All Roads Lead to Home: A Conversation with Chuck Garvey of moe. (Five Years On)
RR: I’m glad you said that. Last January, I spoke to Al Schnier about that very issueCD vs. album lengthand I brought up the fact that I’m so tired of bands releasing long CDs (not relating it to The Conch, of course)
CG: (laughs) That’s a damn long album.
RR: We were talking about that issue since we were both from the same churchthere was something about that length whereby the album as a whole stood together. Now, every band thinks they can go beyond that instead of doing some selective editing and trimming to present a proper work. This just leads to a lot of cherry picking where an 18-track CD will have three decent songs. It’s such a chore.
CG: Yeah. I thought about this. Some people might think that they were getting short-changed basically because you were using half of your available space“I’m paying $14.99 for this.” And yeah, “those people are stupid,” Rob [Derhak] says. (laughs)
RR: Creating the right amount of music to fit the idea. How did you select the old church to record in and how did you select old John Siket to produce? (laughter) How much material did you bring with you to that old church? Did you feel the pressure of coming up with a lot of new material on the spot?
CG: Yeah, it was near Great Barrington in the Berkshires [in southwestern Massachusetts in an area the Mahaican Indians called Mahaiwe, which means “the place downstream.”]. We knew we wanted a space where we could live and work in and our manager, Jon Topper, scouted and found this place. He did a really good job in finding it because it worked out perfectly.
The inclination to work with John Siketwe had had some success with him and personally, we got along with him and we like him. We trust him. “Does everybody want to do this? Does it suit what we are doing?” And everything pointed in that direction.
RR: Although you hadn’t worked with him for a few years. [Author’s Note: John Siket engineered and/or produced moe.’s Tin Can and Car Tires, the 2000 Jammy Award-winning L, and Dither.]
CG: No, it has been a while. We had been doing/going it alone. It had worked out. Our monitor engineer at the time, Bill Emmons, engineered Wormwood and The Conch and worked on both of those projects with us. He helped make them sound really good and definitely enabled us to get through the process because being the musician and the producer and the engineer and the guy running the recording equipment is just not something you can do. You have to delegate. You spend too much time doing someone else’s job and not enough time to do the actual recording or the art part. (laughs)
We had John Siket and our current monitor engineer, [Adam] Cass Libbers, who assisted. Another friend of ours, Mark Koch, rented a lot of the equipment to us and he helped out quite a bit. Basically, we set up everything in this church and John Siket enabled us to do what we had to do. We wrote, arranged and played through everything and he recorded our rehearsals. We could go back immediately and listen to what we just played, react to that and change the approach to what we were playing. It was a very fast process.
[Siket] made the recording aspect of the process very transparent. It felt more like we were just hanging out and writing music rather than recording or feeling like we were under pressure to actually do the recording part of it. That was really cool. He took the nervousness out of it. We were just doing our thing and he was documenting it. He did a great job at doing that. Every once in a while if he had an idea about an arrangement, he would definitely pipe up (laughs) and tell us what he thought. That was great because it is hard for us to do things like a true democracy. You need someone to bounce ideas off of who is a little more objective about it. The whole process was pretty cool.
RR: How many songs were near completion before you got to the location?
CG: “Conviction Song”we’ve been playing for years.
RR: And your own composition, “All Roads Lead to Home.”
CG: That we’ve only played a handful of times. We didn’t really change the approach all that much. It definitely had a growth spurt of sorts. (laughter) “Conviction Song”we just edited the length down so it was a lot more concise. Those two songs were the only two things that we had going into it.
RR: What about the instrumental track, “ZOZ?”
CG: I showed the initial riff to Rob and Jim a couple of months earlier when we were doing something else. We were working on a side band but nothing ever came of it for a little while, just the riff. We just made that riff as that’s the head and then we have the nebulous middle part and the head, again. It’s a very simple arrangement.
RR: What about some of the guests that appear on Sticks and Stones such as Allie Kral from Cornmeal who plays violin and viola.
CG: Allie Kral was nepotismpure and simple. Our manager, Topper, is now also managing Cornmeal and he suggested Allie for the job. We had been talking about adding strings and he just knew that she might be a good fit. It ended up working great. She came in for a day and we just thrashed her. She’s reallyit’s weird because they are a bluegrass band and maybe there is a certain limitation to the amount of styles of music that she might be willing to play but she was really adaptable to just about any idea that we had. It was pretty cool.
RR: How about the background vocals contribution on “Raise A Glass” from members of Umphrey’s McGee? Was that part added later post-church recordings?
CG: Yes. While we were in the studio in Massachusetts, we had actually done the whole background chorus thing and then, when we got to New York, [Umphey’s McGee] were playing a show and Al actually took a laptop with some recording software and went down to their soundcheck and they setup a couple of mikes and they did some boozy sing-a-long overdubs. (laughs) It’s pretty coolfield recording style.
RR: Let’s talk about “All Roads Lead to Home.” How far back does that song go?
CG: I guess it was written two or three years agoactually, it may be even longer. It might be four or more years old. We played it a couple of times and it just never felt right or sounded great. (laughs) but it was always something that you could fiddle with and try out but it never grew into something that felt like a keeper. You never know; it might still not. I liked how it turned out. I was surprised that it turned out the way that it did. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of looking at under the microscope or stepping away from it for a while and going back and tinkering with it. I’m never satisfied with the lyrics. I added some different verses. It’s part of the way that I look at some of the songs. I always want to do things a little differentlythat there is always room for improvement. I’m glad that we finally committed to a recorded version of it. It was about time.
RR: The song is also a fine example of good album placement, as well, as it leads into the introspective “September.”
CG: Rob wrote the running order. He said he was interested in taking a stab at it. Basically, Al and I said, “Go for it!” (laughs) Yeah, he did a really good job. Sometime, we fret and stress over stuff like that a little bit too much. This time, he was interested in doing it. He went through a couple of running orders and he came up with that and we said, “Cool.” In retrospect, now, after having listened to the album a couple of times, all of it makes sense. He’s good at it.