Loud and Dirty with moe.‘s Al Schnier
In January, moe. guitarist/vocalist Chuck Garvey sat down with Jambands.com for a thorough and in in depth look into their new album, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LA Las, as well as a discussion on 2011 highlights and the road ahead in 2012. Recently, we caught up with moe. guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Al Schnier for a brief chat adding further color to the commentary, including his view of producer John Travis, his own guitar work on the album, and the specifics behind the longest and most intriguing track on the new album, “Downward Facing Dog,” a poignant lyrical and musical gem, which segues into various sonic tonal soundscapes, but never loses track of the “big picture.”
RR: Why did you take older material, and mix it with newer songs on the new album, and why did moe. decide to use an outside producer?
AS: Regarding the song selection or material, definitely with Sticks and Stones, and the last new album with new material before that was The Conch, I guess every album that we’ve done, there has been a different agenda in terms of how we were going to cull the material, or approach the recording process. With Sticks and Stones, we tried to actually write an entire album in a limited time and space and record the whole thing. With [ WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LA Las ], we thought, “Let’s go with songs that have been taken out on the road, and have been put through their paces a bit. And let’s not just limit it to the songs that we’ve written since Sticks and Stones, but really anything that’s never had a chance to be taken into the studio environment, and re-approached in that medium.”
And that was sort of how we came up with a list of songs for choosing from, so really, anything that hadn’t been recorded on a studio album was fair game as far as we were concerned. But, then, like right away, we started saying, “Well, obviously, we’re not going to record something like “Meat” in the studio.” We did limit the parameters to some extent. I mean, we were going to be reasonable about it, I guess. (laughs) There were instrumentals that we did consider. “Chromatic Nightmare” is on the album, and some of the other more recent instrumental things that we’ve been working on actually found their way in different passages. Everything was fair game.
In terms of the producer [John Travis], it was sort of…it’s not that we had reached an impasse; we feel like we had gotten to this point where we have come to the conclusion that, in terms of self-producing moe., it had sort of plateaued at least for the time being because we have five captains steering the ship, and there is only so much you can do when you are compromising to that degree. It’s not that there is any discord, or disagreement, or anything like that, it’s just that when everything gets distilled down to a point of everybody having to compromise, nobody really ever gets their way, and no one of us ever walks away from an album saying, “Yeah, that’s really the album I wanted to make,” and none of us is really sure that that’s the album we should have made.
On the other hand, sometimes, when you do let go, that’s when we find our strengths. That is why moe. has lasted so long—the other guys in the band have better ideas than I do. (laughs) So, you know, often, the best thing I can do is shut up, for example. But, the key is knowing when to do that. In this case, we thought, “Let’s bring in a third party; have somebody else steer the ship, and we can go in and still be a creative force driving this thing, but have somebody else really kind of direct the whole thing.” And it worked out great in that regard. It took so much pressure off of us, so we could just focus on making the album, and not also have to be directing the project, as it were.
RR: How much knowledge did Travis have of the moe. vibe, and how much did his outside influence impact the recording of the album?
AS: He had very little knowledge of it, which is kind of cool. He did profess to seeing us at the Wetlands, and it almost sounded like it was by accident (laughs)—fifteen years ago, or ten years ago, but he really wasn’t familiar with anything we had done since that time, and, even during that time, it wasn’t something that he did on a regular basis. He wasn’t a jamband fan. He wasn’t a moe. fan. He wasn’t familiar with our catalogue. He wasn’t familiar with our tunes. He wouldn’t know the difference between “Timmy Tucker” and “Buster” and “Meat” at this point. And it was kinda cool.
I’m sure he knows who Phish and Dave Matthews and Warren and Panic are, and I’m sure he knows all the players in the scene. I’m sure he recognizes the names because he’s a very astute listener, and he’s got his ears open, and he’s listening to lots of different kinds of music, and he’s just aware of what is going on. But, at the same time, it was nice to have him come in, and not really have any preconceived notions about the way we should do things, or the way things needed to be because of some history, or some thing that we had done previously, so he was really coming in with fresh ears, which was cool.
RR: As I mentioned to Chuck in our interview, the album is a complete experience, and John Travis definitely nailed that aspect of what the band does on record.
AS: I’m glad to hear that. Yeah, that was something that we kept in mind, actually, when we were sequencing the album, as well. We went through a bunch of different options, and in the end, that’s kind of the thing that prevailed—“Well, I kind of see it as a Side A, and a Side B.” That was the one that really sort of worked for everybody—having it have those two sides like that where there was a start and finish to it, thematically, but, yet, still, the whole thing worked from start to finish, too.
RR: Is it fair to say that your pieces dominate Side One of the record, coloring the tone and feel of it, but, obviously, the band brings their influence into the mix, as well?
AS: You know, I hadn’t really noticed that, to be honest. That wasn’t a conscious thing. For us, it was more just about song flow and which songs made sense where. We want to have the right opening song, and then the next…you know, every next song has to be the right song. (laughs) We’ve always shared that same mentality. There are so many albums like that. I think about [Jane’s Addiction’s] Nothing’s Shocking, and the Fishbone album, Truth and Soul, and almost every Zeppelin album is like that, and so many Stones albums, and Beatles albums, and you can go on and on. I want to say that every Neil Young album is like that for me, but there are so many albums where that’s the way it is.
It’s funny. My wife and I were listening to either After the Gold Rush or Comes a Time yesterday, and one song ended, and she started singing the next song, like consciously, and that happens when you’ve been listening to an album for twenty years. I hope that we can make albums like that for somebody.