"We’re Still The Same Idiots from Buffalo": 20 Years of moe. with Al Schnier (Part I)
RR: Which leads moe. to the present day. What are the current studio plans?
AS: Now? I don’t know. We spent some time in the studio over the fall, and recently, in this break over the winter, re-recording some of the moe. classic songs for a new “hits” album that will be coming out in the springtime. Originally, the plan was to re-release a bunch of A-list favorites because, like you said Wormwood is your favorite album, but if you ask the fan standing next to you, they may say, “Oh, well, no, Tin Cans [ and Car Tires ] is,” or maybe they’d say, “ No Doy is,” or, maybe they’d say, “ Headseed has all of my favorite songs,” or, “I really like the versions on L better.” You know what I mean? Everybody says “the version of this song on this album,” so when anybody comes to us, and says, “If I could buy one moe. album, what would it be?” There’s never really a good answer. (laughter) Everybody has like “WELL, if you like this, maybe this,” and we thought, “it’s been 20 years, there should be a good answer to this question.”
Here’s your introduction to moe.—start with this; here you go. Originally, we were just going to use the original recordings, but then when we started putting them all together, the stuff from Fatboy and Headseed sounded so different from the stuff from Wormwood and The Conch. In the end, the versions had evolved so much, too. Why not just do updated versions of this stuff? Let’s just bang them out in the studio, and get really good, tight studio versions of these songs. So, we’ve done that with a lot of songs. Now, people will have an updated studio version of a lot of the classics.
RR: We’ve discussed the band’s evolution in the studio. Let’s look at the live area. How does moe. keep fresh, and stay in contact with its audience? How do you get motivated after all of these years? What drives you to keep doing this, other than the fact that you have families, and you have to pay the bills?
AS: (laughs) Right. It’s a really good question. It’s not something that we generally have to think about. The only time it really comes up is when I sit down to write a setlist, and I’m looking at the same old songs. It’s like “what can we do that’s different, somehow? What’s interesting, but will still make a really strong show?” It would be interesting to the band, and it would be interesting to hardcore fans to, you know, open up the show with something you wouldn’t typically open the show with, or put “Meat” first, or have something really weird as the opener. That doesn’t necessarily make it a good show just because it’s different. So there’s that. That enters into my mind every time I write a setlist. It’s just something that you have to think about then. But when I go out on stage, I don’t have to think about what I’m going to play. If I ever start thinking about it, then I’m not doing my job, or I’m distracted somehow. I don’t want to have to think about what I’m playing. I want to be focused, but I also want to be free from that distraction of having to think about it. I want to be open-minded because that’s what we do.
Having played something like “Timmy Tucker” for 20 years (laughs), it’s still got to be fun for us. It’s still got to be interesting. Sometimes, it just means changing gear. Sometimes, it means just a slightly different approach to what we’re doing. Maybe, we start off the song differently. Maybe, during Chuck’s [Garvey] solo, the band is going to take it in a little different direction behind him—not intentionally, but just open to it; you’ve got to be receptive to it. The one thing that bugs me is that if we start to fall into ruts, or patterns, or complacency. As long as there’s…it doesn’t have to be something new every night, either. It can just be really good. As long as there’s that, that’s all that really matters.
And there’s bound to be disappointments if we’re going to take chances. Look—if we’re not playing to backing tracks, and we’re not playing the same sets every night, and we’re not pitch-correcting our vocals on stage—hell, we’re singing our vocals, which is more than 90% of the bands that are out there doing at this point—there are bound to be things that don’t work. But, at the same time, at least we’re putting our best foot forward.
One of the things that we tried all last year was to really work on the whole presentation of our show. We were actually trying to create, and arrange, different sections of the show. So we had come up with different arrangements, and sometimes, it was spontaneous, and other times, it was by grabbing different musical interludes, and turning them into songs, and re-visiting themes throughout the night. But it got to the point where our soundchecks were now becoming two or three hours long because we had to rehearse these transitions. Some of those transitions were no longer improvised, or spontaneous, and I’ve actually heard fans complain that we were becoming lazy because we weren’t improvising anymore. What they don’t realize was that we were actually rehearsing this stuff, and working several hours a day, the day of the show, to try to make the show tighter, and better, and maybe, they didn’t perceive it that way, which is O.K. In our minds, we were trying to make the whole show come off that much better.
We figured we had worked really hard on our songwriting skills. We had worked really hard on jamming. If we could put those two worlds together, and, actually, add some of that songwriting and arranging skills into the jamming, into the instrumental portions of what we do—and not take it away entirely because there are still long solos, and there are still going to be passages where we do jam—and let’s add a whole other palette of things that we can draw from that we can make the show more diverse and interesting. Maybe we’ll have a really tight show where we don’t have those awkward moments where we just kind of “Oh, what the hell are they doing? Just go to the next song.” We were trying to avoid that, and worked really hard on it, and it ended up being a lot of work. And it still is a lot of work. We also developed a lot of cool music in the process. It’s just one of those things where we’re trying to…we’re always, always, always (laughs) trying to develop what we do, and trying to keep things interesting. Even without doing that, and the first part of this year, we didn’t do that stuff so much, and we would still go out, and our soundchecks are still two hours long because we’re practicing some of the songs that we’re going to play that night, or even stuff that we don’t end up playing, but we go out and rehearse for two hours before the show. It ends up being a really long day, but it gets us in the right mindset for the show. These are all the things that lend itself to the show being more interesting to us. (laughs)
To be continued in Part II…