R. Stevie Moore Interview
Thurs September 22, 2004
By Mark Griffey
(Note to Editor: A link to his massive discography: http://rsteviemoore.com/tapelist.html)
It may be time for R. Stevie Moore to call the Guinness Book of World Records. At the age of 52, this DIY pioneer has self-released more than 300 albums (heıs lost count), many of which are double albums. His sound diary, as he calls it, includes conceptual noise, spoken word diatribes, power pop, prog, punk, country, mini-symphonies and some genres that donıt even exist yet. His albums, the majority of which are decorated and assembled by hand, are always stamped with his wry sense of humor.
"My whole thing is, I never throw anything away," Moore explained to me in his southern drawl. "I just fill up the tape and then go to the next one. Iım still searching for those who can help me to separate the wheat from the chaff."
On a mild night in August, I met with Moore and his wife Krystyna outside their favorite haunt, the Olde Towne Pub, a sports bar/restaurant in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Tall, but unimposing, Moore carried himself with a genial, laid back air that reeked of his southern roots. Heıd taped a card from the Sorry! boardgame to his checkered western shirt, possibly in tribute to my late arrival. Bad traffic, I told him. As we sat down to eat, I realized Moore was still wearing his oversized wraparound black shades heıd had on outside.
"Do you normally wear sunglasses indoors?" I asked.
"No, I just had cataract surgery." Moore replied. "Itıs okay though, Iım Hollywood. They used a laser to burst the cataract, then they sucked it out, put in an implant, and it healed. Nothing to it."
Evidently, pain is nothing new to Moore. For the entirety of his 36-year music career, heıs been unknown outside of a slowly growing, but rabidly dedicated cult audience. Itıs a fate he does not deserve. While comically diverse, his body of work contains some of the most entertaining, creative, and well-written music Iıve come across in my lifetime. In the Trouser Press, Ira Robbins wrote, "Why no major label has ever signed him is one of the modern era's mysteries."
"My whole career has been a period of bitterness," Moore began. "Iıve said If you donıt like this, I quit.*ı But that doesnıt mean I quit. Itıs the famous farewell tour, but Iıll be back."
Infrequent live shows, nominal label support, and a commitment to doing everything himself may have hindered Moore at first, but lately the biggest obstacle for potential fans is Mooreıs intimidating back catalog.
"Talk about artistic suicide. I have so much available, itıs more work for me to fill orders. Iıll get orders for all these titles I almost wish I wasnıt offering for sale. I have to do all the artwork, do the burning, dubbing, duplication. I need a staff. Iım tired of doing every tiny little step."
Most of Mooreıs official releases on labels like New Rose, Cuneiform, and Pink Lemon are not albums per se, but compilations culled from his vast archives. Many of these, like the recent Hobbies Galore, compiled by dedicated fan Mitchell Friedman and billed as "Mooreıs best 24--no filler, no covers-- all hits back to back" are listed on Mooreıs website as best sellers, and are intended as a good introduction to his work for neophytes.
However, to experience the full range of Mooreıs many personas and moods, the individual albums are more representative. "My albums are like radio shows by various artists because I do so many different styles. This week Iım into German avant-garde electronic music and thatıs all I care about. Next week itıll be hillbilly. Then power pop. Iıve always hated the fact that you have to find a direction. My direction is that I have no direction," Moore said, crossing his arms and pointing in opposite directions like the scarecrow from, The Wizard of Oz.
Born in 1952 in Nashville, Tennessee to Bob Moore, a legendary session bass player, little Stevie was always around music, even if his father never taught him a note. "I had a stilted childhood. My father wasnıt around much, and he was abusive. We fought, and we made up."
Although his father worked with legends like Elvis, Roy Orbison, and Patsy Cline, it meant little to Steve at the time. When Beatlemania hit in 1964, the 12 year-old boy lost whatever interest he might have had in the country and folk music scene in Nashville. "I grew up in the 60s, when Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, and Mothers of Invention were coming out, and I could care less about Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. But thatıs what my dad was doing for a living."
As he got older, Moore began to appreciate his Dadıs work on classic songs like Roger Millerıs "King of the Road". And at first, he did attempt to follow in his fatherıs footsteps, earning a paycheck as a session player on records by Perry Como, the Manhattans, some film soundtracks, and as a sideman for the band on Grand Ole Opry. "It was obvious I had the quick ear to be more than adequate for the job required, but I grew so intensely bored of that elementary musical style that it was clearly not my bag. And the manic home recordings I was making had no place to be heard in that environment."
In 1972, Moore began to send reels of his home-made recordings to his uncle Harry Palmer, himself a musician who worked for Atco. Palmer liked what he heard, and encouraged his nephew to continue sending the tapes. Ultimately, Palmer compiled the best of these and released it as Phonography on his own HP Music label in 1976.
The album set the stage for what was to come: a demented ode to an out-of-tune piano, a statement of artistic intent recited from the bathtub, a moody instrumental -- and thatıs just the first three songs. Ira Robbins, an early proponent, wrote the first of many glowing reviews in Trouser Press about Phonography. Musicologist Irwin Chusid also lauded the album, and Rolling Stone even posthumously acknowledged Mooreıs innovations by naming Phonography as one of the 50 most influential records of all time.
Finally moving away from home in 1978 to New Jersey, Moore next released Delicate Tension." Unlike the previous album it was more pop-oriented and featured such fan favorites as "Donıt Let me Go to the Dogs" and "Manufacturers. " Also, the recording was much clearer, with Moore now something of an expert at home recording techniques.
As was the case with Phonography, the album did little in terms of sales. The critics lined up to praise it (new fans included the Residents and a young Kurt Loder), but for Moore it was the first taste of bitterness and disillusion that would dog much of his career. "I know youıre never gonna make it if youıre just sittin in your bedroom," he says now, looking back. "I always understood that, but I was defiant. I just do what I do."
Moore dug in his heels and went further underground in the 80s, concentrating on the homemade tapes he produced at an alarmingly prolific rate and sold through advertisements in the back of underground magazines. From this growing heap of material, the French Rose label put together the sprawling "Everything You Need to Know About R. Stevie Moore," a career defining work that introduced Moore to many new fans. A more concise collection "Whatıs the Point?!" appeared a year later on Cuneiform.
After a decade of epic productivity, Moore abruptly stopped making music in 1989 to concentrate on videos, producing a huge body of work that mirrored the diverse, humorous work of his music. "It was lo-fi but fast paced. I did a lot of lip syncs, home videos, you name it," Moore said.
When he reemerged from his self-imposed musical exile, he got to work transferring his huge back catalog to CDR format and later, establishing his internet presence. "My main desire is to find these idiots who wonıt stop, who will build a huge stack of my CDıs, not just 5 or 10--" Moore began.
"Youıre calling them idiots?" Krys asked, cutting him off.
"Well, youıre an idiot if you have to get 300 albums by an artist. And thatıs what some of these people are doinı. But Iım an idiot too. I have to collect everything by everybody."
Because of the internet, Mooreıs business is better than ever, but he is far from satisfied. "I need exploitation. Thatıs the name of the game. Itıs not a bad word; itıs deserved recognition. Iıll sign anything. A rock icon, thatıs all I wanna be."
Itıs hard to believe a man with such conviction could be the same man who titled an album, "Whatıs the Point?!" and many times threatened to give up due to overwhelming apathy from even small indie labels. But contradiction is something Moore thrives on. Like the rebellious, nonconformist hero in Cool Hand Luke, Mooreıs rebellion is deep rooted and honorable, but often tragic. Irwin Chusid, a longtime friend, collaborator, and champion, found no space for R. Stevie Moore in his extensive book on outsider music. "Iıve even had trouble fitting into the outsider mold, because, I am an outsider, but Iım also professional and talented. Iım outside the outside. Everythingıs a fucking double edged sword." Moore paused and took a bite of a french fry. "But I love it. Try to stop me."
After dinner, we went back to Mooreıs house to listen to some music. "This is the sound of R. Stevie Moore, as recently as six hours ago," he said, playing me his latest song. It was a country tune, sung in French. It was apparent that even though our conversation was a bit downbeat, his music would always keep him afloat.
"Just curious," I asked. "What are your interests besides music?"
"Sure," he said, pondering. "Iım a huge racing car enthusiast."
"You have to discount some of the things he says," Krys told me, wearily.
"Iım just talking like everybody else," he said, pausing to stroke his gray beard. "Iım a big film buff."
"No heıs not."
"No," he agreed.
"Like, what do you guys do on the weekends?" I ask.
"Heıs mostly just doing music," Krys said.
(* liner notes to Contact Risk, a 1990 compilation)
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