Tight Quarters and Loud Rock with moe.‘s Chuck Garvey
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LA LAs is the tenth studio release from moe. It is also the first outside label release, via Sugar Hill Records, in almost a decade. The record features some old, some new, some tweaked, mostly road-tested tunes that cover quite an extraordinary amount of sonic geography over its ten eclectic yet exciting tracks. Released on January 24, the band will follow with a winter tour before hopping the pond to play at Jam at the Dam, whilst also hitting other cities for a European tour, which will feature the new, dynamic album, plus the usual glorious moe. assault.
Jambands.com sat down with guitarist Chuck Garvey for a discussion on the band’s latest work, the highlights of the year just past, as well as what it is like to be in a band that is now in its third decade of endurance, with a sturdy and vigorous back catalogue, as well as the ability to energize an audience with thrilling new material and old twists on familiar tunes. Garvey is an amiable, intelligent, and perceptive man, while being a warm and engaging artist, not only on the stage, but off, as well. We will continue our look at the new album, as well as the State of moe. in 2012 with a second part featuring Al Schnier. Stay tuned for that feature in the coming weeks.
RR: At this point in moe.’s career, does it feel pretty good to have that tenth studio behind you, and are you excited about fans hearing the album? What are your overall feelings about WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LA Las ?
CG: Definitely excited for its release. I have no idea what people are going to think. I think that it’s good—at least from our perspective—that we are doing something that’s a little bit different from what we are used to. The sound is a little bit different, the arrangements are a little bit different from songs that people have heard before. I don’t know. I think there’s a freshness to how we approached it, and it is going to rub off in
other ways. It’s just like some of the other albums we’ve done where we’ve chosen a way of operating that would be specific for that album, and, hopefully, it influences how what the final product is in a new way, and, this time, there is definitely no exception.
We brought in a producer for the first time in a long time. In some ways, we really deferred to him as someone who could say, “This could be better. This could be different. This could be a little more unique, and more of your own personality, which could be infused in this a little more.” John Travis is the producer that worked with us on the album, and, I don’t know, he just kind of flogged us a little bit. (laughs) He made us work on things with a slightly different mindset. I think all the songs benefited from that approach. It’ll be interesting to see what people think of it once they finally hear it, and have a little while to digest it.
RR: The album sounds tight and colorful, and not produced by someone other than moe., while maintaining that complete album experience, which is vital to me. How did you choose John Travis to produce the album? What had been his experience with moe.? And what did you feel he could bring to the band in the studio?
CG: He actually has known about us for a long time. He used to live in New York City, and he said he used to go to the Wetlands quite often, and he had seen us there, like in ’95 or ’96, around that time. He was familiar with the band in that way. He has worked with a lot of different bands. He’s worked with one of the grindcore bands. He’s worked with Kid Rock, Sugar Ray, and these kind of pop bands [i.e. No Doubt], and he’s also come from this punk background [i.e. Social Distortion, which is a genre upon itself]. It was weird that…in one way, he knew about our roots, and what we were doing 15 years ago, and, on the other hand, we had this conversation with him where we were referencing these different kinds of music, these specific albums by artists that we liked, and we had a lot in common, or, at least, the conversation was very easy in that we could get ideas across just by talking about specific albums and specific approaches to making recordings. And I think that was the one thing that clinched it for me—in that conversation, he didn’t seem locked into any one thing or another; it just seemed like we would all have the tools to talk about what we wanted to do and execute it. In that way, he seemed like the guy for me.
It’s hard to talk about music. You can say I really like this artist or this album, specifically, but when it gets down to the nuts and bolts of doing it, it gets a little harder because it’s not always apparent how to convey how to get a feeling across, or how to maintain energy and interest in a performance. It gets kind of gray. (laughs) It was good to be able to have that kind of rapport with him in talking about what we wanted to do. That was pretty important.
RR: Definitely. I think what is also important is that moe. is known for their expertise during live performances, and on a studio album, where consistency is vital, maintaining that live energy and momentum can be difficult. Travis does capture that live energy and consistent flow on this album, even with all the elements, i.e. the occasional Tom Waits vibe, and the wonderful instrumental that Jim [Loughlin] wrote. Did Travis intuitively understand that moe. needed a live feel with these songs, while at the same time wanted to craft a proper studio album?
CG: He knew what we had been up against in past experiments like doing Wormwood, which was half live and half studio-recorded. We talked a bit about that. What we ended up doing was just saying, “We’re only going to give ourselves three weeks.” To put ourselves under that time constraint really made everyone have to get to the point quicker. It is kind of better for us not to fuss too much over it.
That was one thing. The other thing was that we really, for the most part, did whole band takes of everything. Every track that you hear, the whole band was playing together with only the exception of like Jim’s song, “Chromatic Nightmare.” I think they recorded Jim and Vinnie [Amico] playing drums, and Rob [Derhak] playing bass, initially, just to get the timing right, and then we put on a couple of other flavors on top. To keep that live energy, it was the whole band playing together, and playing off each other.
One thing that I think that he understood was that those kind of performances, when the band is all playing together, you get more of the dynamic and you get more of the intensity that you might not get if you’re just trying to go for a perfect-in-a-vacuum performance of each instrument individually. It definitely helps out. I think when we all play together and, hopefully (laughs), we all have the same goal in mind, we can all push things in that direction and keep the energy up, even though we may have been working on a song for half the day trying different arrangements. Once you hit something that’s working, it’s almost like it’s fresh and it’s a brand new thing, so you get a little bit more of that initial spark and energy as part of the performance.
[Travis] made one point. He basically said that many of your favorite classic recordings have mistakes and out of tune stuff all over it, and it actually becomes part of the charm, or the uniqueness of that recording. And it’s definitely true, even if you listen to Beatles’ recordings. He pointed that out, and you don’t really think of it that often because a lot of people hold artists like the Beatles in such high regard. Of course, they are excellent singers; they never sing out of tune. It happens (laughs), and that contributes to the texture of what is going on. Sometimes, you can call it texture, and sometimes, it’s just so far out, it turns into something that is low quality. There’s a fine line there, as well.
You want to get the fire and you want to get the inspired performance, but you don’t want to lose quality control completely. I don’t know. This goes back to what I was saying before. There are a lot of elements to making a good recording without sucking the life out of it, and I think that was one thing that [Travis] is aware of, or he was tuned into was getting good performances out of us without sucking the life out of it, or without losing control of the quality of what was to become the final product. It’s good having someone else to do that, rather than the band responsible for every decision. It’s good to have someone else say, “No, it’s good, keep it,” because they can be a little more objective about it. It was good having him on board for this.