Smash Hits, Baby Pictures and Archeology: 20 Years of moe. with Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier (Part II)
RR: I think that ability to bring a fresh mind back to the stage is also critical to the individual musician’s listening skills. Who are you listening to on stage? Has that changed over time, or are you just focusing on what you are playing, and how does that impact what you are playing?
CG: Sometimes, you don’t even realize that you’re listening because everything is kind of…it’s not because the music that you’re playing is exactly what it should be because there is no exact definition to what you’re doing, it’s just that everything is happening, and it feels good. We may not have played a certain passage ever before, or not like we currently are, so you’re in it, but you don’t really think about who you’re listening to because everybody is contributing and supporting, or doing what they need to be for that thing to be successful.
Sometimes, the only thing that I hear is one somebody makes a sudden jarring change, or a move, that doesn’t jive with everyone else. It’s not really a mistake, but the flow is interrupted. (laughs) You pick up on that, and, sometimes, you hear the odd man out. You try and draw them back in, or you try to reinforce the group ethic, or the group movement that is happening.
Other times, you’ll hear Rob and Vinnie [Amico, drums] crushing some groove, and making something really heavy and potent, and you just jump on it. Or, Al is playing a lead, a certain melody, and you follow him behind that, and you try and support that.
There are a lot of different ways that it happens. Sometimes, you’re listening to one person. Sometimes, you’re not listening to anybody, and it’s just kind of happening. And that’s actually really good—when you’re not listening to one specific person, you just hear the whole thing happening, and you try and support it, and make it better. Maybe, sometimes, it means backing off. Maybe, sometimes, it means add, or pushing it, in the next direction that it needs to go in.
But I don’t know, it’s a hard thing. It’s kind of like sitting down with a bunch of friends, and having a conversation. You know when to back out, and you know when it’s funny, and everything’s flowing; you just know that you don’t want to interrupt the good thing. (laughs) You’re not really listening. You’re more reacting. It is really a conversation like that when you have some people that you are familiar with, and you can just talk around—you’re not really thinking of who to listen to, or who to concentrate on, because the whole group is making it happen. I don’t know. It’s a weird thing. I tend to not think about it much until somebody asks me.
RR: Yeah, the stupid intellectual gets into your face.
CG: (laughter) It’s good because, you know, I don’t really think about it, and it really just occurred to me that sometimes, I’m not actively listening to any one person, it’s just that something is happening, and you’re reinforcing it. So, it’s pretty complex—you’re processing everything, but you’re not necessarily listening in a critical way. You’re more listening in a reactive way. You’re filtering everything, and trying to process it as quickly as you can. Really, the less you think about it, the better.
RR: Let’s talk about how that conversation translated into the studio over time. Did moe. find it difficult, or just different, to have a conversation in the studio?
CG: It’s no fun. Once again, if you take the same situation, and you’re hanging out with a group of your friends, it’s a lot easier when you’re drinking beer on somebody’s porch to have a great conversation where everybody’s contributing. You take that and you put it in a public situation, or you go it into an institutional situation, where there are some other people listening in, people clam up, and the spontaneity can’t happen, but it’s also a comfort thing, especially when you’re in a real studio, which is great, and I love it, and I’m very comfortable in that situation, but, at the same time, you feel like you’re on the clock. Every minute is dollars out the window. You start to stress about things that shouldn’t be important when making art. That’s the one thing that we have contended with.
On the other hand, the first time we went into a real, proper studio with a producer, it was a great experience because we had a producer who had been around for a long time, worked with a lot of famous people, and we learned a lot. In just a couple of months, we got a crash course on all things studio. After a couple of albums, our comfort level went way up, and we just realized what worked better for us. And, then, we started to do weirder stuff like trying to do Wormwood.
RR: Yeah, you circumvented that process.
CG: Yeah. Yeah. We just personalized it, and a lot of people have done the same thing over the years, but we kind of put our own little twist on it because we have our own specific needs for what we want out of recordings like that.
Sticks and Stones, for example, finding the church, and setting up in there, and just waking up in the morning, rehearsing, and writing, and recording stuff was really comfortable and a great way to do it. But, at the same time, it’s kind of hard to write the material, and flesh it out really quickly, and have it be something that’s going to last. We had to strike a balance with that, as well.
We’re constantly trying to fine-tune that, and how to develop the material, and how to make the recording situation comfortable, and have it really sound like us. When you’ve spent so much of your career on the stage, that process can sometimes…mixing the two up is a little hard to do, and it’s always about finding the right balance.
RR: Let’s talk about that fine-tuning because you did a bit of that when you re-recorded the old songs for the new album, Smash Hits, Volume 1. Did you listen to it all the way through? What did you think of it?
CG: I did listen to it all the way through, and initially, we had chosen a lot of the songs, and we listened to them, and some of them sounded really dated, like some of the older material which had been recorded in ’94, or some of the songs on Fatboy or Headseed — some of that sounded a little bit dated. But, I like it. Really, a big part of what we wanted to do with Smash Hits was that we’re trying to put our best foot forward to present the music to people who are just being introduced to the band, or the music that we feel has had the strongest impact, live, on people. In that way, I think we chose the songs very well, and having a current version of some of those songs is a very good representation of who we are, and what are personality is. I’m really happy with it.
I really like the old recordings, but some of it makes you cringe a little bit. They are a little bit like baby pictures. (laughter) It’s a little embarrassing for them to be presented.
RR: Smash Hits is really sharp and consistently good. I like that fact that the tunes sound hot and modern, like they were just recorded on the spot in one long session.
CG: That’s great. That’s really good to hear. I love those songs, and we felt we owed it to people to try and have the best versions of them that we could for this purpose. And, then, they can go back, and do a little bit of archaeology, and find the original versions. (laughs) That’s another surprising element that they can find. I’m glad. It’s good to hear someone say that. I don’t think I’ve actually gotten any feedback like that from anybody.
RR: It is the 20th anniversary for moe. What are your feelings about how the band is playing, thus far, this year?
CG: Well, it’s been a lot of fun, and I think we’ve been playing really well. I think wearing the suits on stage makes us play better. (laughter)
RR: Really? How come?
CG: I don’t know. Maybe, we take ourselves a little more seriously. I don’t know what it is. Getting dressed up, and wearing a tie to work—I’m actually starting to get into it. It’s kind of fun.
RR: Maybe I should do that.
CG: Yeah, you know how some people work at home? They’ll actually put on a suit and tie to get the feeling of…I don’t know—there’s some kind of validation in there, or something, but yeah, we’re having fun playing a lot of material that we’ve written over the last 20 years.
It’s interesting. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe, next year, we’ll just move on, and have a bunch of new material, or start dropping some of the old stuff from live sets. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t want to say anything to freak anybody out. I’m kind of making this stuff up. (laughs)
Playing this year has definitely been interesting, and it’s continuing to unfold. We’re still putting together Summer Camp, and moe.down, and the summer [dates], and we’re just milking everything out of it that we possibly can. (laughter) It’s kind of fun and surprising that we’ve been doing it for that long.
20 years ago, we played a Halloween party, and a bunch of cover tunes, and to see it turn into this—you can take things like that for granted, but this year, maybe, we’ve been forced to come to terms with it. (laughs) It’s interesting to see how we’ve progressed, and, also, as a result, on this tour, we’ve talking about all the crazy shit that’s happened to us over 20 years. And the stories keep coming, and a lot of it we forget, and, all of sudden, things start coming back. It’s pretty interesting, and, for me, it’s been pretty cool to realize that you’ve been able to have this extremely cool job, and to be doing it with your friends. It’s not always easy, but it’s been pretty damned rewarding.