moe. : Still Buzzing the Tower (Relix Revisited)
“I recognize so many people out there and I love that about our fan base,” Schnier affirms. “No matter we where we play, I can look out and until the lights fade, I recognize so many of those faces and many of them I know and have had conversations with. That’s something I love about our fan base—that they are accessible, too. That may seem odd coming from somebody in the band, but I like that our fans are accessible and decent people that I can talk to.”
He is quite sincere with this sentiment, a throughline that extends back to the band’s early days in Upstate New York. The group first came together in a University of Buffalo cafeteria, where Garvey, who was in school studying illustration, was introduced to Derhak and the two bonded over a discussion of classic cartoons. Not yet a musician, Derhak began woodshedding with his roommate’s 12-string guitar and then after discovering Garvey’s proficiency with guitar, moved over to bass. They brought on drummer Ray Schwartz for an initial gig at a Halloween party the next fall in 1989, dressed in black leotards with slicked back hair as Sprockets (after the Saturday Night Live sketch), covering Jimi Hendrix, Squeeze and Joe Jackson. Guitarist, Dave Kessler and saxophonist Steve Hunter joined afterward and the group became known as Five Guys Named Moe.
The sax player soon dropped out, as did Kessler, replaced by Schnier who moved to Buffalo from Oneonta, N.Y. and was first recruited when Kessler had to miss a gig (the band briefly became a three guitar army). One early fan was latter-day drummer Amico, who was then gigging in a variety of bands and remembers, “When they lived in Buffalo I’d be go see them at shows because they were getting a pretty good buzz about them. I even played with them a few times when Jim was in the band. I’d ask, ‘Hey, do you mind if I bring my congas down?’ I can also remember being in Myrtle Beach on vacation and I put on Headseed and it sounded great and I said to my brother-in-law, ‘I would love to be in this band.’” This wish would be realized a few years later (on the same week that Amico learned that his wife was pregnant with their first child) but in the interim, the band was still finding its way as Garvey recalls, “Especially when we first started playing, I don’t think any one of us could play with another band and it would be a seamless fit. We grew up and matured together with Rob playing bass and Al and I playing guitars. So our roles and styles were defined by that.”
After two decades, Derhak explains that the band as a whole is also conscious of the need to nurture the relationships within moe. as well. “It’s like being married,” he says. “You let the stuff go that you can you can deal with and you pick your battles and speak up when you know it’s something that will irk you forever. But being friends with these guys for so long, we know we can handle any criticism from each other because we’ve learned how to make it constructive.”
To this end, when pressed, both Schnier and Derhak specify Garvey’s ill-founded musical insecurity as one of his foibles. The guitarist uses that very same word as he grants, “My worst tendency is my insecurity, in thinking that the only saving grace is brute force or going large over the top. I don’t like stepping on toes and taking away from other possibilities that are better ideas and I definitely can do that if given the opportunity.”
As for Schnier, Derhak comments, “There have been times when Al does stuff that reminds me of the Tenacious D skit where they’re coming up with a song and then they write the ice cream song because they’re influenced by their outside surroundings. Al can be that way, but at the same time, that can be one of his strong suits because it doesn’t necessarily bother him, as long as he’s happy with the song.”
Schnier similarly references The D in this vein: “In the past, as Jack Black says, ‘I could Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah you a song’ and I often did. I was very stream of consciousness when it came to my lyrics but now I’ll work on them a bit more and think about the things that I’m saying. I would rather a write song than not—so if it means going back and checking my work, I’m OK with that.”
Meanwhile, Schnier gently chides Derhak for “his skepticism, which I think it comes into play musically, too.” The bassist confirms, “We’ve been our own worst critics, so a lot of what we do never makes the light of day. If we come up with one idea, there may be 50 ideas that don’t come to fruition. A long time ago, we wanted to do a rock opera, so we created the ‘Timmy Tucker’ rock opera but we couldn’t make it work on the level we wanted it to work. We’ve had all these thematic ideas since then and it’s always, ‘Remember ‘Timmy,’ this is very dangerous ground we’re treading here.’ But sometimes being a harsh critic of yourself might get in the way of your artistic intentions.”
Cost considerations and the value of family time are two additional factors that impacted the group’s most recent collection of new material, 2008’s Sticks and Stones. The band holed up in a former cathedral in western Massachusetts for a predetermined duration of one month to write and record an album. Along the way, Schnier lost a notebook full of lyric ideas, which he claims was “a bit annoying but other than that it was fine. I would have been more annoyed if I lost a guitar or an amp.”
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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