Bands have long tried to replicate their live sound on their albums. Whether it be the energy of the crowd or the spectacle of the show, many a band have strived to cut and paste a show onto CD.
For moe., upstate New York’s jam-band kings, this formula yielded strong results for 2003’s “Wormwood” and 2007’s “The Conch.” By taking drum and other tracks from recent tours, going into the studio to overdub them and mixing it all, a cohesive, concert-evoking album emerged. But for moe.’s latest release, last month’s “Sticks and Stones,” (Fat Boy Records), the band decided to camp out in an abandoned New England cathedral to just write and record. Why the change? Why now?
“We felt like we had sort of done (the live show CD thing already.) We realized its full potential and wanted to try something new,” said Al Schnier, one of moe.’s two dueling guitarists, in a recent interview with The Hatchet.
So with a new approach, the band set out to create a solid, no excuses album.
“The idea for the album was that it was intended to be more of a roots rock album along the lines of ‘Workingman’s Dead’ (Grateful Dead) or the first couple of albums by The Band. That’s the direction that we were going in. We wanted 10-12 songs, 45 minutes and sort of a good rock album,” Schnier explained.
What came out were 10 solid songs that had never been played live before being recorded. From start to finish the album explores textures and genres in typical moe. fashion. “Cathedral,” the album’s first track, builds on itself the entire song by employing strong vocal harmonies and a soaring chorus backed by strong, solid drumming from Vinnie Amico. “Raise a Glass,” the album’s last track, would seem more befitting for a Dropkick Murphy’s CD with its Irish fiddle, tambourine and drunken revelry. On its current tour, the band has started every encore with the song.
During one of the sessions, Schnier said he was fooling around on the mandolin and came up with the tune. Once he showed it to the band, he said told the quintet he wanted to record it around a single microphone, Irish bar style.
“I wanted to get away from a kick drum, (so) we’d stomp,” Schnier said. “Instead of a snare, we’d clap our hands. It ended up really working.”
“Sticks and Stones” is just another chapter in the long history of one of the jam-band scene’s most beloved bands. In a culture that rewards musicianship, hard work and unpredictability, moe. has constantly remained at the forefront. Schnier – along with other guitarist Chuck Garvey, bassist Rob Derhak and percussionists Jim Loughlin and Amico – have played at many a Bonnaroo and sold out large theatres across the country. The latest album peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Heat-seekers chart for artists who have never been on the top 100.
In Schnier’s eyes, it’s not just moe., but the entire scene as a whole that’s doing well for itself.
“(The jam-band scene) is thriving and one of the most vibrant music scenes today,” he said. “In light of what’s going on in the pop industry, we have one of the most energetic and viable music scenes. People are starting to turn to live music. This scene has always prided itself on the quality of the music and I think maybe people are starting to catch on to that. There is something to be said for being able to sell a ticket to a show without (having) a song on Grey’s Anatomy.”
In a music scene dominated mostly by powerful, popular bands, moe. brings their own ingredients to the table. Perhaps their most potent tool is the dueling guitars of Schnier and Garvey. Last year, Rolling Stone named the duo among its list of the new “guitar gods” that included John Mayer and Derek Trucks.
For Schnier, the difference between the two guitarists is what makes them mesh so well.
“The thing is I’ve always been more of a straight forward, psychedelic rock guitar player in the band. I come from that school,” Schnier said. “Chuck comes from this other world where he always plays a little more outside of the box. I’m almost the exact opposite.We cross those lines quite a bit. We meet in each other’s worlds all of the time.”
For Schnier, he said he is just thankful for all the success his band has produced in the nearly two-decades of its existence.
“I’m still amazed that we’ve been doing this for 17 or 18 years at this point,” he said. “Not only are we maintaining a fan-base.(we’re) selling out shows in advance, playing larger venues and putting out new albums that are outselling our old albums at a time when CD sales are supposed to be declining.”
Amazingly, all of this has been accomplished without major label support or even a radio single. “We’re really, really fortunate and we have a really good thing going on,” he added. “I’m still ever thankful and totally surprised.”
Moe. will play to a sold-out show at 9:30 Club (815 V St. N.W.) Thursday night. For more information visit Moe.org.
This article appeared in the February 28, 2008 issue of the Hatchet.