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Published: 2013/01/16
by Mike Greenhaus

moe.: The Jam Cruise Perspective with Al Schnier and Rob Derhak

How did playing with a fan versus a normal guest musician change the band’s onstage dynamic? Are there any specific examples for the three nights you could point to?

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. I can think of specific [examples]. When we did “Rebubula,” that’s a pretty written song, and there’s already two guitar harmonies going on, so what we ended up doing was [contest winner Matt Mahoney] played Al’s part and in another part he did Chuck [Garvey]’s [part], so those guys just came up with a third harmony—

Al: So we ended up writing new parts during soundcheck that day. We kind of had to sort through it because he thought he had just tracked all of my stuff from start to finish. He was like ‘I learned all of your stuff,’ and when we’d get to another section, it turns out he was playing Chuck’s part when we got there.

Rob: It’s hard to tell.

Al: So we just sort of mapped it out, and let him, we were like ‘you do all of the stuff you know,’ and when we get to all of these things, Chuck and I kind of moved around him, so there’s always like a three part harmony going on. A few times we played stuff in unison, but it was great. He did an amazing job.

Rob: And then when [piano player and contest winner] Joe Bellanti played with us, he had actually written an entire new arrangement of “New York City” for his audition tape, and we liked it so much, we ended up sort of changing the song to fit his arrangement. That came out really good.

Al: That was great. That was so cool.

Rob: My wife was like, “it sounds like the song is empty now without that there.” [Laughs.]

Going backward through your recent holiday shows, for Halloween you revisited two of earlier albums Headseed and Fatboy and performed them in their entirety. Who chose that Halloween concept and how much legwork did you have to do to relearn two albums from the ‘90s?

Al: We did the first two albums and the acoustic La La’s album.

Rob: And why did we do that again? [Laughs.]

Al: Well, here’s the thing. Every time we’ve done a Halloween show, there’s been some kind of theme and going into the Halloween show this year, nobody really felt compelled to have a theme. We didn’t want to have a theme.

Rob: Right.

Al: I went as far as to say, “Let’s just do a show on Halloween and that’s a theme.” It’s already Halloween. Why do we then have to come up with some other thing where everybody dresses like a character from Gilligan’s Island ? [Laughs.] Everybody’s already in costume, or already playing a rock show. Isn’t that enough?

When Zappa did his Halloween shows, they were just these legendary shows. He just played on Halloween in New York. That was it. That was enough. Then the freaks came out, and they did their thing. Take acid, dress in a costume and see Frank Zappa. That’s enough.

Rob: It’s just not enough now, man. Kids need more.

Al: Right. Well, this is kind of what we came to find out—

Rob: You know what else it was too, it was the fact that we’re playing at the Ryman [Auditorium]. The obvious thing was to do like the country music thing, but we already did that. We’re like, ‘we can’t really repeat that,’ so we struggled to come up with an idea for it.

Al: So we initially announced the show and there was no theme, but then there was this whole overwhelming response from our fans wanting to know—needing to know what we were doing. They needed direction from us, and people were compelled to know, so finally we decided to just [to say], “that the theme was going to be moe.” We were just focused on our own music and not have to learn a bunch of TV music or any other music, but just play our music. [We wanted to] give our fans three sets. We’ve done Willy Wonka, The Wizard of Oz, we’ve played Dark Side of the Moon, we’ve done The Simpsons.

As well as special Halloween shows where you wrote new songs around a fan-picked theme.

Al: Right. We’ve written different things that the fans have been involved with. This time was just like we’re just going to play our music, we’re going to do three sets and that would be the theme. The theme would be moe.

Rob: That’s what we should do next year. Instead of [auditioning], have fans actually write songs for Halloween and we’ll pick the music that we’re going to play.

Al: So take the fan contest one step further. Have them write original music.

Rob: Yeah, that will be the Halloween show. And if it sucks, it’s not our fault. [Laughs.]

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