Earlier this year, Niko Moon’s chart-topping debut single “Good Time” managed a feat no other song has done since Sam Hunt’s “Keep The Night On” in 2014: it simultaneously topped both Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and Hot Country Songs chart.
When the infectious earworm was sent to country radio, Moon celebrated by getting the words "Good Time" tattooed on his leg.
“I like to get tattoos almost as kind of bookmarks for the big moments in my life,” he tells CMT, “and that was a huge moment for me. My first song ever to go to radio, and this has always been a dream of mine.”
Whereas “Good Time” owns the ideal kind of chill, guitars-and-campfire vibe, Moon amps things up with its successor, “No Sad Songs.” The track combines hand claps, a smooth guitar line dipped in blues and rock, and rolling syncopated production, all led by Moon’s voice, which can easily flip from understated and relaxed, to revealing a nicely gritty edge when he wants to. But “No Sad Songs” still feels like a natural followup, where the lyrics double down on keeping a positive outlook on life.
“I'm on a mission of happiness, I guess you could say,” he tells CMT. “I mean, I feel like we're just such a celebratory moment right now. Live music is back, living normal is coming back, so I'm just so happy about that. I know everyone else is. We went through a lot of stress over the past year and I think it's just time to have fun, celebrate life, and enjoy the good times. Right now, it's time to have fun. We don't want no sad songs.”
That vibe was inspired by a time when Moon took a simple drive on a beautiful day, while the lyrics namecheck other feel-good hits, including “Wagon Wheel,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Chicken Fried.”
“The windows were down, the sun was out, and I was just like, ‘Oh, this feels great.’ And then three sad songs came on in a row, and it was just not the mood I was in at the moment. I thought, ‘Man, I don't want to hear those sad songs right now.' That's why I want this to be the second single because right now I'm feeling that same way I was in that car that day."
Oh, and that reference to Lucchese boots in the song’s first verse? That’s a nod to another celebration. When “Good Time” went No. 1, Moon celebrated by having Lucchese boots made.
Moon says he and wife Anna Moon conjured the idea for the song’s video, which expands on Moon’s positive ethos.
“We thought it would be funny to have it take place in this little karaoke bar,” he says of the video, which was filmed at Nashville’s Dive Motel. “it’s like, where dreams go to die, so it’s the saddest bar on earth. I try to get everyone to have a good time and by the end of it, everybody’s on board.”
One of the video’s key players is a gray-haired gentleman who is passed out at the bar, but ends up the star of the show.
“The whole video he's passed out, then he gets up, eyes still closed, and he's just shredded this air-guitar solo. Initially, he was going to pick up a guitar and play a real solo. Then I thought, ‘Nah, let's just have him do it with no guitar, just an air-guitar solo. It just makes it more funny.’ And then I love how at the end of the video, he wakes up, and the bar is empty and you don't know---did that even happen? Or was that all a dream that he had?"
Of course, not every funny moment can make it into a three-minute video.
“We had the older woman bartender and then the young busboy,” Moon describes one scrapped scene. “We have a moment where she grabs him and starts dancing with him, and then pulls him down behind the bar. He pops back up from behind the bar, he's got all these red lipstick kiss marks all over his face. It was so funny, but you can't keep everything, and that didn’t make the final cut.”
“Good Time” and “No Sad Songs” mark Moon’s first entries as an artist himself, having already had quite a career so far as a songwriter. The nod to Zac Brown Band’s debut hit “Chicken Fried” is a natural one, as Moon happens to be a co-writer on five hits for Zac Brown Band, including “Loving You Easy,” “Homegrown,” “Beautiful Drug,” “Keep Me in Mind,” and “Heavy is the Head.” He also penned Rascal Flatts’ 2018 single “Back to Life.”
Moon was born in Tyler, Texas, though his family relocated to Douglasville, Georgia when he was 10. Growing up an hour outside of Atlanta, Moon was as much influenced by country music as artists such as Outkast. Now, watching Moon onstage during a show, his energy and positivity are undeniable. He recalls when he first felt the pull to be onstage, when he was still a kid in Georgia.
“I saw Will Hoge play in Atlanta at the Roxy,” Moon says, “and it was such an epic moment. At the end of the show, he just took the mic and the band left the stage. He was like, ‘All right, everybody get quiet. I’m going to sing a song a cappella.’ I mean, it was a big room, probably a thousand people there and you could have heard a pin drop as he sang. About halfway through the song, he jumped down into the crowd, started walking through the crowd, still singing, and walked all the way to the back of the venue. How everyone’s facing the back of the room. He ends the song super epic and just walks out the exit door at the back. I was just looking at him and I was like, 'I want to do that.' Not because I thought it was like such a rockstar thing that he did--it was that I felt so much in that performance. I was connected to music in that moment, and so happy. I wanted to do everything I could to give other people that feeling.”
Moon’s parents both wrote songs and played music. His father played drums, and that is where Moon discovered his own talent. “Watching him play drums, I just thought it was like magic happening, because he was making his arms and legs do all that at the same time. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your belly times 10. So that was the first instrument I learned.”
Around age 15, Moon took up guitar and began writing songs.
“I was terrible at it,” he recalls his early attempts. "I wasn’t someone how had some natural gift for music--I had a natural love for music, but maybe not a natural gift. It took me years of just doing it all day, every day, working to get better. Because I promise you, the first 500 songs I wrote, you would never want to hear any of them.”
He credits his parents with instilling in him the grit and determination to keep going.
“We’re working class, and my parents were always working multiple jobs. They just worked their asses off to make sure that we had what we needed growing up. I think that grit they had rubbed off on me. I’ve always been a big believer that relentless focus is the best way to go about a thing. Figure out what moves you and then do that thing and just do it all they time and figure out how to do it for a living.”
Passionate, relentlessly driven people recognize others who possess that same intense focus. That was one thing Moon immediately noticed when he met fellow Georgia native by the name of Zac Brown in a bar in Carrollton, Georgia.
“This was before ‘Chicken Fried’ came out. He was playing an acoustic solo show and I opened for him. After the show, eventually started writing together. We definitely had this recognition of each other, that we were both really passionate about it. I could sense in him that he was the type of person that never was going to stop trying to get better at it. And I love those type of people who never get complacent.”
Moon went on to become one of Brown’s steady collaborators on Zac Brown Band albums including Jekyll+Hyde, Welcome Home, and The Owl. He also teamed with Brown and Ben Simonetti to form the pop-disco group Sir Rosevelt in 2016.
“When you get into a group and make music collectively, I’m not just bringing my influences but there’s all these other people who bring their own influences and I get to explore that. We get to experiment, and if it comes out weird, that’s okay, it doesn’t matter. It’s more about the exercise of being free and letting your mind go wherever.”
He takes that experimental philosophy both into his debut EP Good Time, which released last year, as well as to his upcoming full-length album.
“I took time to think, ‘What are my influences? What is my personal recipe?’ So this is my little vibe, the kind of music I hear in my head that feel most authentic and genuine.”
Given that several artist-writers have issued double and triple projects to include the many songs they’ve had time to pen while being off the road the past year, one has to wonder if Moon will release a similar project.
“We’ll have to see. I don’t want to give anything away of what I’m doing, but it’s a bunch of songs. It will continue the vibe of ‘Good Time’ and ‘No Sad Songs.’ It’s the kind of record you can put on and just let roll.”