Have songs, won’t travel

A wild man onstage: R. Stevie Moore says he’s very generous with spontaneity at his live shows. Oh yes, and he wear’s plus-size women’s clothing, for added effect. Photo by Joe Demiglio

When R. Stevie Moore is known at all, he’s known primarily as a studio rat. That is, he has more than 400 albums to his credit. No, that’s not a typo: this underground sensation has recorded and released that many — first on cassette, and then later on CDR — since 1966. Despite all the recordings, Moore has never toured before.

Moore takes issue with the term album, preferring to characterize his releases as “diaries of sound.” Nearly always working alone, Moore writes, records, plays and sings everything on his albums. Long before the term DIY was coined, Moore crafted his endearingly oddball “diaries,” releasing them through mail order (and later, via digital means). He might be the father of DIY.

Working loosely in the pop idiom, Moore possesses a strong sense of melody; he knows how to insert hooks into his songs. But Moore filters those songs through a skewed sensibility: weird, but not inaccessible. No Jandek or Residents is he, at least not usually. A handful of his albums have seen mainstream release, including 1976’s Phonography, and a pair of best-of collections (2008’s Meet the R. Stevie Moore and 2009’s Me Too). But none of his songs have ever troubled the pop charts.

Moore recently left his home of 30-plus years in New Jersey, and relocated to his hometown of Nashville. At the same time, filmmaking student and friend John Demiglio approached him about making a documentary. One thing led to another, and New York-based Demiglio rounded up some friends and put a band together to back Moore on some live dates. Next thing they knew, they had mounted a tour: Moore’s first. “It just fell into place,” Moore says. “I didn’t seek it out.”

In 2010 Moore invited fans via the Internet to record covers of songs from his catalog, planning to compile them into his own tribute album. The blog-based project blossomed into an eight-volume set titled Copy Me. The set includes Moore’s songs reinterpreted by some of his most ardent fans. That list includes Dave Gregory (XTC); Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti; pop auteurs Jason Falkner and Eric Matthews; Jad Fair (Half Japanese); James Richardson (MGMT); and Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller), plus dozens of (far) lesser-known names.

When Stevie landed back in Nashville, he got together with another friend and began work on (yet) another album, to be titled Advanced. Using Kickstarter, Moore set out to cover the album’s recording and production costs.

“The irony is that my name has been bubbling under in the underground for decades,” Moore says, “and now it’s shot through the roof.”

In a recent New York Times interview, up-and-coming rapper/singer Theophilus London compared Moore to Brian Wilson, calling Stevie “one of my favorite writers … a genius.” For his part, London’s interviewer called Stevie “this New Jersey low-fi cult musician.” They’re both right.

Like his recording efforts, Moore stresses that the tour is “totally DIY. I have no booking agent, or management, or anything.” Moore met up with his new band in New York City this spring, and the tour began in earnest. They’ve secured some festival shows and dates in Europe. “The sky’s the limit,” says the 59-year-old Moore. And for someone who’s made a career out of working by himself in a home studio, Moore admits that he “really like[s] living out of a suitcase.”

The band is a study in contrasts. While bassist Moore (the son of famed Nashville session bassist Bob Moore) is a longtime veteran musician proficient with many instruments, his three bandmates are less than half his age. Their musical approach is “like any young band,” Moore says. “I’m the band leader, but I’m very generous with spontaneity, whatever they feel like doing.”

“I’m a wild man onstage,” Moore says, and there are ample YouTube clips online to prove him right. “I’m shredding my vocals more than I ever intended to, but that’s what comes out.” While the set does include a few ballads, Moore says the show leans toward hard rock. “Like my records, the show is a diverse as possible.”

He adds that he often wears women’s clothes (“plus size,” he laughs) onstage. Following the winning approach, Moore says that the show always includes “spoken word, absurdities, dada” between songs. Calling himself a “Master of Ceremonies,” Moore asserts that he wants to give “entertainment value. I don’t want to be some shoegaze band.”

But with such a massive back catalog, how does Moore pick those songs for an evening’s entertainment? “It’s all the hits,” he says, without a trace of irony.

— Bill Kopp is an Asheville-based music journalist whose features and reviews can be found at http://blog.billkopp.com and http://musoscribe.com.

who: R. Stevie Moore and Tropical Ooze with Quiet Hooves
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Thursday, July 7 (8:30 p.m. $8/$10. greyeaglemusic.com)

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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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