Anna Moss and Joel Ludford started playing music together in Arkansas in 2009, a jazz-centric trio playing small bars. It was called Handmade Moments, a side project to Conway, Ark.-based rock band Don’t Stop Please.
Nearly a decade after they first met, Handmade Moments is a near-household name. Moss and Ludford are completely at ease on the road traveling north from Conway, Ark., in a conversion van. This is where they spend most of their time. A day later (May 11), Handmade Moments plays the Outland Ballroom in Springfield, Mo. Their next stop is the famed Joshua Tree Music Festival in California.
They pass time in the van with music, Democracy Now, and sometimes podcasts. She laughs, “Joel smokes doobies and also takes care of business, too. We stop and go swimming if we can find a nice swimming hold or a river, try to stop every couple hours and be good to ourselves.”
The humble, side-project beginnings of Handmade Moments slowly churned into something greater. The trio trimmed to two and things fell into place for the pair to start touring. “Over time the rock band stopped touring and we were playing more original music as a duo,” Moss says.
The pair creates gigantic sound, twisting funk, folk, and blurs of hip hop rhythms with a feel that is pure Ozarkian. Moss says that sound happened organically. “I don’t think it was ever on purpose, we just found ourselves in a place where our original songs needed percussion so we started beatboxing,” she says. As they continued to tour, the crowds and venues kept growing. “We wanted to make people dance and fill the room with sound, lay those rhythmic grooves and add horns on top, it was fun.”
The instruments kept collecting. Moss says here first instrument was the alto sax, her primary instrument is her voice, a powerful vessel for a riveting storyteller. Ludford, who primarily plays guitar and upright bass on stage, started on the tuba.
When asked how many shows they will play during the 2018 calendar, Moss pauses then laughs. She nor Joel had counted, because the Handmade Moments tour doesn’t ever really stop. They’re on the road in the United States non-stop until August, and have been since New Year’s Day. “Then we go to Europe for three months.”
Most of the tour will be in support of its new album, a record that Moss says is long overdue, and scheduled for release on May 21. Moss and Ludford are using the release date to take ownership of, and bring reason to celebrate the same date that brought great setback in 2016.
“May 21, 2016, we were in a really bad car accident,” Moss says. “We had this sweet bus painted by a friend, Mariano Padilla. We lived in it and toured around. It had solar panels and a stage on top. It ran off veggie oil.” The vehicle she describes sounds like one out of a Dreamworks animation, but crowds as near to Springfield as Hillberry Music Festival have been witness. Hillberry is actually the first time they played on the rooftop stage. “We toured across the U.S. and in California were hit head on by road-rage drivers. They hit each other then came into our lane.”
It landed Ludford in the hospital for a month. He was wheelchair-bound for three months more. “It was around the time we started making an album, then were suddenly starting from the bottom. Our instruments were smashed, and we couldn’t [record].”
They rented a house in Nevada City, Calif. for seven months to recover where a lot of the material for the upcoming album was born. “It’s a great community, there are amazing people out there. People brought us instruments to play, and we came back to Arkansas last fall and recorded the album in Fayetteville. We decided to release it on two-year anniversary of the crash; turn that date into a positive.”
Moss says the near-tragedy presented them with further gratitude: “being injured and stuck in one place; Joel’s lucky, walking and able to live a normal life. It opened my eyes to what it would be like living that way forever. We’re stoked to be doing this. We have an amazing opportunity, and are grateful to the people who listen to our music. It’s really cool that people have pushed us along the way.”
Ludford is in full agreement. “Good lord,” he says, “we’re about to go all over the country and play music for everybody.”
Handmade Moments plays Outland Ballroom in Springfield, Mo., Friday May 11, with support from Izabel Crane and Symphony Ree.