Out of the box and onto the stage

Bright ideas: Indie-rock trio Total War kicks off the new season of AHA AVL. As part of the free, invitation-only performance, the band gets to borrow equipment from Moog Music. Photo by Carrie Eidson
Bright ideas: Indie-rock trio Total War kicks off the new season of AHA AVL. As part of the free, invitation-only performance, the band gets to borrow equipment from Moog Music. Photo by Carrie Eidson

Moog Music is known for its instruments. More specifically, analog synthesizers, the ones designed originally by Dr. Robert Moog and that carry his name. But even the best synthesizer is only as good as the musician playing it.

Composer Wendy Carlos is credited with introducing the Moog synthesizer to the general public by way of her 1968 record, Switched-On Bach. The list of well-known Moog players has since expanded to include the likes of The Beach Boys, The Beastie Boys, Daft Punk and a zillion others. Even rootsy Steve Earle uses Moog instruments. And the local instrument manufacturer has done a fine job documenting some contemporary touring artists rocking out on Moog equipment in the Moog SoundLab video series (check out unexpected acts like The Tallest Man on Earth).

But then they went one better in late 2011 with the AHA AVL concert series, featuring WNC-based groups performing for a live audience in the Moog store on Moog equipment.

The band can borrow any of the gear that Moog manufactures, beginning a month before the show, leading to some creative new renditions of songs. “There are no expectations on how they use it or if they use it,” says Alex Medley, Moog’s special events manager. “It is something that we can offer to give the artists an opportunity to think out of the box and experiment with new sounds.”

Jeremy Rose, the lead singer and guitarist for local band Total War, deadpans: “It’s an amazing opportunity for us, because the pedals are worth more than my whole rig.” Part of the challenge of working with the equipment, says Rose, is that Total War — who will kick off the new AHA AVL season on Wednesday, Oct. 9 — is a three-piece (with bassist Ory Petty and drummer Adam Woleslagle). “If any one of the three of us gets too pedal-y at any moment, it’ll be a two-piece with weirdness.”

Anyone who’s seen a Total War show knows about the vulnerable spin they put on indie-rock. Equal parts quirky sweetness and propulsive intensity, their songs are both personal and cinematic. The trio’s video for "All We Have Tonight” won best song and the audience choice award at this year's Music Video Asheville. They already have ideas for AHA AVL and will also incorporate a keyboardist. Some Total War songs have implied keys parts and, says Rose, “We figured it’s a synthesizer factory, so we should use a synthesizer.”

Starting with the 2013/2014 season, Moog Music and Mountain Xpress are partnering to curate and present the lineup: Look for AHA AVL videos, previously released through Shuffle magazine’s website, to now be featured on mountainx.com.

Those videos are important to local bands, too. Moog’s videographers record multitrack audio throughout the entire set and choose the best track to cut together into a high-quality, live-performance video that the artists can then use for promotion. It’s perfect timing for Total War, who have been writing songs and hope to go into the studio later this month.

Rose says that the writing process “usually comes like molasses,” but that they hope to debut two new songs at AHA AVL. His band has been busy recently: opening for Moon Taxi, sharing a stage with locals Doc Aquatic and planning a Northeast tour. Going forward, “The Moog brand is nice to be associated with,” says Rose.

It’s nice for Moog Music to be connected to the local scene, too, and the whole AHA AVL series is locavore at heart: Bands can invite their friends to the no-cover shows where local beer and kombucha is served.  “I’m really excited about it being free. And not in somebody’s living room,” says Rose. Even though it is an invitation-only event, that list is not exclusive (space allowing). Sign up for an invitation by emailing aha.avl@moogmusic.com.

“Asheville has such a diverse music scene, each act is different from the next,” says Medley. “We are looking forward to The Hermit Kings and Comet West.”

In November, local duo Albert Adams will release a new album as part of an AHA AVL show. Beyond that, while Moog Music and Xpress can only speculate about what those bands, from alt-rockers to Southern-fried hip-hop acts, will bring to the AHA AVL stage, past performances have been unexpected in the very best way.

In 2012, Ahleuchatistas’ blistering set was cut short when a speaker caught fire — that was memorable. And, on the other end of the spectrum, composer Danny Peck (aka dep) presented quiet beauty, remixing songs by local artists Molly Kummerle, Stephanie Morgan and Ty Gilpin.

“Somni Suite used a polyphonic chain of six Slim Phatty analog synthesizers to make the ultimate 12-oscillator, six-filter super synth,” Medley recalls. “Brushfire Stankgrass used Moogerfooger analog effect pedals to turn traditional bluegrass banjo into funky spaceship jams. Razor & Blade did live drum and bass with analog synths, which was different than the normal laptop scenario.”

Those are tough acts to follow, but the new season’s lineup looks up to the challenge.

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: Total War
where: Moog Music (160 Broadway St.)
when: Wednesday, Oct. 9 (7 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m. and close at 6:45 p.m. Invite-only. For an invitation, contact aha.avl@moogmusic.com. More info at moogmusic.com/aha-avl; view the videos at mountainx.com.)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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