All Roads Lead to Home: A Conversation with Chuck Garvey of moe. (Five Years On)
Earlier this month we ran an interview with moe.‘s Al Schnier and Rob Derhak. Today we look back five years to this conversation with another of the group’s co-founders, guitarist Chuck Garvey.
Photo by Norman Sands
Nickeled and dimed by some other guy’s lies, I’m tried and true, I’ve got news for you – “All Roads Lead to Home,” Chuck Garvey
moe. returns on the heels of the sprawling The Conch with another fine studio release in late January 2008. This time out on Sticks and Stones, the veteran jamband chose another unique method to cut tracks. For the first time, the New York group recorded the material in the studio without having debuted the songs on the road [with two notable exceptions]. The result is an excellent set of ten songs produced by John Siket that offer a mixture of classic rock, jam and stately passages which feature Allie Kral from the bluegrass band Cornmeal on violin and viola and Umphrey’s McGee on the set closing piratesque sing-a-long “Raise A Glass.” Indeed, raise one or three as Jambands.com sits down with moe. guitarist Chuck Garvey on the afternoon of their tour opening, sold out performance at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Garvey is as adept with his soul-searching banter as he is with his speed-defying guitar licks and delivers a unique perspective on the moe. history and our current cultural climate in Election Year 2008.
RR: What can we expect from moe. on this first tour of 2008 other than the fact that we will hear some Sticks and Stones material?
CG: Yeah, you’re going to hear some Sticks and Stones. That’s like a big part of what is going to be going on here (laughs) because of the way that we recorded this album, writing and then recording everything right away then, not playing it for the most part. We haven’t really played these songs, yet. We’re going to be relearning them, doing live preproduction and then, playing them for the first time. The way that we usually do things, we’ve written songs and then we play them live for a while and the arrangements might change or the way we approach them might change. But it’s exciting when you debut a new song. At the very least, we have eight new songs to debut so it’s exciting for usand a little nerve racking, maybe (laughs)there’s like a different kind of energy that comes with doing all of this stuff for the first time. We’ve been waiting for a while to be able to try to do something like this.
RR: What led to the decision to record the majority of the material in the studio for the new album without having played the songs live?
CG: We’ve actually wanted to do it for a while but out of necessity, we just couldn’t do that. It takes a lot of commitment and time and money and a lot of other things to make it happen. Logistically, it just never worked out although, that’s what we wanted to do. We just had to force the issue this time and say that this is what we are going to do. We’ve done it before with a couple of albums where we’ve come up with new songs like, for example, on _Tin Cans and Car Tires_the two songs “Hi and Lo” and “Big World,” we put together as we were doing preproduction for the album. We were working with a bunch of songs that we had done live and then, we added those two. (laughs)
Then, we talked about how we were going to approach it. Are we going to not play these songs until the album comes out? We ended up playing them live before Tin Cans and Car Tires came out. It’s been done before that we wrote and recorded songs without playing them in front of an audience but we’ve never kept the mystery for this long (laughs)to try to spring it all at once on an unsuspecting audience is going to be a much different thing. It’s exciting for us and hopefully, it’s just as exciting if not more so for our fans.
RR: The last time I saw moe. was at Vegoose over Halloween weekend in 2007. I saw the festival gig but I also caught your late night show at the Joint. How far along was the new material at that point?
CG: It was already mixed, I think.
RR: You had already been in the studio and were done with the recording?
CG: Yeah, we built our own studio. (laughs) Initially, in September, we did the writing and the bulk of the basic tracksthe full band tracksand we did vocals and overdubbing, later at the Magic Shop in New York. That was kind of like the beginning or towards the end of October. Everything was getting mixed by the timeoh no, that’s wrong. That’s right. We figured out that we needed more time.
RR: And the decision was also made not to debut the songs at Vegoose at that time?
CG: Oh yeah, definitely. We definitely made the decision that we were not going to play these songs until it was released.
RR: As far as late October and the new albumthe new material needed additional work? Were there mixing issues?
CG: Yeah, you just feel like there is more work to be done some times. With us, I don’t know. We definitely imposed some time restrictions on ourselves. It was just a littlemaybe, it was a little bit unrealistic. Everything came together really quickly. It’s just, you knowevery time we do a recording, it’s a learning process and we kind of figure out how to engineer in the time for mistakes.
You know what happened? We recorded everything digitally and there was one issue during the recording where we lost two days or a day and a half where we couldn’t do anything and it was actually a big step back. We lost some work that we had done on the recording or producing aspect of it. There was some kind of a big crash (laughs) and we lost some of the recorded stuff. I guesseverything had been going really well and we just had one thing like that happen that set us back. The mixing process started off leisurely and then, towards the end of it John Siket [producer] was burning the midnight oil to get it all done.
RR: I love the fact that Sticks and Stones created a challenge for moe. The songs had not been performed live. I also appreciate the fact that the band plays ten songs and then, the album is over in a reasonable amount of time, an album length obviously, after the time-consuming work on your previous album, The Conch. There are major differences in the recording process between the two albums.
CG: It was a little bit of an about face, wasn’t it? (laughs) Talking about the differences between The Conch and Sticks and Stones alonethey are kind of night and day in how we approached it, the amount of time that we took, the (laughs) overall sound of it, the way we played, the way we arranged the songs, everything was a complete reboot (laughs) to our system. That’s good for us because getting in a rutwe all get really bored and thisactually having a fresh outlook and approach to everything made it all the more interesting and easy for us because it was a new challenge. Not like trying to make a good facsimile of what we’ve already done live or taking all of the best bits of what we’ve learned about a certain song live and applying it to the studio. Just having the completely fresh outlook on everything made it really fun for us. Hopefully, you can hear that in the recording. (laughs)
RR: I’ve listened to the new album several times and I hear moe. trying to find a new group identity, a new persona that is different from what moe. has done before. I’m wondering what rut you felt that you were in that led to this revelation?
CG: It’s not a rut but it’s just having our past m.o. being writing a song, playing it in front of an audience and then, we have it down. To a certain extent, the life goes out of it a little bit. When it comes time to record it, it’s like “O.K. we’re going to do a really stiff version of this, now.” Where if the song is so young that we’ve literally just arranged it and say, “O.K. this is going to be the arrangement, let’s play it,” and now, that’s the songthere’s a little more nervous energy to it. It’s more like a teenager than an old codger. (laughter) It has that energy. We’re all listening to it with fresh ears. We’re not listening to it like it’s something that we’re very comfortable with; it’s something that if you don’t pay attention, it might get out of control.
It’s like the beginning of a relationship. (laughs) I don’t know. After approaching the recording this way, that’s the way it appears to me. I definitely see the benefits of doing it that way. The format is also refreshing, too. In the past, the limitations of CDs are that you can cram 72 and a half minutes of whatever on a disc and just because you can do that doesn’t mean that you should. People’s attention span is reallyafter 20 minutes, I can get bored if it is not doing what it should. We tried to make everything be the concise best that it could and make it something that stands as a whole. At 42 minutes or whatever it is, it is a good length, it is the classic length that was imposed by vinylthe restrictions to cutting to vinyl. It just made sense in a lot of different ways to have it be a 42-minute attention span, which is digestible and also, it does harken back to the golden age of recording between 1965 and 1975 where all of those classic albums came from. Maybe it’s a nod to that. It’s kind of both.