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Published: 2001/12/19
by Dean Budnick

Rob Derhak Picks moe.s Warts

Rob Derhak is my rock and roll savior. No really, he is. Like many of you, the events of September 11 left me with a sense of displacement and particularly uncertain as to how I would engage live music anymore. Taking in a show just seemed so self-indulgent and in many ways, irrelevant.
But a few days after 9/11, Derhak issued a strongly-worded open-letter on the moe. web site explaining why he felt the band needed to perform, as scheduled, at Bostons Orpheum on September 14. While I will admit I was a bit conflicted, nonetheless, due in no small part to his posting, I drove to the Orpheum on that Friday. It turned out I needed those vibrations more than I had realized. A few hours later as the band concluded the night with a powerful, New York City, I felt that some measure of my spirit had been restored and vivified.
Ever since that day Ive been eager to speak with the moe. bassist and ask him a few questions about that evening (and yes if/when the band would next perform Plane Crash). I did just that in mid-December, catching Rob fresh out of karate class to discuss the show, his brief route-me-home-on-the-ground tour with Al Schnier, forthcoming recording plans, his sons musical tastes and yes, his role in selecting the performance that appears on moes new Warts and All live release.
One final brief reminder: moe. will perform two nights at the Asbury Park Convention Hall on December 30 (Robert Randolph is the opener) and 31 (three sets of moe.). For additional info visit www.moe.org. *DB- Id like to start with your show at the Orpheum on September 14. After the events that had taken place earlier I the week I really thought I would have no taste for live music for quite some time but after it saw your strongly worded post on the moe. web site it really just inspired me to come on out. Id like to hear your thoughts on that show. *
RD- I really didnt know what to think. I drove to the Orpheum from Maine with my wife and on the way in there was the hotel on the news that the FBI had just raided. Its right around the corner from the Orpheum. I just started thinking the craziest things, like there could be a nuclear bomb planted in Boston. There were a million things going through my head. I told my wife I was scared that something might happen and she said, You must have a huge ego if you think somebodys going to give a crap about you. (laughs).
The whole time we were playing there were all these different things going on in my head. It was very surreal. One thing that was cool was that once we got into it, it seemed like a whole different time and place until the show was over. I almost didnt know what was happening until the end when we played New York City. I almost started crying when we started playing it. I saw some girl out in the audience crying and I looked at Al and he was welling up. Thats when it really hit home and I was glad we did this.
I talked to a cop about it the next day. My parents live outside of Boston and in the morning I went to Starbucks with my dad to get some coffee. I heard this guy say, What are you doing here? I turned around and it was a cop and I thought, Oh my god what did I do? Then he said, I missed your show last night but I heard it was great. Im coming tonight, thank you for playing. It was really bizarre.
I felt like I had to do my complete best. We couldnt look like assholes if we were going to do this. I had no real gut feeling that I wanted to be there doing that, I had to force myself into. But it was one of those things where we had to get past that point and do it to make everything normal again. *DB- Of course the two songs that book-ended the show and the ones that people needed to hear were two that you sing, Captain America and New York City. Did you feel any additional burden to perform those that night? Did you think about them quite a bit going in? *
RD- I dont know why I wrote the set like that, probably because I felt the same way that everybody else did. The only request I remember was, I dont think you guys should play Plane Crash for a while. *DB- Which leads me to that question, of course. What is the status of that song, which as Im sure you know is up there on many peoples lists of moe. favorites? When do you think youll play it again? *
RD- It would have been in really bad taste back then but at this point I think theres enough time that we can start playing the song again. I tried to put it on the setlist earlier this tour and Al was like, Im not ready to play it yet. So were just kind of waiting, Im in no major rush. *DB- Although you did play it right after John Kennedy Jr.s plane went down. *
RD- That didnt over so well (laughs). Lesson learned. *DB- While were on the topic of planes. You felt uncomfortable flying home after the moe. tour so you did a series of shows with Al. How quickly did those gigs come together? *
RD- Very quickly. I basically just called friends who owned clubs that were along the way. We actually had a blast doing it. We had no clue what we were going to do but we had all this looping stuff, this gear, and I had a couple of new originals that I thought we could test out. I only got to one of them but we had a lot of fun doing it.
We had a drum machine in Athens where we started. We rented an SUV in Baton Rouge, drove to Albany and went home from there. Along the way we would program drum parts for some of the songs with the drum machine along the way, So by the time we got to the last show we had drums for most of the songs. *DB- Are you thinking about doing it again? *
RD- We definitely want to do it again but we dont want to wear it out. Maybe another time when we have extra time after a tour. We also talked about renting a RV, taking our families along, going to the beach and doing a few shows but that might be insane *DB- The new song you mentioned, Summer, Oh I, when you first introduced it you said that this is not going to be a moe tune. Do you really think that it wont be? *
RD- I don’t think so. I just got the gear to start recording a solo album at home and I think thats going to be on it unless moe. really wants to play it. But it really isnt intricate, its sort of a short song. I have a few tunes that are like that. *DB- Songs that you havent brought to the band? *
RD- I have ten or eleven songs. A couple have been brought to the band and theyve said, This sounds like Springsteen, we dont want to do it. (laughs). I still like those tunes but I can understand why theyre really not going to work as moe. songs. *DB- When do you think youll start working on the solo disc? *
RD- Right now we have a lot of time off because my wife is due with another kid in January. So I think Im going to start working on it now, once I start cleaning the house. [laughs] I just got a computer for it and some other gear so hopefully after Christmas Ill be full into the project. Whenever Im home Ill work on it. Im in no rush to get it out and Id like to have everyone on moe play on one song at least. *DB- What do you think of Als disc? *
RD- Thats what inspired me to do this. Im not going to do anything like it, just the fact that he was able to get his act together enough. When he first gave me a copy two months ago I was amazed with how hi fi it actually sounded, and hes lending me the program to do the recording so Im gonna give it a shot.
Its not my scene but I think he did a great job. After I heard it I told him, Man, it sounds like Im shopping at Old Navy. He was like, Cool thats exactly what I want. I dont know if thats exactly what he wants though (laughs) *DB- What music are you listening to right now? *
RD- Right now Im listening to a lot of Christmas music [more on this later]. I listen to Obscured By Clouds a lot. I love that album. Ive always lived with people who had and I finally went out and bought it. I really dig it. I really think its a cool album. I also listen to Mingus.

*DB- What about more contemporary stuff? *
RD- I listen to Martin Sexton and singer-songwriter stuff. You know who I like is Kid Rock. I get a lot of shit for that but I think his songs are hilarious and his band kicks ass. Ive actually been listening to a lot of Ha Ha the Moose. Those guys are pretty good {Editors note: Ha Ha The moose is Robs side project with moe. members Chuck Garvey and Jim Loughlin]. *DB- [Laughs] You think? *
RD- Theyre horrible live but I have a couple of their albums. *DB- Speaking of which, do you have any plans to record with the group? *
RD- Yeah I really want to. Me and Chuck sat down and we started up all these new tunes and we said we have to record them. So maybe that will be next, after this solo deal or maybe well go out on tour again and Ill record it live. Well do a little more rehearsing and come up with a tighter set. (laughs) *DB- On the mini-tour with Al, after you introduced Summer, Oh I Al says that now everyones going to request it because its obscure. Do you receive a lot of requests like that from moe. fans and whats your take on those? *
RD- It used to drive me nuts. But some people really just like a song we dont play anymore. If I get the impression thats really the case then sometimes we try to bring it back and do it at least once. But when its due to them sitting there like statisticians with their palm pilots out so they know how long its been since we last played it and theyre yelling at me all night long, that drives me insane. But now we now have the inner ear monitors so we cant hear what anybodys saying anymore. All we can hear is what we have in our monitors, so they can scream until their lungs explode [laughs]. *DB- Do you ever revisit those old songs on your own, maybe during down time? *
RD- Whats in the past is in the past for me. In my opinion some of the stuff we play is too old. I would prefer to just play new stuff but its difficult. People have a lot of their favorite songs they want to hear and I like a lot of the older stuff too. But between rehearsal and live shows they are some songs I’ve played like 30,00 times. *DB- Can you give me an example of a song or two that you think is somewhat tired? *
RD- I got tired of playing Dr Graffenberg and weve kind of bailed on that one lately. Yodelittle can drive me nuts. Anything thats old, its not bad but sometimes its just done for me. I think things need rest to make them interesting. Sometimes when you dont play something for a while and you go back to it you forget what you were playing and you make up something new and that makes the tune a little more fun to play. *DB- What song most surprises you, in terms of taking you somewhere that you didnt expect. *
RD- Livin Again. When Al first brought it to the band I thought it wasnt going to fly. But I always get into it and then I think, This tune is really cool, the direction it goes. It kind of reminds me of older Pink Floyd stuff in the middle. The other tune is Assfinger which I really enjoy playing. I dont know if Chuck wants it to be called Assfinger but thats what its called now. *DB- What song do you think most needs work? *
RD- Lazarus needs work. Theres too many hard things to play in the middle and none of our fingers do it at the right time and in unison. I still havent memorized all the words either [laughs].
DB- Which reminds me, on the moe.links page, the section with song lyrics is called

RD- The Rob to English dictionary [laughs] *DB- Right. Whats your response to that? *
RD- I cant say anything because its true. It used to be a lot worse than it is now. Id mumble everything. I guess I figured that if I always mumbled everything that when I screwed up no one would ever know. {laughs] *DB- In terms of your singing, what other vocalists have inspired you? Who do you emulate? *
RD- The people that I love I couldnt even come close to signing like. I think maybe Eddie Vedder I may try to emulate the most but he has incredible range. I love how Sting sings and Paul McCartney. Also, Joan Osborne, I have this thing for her voice I think her voice is amazing.
DB- I have a question for you about songwriting. On No Doy you guys started assigning separate credits for lyrics and music. Was that due to some transformation in how the band wrote songs?
RD- No, we really didnt know how to do it before then. A lot of the way we work is I might come in the with basic chord structure with the words written. So the words and the basic melody were written by me but I didnt write it entirely. Everybody put their stamp on it and made it into a real song. So we tried to come up with a way that everyone can get proper credit. An exception is a song like New York City where I wrote the guitar part and the vocals and the bass line.
DB- On Warts and All, Crab Eyes and Kyles Song are credited to moe and not any individual. Was the process different there?
RD- Yeah, with the whole new batch of tunes we have, we decided to try something new. In the old days we would sit down and hash things out. Songs like Rebubla and 32 Things came out during a period of time where we all lived together in Albany. So we went up to Albany where Vinnie lives now and we stayed there for two weeks, rehearsing every day. We went in with almost a clean slate and started working on stuff. So with Kyles Song, we wrote the music together and everyone would come up with ideas for the words. *DB- What do you think about those songs {which also include Lazarus, and Kids] *
RD- Theyve been really hard to finish. I think theyre really all in progress and were still keeping at it. I can see that two years down the road theyll be staples and well be playing Timmy Tucker less. I think thats kind of how it works with us.
DB- Two of those appear onWarts and All. What was the process of selecting the show for that release. Did you all listen the gigs you recorded and then hash it out?
RD- It was supposed to be like that but at some point I realized that I was the only one listening. Id been through like ten shows and I said, This one sounds like the best to me. Al said, Ill take your word for it, I trust your opinion, and Chuck was like, I dont know. Then he listened to that one show and said, There were some screw-ups but it was pretty good. So we picked it. Actually they may not be completely true but thats the way I remember it (laughs). *DB- What is the experience like for you, going back and listening to your performance? *
RD- It used to be thrilling. Every night after the show, wed say, Did you get the tapes? and wed listen. Now if something bizarre happens during the show, well listen. Or, well do it when one of those moments occurs when were in a jam and something amazing happens where all of us will look at each other and say, Holy fuck how did we do that? Where did that come from? One of those times you cant even explain how something like that happens, we have to hear it again. *DB- What were you listening for in selecting the show? *
RD- Jams that were actually good, not just everybody going into space between two songs before we get to the other tune. Thats usually a bullshit cop out. I was listening for vocals not completely sucking. If theres some funny between-song-banter, I thought that it represents the band. I wasnt looking for the most obscure set although maybe well put that out. Some people have complained that it was a matrix and not a full on board but I really dont like the straight board tapes. I think they sound too dry and weird. *DB- Since you mentioned stage banter, do you think that aspect of your show changed when you moved out of bars and into bigger rooms? *
RD- I think its like when youre in junior high and you first go to high school, you keep your mouth shut and find out whats going on before you start acting like yourself. Anytime people graduate to something else I think their human nature is to observe and see what happens. I think that once we got used it and started to feel comfortable we went back to our same ridiculous ways. It used to bother me. The only thing that really bothers me now is when we take way too much time tuning or dicking around between songs. Ive seen band s do that when Ive been to watch them play and its been like, Okay that was a cool song but its been fifteen minuets since they did anything and I’ve got a babysitter and I need to get home. *DB- When writing a set list do you keep that in mind? *
RD- Yeah, I try not to put songs together where Al has to play his twelve string and then move to his mandolin. You also dont want to come out with a tune where theres way too much tuning to start a set. My main goal is to just walk on stage and hit it as hard as we can, to come out kicking ass. But sometimes bad things happen. The first night in New York [on November 23] we said well play The Boys Are Back in Town that will be so cool. Then my bass rig shit the bed during that song. It was like Spinal Tap. It totally sucked. *DB- How are your set list duties allocated? *
RD- Me and Al switch off every night. *DB- What factors do you take into consideration when writing a list? *
RD- I think about putting together the perfect album and what songs should go next to each other. Sometimes I want to bring something up, have it be really intense, sometimes it will be a gradual curve downward. I try to keep relative keys next to each other and also tempos to make the jams smooth. Then theres time, you dont want to do things for too long because peoples interest is completely lost but you definitely want to give people enough. *DB- What about statistics, in terms of the last time you played a song or last time in a particular city? *
RD- I used to. Scippi [Richman, road manager] would print out what we did last time we were in a town. We also have the list from the last three shows and we try not to repeat anything from those three. I kind of bailed on what we played in the town because then the sets tended to move too far away from what a lot of our fans wanted to hear. Of course thats still a balance because some songs that I consider my favorites I doubt that moe fans would think of in that way. For instance, The Ghost of Ralphs Mom. I really like the tune. Its a hard-hitting rock and roll number but its in sevens, which many people dont realize. *DB- Do you think that Al and yourself write drastically different set lists, so that its easy to distinguish a Rob list from an Al list? *
RD- We used to. Now people will sometimes say to me, You wrote the setlist, that sounded like an Al setlist to me. It used be that Al would put in covers that I didnt want to play and I would put in proven favorites that he probably didnt want to play. I think weve gotten closer to writing the same kind of setlists because weve come up with better newer songs and weve come up with better covers. *DB- Lets move on to the New Years Eve shows. Do you have anything special planned that you care to reveal? *
RD- Were going to have a horn section that were psyched about. Jeff Petit from Yolk is putting it together. We came up with a whole list of songs for two sets of material with the horns, so well have some new covers. Maybe well do Greetings from Asbury Park. Maybeyou never knowI doubt it. New Years is getting closer and closer (laughs). Robert Randolph is opening the night before so that should be pretty cool too. *DB- What about plans to return to the studio? *
RD- The talk is we are going to try to record after the winter tour. It looks like well work on a lot of those newer tunes and hopefully well have it ready for the fall.
DB- Looking back, what do you think of Dither?
RD- I am ecstatic. I like it a lot. Its my favorite thing weve done so far. It sounds more like the band to me like any of the other albums. Theres a little weirdness but it sounds more earnest.
DB- Final question, since we have children of the same age, what kind of music do you listen to with your son. One if my daughters favorite albums is actually No Doy. We crank it up and run around the house like maniacs.
RD- He really loves moe but every time he hears a band he thinks its daddy on stage. He likes the new Lo Faber album but he thinks its me, though. Ill also find him dancing to the weirdest things. Ill find him bogeying, really getting down, to commercial on TV. Right now hes all about Christmas music because this is his first year getting geared up about Santa. Thats why I said Im always listening to Christmas music because he wants to hear Rudolph and all that stuff.
DB- What about any of that made for kids music.
RD- Only when hes acting up in the back of the car. We have one tape that we put on that has all this bad kids synthesizer music. It makes him stop freaking out and he always says, No I dont want the tape! because he knows it has this power over him.
DB- And I think that says all there is to say about crappy kids synthesizer music.
RD- It does [Laughs].

Comments

There is 1 comment associated with this post

Melvin Sharples June 12, 2011, 11:33:43

Just stumbled across this and I’m not sure why there are no comments. This is a great interview – very well done! I know this interview is older and I’d like to see an updated one, if possible, including questions about his current rig. I’ve never been a fan of his Ritter’s tone (seems to be weak in kids, preventing it from cutting through) and I’d love it if he broke out the old Stingray or Modulus mote often…

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