moe. : Still Buzzing the Tower (Relix Revisited)
Newly dubbed moe. (the lower case “m” and period have been the bane of copy-editors and the band’s longtime publicist Jim Walsh for most of its career), the band’s performance style and songwriting melded its varied influences from Fugazi to Elvis Costello to the Grateful Dead, in a manner somewhat akin to that era’s Meat Puppets. Loughlin came on board soon afterward and as he remembers, “Like other bands in college towns, when you start out you’re really just playing to your friends. If there are 30 people there, you know 15 of them. People are buying you drinks and giving you shots and you’re just hanging out. We never rushed that.”
This collective camaraderie endured as the band grew. In 1992, moe. graduated from such venues as the Essex Street Pub (capacity: a generous, fire code busting 60) to the pinnacle of Buffalo bars: Broadway Joe’s. There moe. experienced its next milestone when the pool table had to be moved out of the way to accommodate more fans. The band relocated to Albany, N.Y. in 1994, sharing a house together along with manager Jon Topper, to better facilitate travel to New York City and the rest of the East Coast (“When we all lived in the same house,” Al reminisces in the band’s latest publicity bio, “We spent all our waking hours together. If someone had something they were working on, the whole group knew about it. You had very little privacy. If you had a riff you were working on, it wasn’t long before someone joined in on it, and before long you had a full-scale rehearsal working on your song.”)
moe. soon planted its flag at New York City’s rock club Wetlands Preserve, where the group recorded its 1995 post-Thanksgiving gigs with then-drummer Mike Strazza for its Loaf live release. ( Loaf may be most notable for its CD booklet, which features the image of a plump, wavy-haired Schnier as a young teenager holding a fish, while decked out in a classic ‘70s Charlie Daniels Band T -shirt.)
From there the country beckoned.
“We followed in the footsteps of punk bands, Henry Rollins and the D.I.Y. ethic that went into making a band, getting a van and going on the road,” Garvey offers. “That was what we were doing, obviously with a little bit more of the hippie aesthetic, but that was the business model: ‘OK, we’ve got enough money to buy a shitty van and we’re going to do this.’”
Schnier recalls the band sleeping on floors and making less than a $100 per week. “It was a hard thing to come home and tell mom and dad but at the same time we were passionate about what we were doing,” he says. “Back then, there was doubt, but it wasn’t self doubt. We were more doubting about whether the rest of the world was going to come around.”
That certainly happened with their Sony deal. The group released two albums, garnered some radio airplay and upped its national recognition quotient, particularly among college students. Still, despite high expectations on both sides, moe. never quite registered a radar blip in the public pop consciousness.
As Derhak looks back at the Sony years, he acknowledges, “There’s always people in the industry who are blowing smoke up your ass, even people who are close to you, saying ‘This is it, this is going to be your thing.’ I’m a dreamer, I live in a dream world half the time, so I’m constantly buying into anything great somebody will tell me. But eventually, we recognized that we’re not really that band. It was nice to fantasize about those things, but in the end it really just isn’t us.”
So what kind of band was moe.?
The group as purposeful as ever, returned to the D.I.Y. ethos of Rollins on an increasingly larger scale. Rather than in a van, moe. traveled in a tour bus. Aided by the Internet, the group’s relaunched and revitalized Fatboy Records label put out the double live release L in 1999 and a series of studio albums when the group started work on Dither later that year. The group also launched its own music festival, moe.down—held every Labor Day weekend in Mohawk, N.Y. and now in its 11th year—which as Schnier describes, “has become an annual family gathering for 10,000 of our fans.”
On the eve of the mainstream music industry’s implosion, moe. was a 20th century band succeeding with what would become the 21st century business model.
The first decade of that 21st century saw the band continue to build its base, expand its festivals to include snoe.down in Rutland, Vt. (heading into its 6th year) and Summer Camp in Chillicothe, Ill. (it just celebrated its 10th year in May) while simultaneously issuing new records. Along with these efforts, business concerns crept in by necessity. Derhak admits, “When you have to deal with the rising cost of health insurance, then you realize you’re not just a band that you’re this entity as far as business goes.”
“It became a bit harder,” Garvey echoes, “because it is a business and you have to worry about overhead and how much you’re spending and doing everything really efficiently, when before we were just like pirates.”
These days a more descriptive term may be secret agents as the band members routinely have to reorient themselves to life in the suburbs after a month on the road. As drummer Vinnie Amico reflects, “It’s like a state of constant transition where you love being home with your family and you love being on the road playing music and they co-exist but you can’t do them together. When I’m home, and I’m getting ready to gear up and go on the road, and I’m at my daughter’s softball practice and I’m complaining to the other coach that I’m going to miss the next three games, and he looks at me and says, ‘Dude, you’re living the American dream.’ It reminds me that I get to play drums for thousands of people who love it and it’s the greatest thing ever.”
Schnier remarks, “When I’m home and meet other parents or go to school functions, what I do comes up in passing conversations. I might talk about playing Fuji Rock in Japan. ‘Really you play in a rock band in Japan? But what’s your job, though?’ Then I have to walk them through this process. What I’ve discovered, though, is that nobody knows we exist until you know about us and then as soon as you know about us, it seems like we’re everywhere. Then you start to spot the bumper stickers and then you see us in the newspaper and then you find out your friends have been going to see us or have been listening to us all along.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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