Jam Band moe. Mark a Quarter Century by Continuing Their Endless Tour
Like many age-related revelations, the fact that his venerable jam band moe. (yes, lower-case and period are on purpose) has been together for 25 years sort of snuck up on band members Al Schnier and Rob Derhak, in perhaps the most intimate way possible. It wasn’t a creaky back or a sore knee that informed the bassist of the passage of time – it was something far more personal.
“I think [it happened] when I looked down at my pubes and realized just how grey they are,” says Derhak with a chuckle, by phone from Utica, New York, on a rare moment in between dates on the band’s never-ending tour.
A quarter-decade’s about five lives in rock band terms, so when a group gets there with their original lineup intact, still making fresh music, it’s cause for celebration. For moe., though, it’s kind of just business as usual. Since their formation in Buffalo in 1989, they’ve been the definition of road warriors: heads down, Fender necks up, dual-guitar assault on, improv-heavy two-set shows blowing the minds of college twirlers and open-minded rock fans in theater after theater around the country. And -- given the milestone -- you’d think it might be time for frontman Schnier (along with guitarist Chuck Garvey, drummer Vinnie Amico and de facto multi-instrumentalist member Jim Loughlin) to think about slowing down. But fans of moe. aren’t about to let that happen -- and neither is the band.
“We’ve got a big summer tour planned,” Schnier says. “We’ll fly to New York, Tokyo, Germany and back to New York again. And that’s just part of a month-long tour that leads into a whole summer of shows that is part of a year long schedule. And we’ve been doing this virtually non-stop for the past 25 years.”
The band’s philosophy -- shows first, recordings later -- was initially met with skepticism when they signed with Sony in the mid-‘90s (the band’s now on Sugar Hill, who just released the group’s 11th full-length effort, the typically eclectic No Guts, No Glory this week). But now, in retrospect? The band looks prophetic.
“The models we’ve used all along have become the norm for everybody,” says Schnier. “[We had] our own grassroots marketing, our own recordings, and [rolled] over into marketable live recordings that you can buy at shows. All of these are things that we’ve been doing for 25 years. So the industry is coming around to that because they’re trying to figure out ‘how do we commodify this’ -- because the old model doesn’t work. It works for us, because we’ve just been doing this all along.”
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Bassist Derhak agrees. “It’s kind of impressive, weird and surreal, just sitting back and thinking about how that all happened,” he says. “I’m not sure we were particularly brilliant about our businesses in any way. But I think we just basically stuck to our guns and did our thing, because we believed in what we were doing from the beginning. And that happened to be the best model to use.”
So why record at all, when you’ve got fans who have grown up with the band and are still coming back to shows after years? Schnier and Derhak spew anecdotes about long-time audience members they recognize from the front row who have reunions at major events like their annual three-day moe.down festival, as well as fans young enough to be their kids who still try to get backstage (Derhak: “I’d much rather be drinking beer with your dad right now.” Schnier: “Or your mom.”)
But that rush of releasing new material – and the industry adage that it can spark interest in a touring cycle – still beckons. “Four or five of the songs on the new album are songs that we’ve played live at our shows already in the past year or two,” Schnier says. “Each time we debut a new song it doesn’t necessarily turn into any type of buzzworthy event that feeds the tour. But if we debut all of them at one time in record form, just for lack of a better term, it seems to make a difference to that tour.”
So, as always, moe. will celebrate this milestone year by returning to the stage -- predictably unpredictable, and feeling at the top of their game. “The band is playing well, and we have a lot of new songs,” Schnier says. “It’s been fun -- everything is clicking again, and everything is syncing up.”
Those could be the words of a much younger man -- so long as Derhak avoids any crotch-shots.