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By DAN AQUILANTE
From the New York Post; April 2, 1999
Reprinted without permission.
Thanks to Kevin Pole and Alex Rosenfeld for the article
MOE is one of the best-kept secrets in modern pop music. The quartet from Utica was voted one of the top 10 underground bands of '97, and has been riding high and gaining speed since the release of "Tin Cans and Car Tires" last September. Set for a pair of shows at Irving Plaza [sic] next weekend, Moe's lead singer [what?], Al Schnier, spoke to The Post from his home upstate. Here's what's on his mind.
Q: Moe has had a fair amount of success since it formed in 1990. If we were making the Moe movie, what would the scene be where the band realized it had made it?
A: Gee, that's hard to say. Things have happened at a very natural pace for us. There haven't been any real giant tides of success. We've had our share of mileposts where we've said, "Yeah we're doing pretty well." Like the mentions in Rolling Stone. The first time it happened, we were listed as one of the underground bands to watch. It was great to see our name in the magazine. We all looked at it, saw our faces in a half-page article, and said, "We are a real band." Certainly, when we signed to a major label, there was a little of that, too. Every now and then we have these minor epiphanies, but so far there haven't been any cigar-smoking, check-cashing days.
Q: Is there anything you miss about being totally unknown?
A: We miss the freedom a little. And we feel the responsibility to the fans, so in a way we don't have the same devil-may-care attitude we had when we started. I mean, there was a time when we all lived in the same house together, [and we'd] take band money and go out an buy some frozen food and some beer, and stay up all night playing music. We used to play every day without fail. We'd get home from a show, we'd set up our equipment and play in the basement some more. Those times have passed; now most of the band is married with children and in our own homes.
Q: What are the guiding forces in your life you feel compelled to follow?
A: I have a few. You're speaking to a person who lives by that stuff, probably to the dismay of those around me. I'm a strict vegetarian, I don't eat any animal products. I don't believe in killing animals for my use. It's really more of an ethical thing than a health thing. I was a philosophy major in college.
Q: In school was there a philosophy that you related to, that made you say, "This is a good way to live"?
A: Rather than a single philosophy, I found elements of a few philosophies easier to relate to. Some parts of Zen Buddhism, for instance, make sense to me, but because I'm scientific and practical, I can't relate to all of the elements of Zen. Like I don't believe in reincarnation or predetermined station in life. But the day-to-day practices, like simply letting things live, appeal to me.
Q: Do these beliefs work their way into your music?
A: No. Even though I believe in some of these things very strongly, and I try to live my life accordingly, I don't like to impress my views on others. If any of that stuff has found its way into my lyrics, it is because of personal experience. Most of my songs are autobiographical to some degree.
Q: So would it be fair to say, when I listen to you sing, that I am hearing Al, I'm not hearing Al in the character of somebody else?
A: Storytelling is one area of songwriting I haven't gotten into yet. I think about it often, because some of my favorite artists are people who write that way, but at this point I feel like I still have so much material to draw upon from my own life to write about. I do try and keep the stuff sort of universal, at least universal enough so others can relate to it.
Q: Al, you're a real New Yorker. You grew up in Utica, have lived here in the city and now have a house upstate. Can you describe how you feel about Manhattan and the rest of New York?
A: Growing up, I was under the impression that all cities were like New York City, except they were in different parts of the country. I thought essentially all cities had a big-city feeling about them. Now, having played in most major cities in the country, I've come to realize that New York City is not like any other place on this planet. It is incredible. It's so densely packed ... the sheer volume of events, people and buildings. It has to be the capital of the world.
Q: You speak fondly of the city, but you chose to live upstate. Why?
A: I have a lot of practical reasons for living where I do. Like the cost of living in the city or trying to raising a family there versus doing it in the country. Upstate is just more appealing. I'm still just an afternoon's drive away, although it's not like I'm checking out the Voice to see what I'm doing tonight.
Q: Whom in rock music do you admire?
A: Certainly the Grateful Dead. They had a giant impact on me when I was in high school and in college. The first time I saw the Dead, it was in '81, and I was in seventh grade. Up until that point, I knew music from classic-rock radio. That concert was completely different from everything else. From the Deadhead scene to the songs. The music was laid-back and heavy at the same time. It made a big impact on me.
Q: So if anybody compares Moe music to that of the Grateful Dead, you'd take it as a compliment?
A: I have no problem to those comparisons or references to influence, but I do have a problem when people get lazy and simply write Moe off as a cheaper version of the Dead. Then it gets kind of annoying. It is frustrating when people won't come and see us because they read a little blurb someplace that said Moe is just a second-rate Phish. We deserve a lot more credit than that.
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