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Chuck Interview


Rutgers Review

OCTOBER 22, 1998

Reprinted with permission.

Thanks to Dave Goldstein.

Hey now. Back in November, a week before the Hammerstein Ballroom [11/6/98] show, I conducted an interview with Chuck for a weekly paper based out of Rutgers University, The Rutgers Review. Up until now, I had opted not to post it to the list, because my original intention was simply to spread the word regarding the Hammerstein gig while getting an interview with one of my favorite acts, but at this point, I saw no reason to keep it off the list (or moelinks for that matter). A bunch of the questions have pretty obvious answers, but keep in mind that I was pitching it to an audience who probably had minimal knowledge of the band. This version is more or less warts and all and has a handful of questions that didn't make the actual article, so enjoy.

D: Aren't you calling from South Carolina?

C: That's correct, Myrtle Beach, the House of Blues

D: First off, tell me a little bit about the Genesis of moe. Wasn't it originally a 5 piece?

C: Well, Rob (Derhak, moe. bassist) and I started the band for a Halloween party. Just goofing around in college. A friend hooked us up with a drummer who we didn't know, just played as a 3 piece, and did some stupid cover tunes for a Halloween party. That's just how it started. We eventually started playing with another guitar player for a little while. That was in about '90. By late fall/early winter of '91, Al (Schnier, current moe. guitarist) was in the band. The other guitar player phased out due to lack of interest, and there was also a sax player with us for a short period of time.

D: Doesn't he now play sax for Yolk (another upstate New York band)?

C: No, he doesn't. I have no idea where he is now actually. By '92 or '93, we had started to travel a little throughout New York State, and started writing a bunch of original tunes. In '92 we made a demo called "Fatboy", and used that basically to get bar gigs. In '94, we quit our day jobs, and decided to go at it whole hog. We started touring the entire country, as far out as the rockies, everything that we could. Pretty much for the past four years we've basically been doing it nonstop.

D: Well, it definitely seems like you've graduated to much larger venues relative to the early days. I've been listening to the new disc "Tin cans and Car Tires". While your previous album, "No Doy" sort of struck me as an off-kilter Allman Brothers, I hear a much greater variety of influences on the new album. I hear some Little Feat in "Stranger than Fiction" and "Big World" almost strikes me as something the mid 70's Mothers of Invention would do.

C: Big World was actually a lot of smaller parts that we all individually wrote, and we would do as certain improvisational parts. They were like themes that would come up, and we sort of had an unspoken script that would go with some of that stuff. We knew what the boundaries were, and as part of improvising you find certain homebases to go to and jump off of, and a lot of the parts of Big World ended up being constructed from some of those smaller parts. I think there's a heavy King Crimson thing going on there. The bassline reminds me of Tony Levin, and two of the smaller guitar parts that I do are definitely King Crimson inspired. With Stranger than Fiction, Rob (Derhak, bassist who wrote the lyrics) is definitely a big fan of Little Feat, and I'm definitely a huge fan of Lowell George's style of songwriting and playing.

D: Here's something you might find interesting. Usually my school dining hall never fails to play the corniest of Top 40 stations on its radio. But yesterday morning, I was eating at around 8 o'clock, and some obscure radio station was blasting "Hi and Lo" throughout the cafeteria. It was a pleasant way to wake up.

C :(laughs) Thank God for obscure radio. It's going to be a boon for moe.

D: "Stranger than Fiction" gets some play around here on WDHA out of Dover

C: STF was the song that Sony latched onto and they were psyched to see if people were interesting in playing on the radio. I can imagine some of the other songs on "Tin Cans" being played on the radio, but it would really weird to hear any of our voices on that medium. It'd be kind of a coup to get one of us croaking on the radio.

D: I don't disagree. You guys played several shows on the Rutgers campus throughout the mid 90's. I know that you played Halloween at the State Theater last year, there were some shows played at ADE, and you had that disastrous set opening for Busta Rhymes (fighting ensued and bottles were thrown on-stage).

C: (chuckle) Yup, that one didn't quite work out right

D: Do you feel any attachment to the New Brunswick area or Jersey in general?

C: Definitely. Our manager is actually from East Brunswick. We started playing at the Wetlands in New York City, and that was a good starting point for us to build a following in the NYC area. He had this phrase that he used to use, "taking New Jersey by storm". We all kind of said, "why the hell are we going to New Jersey when we can go to New York City", but we were kind of naive at that point, and kind of thought like a lot of people do that if you can make there, you can make it anywhere. A lot of people who make New York are from the surrounding areas, and definitely the Rutgers area had a pretty happening scene as far as a bunch of people who want to hear good new music. We played at a Church on College Street. I think it was 100 College Street?

D: I think you mean College Ave.

C: It's like a big white church, sort of like a gymnasium.

D: Sure, I know where that is.

C: We played at the stage at the far end of the gymnasium. We did 2 or 3 all ages shows there, and the kids came, and were great. Really respectful and quiet. They would clap between songs. It was kind of weird. People actually traveled to see a show or two there, and we got kind of psyched that kids were excited to see us play there. It's been a pretty good relationship for us. The ADE parties have always been good for us. we met a lot of really fun, nice people, and that really contributed to us being able to play the State Theater last year and sell it out, which I thought was a pretty cool accomplishment.

D: In terms of the jam band scene, you're one of the few bands that are willing to incorporate Grateful Dead covers into your set. "That it for the Other One" (Grateful Dead song) is in relatively regular rotation in your set. Do you ever get tired of being compared to the Grateful Dead and Phish?

C: We actually don't play Dead songs on a regular rotation. That's untrue. We have played Cryptical into the Other One maybe 5 or 6 times in the past 2 years (chuckles). We've also done I Know You Rider once or twice, but it's not something that we do a lot. I think as a band, that moe. isn't that great at covering other people's songs. We tend to be better at what we know and what we like, but you kind of can't escape the influence of the Grateful Dead when it comes to improvisational rock bands. They've kind of laid the groundwork for that. The comparisons don't really bother us, and I don't think that we have to escape from them all that much. When people compare us to Phish, I think it's very flattering because they're very good musicians. We were listening to some of their stuff the other day, and they do things that are very complex, yet make it sound ridiculously easy, which is pretty amazing, but I think our music is much different and our songwriting is of a different style. There certainly are similar elements because we both are "jam bands" that have a strong hippie following, and a lot of Phish heads like both bands. Then again, I actually think that a lot of Phish fans kind of hate us, which I don't have a problem with.

D: Also, Phish has a keyboardist, guitar setup while moe. takes on a second guitarist instead of a keyboard player.

C: Right. I think we're more of a garage style band that wanted to aspire to something bigger, while they're kind of schooled musicians who are working it from a different angle. I've never heard anybody say "you sound just like Phish", I think that's kind of ridiculous, and I think everybody else feels the same way. I guess if you're running out of adjectives and need to make a comparison, you say, "well they sound like the Allman Brothers" and that's the way it goes. I think ultimately people make their own opinions if they're really interested in the music and into it to the degree where you would know the difference.

D: One Journalist described you as "more Primus than Phish"

C: That's actually not too far from the truth. We all like Primus a lot, and some of that works it's way into some of our songs. Rob's raw slap bass style can definitely be likened to that of Les Claypool. On a song to song basis different influences will pop up once in awhile. If I didn't know moe. and went to a show, I'd come away remembering a lot of country tunes and weird shit that doesn't sound like Primus, but they are definitely elements of Primus there.

D: Just last weekend, I was visited by a prospective Rutgers student, and asked him if was familiar with any moe. songs. He claimed the only thing he had heard was "a long jam with these guys yelling the word MEAT over and over" (being moe.'s only released "single" a 45 minute version of their song "Meat").

C: (big laugh) That's the worst intro to moe. you could possibly get.

D:He claimed to have liked it

C: That was a pretty lo-fi, one off recording. Did it straight to DAT, no mixing, no frills in a rehearsal studio. Sony printed it up and gave away 10,000 of them as a promotional thing. We thought it was pretty fun. Just gave it to the radio station to see what they would do with it, on the chance that someone would actually play it, being that they really dug it or just did it to piss people off. Ultimately I think our fans really dug it...just something to seek after, or another recording that would be cool to have.

D: We all know that moe. tends to spend the majority of its year on the road, often logging in 200 days a year or more. Give me a good "We were traveling in the back of the van, and......" story.

C: And....uh....we had all eaten broccoli the day before and....what happened? Not much happened.

D: Any notable gigs or situations that stick out?

C: There's some older ones that occurred when it was just the four of us and we were traveling in two cars or this really crappy diesel van. We had some pretty lo-fi hijinks. But recently, I don't know if we're getting too old for it, or we just manage to stay out of trouble....once we actually got into a fistfight over a pizza in Oswego, New York. Some local drunks picked us to mess with even though we actually hadn't taken the last pizza in town. It was 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning and the pizzeria was closing down, and these guys couldn't get any food, and they just chose us and a couple of young girls to blame. They'd start randomly hitting some of the girls that were hanging out. It ended up being this 4 on 5 fight, and our manager was there and he got his glasses punched into his nose. Rob nearly broke his pinky punching somebody. It was pretty lo-fi, but eventually we scared them off, and the cops came. Nothing really happened because they were the local boys and we were some band from out of town. That's one of the events that usually sticks out because it's so ridiculous that they decided to single us out. One time the Ominous Seapods (another upstate New York jam band) came on-stage with us at the Hammerstein Ballroom at New York City, shirtless, wearing masks, and riding each other across the stage while we were playing. That's another notable occurrence.

D: Hammerstein Ballroom or Irving Plaza?

C: Hmmm....actually I think it was Irving Plaza [4-4-97]. Did you see that?

D: No, but I've got it on tape. I could tell something interesting was definitely occurring on-stage.

C: Those guys are kind of nuts. When we get together, weird shit happens, which is good for our morale. They've got the same kind of roadburn that we do, know the same good jokes.

D: The opening act for the November 6th Hammerstein show is Deep Bananna Blackout right?

C: Yep.

D: I've seen them before. They get down. Extremely funky, Maceo Parker style grooves.

C: They should be good. They're doing a 45 minute opening set...they should really cave people's heads in. They're known for long nights, P-funk style.

D: I know that last summer you had some problems coordinating the "Hoodoo Bash" tour with Strangefolk, String Cheese Incident, and Leftover Salmon. Weren't you originally supposed to tour with Widespread Panic?

C: That was true. We were going to play with Widespread, but they wanted to add some other bands on the west coast and the mid-west, and we would've ended up opening for Leftover Salmon, then G-Love, then maybe another band. We don't really need to do that....the bloated bill never works out when you have too many bands going.

D: Agreed. I don't think moe. should be forced to open up for Guster.

C: Right.

D: Not a very big fan of those guys. Seems like they're a male version of the Indigo Girls, with weaker chops.

C: (laughs) No comment on that one, you're not going to get me sucked into this.

D: No problem, wouldn't want you to talk shit about other bands in these pages.

C: I like those guys. We've run into them a bunch of times, but we don't cross paths so much anymore.

D: I have a handful of friends in burgeoning grassroots bands down here in New Brunswick, and their biggest complaint is that they can't get people to go to their gigs. What kind of advice would you offer to a young band just starting out?

C: Go where the people are, man. Try to travel, and play a few different places in one area, and be sure to let people know when you're playing. Get a mailing list. The mailing list is the all mighty sword. The great equalizer. Rehearse a lot. The shit starts to sick. The first place we played out of town from Buffalo was Oneonta, New York, which is really far away, and has nothing to do with Buffalo, but people were psyched that a band willing to play crazy ass music was coming to their town. Everybody went out and checked it out. The great thing about the Northeast is that there's a lot of college towns that aren't so far apart. You can travel during the day, and play at night, and it's not a big drain. Between the mailing list and word of mouth, we just got the ball rolling. When you start to build up a little interest, things start to get going. People will have live tapes of your shows. You have to have a place where people are actually interested in live music. Some places are totally lame and apathetic about it., and I thought that Rutgers was a great place to go because people wanted to listen. You also have to get out of town. People didn't give a shit about us in Buffalo until we started traveling. Local press hated us. If you make the effort to get out of town, people begin to take you more seriously. The attempt to go from a local band to a regional one makes a big difference.

D: Is it true that the song "Head" is a veiled commentary on the Lewinksy scandal?

C: Well...no. Al (Schnier, guitarist) did mention once that the song is concerned with all things being the head. It can mean the mind, your skull, or whatever other connotation you might happen to slap on it. But, it doesn't have anything to do with Monica Lewinsky because that had yet to happen when he wrote it.

D: Ummmm...that was a joke.

C: Oh, sorry. the sarcasm doesn't come in so well over the phone.

D: Anyway, thank you very much for offering up your time, and have a good show tonight.

C: Thanks a lot, and we'll you at the Hammerstein.



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