"2020 has been such a transformative year," says The Moat Rats' lead vocalist Karli Blotzer, "and I feel like through this album we as a band had really transformed and found ourselves. Where we feel good with what we're making and what we're putting out."
Year of the Rat, released July 3, was written over the last three years and is the first project the group has released with their new lineup: Karli Blotzer (lead vocals), Liam Kress (vocals/keyboard), Brad Lang (guitar), James Held (drums), Justin Benzino (saxophone), Daniel Rouse (bass guitar), and Dylan Davey (guitar).
Each member of The Moat Rats has a musical voice in Year of the Rat, making for a plethora of musical influences that can be heard in the album. The opening track, "Save a Little" praises marijuana, and is a jazzy and R&B-leaning tune. Funk elements shine through in "Kyle," "Coming Home," and "Fool's Gold," while "Aimlessly" has a more laid-back, shuffle beat. But all the songs have that big band sound The Moat Rats had been dreaming of.
"We still try to keep that element of a live band feel in our recordings," says Blotzer. "We recorded basically all the tracks in a room together live ... We didn’t want to get too far away from that and feel overproduced because that’s not who we are."
The album follows the band's 2018 debut EP, Sunday Gravy.
"The EP that we released was just a taste of who we are and what we can offer," says Blotzer. "This album is much more refined. We also put a lot more pressure on ourselves, and a lot more time into making these songs sound exactly how we wanted to sound."
The Moat Rats became a band in 2015 and before Sunday Gravy was released, they considered themselves a collective. They primarily performed live cover shows and had a rotating cast of over 10 musicians. In 2017, the band settled into a 5-piece ensemble of Blotzer, Kress, Lang, and Held and his twin sister, Haley, who played bass guitar.
"We released Sunday Gravy on New Year's Eve of 2018 as that group of the five of us," says Blotzer, "but always had dreams of that big band feel."
Shortly after, Haley left the band, and The Moat Rats added Benzino and Davey, who are also in Pittsburgh funk band Kiwano Sour, among others. Rouse is the most recent addition, who came along last November.
"He really got thrown onto these songs last minute, but we really wanted to put emphasis on the fact that we wanted him to write his own parts and to have this own musical voice on the songs," says Blotzer.
Luckily, The Moat Rats were able to get their recording done together as a group right before the stay-at-home order. About a week before everything shut down, they spent three 10 hours days at Mr. Smalls Studio in the North Side, after months of slowly writing and practicing to perfect their sound.
"That’s a big thing with our band, we don’t want to put ourselves into a structured box. We are very organic with it and if something doesn’t feel right, we know to set it aside and not force it," says Blotzer. "We're not going to write something or put something together that we don’t feel 100% about."