Chuck Garveys Backyard Party Plans at moe.down
Chuck Garvey is looking at an open calendar. This is rare for the guitarist, who has spent nearly two decades, steadily touring and recording with moe.. However, following this year’s moe.down which will take place over Labor Day weekend in Turin, New York, moe. will take an indeterminate time off the road, pledging to return in 2009. In the following conversation, Garvey looks ahead to his time off, describes the factors that led to it and also anticipates the group’s final’s performances for the immediate future, at this year’s moe.down 9.
DB- Before we dig in on moe.down and your upcoming plans, one topic that has interested me lately has been the skyrocketing gas prices and the live music industry. From your perspective, what impact do you think it’s had on bands and fans?
It has a tremendous effect on everyone. I don’t know anyone that’s not affected. Even if you don’t have a car you’re affected, the overall economy is proof of that. But it’s especially difficult for a touring band to sustain itself. There are a lot of bands who tour just in a van and trailer and they get hit really hard. If they’re not making enough from gig to gig they don’t get to the next town. It’s not easy.
It’s definitely affecting us. We’ve had discussions with [manager Jon] Topper and Skip [Richman] our tour manager just about how much it costs to drive in a bus. I think per vehicle, it’s like $1.20 per mile. It’s ridiculous. It’s definitely better than flying around in jets (laughs) but it’s not necessarily the greenest thing in the world and it costs a lot, the overhead goes up for living on the road. It affects us and it affects people who are traveling from city to city. Everyone has to rein in and figure out what their real priorities are, I guess. It’s been pretty interesting all around to see how it’s affected people in the music industry and elsewhere.
DB- Can you notice from the stage that maybe some of familiar faces aren’t at as many shows?
Just by looking at the crowd I can tell if gas prices have gone up ten cents or not.
No. (Laughs) You do notice it though. Some faces you take for granted, some cities you take for granted. I know it’s hard and specifically I have noticed, this just happened when we did a couple of shows in the northeast when we played on Cape Cod and then we played in Portland, Maine. People had to choose one or two shows over all four and you do notice that and it is kind of strange. I don’t think anybody’s overly stressed out about it but it is a fact of life and it’s unfortunate.
DB- In March the band announced that after moe.down you’ll be taking time off "with the intent of returning again in 2009." It seems like this was very well thought out. Can you talk a bit about what led you to this decision?
I remember the day in 1994 when we incorporated. We had long since left our day jobs and were just looking forward to the future. And the next couple of years, over 300 days out of the year we were traveling somewhere or playing a show. And ever since then it’s been a process where we make that ratio of off days and working days more livable. And all of a sudden is 14+ years later that we’ve been doing this without a substantial break.
It’s difficult because we have a lot of people who work for us and we have a fan base that’s very loyal. So it’s easy just to say, “Keep going, keep going, keep going.” And you realize for the first time in 14 years we really haven’t taken a substantial break, taken a really big deep breath and then started up again. You’re right, we did think about it for a while because it affects our connection to each other as a band, it affects our entire organization because we have a lot of people on our payroll and it affects every fan that wants to go see shows. So we had to carefully weigh everything and say, “Okay, we can do this.” I guess we owe it to ourselves to be able to concentrate on our families and our lives outside of traveling and it’s great that we have the luxury of being able to do that. We’ve had to work hard to get to that point and now were trying to take advantage of it a little bit. I think it’ll have a positive effect psychologically on everyone. I’m sure it’s going to feel really good to come back and start playing again.
DB- Have you started talking about your plans for 2009 yet?
There have been no meetings (laughs). We want to be able to not think about it for a little while. Obviously we’re looking towards the organization for that and we have a plan of what we’re going to do beforehand but exactly what we’re going to do, that’s too much of a plan for it to be comfortable. It kind of sucks all the joy out of it (laughs).
So in that way I don’t really have a whole lot to report other than we need to pause from the process. We’re currently enjoying that pause and moe.down is just kind of gravy right now. It’s going to be a great way to end the end the summer and then look forward to taking it easy for a while. So we’re leaving ourselves out of it.
DB- Some of your songs such as “All Roads Lead To Home” and “Where Does The Time Go” are written from the perspective of someone who is out there touring or traveling while looking forward to returning home.
It’s a cry for help. (laughs)
DB- I’m curious whether over the years the experience of being out on the road gigging with moe. has become easier or more challenging?
When you’re young and you’re pushing every limit that you can push as far as trying to be creative and productive, there’s a certain amount of reflection that you have to do. What are the most important things to you, what makes it all worthwhile? And I guess that’s a recurring theme for me. Al’s songs are the same way and Rob puts them in his songs in some way, I believe. That’s a running theme and maybe it’s my mantra (laughs).
It’s definitely something that’s on my mind. I think quite a bit about my family and the things that matter most to me. Music is one of those things but you can’t write a song about music without having it sound really corny, so I guess you have to write about everything else. “I love music, I love notes,” is not a very exciting song.
DB- Rob [Derhak] has that line, “Looking at 40, acting like a child” [From “Deep This Time”]. As you get older, do you find it odd reconciling what you do for a living with the lives of your non-musical friends or family at home?
I revere musicians as being a very important part of society, contributing to society. I think they effect change, they can make people happy when there’s nothing really to be happy about and it’s something that’s very important. It’s spiritual, it’s cool, it’s amazing and it’s like this other language. I could talk for hours about music and what it means to me but then I look at someone who is a talented organizer. They put all their energy and creativity into organizing charities and organizing communities and disseminating important information about politics and ecology and everything else you can think of. And you look at that and you’re like, “Man, that job is a lot more important than what I do.”
Sometimes we look at what we do with a grain of salt. There are other people who are doing far greater things, so you kind of have to laugh at yourself. I think none of us try to take ourselves too seriously in that aspect. It’s the greatest job I can think of and I guess I’m more suited to this than helping people organize people into social action.
So you can look at yourself and say, “I’m acting like a child.” I don’t know what Rob’s motivation for saying that exactly but it’s pretty funny.
DB- When moe. is off, the other guys tend to surface in the live setting a bit more often that you or perhaps I’m just more aware of what they have going on. I’d be curious to know, what do you do on the musical side in terms of live gigs, if anything, when moe. isn’t performing?
I’ve done a very few solo acoustic shows and really they’re just for the fun of it. They’re nothing very serious. I did one because a friend in Cincinnati asked. I opened up for NRBQ when they played a place called Moonlight Gardens here. And I’ve done it a couple other times with some friends. There’s a band called Dread Clampitt from the Grayton Beach area of Florida. I think they’re a great band and when they came up to the Northeast I did a show or two with them.
I’ve also done the All Thumbs Trio with Johnny Hickman from Cracker. And Johnny is still a really good friend, we got to see him recently. Unfortunately his guitar got broken while he was at a moe. show. The headstock got smacked on his Gibson Les Paul. I think it’s repaired and working well now but I felt horrible about that. He’s had that guitar for twenty-something years.
DB- Did that happen off stage or on stage?
The guitar was on stage. And we think it got knocked over by a stage hand or something.
DB- Did you meet him when moe. and Cracker shared a date?
Cracker Van Beethoven played at moe.down years ago, like five years ago and that’s where I met Johnny. Gibb was also there and we just stayed in touch ever since. We did All Thumbs Trio a couple of times and we’re talking about doing another one of those.
Ha Ha The Moose is Rob, Jim Loughlin and myself and we tend to rear our ugly heads during moe.’s time off.
All of those things are really fun to do and it’s great to have the luxury to be able to do something like that when you have time off and you feel like you can devote a little time to doing something completely different and not feel like it takes away from the rest of your life or your family.
DB- When and where do you primarily work on songwriting and what inspires you to start and finish a composition?
Definitely time off helps a lot. I write songs when I go on vacation, so I guess I don’t go on vacation enough (laughs). I’m getting better at planning vacations now, making sure I get in at least two decent vacations every year. And now I actually get to stay home and have vacation in the middle of a giant break. This is going to be killer (laughs)
So I plan on working on music, I plan on recording music, I just don’t know exactly what I’m going to do yet.
DB- To what end?
I don’t know, just for the fun of it and if something comes of it that’s releasable, then maybe I’ll release it as a download. Who know? It’s really the not having a concrete business plan that makes it a lot more enticing. It’s more apt to inspire creativity I guess.
DB- You mentioned Gibb and he’s someone that I’ve seen off and on since the early 90’s. I remember being really impressed with his playing but then he’d seemingly disappear, although he’s gaining some notoriety now by touring with Keller [Williams]. I’d be interested to hear about some of your favorite unappreciated or unheralded guitar players, who you feel deserve more attention.
There are a couple people that I think should be rich and famous. And one of them that kind of happened to is Nels Cline who plays with Wilco now. That guy is just amazing and I’m so glad he’s been playing with Wilco. I started listening to him a long time ago because I knew that he played with Mike Watt and bunch of other Los Angeles people that I’d heard of. And he’s such a talent, used to his fullest extent with a great band like Wilco, which is pretty cool.
There’s this guy Wayne Krantz who has played with Steely Dan and numerous, numerous other people. He’s a New York City guy, whose music I think is extremely interesting. It’s like this crazy heady jazz, so it’s not going to be a commercial success necessarily but he’s an inspiration to a lot of musicians because it’s cool to hear somebody doing something that unique. He’s just cultivating a very personal voice and I think that’s pretty amazing. He’s one of those guitar players where you hear a couple of notes and you know it’s him. It’s like Jerry, it’s like Trey, Santana, all the usual suspects where you can hear one note and you know exactly who it is. That’s very important as far a guitar goes to play one note and have people know just from the tone or the way you deliver it.
A brief digression leads to a discussion of Steve Winwood
I think he’s an amazing guitar player. I’m slowly becoming more aware of his giant contribution to Traffic. I never knew that he played a lot of the guitar with Traffic. It never occurred to me. I always thought he was a keyboard player and solely a keyboard player until recently. And I saw him open for Tom Petty at the Garden and he was just at the Mile High Festival in Denver where we played. And he does “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and there’s like ten minutes of soloing towards the end of it and it’s great. I don’t know what it is about him, he’s like Dave Gilmour, he picks exactly the right notes and just lays them out there for you. He’s great.
DB- Is there any other show you’ve seen recently that really knocked you on your butt?
Not this past SXSW but the previous one, a bunch of us got to see the Presidents of the United States of America and they just kicked so much ass. I totally forgot anything in the outside world for the hour and fifteen minutes that they were playing. They just make you completely forget yourself, To me anyway, they were completely mesmerizing. That’s the last band that I can really say I freaked out about seeing. And it was the first time I had seen them.
DB- Since they’ll be at moe.down, that’s a perfect segue for me to ask what role do you guys take in suggesting or selecting bands for moe.down?
We all make wish lists and then they gets whittled away. So to a certain degree, we’re all throwing names out and then it’s up to Topper and Chuck Chao from Eastern Artists, who helps co-promote moe.down, to make sure they give them an offer they can’t refuse and make sure it works with their touring. And inevitably everyone’s got something cool they want to do, like Bumbershoot or any number of other festivals that are happening, and every touring act is scrambling to figure out their summer schedule because they want to hit all these festivals and not step on anyone’s toes. So it’s hard. We make this giant wish list and then it gets whittled down to a couple of the bands. It’s kind of a harrowing process. You have all these high hopes for bands you want to come down to moe.down and it slowly gets whittled away but when one of them gets in and everything works out great it’s pretty awesome.
I was really happy that Andrew Bird played at Summer Camp. That’s one band that I was really excited about seeing and a very positive influence on me. There was a new guitar player, a new bass player and his songs are great pop songs but they’re also personal-sounding enough, they have so much good understated personality. I think he’s a great songwriter and a very talented musician, so that was really cool to see him with a bigger band. It was definitely an interesting experience. The time that I saw him previously it was just him and a drummer but they sounded like a whole band.
So it was good to see him. I only got to see a few songs though. It sucks playing in a band sometimes because you have all this great music around you at festivals but then you have to go to work.
DB- I don’t think people always appreciate the fact that even at festivals, bands sometimes have to move on to the next gig and don’t always get to see a lot of music.
I was lucky that I did get to see Tom Petty. I was really looking forward to that. And that was a great show.
DB- At moe.down, you’re there for three days, so presumably you get to enjoy whatever you want to enjoy.
[Laughs] No that doesn’t always happen. Just about everyone in the world that we know through the band is there. So it’s hard to stay in touch with everybody, talk with everybody and my whole extended family is there. And everyone brings their kids. It’s like a giant family reunion. So you’re constantly busy and don’t necessarily get to see music when you want to. But it’s a lot of fun
DB- What has surprised you most about moe.down over the years?
The one thing I’m really proud of is a lot of people say that our festival is very comfortable and family friendly. It has a couple of very comfortable attributes that a lot of people remark on. They say that at certain other festivals they feel cramped or rushed or there’s too much and with ours, it’s very straightforward and there’s good people. I don’t know. That’s one little cool thing I didn’t expect that to happen. Maybe it’s because of the overall personality of our organization and how everybody wants it to go and a lot of fan input but it’s just one of those things where I feel like we got it right and just about every year it’s really enjoyable. There’s been a couple times where the weather made parts of it suck but that’s the price you pay. It’s kind of a roll of the dice.
The really cool thing is starting from the very first one, I am really grateful for the good fortune that we’ve had in being able to invite people that are our friends or people that we look up to musically, to come to upstate New York and basically play at our backyard party. [Laughs]. It’s good to be able to ask David Grisman and the Flaming Lips or Cracker Van Beethoven, these bands that have been influential to us. The Meat Puppets, we exposed a bunch of groovy kids to the craziness of the Meat Puppets and I’m sure a lot of them had never heard of the Meat Muppets before. It’s been a fun, cool experiment for us to be able to do that.
DB- Is there a band this year that jumps out in a similar light?
I’m really looking forward to the Presidents.
Yonder Mountain, I don’t get to see them much, we’ve played a couple of shows with them and every time I enjoy it. I’ve heard a lot of their recorded stuff and I always enjoy their songs, so I’m looking forward to that.
Levon Helm, I don’t know if the moe. community at large feels the same way but I feel it was a coup to get him to come play. I think that’s going to be amazing, I’m really looking forward to that. That’s the one thing where I’ll blow off friends and family so I can see him play.
DB- I know that a number of people are always interested in the process by which guests musicians come on stage with other bands. Perry Farrell, for instance, sat in with you last year at moe.down. How did that come about? How does it generally work when you invite an artist out with you, how spontaneous is it and to what extent do you guys prepare for it?
Depending on the comfort level and how well we know each other it could be just like, “Do you want to sit in? We’ll figure out a song, it’s in A.” Or sometimes, as with Perry, we knew that with his new band he wasn’t playing “Ocean Size.” So we approached him with the idea of having him sit in with us on that song because he wasn’t playing it with Satellite Party. He was up for it and just finding someone who’s an open spirit like that and is willing to take a chance, that’s a big part of the equation.
Sometimes we ask people to sit in and they don’t want to play their songs. The first time we met Peter Frampton I called his manager because I knew he lived in Cincinnati and he came down at set break and we introduced ourselves and we went over a couple songs, just went over the basic arrangement of the songs. Then he came out and just killed. He didn’t want to play “Do You Feel Like We Do,” he didn’t want to play one of his songs, he wanted to play one of ours.
So it’s kind of just clicking with personality and everything that determines what song is going to be played and in what capacity they’re going to contribute. It’s kind of fun figuring that out, I’ve screwed it up a couple of times.
DB- In what sense?
I’d rather not go into detail. Some things work and some things don’t. (Laughs).
DB- What about Del [McCoury] and the Boys? They sat in with moe. last month. Can you talk a bit about how that came about?
There’s this one song that Rob and Ron McCoury wrote years ago called “Shake Your Hips.” I started covering it when I was playing in the All Thumbs Trio and then we played it a bunch of times with moe. during acoustic sets and we played it at the Ryman when we were doing sets of country music.
We hadn’t met them yet but we were playing [on a bill] with them in Arkansas. We were on stage sound checking, just running through it to re-remember it and someone was at the back door of the stage. I saw this guy with glasses but I couldn’t really see who it was. And I was thinking to myself, “Shit, I think that’s Ron McCoury,” and sure enough it was. So I went over and we introduced ourselves and then the whole band came in and they were really nice guys and pretty soon we were talking about a few songs that we could do together. It was very easy, those guys were great to hang out with and very nice.
So that was easy. We talked about a couple songs and Del was on it. He was like, “I know the words,” or Rob knew a couple of verses, so it was easy. It was really fun to play with them. We’re like this occasionally loud and obnoxious rock band and we’re playing with these guys who play around two or three microphones acoustically, so it’s a culture clash right there. It’s a lot of fun trying to make it work.
DB- At this point nearly two decades into it, which member of moe. most often surprises you on stage?
Vinnie surprises me when he changes gears really fast. He’ll do this weird 180 every once in a while and I’ll be like, “What the hell was that?”
Rob really surprises me when he makes up lyrics on the spot. Surprised is one thing I would call it. Shocked and awed. Amazed and chagrined.
DB- Somewhat along these lines, this past spring, every gig featured a “Raise A Glass” encore, with full-on audience participation. Can you talk a bit about that experience?
Every night and this was determined by the size of the stage, we figure out how many people we could accommodate on the stage so that it wouldn’t be a total mob scene. And it was also always a fine line between who could go on stage and make it really fun and maybe who had had too much. Ken Richman, Skip, our tour manager, had the dubious distinction of being the chaperone for that and kind of figuring out how many could fit on stage comfortably. He also was the litmus test for who might be the active ingredient in a chaotic stage situation. [Laughs]
It was pretty fun. I’ve never heard so many people sing so many different words at the same time and I’m talking about band members included. Each time it was pretty good.
DB- I have one final question about moe.down. Your festival represents the band’s final appearance for some time. Are you viewing your performance in that light or are you just going to enjoy the event as whole the way it sounds like you have done in the past?
We’re definitely regarding this as a pretty special event and I’m definitely not going to take it for granted because it’s going to be the last thing we say for a little while, so you don’t want it to be, “Duh.” We definitely want our performance to reflect the special event that we do feel it is. It’s our last stand for a little while.
With that in mind we do have some special plans but there’s nothing I can really talk about.
DB- Well that seems fair. Otherwise, it’ll be no fun anyone for anyone who’s going to be there.
We feel the same way, if you know too much in advance what life holds, you’re just constantly waiting it for happen. I’d rather be surprised by some things and I’d rather leave a couple things up to chance. And that’s my job to a certain extent.