"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Just say moe.

What do you get when you combine rock influences as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan and Gram Parsons, as played by five talented musicians with a passion for improvisation?
Less corporate radio pop and "moe." music.
Hot on the heels of the release of its critically acclaimed eighth studio album The Conch, moe., the band with the unusual orthography, brings its wide-ranging jams to Japan for a whirlwind four-stop tour that starts tonight in Yokohama.
"We are an improvising rock band that likes to write pop songs," writes moe. guitarist, singer and songwriter Chuck Garvey in an e-mail exchange with The Daily Yomiuri. "It is a mix of every possible influence, style and idea we like--channeled through three different songwriters and five (multi) instrumentalists exploring the unknown. It is schizophrenic, yet familiar. Psychedelic, yet defined and memorable. It's the sound of a really diverse, fun record collection played by your friends."
Garvey is one of the original members of the quintet that started off playing college parties in upstate New York in 1989 as Five Guys Named Moe (the title of an old Louis Jordan song). After brief stints as Haggis and the moe guitar army, the band finally settled on moe., complete with the period, in 1991.
The band released three albums on Sony subsidiary label 550 Music during the next few years as it worked to build an audience with a shifting lineup--the band had five different drummers in as many years and even Garvey left for a few months at one point. Finally moe. hit its stride in 1999 with the creation of its own record label and an appearance at Woodstock 1999.
The current group, together since then, comprises Garvey, founding bassist-singer-songwriter Rob Derhak, guitarist-singer-songwriter and sometime keyboard player Al Schnier, drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Jim Loughlin.
Moe. takes a collective approach, according to Garvey: "The dynamic of the five of us (and our crew and management) adds up to a great whole. To a certain extent, our decision-making process is highly flawed, yet very democratic and satisfying at times. As far as leadership, the ball (or 'Conch') gets passed around so that everyone gets time at the top, but no one has to carry the whole weight all the time either."
Writing and arranging are also influenced by the group's collective nature. Garvey, Derhak and Schnier bring their initial versions of songs forward to be molded by the group to one degree or another.
"We used to jam to come up with parts that complement each other, then arrange them into a song. Now that our writing skills have developed, it is more likely that we can 'hear' complementary parts and put them together on the fly. We also 'harvest' improvised sections of live performances--especially when they have become a very identifiable entity on their own--to use as songs or parts of a song in progress," Garvey says.
Derhak's description of The Conch (the title is taken from William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies) on the band's Web site bears out the close-knit, collective nature of the band's endeavors: "The Conch is a symbol of keeping things civil. We sort of took all these elements of us playing as if one of us has a conch and then it's taken away and it turns to chaos. That is very similar to our lives."
Moe. has evolved its own way of recording that combines painstaking studio work and the energetic live shows they have built their career on.
Like many jam bands, moe. has its own tribe of fanatical followers who see as many shows as possible--The Grateful Dead had deadheads; moe. has moe.rons.
Garvey and Schnier also have become icons in the rock guitar world and were named by The Rolling Stone's David Fricke as being among the top 20 "new guitar gods" in February, an experience Garvey described as both exciting and humbling. The duo are also featured in the June issue of Guitar World magazine.
Asked to compare and contrast their styles, Garvey writes: "Al's technique seems to be equal parts discipline, structure, noise and abandon...My technique is based around phrasing and melody up to a point, with white noise being an alternative to make a point. I think we occasionally operate as the left and right hands of a very accomplished chord/melody guitarist--'Two is better than One'!"
Moe. will play April 21, 6 p.m. at Bay Hall in Yokohama, (03) 3444-6751; April 22, 6 p.m. at Ax in Shibuya, Tokyo, (03) 3444-6751; April 24, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Nagoya, (052) 264-8211; April 25, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, (06) 6535-5569.
The Daily Yomiuri, April 21

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