All Roads Lead to Home: A Conversation with Chuck Garvey of moe. (Five Years On)
Photo by Norman Sands
RR: Speaking ofRob’s brother John is also good at storytelling. How did you get involved with doing the cover art for his novel, Tales from the moe.Republic?
CG: Yeah, he is. He can spin a yarn. I’ve known John for years. Shortly after I met Rob, I also met John and he comes out and sees us whenever he can. He’s always been a supporter of the band. His “Feeding at the Trough” that we featured when we used to do snail mail [newsletters] were always really cool, funny fiction that was surreal for us that it was based around us or implied that it had something to do with us. We always thought that was pretty amusing. He proved right from the start that he was really talented at either completely bullshiting everyone or just having a great command of the tools. I don’t know how to put it but he’s just really good at what he does and I think he’s a natural at it. He and Rob were talking about releasing [the novel] through Fatboy, our record label, trying to help it out. They suggested that since I do the Warts and All [moe.’s live vault releases] artwork would I be interested and I was definitely interested. It’s very hard though because there are so many characters. Have you read the book?
RR: Yes, pretty thoroughly since I did a feature with John last year for our site.
CG: (laughs) Yeah, there are so many characters and there are so many crazy plotlines going on that it was kind of difficult to capture that in a picture. I was having a hard time.
RR: Well, it worked out really well. You have numerous characters on the cover.
CG: It’s weird because you can’t draw a hotel because that’s not very fun to look at but, I don’t know, when you see an elephant and a guy flipping you the bird, you’re just wondering what the hell is going on in there? (laughs)
RR: You brought up an interesting point, though. John Derhak and I spoke about the moe.Republic Hotel as myth and the fact that he received e-mails from people wanting to stay at this mythical location as if it really existed.
CG: It sounds pretty inviting, doesn’t it? (laughs)
RR: It does.
CG: Especially the moose running through the lobby or the ghost.
RR: Exactly. Does the band sometimes feel it has its own projected persona much like the hotel in the book? If so, how do you separate yourself from that whole “band as myth” sort of situation? How does moe. distance themselves from their own myth and just play?
CG: From the myth as fiendishly devised from John or myth in general?
RR: The myth in general that subconsciously is always present almost like a separate entity because of the band’s history.
CG: There’s a weird cult that goes along withit’s weird; it goes beyond the characters and the plots and the stories that are involved in our songs. It’s partly that which to a certain extent we have put an investment in our songs. People may be interpreting them in a different, more personal way. It’s different for every person. The beholder always has their own interpretation of what’s going on.
There’s that and there’s also the things that we say on stage, occasionally, like busting balls on each other. That stuff takes on this world of its own, a meaning of its own, that we forget about. We have no idea because that’s how we talk to each other all the time. Sometimes these things that are on a recorded live show, for example, if a certain show is traded digitally or however, certain little things that were said in passing or just happened at one show become something that a large group of people start talking about, discussing like a chunk of pop culture. It’s like a whole new storyline comes out of it when people start discussing it as a group and they really invest a lot into it. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. I’m just saying that there is a certain amount of myth or surreal aspect to what we do because big things come sometimes from very small gestures.
I don’t think we necessarily cultivate it but we definitely cultivate a certain relationship with our audience where we feel comfortable saying these weird things (laughs) or writing these bizarre songs. Just the fact that people embrace that is great because we get to be ourselves and it’s kind of open to interpretation and open to group discussion to what the hell it all means. It’s kind of fun to see that happen. I think all of us tend to stay away from things like Phantasy Tour or other outlets like that where people discuss things in detail. I think it is best that we ignore that to a certain degree so we can actually be ourselves instead of being influenced by that. Things tend to be a little bit better but, at the same time, cultivating that relationship is very important and we try to do that on a more personal level rather than through a digital outlet like a forum. (laughs) I’m up for cultivating the myth but I think we like it to be done in a more organic way.
RR: Which leads us back full circle to the new material on Sticks and Stones and the fact that these songs will now take on a life of their own on stage. Have these songs been developed in a way in which space is being inserted so they open into a jam? I’m thinking moe. isn’t the type of band that will play the new songs as recorded.
CG: Yeah, to a certain extent, it is going to be like that until we get some strong legs under these songs. At the same time, all of these songs are now building blocks with which we can construct completely different sets where we use the end of one of these new songs as a segue into one of older songs or the other way around. We can definitely insert longer improvised sections. These songs are definitely a creative starting point for many more ideas. Right now, we have yet to actually do anything with them. This is the very starting point. We haven’t even really completely discussed if we are going to play the songs tonight or we are going to start when the album comes out. We might start debuting the songs earlierat least a couple of themand wait until the release date to have all of the songs in rotation. [Author’s Note: moe. broke out new material on the first night of the tour, the evening of this interview, at the Fillmore in San Francisco.]
These songs represent the possibility for thousands of more combinations and jumping-off points in our music. I’m really looking forward to thatwriting new sets where we can creatively, as you said (laughs), insert weird parts or insert these songs, wholesale, into other songs. In doing that, you can get new meanings out of all the material. Just by putting two songs next to each other, you can get a new meaning or a new musical idea out of all of these combinations. I’m definitely looking forward to that. There’s a lot of possibility ahead. That’s always exciting in anything you do. No one wants to be in a dead end job. No one wants to be in a relationship that is going nowhere. This represents possibility and forward movement for us so it’s kind of likenot that people necessarily get stuck in dead end jobs but you also can plateau where you don’t feel like you are completely creatively fulfilled or you are not getting everything out of it that you need. There are times like that for bands where creatively, you get exhausted or you are going through the motions until the next big expansion and it happens that way with everything. Right now, it feels like there is an expansion going on.
I actually just got d vu. I remember saying something like thisnot that I feel that we had necessarily been plateauing for a long time or stagnating but right now, it feels like a period of expansion; a creative burst started as soon as we moved into the church. Now, there is the second stage of that with this material, like a second life. Pretty cool. (laughs)
RR: How do you view this period of expansion in 2008personally, for yourself?
CG: I’ve had this feeling of dark cynicism, mostly because of the state of affairs in our country and the world. There hasn’t been a whole lot of idealism and happy, warm thoughts going on. It’s hard. At the same time, periods like this, in a general sense, can inspire creativity in a different way. Maybe it inspires people to be a little more idealistic and hope for the next phase of their lives. I feel that 2008 is going to offer that. This administration is going to end and hopefully, not beI don’t think there is any way that the next administrationwhatever it may be whether it’s Republican, Independent or French, whateveris going to be the same. Looking forward to the possibility of that next phase of our country’s existence is going to inspire a lot of people, hopefully. I feel like, if not optimism, just the fact that things being the way they are, they are inspiring people to react to it and I feel like a lot of creative people are reacting in a very positive way to motivate other fellow humans to do good and to see the truth and the bullshit in things. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of creativity in the next couple of years. I think there is going to be a big shift in the music industry. It’s been going on but it is going to get even crazier before this is all over. I’m looking positively towards that.
RR: moe. did have their dalliance with a major label but the band is now a very much independent, family-run organization.
CG: Things have gotten better for us after we split with Sony. (laughter) They did absolutely nothing for us other than putting up the cash for the recording and putting us together with a producer, John Porter, for No Doy. That was great. We got studio experience out of that but really it was just another step in our learning process of how to interface with the recording industry, which was almost in its death throes, and they were willing to put money on a jamband or an improvising rock band such as ourselves. Because we weren’t easy to deal with, we weren’t easy to promote. Throwing money at us wasn’t going to make us prettier. (laughs) We just realized that wasn’t the way for us.
That’s really the story of our lives. Every time we make a recording, every time we make a decision, we can’t look at anybody else. We have to say, “What are the conditions? What is going to be best for us?” That’s how we approached recording this project Sticks and Stones. We knew that we had to be in a comfortable spot and not stuck in a sterile studio situation. We needed to be able to wake up, make coffee and start doing something creative every morning. Sit down and play guitar and come up with a song. That’s really what works for us. We can feel a little more human about it or not under the gun to produce a hit or do anything like that. Doing that was very refreshing for us. We set goals and limitations on ourselves. We created this album and now, we are setting new goals for ourselves and reinterpreting all of this material. 2008 just means that we are going to do our best to be creative and do something positive on our own terms and in our own way. That’s the only way that we can really do it. It took us about 15 years. (laughter)