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Published: 2000/11/15
by Dean Budnick

Chuck Garvey and The Dithering of moe.

More than ten years have passed since college-friends Chuck Garvey and Rob Derhak founded the band that they dubbed Five Guys Named Moe. From the moment of that initial Broadway Joe’s gig, the group’s core of relatively callow musicians, which soon included Garvey’s guitar foil Al Schnier, continually sought to enrich their musical lexicon and collective communication. Garvey acknowledges, “We learned as we went along because we loved it and we wanted to keep doing it.” The band has not abandoned that initial spirit and ethos, which it applies to individual songcraft as well as its efforts to explore novel textures in the live setting.

The new year (and moe.llennium) has been good to the quintet. A litany of the band’s achievements includes: the release of acclaimed double disc L (Jammy award winner for best live offering), the group’s three-day multi-band music festival (the aptly-titled moe.down), a Japanese tour and a sold-out Halloween show in which the group performed Dark Side of the Moon dressed as Wizard of Oz characters. The unit hopes to continue the moe.mentum (sorry) as it completes its fall tour, performs a New Year’s Eve gig and finishes mastering its new album, Dither, which is set for a late January release. Chuck Garvey touched on most of these concerns in the following interview.

For information on all of these developments, and tickets to moe.‘s New Year’s Eve spectacle, visit www.moe.org.

DB- Since you’re in the final stages of mastering your new album, let’s start off and talk about that. How did the process differ from your last two times in the studio?

CG- The approach has been different with each album. With No Doy we went in with our live set-up, the amps and guitars we usually use. Then we basically put it down how we do it live and added a couple of bells and whistles. The final product was mixed by John Porter, who was a great guy but to a certain extent everything had a production gloss to it.

The next album we were a bit more adventurous with the sounds and the instruments that we used. We tried to switch everything up and get a little more variety. I think it came closer to what we had in our heads as to what the final product would be, although the two are never completely the same.

With this one we went into it completely open-minded. We didn’t have to answer to anybody but ourselves and the amount of money and time we wanted to devote to it. It was fun. We got to surprise ourselves. If on the spur of the moment one of us had an idea we’d follow through. We recorded the basic tracks in several different studios over a long space of time and we were able to rearrange things digitally and move things around. It made the process more interesting for us creatively. There is a big difference between how we play things live and how they will come out on this album. We use some different instruments like piano and Wurlitzer and organ. We had a friend of ours, Kirk from freebeerandchicken come in and play some stuff. We had DJ Logic do some stuff. We wanted every weapon in the arsenal to be used and not just have it be a straightforward recording process. I think it’s more adventurous than everything we’ve done before, and we all enjoyed the creativity aspect, getting it down to tape and making it sound good.

DB- The album is called Dither. Did the name arise from the fact that you felt you were dithering around, while you were in the studio?

CG- We actually did spend a lot of time by our standards making this album but I don’t think that we were completely anal about it. The way we did it was we recorded basic tracks at three or four different studios- one in San Francisco, the Carriage House in Connecticut and The Theater which is John Siket’s studio in New York City. We just kind of spread it out to find more time. Then the final recording process took three to four weeks straight. Taking that time enabled all the details to make more sense .

Dither also has a digital meaning. When you go from one format that’s high fidelity, twenty-four bit and you bring it down to four bit you’re dithering it down, distilling it to a more basic building block form.

DB- So that was the band’s intention with this release, to distill the essence of songs that tend to be much more open-ended and variant in the live setting?

CG- It’s weird because what works live doesn’t necessarily work in a recording setting. Some of the greatest recordings that people identify with, the parts are very primal beats, basic building blocks. Sometimes when we do these live it’s fun to be excessive in one direction or minimalist in another direction but some of the excesses don’t necessary make for a really good, enduring recording. Simpler is not necessarily better either but we did try to distill songs that are very long and involved into a shorter more concise format because it makes for good songs. That’s an important facet of what we do, working from very good core material. Then when we play these songs live we can stretch them out and bastardize them in different ways but having a good core song is really important to us.

DB- Did individual band members take on specific roles in terms of production?

CG- Everybody has to happy with what’s going on. All of us have to be happy with the final product because all of us are putting ourselves into it. Beyond that, one thing that I noticed was that I became the one who obsessed over vocal performances. I was the one who would sit there and say, “You can do that better.” I was the taskmaster because I personally nit-pick as far as that goes. So I took it upon myself to make sure that the vocal performances would be as good as they possibly could be. That’s the niche I fell into.

DB- You said that everybody has to be happy with the results. What happens when you reach an impasse?

CG- There’s gunplay, arm wrestling. (laughs) Here’s my perspective- if one of us is going to cringe for rest of our lives every time we hear a song then there’s something that needs to be addressed. Usually if any of us has a problem like that it’s something that deserves attention. We are our best checks and balances as far as that is concerned. I guess we realize we’ll do better and the music will go farther if we maintain that kind of quality control.

DB- Does the voice of the person who wrote the song and brought to it the band carry any additional weight?

CG- Sure. To a certain extent that’s the person who has the most invested in a song. With let’s say a song like “Captain America,” the final sign-off on say a wild idea will be up to Rob because he’s the originator of the song and has a lot more invested in it personally. In fact as we speak that song is going to undergo another eleventh hour or twenty-third hour change. We were all satisfied with the mix that we had and then there was this one version that we kind of screwed around with that was a little more stripped down. Rob listened to a version of that and said, “I really like this, I really like this.” He filibustered for making a further change. We were talking about it yesterday and I said, “If there’s something you feel really strong about you should just do it. Let’s just spend the money, do what you want to do and have it sound great.”

DB- In that context, to what extent did you feel additional pressure now that Sony isn’t fronting the dough for your studio time?

CG- If you’re not the Rolling Stones and have tons of cash, whenever you’re in the studio you’re going to be a little pressured. We’re not rich, so spending a lot of time on a recording is taking a chance because who knows how it is going to be received. But ultimately we have to trust our own opinions, satisfy our own expectations and hope that everyone else will agree.

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