Now Playing: Moon Taxi, headlining Blankfest on May 10

Moon Taxi: “Hypnus”, performed at the Preservation Pub Moonshine Roof Garden

It’s safe to say that Knoxville holds a special place in the hearts of Nashville-based rock outfit Moon Taxi. They’ve played a number of memorable shows here, recorded a video on the roof of downtown’s Preservation Pub, and nabbed K-town native Wes Bailey as their keyboardist.

Hell, the band even name-checked Market Square in the lyrics of “Southern Trance,” off their 2012 release Cabaret. “We wanted to create an ode to all the beautiful Southern places and things we’ve experienced growing up in the South and exploring it on the road,” says Bailey. “How could we skip over Knoxville’s Market Square? Moon Taxi has a long history of playing there. We started out building our Knoxville fan base at the World Grotto in 2008.”

It’s been a slow but steady ride for this Music City indie/jam-rock quintet, a band that came together in Nashville’s Belmont College music scene in the early ‘00s. And while their rise to prominence might seem sudden to the rest of the world—the band had its national television debut on Letterman Nov. 13, with a Conan gig soon thereafter—the truth is that MT had been laying the groundwork for success even before their first record, Melodica, was self-released in 2006.

“The success we’ve achieved over the last couple of years is a combination of building our fan base on the road while also honing in on a sound,” Bailey says. “It wasn’t until we released Cabaret that people started taking notice of the songs. Prior to that, it was more about the live experience.”

What’s been most admirable about Moon Taxi’s coming of age is that they’ve maintained a staunchly DIY approach, releasing all four of their albums (three studio, plus 2008’s Live Ride) on their own 12th South Records, the name being an homage to the band’s Nashville address.

“The odds are strongly against a band like us, because we’ve done almost everything on our own without the help of a big label,” Bailey says. “It’s really rewarding when we look back on all the things we’ve done completely on our own, from booking our own shows to producing our own records.”

Snagging the Letterman gig “felt like a huge milestone,” Bailey says, though he confesses it was a nerve-racking experience. The Conan O’Brien show, on the other hand, was “a total blast.”

“Right before we came on, Conan came over to Trevor [Terndrup, Moon Taxi frontman] and said he heard us sound-checking and he loved what he heard,” Bailey says. “Getting his stamp of approval before our performance was a giant confidence boost, and I think we played as well as we did because of that gesture.”

It’s worth noting that Moon Taxi will be performing a special set of Rage Against the Machine covers at the upcoming Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala. May 16-18, spurred by the band’s well-received reading of Rage’s “Killing in the Name” at Bonnaroo 2012. “We had an incredible response, so we’ve kept a song or two in rotation to bust out for our more rowdy shows,” Bailey says.

And what to expect for the band’s May 10 Market Square Blankfest show? “We’ll be playing a lot of new material from our latest record, Mountains Beaches Cities, as well as some older tunes,” Bailey says. “And we’ll likely play a Rage Against the Machine song. Unless my grandmother shows up. Then I’ll call it off.”

Moon Taxi will headline Blankfest on the Visit Knoxville Market Square Stage on Saturday, May 10.

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