCollum moved to Minneapolis from the Whigs’ native Cincinnati in 1994. He followed a woman here, Guthrie actress Tracey Maloney. Their relationship ended a year or two after the Whigs did, but he stayed put.

His first batch of post-Whigs gigs were a weekly residency at the Terminal Bar, where he improvised every night with a loop machine, guitar and his trusty theremin, the oddball radio-wave synthesizer that he also plays in Moon Maan.

Even after Moon Maan made its landing, playing its first gig at the South by Southwest Music Conference in 2004, McCollum didn’t want to rush to put out an album. The band recorded the CD over two sessions spread almost a year apart.

“You have to remember, this is only my second band ever,” he said. “I’d like for this one to be taken as seriously as the first. I wanted to be sure we had 12 really good tracks instead of just five, plus some filler.”

Mission accomplished, for the most part. Moon Maan’s 11-song debut kicks off with the hard-boogieing, obsessive rocker “Be Good to Me” and slows it down with two darkly soulful numbers, “Chain Yr Soul” and “Hard to Believe.” That’s a lot of power in just the first three tracks. The best cuts come deep into the album, however: “Feed the Methman,” a dizzying Zeppelin-y jam, and “Yesterday’s Fool,” a stormy opus that demonstrates Moon Maan’s great integration of Ohio soul and Detroit punk.

Moon Maan often sounds like McCollum’s old band, a point he doesn’t deny. For one thing, some of these songs started as riffs he wrote while in the Whigs. Also, he remains one of the Whigs’ biggest fans.

“I look at [Moon Maan] as more of a steppingstone in my life to something different, but it’s a compliment to even be compared to the Whigs,” he said. “That was a band that had the rare kind of chemistry.”

The chemistry turned bad in the end, but McCollum has long since reconciled with his ex-bandmates. He has joined singer Greg Dulli onstage when Dulli came to town with his new band, the Twilight Singers. And all four of the former Whigs reunited at Ardent Studios in Memphis to record two new songs for the anthology, “Unbreakable: A Retrospective (1990-2006),” which includes their work on Sub Pop, Elektra and Columbia Records.

Don’t look for the Whigs to join the fray of reuniting ’90s bands, though.

“It was more a closure thing than anything else,” McCollum said of the Memphis session. “We really enjoyed it. But there was also an inkling of the way things were when we broke up, just because of our personalities. As a band, we had a great bonding, but great clashes, too.”

And anyway, he added, “I kind of like my new band.”

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