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photo by Sal Serio
Let’s see, how many Moe’s can we think of? Right off the top of my head, I’m going to say Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, Moe the bartender on The Simpsons, Moe Tucker from the Velvet Underground, and the kick-ass rock band simply named moe. No capital letters and ending with a period – moe. Formed shortly after guitarist Chuck Garvey met bass player Rob Derhak at the University of Buffalo in the late 1980s, the group quickly gained a steady following due to their commitment to long, energetic concerts, diverse songwriting, and an overall sense of frivolity balanced with sincerity. By booking their own festivals and primarily self-releasing their albums, moe. has maintained their integrity without losing any momentum. The group is rounded off by percussionist Jim Loughlin, drummer Vinnie Amico, and guitarist/keyboardist Al Schnier. In anticipation of moe’s October 25th appearance at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, I managed to get in a few words with Chuck Garvey by phone, and right away said how happy I was to hear they were playing Wisconsin again after a several year absence.
CG : “Believe me, there are a bunch of places that, unfortunately, we haven’t gone back to in awhile. It seems like there are so many places (where) we’re trying to make at least a yearly appearance. The amount of places we’re trying to hit all the time keeps stacking up.”
Knowing this will be the first time moe. will play the Pabst Theater, we discussed that venue a bit, and I mentioned that I was there in February for the Peter Frampton concert, but didn’t know that Chuck had a connection to Frampton!
“That’s great! (Frampton) is pretty fantastic! His live show is just… there are no half measures about anything. The sound is just really great, (and) the band is awesome.”
Which led to a discussion about the talk-box effect, since that is something both guitarists have in common.
“Yeah, he actually gave me that one, that I have! I called up his manager, ‘cause I knew that he lived in Cincinnati, (where) I live, he came down to play a couple of songs, and I told him about my talk-box woes. I had been using another one, and I had blown a couple of them up. There’s all these little tricks that you can do to talk-boxes to make them more staple, and less likely to blow up. He has a line of stuff that he makes, called Framptone. He’s got an amp-switcher, the talk-box, and maybe one other thing. And he said yeah, I’ll send you one. I figured he’s the guy to talk to about it, since he’s been doing it since the mid 70s at least.”
Well, absolutely! I had to wonder though, if the effect box already had the “Too much Satan for one hand” sticker on it, that I had observed last Spring at the Summer Camp festival. Chuck laughed…
“No, no! That was a gift from, I don’t know, like, a fan gave it to us. I think our Tech put that on there, which is great, it’s pretty funny, and it’s down stage so kids see it every night. And then, my talk-box kind of became, like, this thing to be bedazzled, and people put, like little girlie sequins on it, and someone put a Spider-man sticker on it, and all this stuff. So, I don’t know, that’s just where people leave stuff for me, they post it on my talk-box.”
Since we were talking gear, I asked about Chuck’s gorgeous wood grain finished guitar. I had never seen one like it before.
“It’s made by Becker Guitars in Attleboro, Massachusetts, and is a Retro-Grad. Dan Becker makes all (his) instruments by hand, and every one is just a little bit different. The pick guard area is a little over 1/8 inch thick of this really flamey maple. Instead of plastic, metal, or other things, he likes to hand make a lot of the parts and (put) little accent touches on it. It’s cool, he’s even said it’s kind of like a little hand made sports car. It’s very light and a lot of fun to play. He made a couple guitars and sent them to me, and we kind of honed in on the wood, based on what I wanted the guitar to do, tonally, (so) he custom chose the wood to my specs.”
Seeing as how moe. has enjoyed such autonomy throughout their career, I asked if that dynamic changed with their 2012 album “What Happened To The La La’s”, since it is on the Sugar Hill Records label.
“To a certain extent, it did not, because we made the recording on our own. We paid for it. It’s more like a partnership with Sugar Hill, which is great! If you’re going to be working with a record label, this is the kind of relationship you should have, and hopefully it’s mutually beneficial. I think they did a really great job for us, and they are not like that “Death Star” record label that sends orders for everything, including touring. We can do 80-90% of what we need to do, ourselves. It’s really the promotional stuff that goes along with releasing new music that we just can’t handle ourselves. So, it’s a great kind of middle ground for us, and I think it was maybe really good for them as well because they weren’t taking a tremendous risk, and we just wanted to see if it worked. We’re different from just about everything else on their roster. It’s been good meeting everyone there, and they definitely have a longer reach and more resources than we do. We’re kind of a cottage industry. It’s not a huge “business” for us, so we need that outside help every once in a while, with people who do (promotion) all the time. We’re going to talk soon about doing our next album, whether or not it makes sense for moe. or Sugar Hill to do this same partnership, (but) I do hope we can do another album with them because sometimes just doing it once, you don’t get the full idea of how far you can take it.”
In talking about their new record, and also with the Frampton/70s rock conversation still fresh in my mind, I made Chuck laugh by mentioning how I grew up listening to KISS and thought that Chuck was the Ace Frehley of moe. since he usually only has one or two songs on their releases, but quite often they’re among the best ones! I was curious if that was simply reflective of Al and Rob being more prolific songwriters.
“Definitely. I’ll have to step it up though. It’s kind of a comfort thing for me. For a lot of what we do I like concentrating more on the guitar playing, and I’ve always got something stupid to say about (our) arrangements. It’s just kind of the way it turns out. It takes me awhile to make something that I’m proud enough of to release to the world… but, I’ll try to do more. I’ll do better next time!”
In late June/early July of this year moe. did a handful of dates with Jim on drums since Vinnie was ill with mono. I caught their set in Naperville, IL, and thought this must’ve been a flashback for the guys since it was a return to their line-up from over 15 years earlier!
“Yeah, it was weird playing those shows. It was a great idea, and I’m glad we did it for a little while, and then I’m also glad we pulled the plug on it and waited for Vinnie to get better. Jim is a great drummer, but he said he would probably not feel great about playing shows unless he had a couple of months to really get back into playing the drum kit, because he hadn’t played kit for maybe like two years. So, every night he would play his ass off, but then he felt like he was in a boxing match. (Jim) was sore all over. He was really trying to force it too much, and three and a half hours of doing that is kind of brutal. He did do a great job (though, and) it was fun. It was definitely, like, ’94-’95 era, to a certain degree, but not quite as fast as we used to play some of the songs.”
A drummer’s endurance is crucial to any band, but I asked Chuck what he thought was special about moe. as a whole, to sustain their following and keep things fresh over the years, and on into the future.
“One of the reasons we started in the first place was as a reaction to our day jobs, which we didn’t have a lot of love for. We realized that this was something that we really enjoyed, and it was a lot more fulfilling than anything else we were doing at the time. I think we’ve grown to appreciate just how lucky we are to do this, and reap the benefits of being part of a very large community. It has become a larger social community. The main word is “fulfilling”, in a lot of different ways. If we focus on that stuff a lot more, and less on it being just a way to make a living, then I think that’s what’s kept it fun for us, and you keep away the more base elements of the music industry. We’re just concentrating on the good stuff, and that’s what’s sustained us for a long time.”
Knowing that touring can really be a bitch, I was curious about what the guys liked to do to pass the time and make the road a more enjoyable experience.
“Exploring, if we have the chance, just getting out in the city. Al, Jim, and myself like to go find used instrument shops, vintage guitar places, anywhere we can find cool gear. Exercise usually helps the whole touring experience. And, we have a lot of friends that we like to visit all over the country, in Japan, and Europe. Anytime we go anywhere there’s usually a couple of people that we know, or a couple of friends that are maybe along for the ride for a couple of shows. Whatever kind of socializing and exploring we can possibly do, we try to do.”
Friends and family, yeah! Obviously this is a band that knows what is important in life. Having seen wives of the band members out at their gigs, I inquired about the role of family as it relates to the band’s sometime rigorous touring schedule.
“Most of the guys live in the Northeast, and definitely for big festivals shows everybody tries to come out. If we’re going to spend a couple of days somewhere, it’s fun to get together… everybody tries to bring family members to hang out. I think that might actually happen more now that Rob, Al, and Vinnie’s kids are getting older. I think they might start coming to more of those festival shows. It’s definitely an extended family kind of a thing.”
I’ve noticed in the past that moe. is very supportive of an organization called HeadCount (headcount.org), which helps raise awareness of voter’s rights and gets the public registered to vote. I was curious about that affiliation, and if the band was getting more involved with politics.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say (that) we’d get directly involved with politics, because that takes the fun out of life, but on the other hand, there are things that are important, like charity events. HeadCount (is) very important. We just want to get people registered, so they can vote. It’s just the first step. We haven’t really wanted to push political views, especially not on elections. That’s something that people really have to make up their own minds about, but, it’s very, very important just to be able to have the opportunity to vote, and (so) HeadCount is a no-brainer. We want people involved in the process, at the very least.”(3831) Page Views moe. Online:
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CD: What Happened To The La La's Record Label: Sugar Hill Records
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