Chuck Garvey: On Tin Cans, Car Tires and moe.mentum
Inevitably, when you spend so much time with a project, you can ‘t help but see all of the bad things about it. If you were nitpicking this album, what would you say?
We were all really close to parts of this album, and there was a lot of crazy stuff that happened in the mixing process where we labored over it. It’s a lot of really intense listening. Now, I can hear where Vinnie missed the high hat once in the middle of an entire song. I can point out the one nanosecond where Rob’s and my voices strayed from their harmonies. I can hear that stuff. It’s because I’m too damn close to it. But really, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter.
It almost gets impossible to judge the quality at that point, I bet.
Yeah, that, and, well somebody made a really funny comment. They were commenting on a producer that worked with Pat Metheny, that he made it so perfect that he took all of the life out of it. Perfecting it to death.
Did you guys worry about that?
Nope. We didn’t have enough time.
So you had to leave it in the producer, John Alagia’s capable hands?
Well, we all pretty much got involved and got pretty obsessive about it. The tracking was good, but we only had a certain amount of time to mix. And that’s when it got crazy because everyone had different ideas about how it should be mixed.
Is that when the engineer, John Siket takes over?
Not really. In a lot of ways, Siket was the anti-John Alagia. Alagia is a very obsessive person when it comes to dealing with everything. He likes the fine details, where John Siket actually is a pretty good mixer. He would make these rough mixes that would just slam. They sounded great, unadorned. They just worked on a lot more visceral level. Alagia’s mixes were great because he cleaned up some of the elements that really detracted from the song. Not in an evasive way, but just in subtle ways that doing a really good mixing job just enhances everything. The balance between the two was pretty good, but sometimes they were complete polar opposites and it got pretty crazy. It’s like, we have two completely different mixes, and there were so many choices that we would all be divided. Siket and Rob and Vinnie and Al and Alagia would all have an opinion and I would just be like, “Ahhh! I’m overwhelmed.”
Did it get ugly?
No, but it definitely came down to the eleventh hour for some of the mixes. I think “It” was one of them. Recording the basic tracks for that song, mixing it, arranging it everything with that song took a long time.
Was that especially gut-wrenching to you because that was your song?
I felt guilty, like I’m making these people’s lives hell! It turned out to be a lot of work for such a simple song.
One thing that surprised me was that there are a lot of potential radio hits on the album.
You think so? I guess I’m too close to it. And I couldn’t see Al’s voice being on the radio. It’d be weird. I definitely couldn’t hear mine [audible shudder]. We haven’t gotten much radio play in the past.
What was the single off the first album? I forgot.
“She Sends Me,” which was a terrible choice anyway. I wanted “Bring You Down.”
If you could choose a single off this album, what would it be?
I think that “Letter Home” is a very very strong song, but it’s definitely not our first single. If anything is going to grab people’s attention, I would want it to be “Nebraska” because it is unique. I really like “Spaz Medicine.” “Plane Crash” without the naughty word would crush.
Yeah, “Plane Crash” is a great song. Is that your guitar in the part right after the “too fucking high” lyric?
That’s Al and I. We were playing like, three or four guitars and layering, actually.
What’s going to happen with that concert video you shot at the Vic Theatre in Chicago this past July?
We didn’t even know about it until like a week or ten days beforehand. Sony did it for several different reasons. They’re making an electronic press kit (EPK), and they wanted to get some live footage of us. The stuff they have from last time is just us playing at Wetlands. They’re not going to make an MTV video out of it. It’s not going to be a live concert video. Our singing is atrocious, because the place – it’s a beautiful place, but its really hard to hear yourself.
Did the shoot freak you out a bit?
The cameras? I hate cameras. I had a really bad cold and my nose was running. This guy’s camera was right under my face. I was so bummed. I threatened him a couple of times just by stepping at him really fast (laughs).
They made you play a song twice, right?
Yeah, I guess audio or video missed it. We thought it was kind of funny. They wanted to do it, and we’re not gonna pull rock star attitude, like “we’re not gonna do it.” We just told everybody, “Okay, now pretend like we’re doing this for the first time.” We totally understood the comedy of the situation.
Looking ahead to the next album, do you have anything in mind?
We have talked about in a more general sense this time maybe trying to go with a theme — either a musical theme or a lyrical theme and concentrate on that while we’re writing songs. Right after this one was done, I wanted to record again just because I learned so much. But that won’t happen for another year, year and a half.
Where do you see moe. going in the next year?
I think a lot will be determined in the next month, when we really get back into playing again. We’ve had some vacation time. Al just had a baby. The kid is great. Rob and Becca are expecting, like Thanksgiving day, and Vinnie has a daughter. So that’s going to change the subject matter of the songs, because, well, because they’re getting old. They’re dads [Chuck laughs]. In a lot of ways, I think their attitude is going to remain similar, but I think the subject matter will change a little bit.
So you’re done with vacation, but you’re not touring yet. What are you guys up to?
Well, we’re working on some new material. We have about five songs almost finished. We’ve never played it before. We’ll debut them on this tour. Right now, we’ve been able to get to two of Rob’s two of Al’s and one of mine. And sometimes it’s very easy and sometimes it’s a little slow. All of us have at least two more songs to get to.
When’s Vinnie going to start writing, pulling his weight?
(Laughs) We’ve been asking him the same question. We’ve been asking for proposals for songs, because if he comes up with a lot of different elements for a song, we probably come up with the music very quickly.
Have you ever wanted to do something totally outside of moe.‘s sonic realm?
Yeah, definitely. I would love to have a band with a couple of horn players – a bass clarinet and a trumpet player, a piano, a standup bass, violin and drums, but try and do really rocking tunes. Just to have more of a tonal palette to draw from because two guitars, bass and drums is what it is. but moe. definitely tries to squeeze the most out of it that we can, and that’s a lot of fun too.
Isaac Josephson is an editor at JAMtv/Rolling Stone Network and the co-founder of Centerstage Chicago. His writings have also appeared in various other publications, most notably Musichound: The Essential Album Guide to Rock and Down Beat. In his spare time, Isaac avoids his past, incurs parking fines and spends his money in bicycle shops.