Earlier this spring I was fortunate enough to finally see some Buffalo legends perform here in NYC. After what seemed to be years of endless missed chances, I finally sought out the opportunity to see these guys perform live at The Best Buy Theater in midtown. Buffalonian soldiers all the way, Moe. makes lasting music that is perfect for long car rides and for endless summer nights. The current line up of the band includes Rob Derhak, Chuck Garvey, Al Schnier, Jim Loughlin and Vinnie Amico. Chuck Garvey, one of the guitarists of Moe. was kind enough to shed some light on their wild journey.
I asked how this ambitious project came about. “It didn’t seem all that ambitious in the beginning. It was just a fun thing to do on the weekends. Later, it became something better than our day jobs. Then it became this great adventure where we were traveling all over the Northeast and soon the entire country. I guess our ambition was to do something we loved, so we just followed that path at every turn.” I actually remember friends in high school and college in Buffalo who would skip school just to go see these guys. I never fully understood their ongoing power until later on.
Chuck mentioned some of his proudest moments in the band. “Probably some of the benefit events. We have organized a couple of our own (a Tsunami Benefit in NYC, for example) as well as being asked to participate in other events. We were asked to do Farm Aid a while back. It’s really great to be a part of something that helps others. Hanging out with a bunch of like-minded musicians all using their time for a great cause doesn’t get much better. [It is] music and community spirit together.” They have been very active folks in the festival scene. In fact, until 2015, for 15 consecutive years the band hosted a spectacular festival aptly titled, moe.down. Musicians would come and jam at the Snow Ridge Ski Resort in Turin, NY for the benefit of all music fans.
Chuck elaborates more on his vast touring experience with some great stories. “We have played outdoors a lot, so there are many close calls and nasty brushes with weather… In 1997 we were on [the] Further Festival Tour, playing at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater near Denver. It began pouring rain, then [the] lightning [began] right before we went on. I can’t remember exactly what form of decision-making went on right before it was deemed ok that we would still play and people were not evacuated… While we played, the lightning and thunder were all around us and people in the audience were dancing in a lake of water that was accumulating on the lower levels of the pavilion. [It was] scary for everyone! We were operating equipment that was tied to voltage and steel while standing in water onstage, while the audience was throwing down in a flood zone. [It was] exhilarating and, luckily for us, without incident.” I can only imagine how wild that show must have been. Glad to hear they and their fans made it through unscathed.
“We did a similar show in New Jersey, outdoors at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. The crowd was oblivious to the torrential rain, so we ‘kept on.’ There is a picture of me online somewhere, I’m at the very edge of the stage, crouched down and gritting my teeth at the crowd, wearing a raincoat and baseball hat to keep the wind and rain from blinding me. We did stuff like this a lot, not fully considering the repercussions. It’s much better to keep everyone as safe as possible. The next day was spent stripping all of our gear to the bare bones and attacking it with fans and hair driers! “We also played in the wind and snow when the temp was in the low teens. That was at Snoe.down in February or March. Goggles, ski coats and little gloves with the fingertips cut off helped us play the set, but it was brutal. Fun and one for the books, but definitely not easy!”
Moving forward, I was curious to see how Chuck viewed the music world today. “The current ‘industry model’ is actually close to what we started out with: we allowed taping and trading of our music as long as it was done for free. That was what allowed the word to spread [and] then we made our living off live shows. I think that recorded music has become more of a calling card for artists so when people find music they really like they will gravitate toward it. That free nature is against the industry standard of the late 20th century where labels ruled and money was funneled through the curation of a corporation. It doesn’t have to go like that now, as long as the artist finds an ingenious way to get their message out to people. Luckily, there are many ways to do that, you just have to be talented and compete with every other aspiring musician on the planet.”
Chuck also shared his thoughts beyond music, such as a new medium of art. “It would be great to do that, if nothing else to recapture that initial pioneering feeling where everything is brand new and your brain gets tasked with a completely new set of problem solving situations. Fortunately, there are no limits in music, as the possibilities are endless and there is always room for improvement! There will always be the possibility of ‘Hologram Touring’ when we are totally geriatric! Sitting at home, playing in our living room for a virtual audience across the globe who have the event piped into their haciendas. Truly, it will be phoning it in at that point.” That will be an interesting time in music, should that come to pass.
I have a love of Moe.’s songs such as: Not Coming Down, Stranger Than Fiction, Plane Crash, Happy Hour Hero, and Okayalright. I asked Chuck if he could talk more about his music with the band. “Diversity has always been an ingredient that is part of our personality. We started out as ‘kitchen sink music,’ willing to include any style or element that was interesting, at odds with genre defining in any strict dogmatic way. I hope that we can evolve with our recorded and live repertoire. One thing that has been slowly growing and coming to the forefront is the idea of making more acoustic music and an acoustic ‘album’. We came close last time, but we’re not able to follow though with our acoustic flavored recording idea, set to be produced by Larry Campbell. Maybe we can still get that project on the ‘main line’ again!” Moe. fans across the globe would love this new venture. I think it would be a huge success to try. Musical exploration, like any study of new art, always results in broad and exciting undertaking for future generations. Musicians will appreciate this foray that Moe. hopes to attempt.
Inspiration for Chuck has been fruitful in his music. I asked if he could share a few. “There are many. I have spent so long looking backward to heroes and pioneers of the past that it is sometimes difficult to connect with peers until I notice their musical DNA might come from the same ‘parents’ as mine. I guess I have always looked to an older generation because they have always had more time, experience and insight than I could possibly own. Currently, there are a bunch of great musicians who I keep coming back to for no other reason than their work makes me happy. Since ’96 or so, I have been listening to a guitarist named Wayne Krantz. I just like the energy and originality of his music. His trio recordings with Keith Carlock and Tim Lefebvre are great, as is his ‘bootleg’ recording, 2 Drink Minimum. [It is such] cool [and] improvisatory music. There is an amazing Bill Frisell video on YouTube from “Le Festival Jazz A La Villette” where he plays John Lennon songs. Greg Leisz plays pedal steel, Tony Scherr plays bass and Kenny Wolleson is the drummer. [That video has] great interplay and material. Bill Frisell has been a favorite of mine for a long time, as well as a guy named Chris Whitley. Chris made an album called Dirt Floor that I still listen to repeatedly. As far as current artists, there [is] a bunch that I have gotten that magical feeling from, but like any of the older generations, it’s usually a very specific song, album or period of their career that I like, while the rest does nothing for me. I still don’t understand it and I have never tried to methodically break down what ‘it’ is with the randomness of my favorites.” Chuck definitely has a myriad of talented masters of their craft to refer to. You can see a lot of their influence in his work with Moe.
Currently, the crew of Moe. remain busy! “We have been playing shows in celebration of our 25th anniversary [as well as] plotting our Halloween and New Year’s shows, [while] looking forward to the next year. Most likely a new recording [is on the way], although the exact nature has yet to be determined. It seems that there is no ‘next big thing,’ but more likely a series of recordings, events, shows, collaborations, destination events, holiday themed productions and various hijinks designed to keep us and audiences excited for more. This is a rare job where the downsides (business, time…) and the upsides (creativity, friendship, community, music, travel, etc) come together to make a continuum that is an amazing journey.” Moe. will continue that journey and surprise us along the way. Add Moe. to your summer playlist, if you have not already and prepare to be astonished!