Clack! An Interview with R. Stevie Moore
With a discography that boasts over 400 albums, R. Stevie Moore is easily one of the most productive songwriters of the last fifty years. An über-prolific pioneer of lo-fi and DIY music, Moore began his solo recording career in the late 1960’s with a four-track, a reel-to-reel, a couple of instruments, and a whole lot of ambition. To date, his albums are by far some of the most eclectic and eccentric pieces of songwriting and musical experimentation ever put to tape.
I recently had the opportunity to experience Moore first-hand after a bombastic set at New York City’s Webster Hall. Over the course of random harmonica outbursts, witty one-liners, and Madonna-hating, Moore managed to answer my questions about his latest compilation album, his sources of inspiration, and much more.
You have quite an impressive discography, and with over 400 albums to sort through, it is pretty overwhelming from an outsider’s perspective. What was the curating process like for Lo-Fi High Fives?
It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Tim Burgess of O Genesis went through all of his favorite songs. From there, me and him pretty much went back and forth analyzing that list. No big deal really. Everybody thinks it must have been really hard ‘cause I have so many tunes, but it wasn’t at all.
I noticed that there are a few songs on the compilation that are pretty obscure. I’m specifically thinking about I Go Into Your Mind and Here Comes Summer Again, both of which are true standouts on the album. Was it important for you to put the spotlight on a few songs that may have not have been as noticed over the years?
Nope, not really. Things are sort of happenstance, sometimes we make bad judgments and sometimes we make great judgments. It’s really hard to plan ahead for what’s the best selection for the marketplace. We had no agenda. There is a review of the album on YouTube where the reviewer thinks we’re trying to “clean up the act” for the newbies and mainstream, but that’s really not the case.
I think I saw that same review. It sounded like the reviewer was criticizing you for putting a bit more of your newer material on the album and less of the grainy lo-fi stuff.
Yeah, there are a lot of people like that. My golden era of lo-fi output was in the 1970’s in Nashville, long before I was affected by punk rock and other later music movements. Over time, I naturally began to clean up the sound. They call me “The Grandfather of Lo-Fi,” but I’m constantly on a crusade to get rid of that name tag. I love all forms of sound, both high and low fidelity sound, and there is nothing wrong with that.
I also thought that your previous compilation effort, Meet the R. Stevie Moore, covered a lot of your lo-fi material...
Yes, but there was absolutely no conscious effort either way. Not with Lo-Fi High Fives, not with Meet the R. Stevie Moore. It’s all about content and sequence, nothing else.
I read somewhere that Here Comes Summer Again was written and recorded between August 1 and 2 in 1977. Do you typically write that fast?
Nope, not necessarily. That song particularly just sort of came together. I really don’t go too far and take weeks or months to finish a song. Its more a situation of, “that’s good enough, let’s move on!”
Do you tend to write as you record, or do you typically have the songs fully worked out beforehand?
I tend to do both. A lot of times, it’s great to write as you record; the song sort of writes itself. I really love doing that, but other times the songwriter in me tries to get a good composition before anything else.
I noticed that I Go Into Your Mind is originally off of Clack!, but the version that appears on Lo-Fi High Fives is an updated version from Conscientious Objector. Is it important for you to take songs from long ago and breathe new life into them?
Sometimes, but it can also be important to just leave some of my older material alone. That has been a career dilemma forever - battling the lo-fi and trying to improve upon it, but often you lose a lot of the original composition.
You’re mostly known for your home recordings, but you have entered into studio sessions a few times in your career, specifically for Clack! and Glad Music. How does your approach in the studio compare to that of when you are home recording?
No, recording is recording! I like handheld mp3 recorders just the same as I like building enormous 48-track recordings. I can be just as spontaneous and creative in the studio as I can be at home. It’s really all the same to me.
I was excited to see that you included a song from your recent collaboration with Ariel Pink, Dutch Me. That collaboration seemed like a long time coming, was your approach any different working with him compared to doing solo stuff?
Not really, I’ve done tons of collaborations before! Throughout my whole career I’ve done a bunch of “collabs.” There really isn’t much different about it to me.
John Maus is another R. Stevie “disciple”, any plans to collaborate with him?
No, never. Actually, it’s possible. I think me and John Maus should do a spoken word album, one where he’s talking and I continually interrupt him ‘cause he won’t stop talking! *begins frantically blowing his harmonica*
Actually, I’ve always wondered if you had ever done a spoken word album. I know you have a pretty enormous backlog of material. Is that among them?
Sure, but not with an official record label though. I sort of have two discographies: my own that contains all of my self-released material and the official releases, which are what record labels decided to put out over the years.
Are there any plans to reissue any of your back catalog?
That’s actually been a big thing for me. People are getting tired of all of these “best of” compilations; not necessarily because of any overlap tracks, but more so because people are eager to hear the songs in their original sequence, as I intended them. Delicate Tension is pretty high on the priority list right now to be reissued.
You lived in Montclair, NJ for over 30 years. Tell me a little about that time. Were you primarily focusing on music those years?
I spent a lot of time growing fruit and vegetables out in my backyard!
Yeah, its a garden state! It’s actually a pretty long story. I relocated to New Jersey to get closer to New York City in an attempt to progress my career, and nothing really happened. I just kind of sat at home. I had a change of life and I moved back to my hometown, Nashville, never thinking that I’d be back there. And then suddenly my career began to take off! Not because of the Grand Ol’ Opry or anything musical down there; it was really just happenstance.
Your music is most notable for its vast amount of variety. Does that reflect your influences?
Life is diverse. You don’t want the same thing for dinner everyday, do you? I love listening to all kinds of music and I love trying to create all kinds of music; I don’t care if I make it well or not. My music is a mixtape, it is variety. I don’t have to think about it, it’s just how I live. I think that’s the problem with modern music - everybody’s album has one style that every track imitates. There is so much fantastic stuff, but likewise there is a lot of terrible music. Its all very formulaic now, you have your Britney Spears and Justin Biebers, and there’s always going to be that stuff. In other words, Madonna ruined rock n’ roll.
Are there any artists in today’s scene that are influencing you?
Ariel Pink is one of my favorites for obvious reasons. I really love inventive music, whether it’s indie rock, shoegaze, or Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean.
On Wikipedia, under the section “Notable Instruments,” it humorously states “all.” This is essentially true, as you play almost all the instruments on your albums. Is this the result of extensive formal training in music?
No, I took a few piano lessons when I was a kid and I learned basic music theory, but that’s really it. It’s all in the ears really. I inherited a great ear for arranging, chord progressions, and melody from my father.
Are there any instruments that you feel particularly strong with?
*laughs* The Lesbian Scat!
I couldn’t help but notice that this release and your split 7” with The Vaccines were both released by UK based label, O Genesis. Are you planning to pursue future releases with them?
I’m not really pursuing anything at the moment, I sort of wait for things to pursue me. But I’m wide open to anything - sometimes I feel have the need to rein it in and get a bit more focused, but if I did that I wouldn’t be R. Stevie Moore. Anything goes, there is no focus and why should there be? I’m not really promoting a new record, single, or a new gig; I’m promoting the aesthetic. I’m being heralded as the “Grandfather of DIY and Lo-Fi” and I’m grateful for that, but what about the content? I’m really about the music more than anything else.28 August, 2012 - 18:21 — Andrew Ciraulo