The Moon and the Tiger: Long-Distance Music-Making.
Like playing a video game, Dwight Dunston says he enters new worlds when creating music with Brian Miller.
Dunston, also known as Sterling Duns on the microphone, along with Miller make up The Moon and the Tiger: a cohesive fusion of indie rock, soundscapes and hip-hop.
The 28-year-old Dunston says he has always had a “hip-hop sense.”
“I was always making up songs, writing lyrics,” he says. “My dad would always walk around the house and make up songs and I think he was pivotal [to] me as a lyricist.”
These sensibilities attracted Miller to Dunston the first time listening to him perform, which he says was like seeing an attractive person at a party.
“I was like, ‘His voice is so good, his lyrics are so good and just the spiritual presence of his voice.’” Miller says of Dunston. “I was immediately very moved and awakened.”
About two years ago, Miller saw Dunston rap in Hardwork Movement, another musical project he’s involved with, at a house show in West Philly. After witnessing the performance, he went home and emailed Dunston, who didn’t reply until an additional email was sent.
Shortly after their correspondence, they began collaborating on music together and discovered the worlds they could create via music, whether it was Miller’s soundscapes or Dunston’s poetry.
“I would just live in them,” says Dunston, who is originally from West Philly. “Listening back to our first EP, I couldn’t tell you where the words came from. When I had to learn the words for the live show, I was in such a trance and daze because of these worlds he creates with sound.”
Dunston, who has both an undergraduate and master’s degree in poetry, says this art form had a strong effect on his lyric writing.
“I feel like studying poetry taught me how to be critical of my own work,” says Dunston. “I got a message, I got 16 bars to do it and do I really need that word?”
Miller adds that learning more about hip-hop is like learning a new language, which he also experienced while playing guitar in a country band.
“I had to learn a new way of music and also a way of how I can have a conversation with what I’m not an expert on, and that’s similar to what we do, I think,” he says.
The 41-year-old also describes his music as having soundscape and movie soundtrack aspects.
“I feel like movie music has the ability to make a mood and I feel like that’s what I try to do,” says Miller, who also noted Peter Gabriel’s “funky beats and introspective quality” as an influence.
Dunston and Miller lead busy lives. Dunston works in education, makes music in both Future Mama and Hardwork Movement. He also does social justice work through City Love, an acoustic duo that assists with workshops in schools and communities in Philadelphia.
Miller is married, works as a psychotherapist and homeschools his children. The two consider their music collaboration like a long-distance relationship, Dunston says.
“We know we love each other and we trust one another to know that we will give everything we got for when a track comes out,” Dunston says.
In March 2016, The Moon and the Tiger released their first self-titled EP. The four-track record was a two-year-long project.
Miller notes Hans Zimmer, a composer for Christopher Nolan films like “Batman” and “Interstellar” as an influence for the record. During his writing process, Dunston listened to a lot of Kendrick Lamar, who he says “paints great stories.”
In the song “Freedom” from the EP, Dunston paints an image of a hip-hop artist who becomes engulfed in the materialistic world and loses himself.
“It is all my fears of what would happen to me,” Dunston says. “He loses touch with family and friends but [gains] all this power and notoriety and at the end the last line is, ‘It’s never too late to look in the mirror and start again.’ It is this idea of starting over and there’s always a second chance to be renewed.”
During their first house show at Silverton band member Julie Beth’s house, the duo were able to recreate their complex sound by having musician friends like Hardwork Movement members Jeremy Keys on cello, Dani Gershkoff on flute and Beth on vocals, percussion and flute, along with Miller’s guitar loops.
“Dwight and Brian just have these beautiful messages they get across so joyfully,” Beth says. “It was one of the most meaningful projects I have worked in and I think they are doing something that is meaningful to them personally, but also on a larger level.”
Although their schedules are conflicting, they hope to put out more music and play more shows in the future.
Miller added that their music combines the rigid rules of hip-hop and indie rock, bleeding together indie rock’s sincere, homemade multi-instrumentation with hip-hop’s simple beat-and-chorus composition.
“It is kind of neat to have these two rigid rule structures come together,” Miller says.