By Stephanie Guinan
Between running their own record label, merchandise company, and a rigorous tour schedule, the five guys that make up the band moe. keep themselves very busy. Famous for their energetic live shows, moe.’s onstage jams have been known to lift a crowd two inches off the ground. With a unique fusion of rock, jazz, funk, and bluegrass, their use of improvisation allows for many different genres to feed back into the music.
In a conversation with Al Schnier, who contributes vocals, guitar, and keyboard, I learned about his take on the jam band scene. “I feel like we’re somewhere in the middle of the whole food chain of
jam bands,” he said. “We can have a band like the Dead on one side and a younger band like Umphrey’s McGee on the other side. That’s what I love so much about playing the festivals. It’s like a
big family picnic.”
moe.’s beginnings trace back to when they attended college together at the University of Buffalo. The group found their common ground by listening to musicians such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers,
Primus, Frank Zappa, Jane’s Addiction, Steely Dan, and Little Feat, to name just a few. Fourteen years later, moe. is much more known for their unique sound than whatever influences might inform it.
“It’s really nice to know that we’re at that stage of our career, and we’re not on our way down, or battling drug addictions, or not speaking to each other,” Schnier said. When I countered with how
they weren’t exactly being featured on VH1’s “Where Are They Now?” Schnier replied with, “Or on VH1’s ‘Where Were They Ever?’”
Throughout the years, moe.’s evolution has been steady. “I like to think that the music has grown, has improved,” commented Schnier. “Though I hate to say that the music has matured. That kind of gives the impression that somehow we’ve gotten lame and boring.”
moe.’s creativity keeps the group from being anything but. As each song evolves through its instrumentals and vocals, the communication between the band and the crowd is central to the
performance. “The audience is very much responsible for what happens to the music throughout the course of the night,” Schnier said. “They afford us the opportunity to improvise, explore, and take the music in some new direction. They encourage discovery.”
moe. performs at several festivals throughout the year and even hosts two festivals of their own in upstate New York. At the well-known annual Tennessee event, Bonnaroo, moe. played their 2004 set
to an impressive crowd of 90,000. “In a larger venue, it takes more for us to get our point across, and it will take more feedback from the audience to go back and forth,” Schnier commented. “But
when it does, and you start volleying back and forth on that grand scale, it can be pretty expressive. I recall stadium concerts like that, whether it was the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd. When it can happen on that large scale, it can be really eventful.”
Speaking of the Grateful Dead, those legendary goodwill ambassadors also influenced moe. on their approach to copyrights. moe. not only allows people to record their live shows, they encourage it. “It has nothing to do with undermining the sales of studio albums, which is always what record labels have feared,” Schnier explained. “If anything, you’re going to sell more albums because you’ll have
more fans. If they want everything you do, they’re going to want the studio album as well.”
The band has yet to release another studio album since their 2002 effort Wormwood, although the group did begin work on an LP last June. Their approach on the new album is reportedly similar to
that of their last one. Instead of going into the studio and building songs from the ground up, the group took recordings of their live shows and proceeded to deconstruct, refine, and rework them in
the studio. For instance, moe. used the recordings of two concerts in Portland, Maine, as their foundation.
“We got to the point where we had a master final copy in hand, and we were just thinking that we could do better,” Schnier said. “So we’re gonna keep working on it.” Schnier wouldn’t give any hints
as to what we can expect, slyly stating with a laugh, “It’s a mystery — even to us.” The new album is tentatively scheduled to be released later this year on Fatboy Records.
moe. will perform at the Taft Theatre, located at the corner of 5th and Sycamore Streets in Cincinnati on Saturday, January 28. For more information, call (513) 721-8883.