23 May 1993

R.Stevie Moore:
'The best kept secret of the underground'

Entertainment Writer
   The New York Times glowed about R. Stevie Moore's nightclub performances.
   The hip "Trouser Press Record Guide" called him an "awesome -- and seemingly bottomless -- world of talent."
   Rolling Stone said he's a "one-man musical empire."
   Moore's songs (which he writes, sings and plays by himself) have attracted fans from all over the world. Yet he's never held a major recording contract and refuses to work with a band.
   He's the father of the home recording underground, running a mail-order tape club from his Montclair, N.J. apartment, which doubles as a warehouse for his massive music and video collections.
   Now 41, Moore still clerks at a nearby record store to make ends meet but he'll tell you that's OK. He doesn't care that he's never cracked anybody's Top 10 list.
   "I'm not even in anybody's Top 400," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm the best-kept secret of the underground. I've never found a marketing niche, which is both awful and perfect."
   Fruit of the Tune Music has found a place for this weirdo extraordinaire. The tiny, offbeat label has released a sample of Moore's work on a new CD, Contact Risk.
   Born in Nashville, Moore is the son of Bob Moore, a bassist who played with Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Red Foley and Elvis Presley.
   "I was once in the same room with Elvis but I don't remember him," Moore said. "I was only 8 or 9."
    His early years were remarkably normal. He was reared in an upper class suburb, where he took piano lessons and got his first guitar at 10. His personality seemed untainted by eccentricity until 1968, when he discovered a new hobby---home tape recording.
    "I started taping horrendous, primitive but precious pop music," said the musician, who claims he's never thrown anything away.
     He attended Vanderbilt University for a while but dropped out because it was "too academic." By 1971 he had his own apartment and a new set of songwriting friends. It was time, he decided, to get busy with his tape recording.
   His method was to fill a reel chronologically. He didn't mix and match songs to create any sort of effect; he simply recorded whatever sprang to mind, whenever it sprang.
    Over the next five years, he recorded a mountain of material that didn't do much more than amuse his friends. In 1976, his uncle, Harry Palmer (former president of Atco Records), finally committed some of Moore's masterpieces to vinyl. The result, Phonography, earned kudos from Trouser Press Magazine.
   Palmer convinced him to move to New Jersey in 1978 because "Nashville was only country, and I hated country music," Moore said. "I was into the Beatles, Hendrix, Zappa. That was my generation; the music was about what you're not supposed to."
    He nourished his fledgling fans with the re-release of Phonography plus two new albums, Stance and Delicate Tension. His name began to pop up in reviews of other musicians, especially "do-it-yourself" types.
    However, his records couldn't be neatly categorized so they didn't sell and quickly dropped out of print. Although he later released more records on French and English labels and was called "an undiscovered American treasure" by Rolling Stone, large-scale acceptance eluded him.
    In 1981, he came up with a novel idea. Why wait for listeners to come to the record store? Why not cut out the middle man?
    The R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club was born.
    His catalog now includes more than 200 titles. "I'm so prolific that I used to put out a double album every month," he said. "I have no unreleased music. I release everything."
    Moore still photocopies his "tapography," mails it to prospective buyers, then personally makes each tape, sometimes including a personal message. These days, he's expanding his business to include home videos.
    "It's a psychotic, hermit lifestyle," he said of his cottage industry. "There are people all over the world who have sent hundreds of dollars and have every breath I ever put on tape. They're crazy and I love them."
    His experimental pop defies description because above all else, Moore values variety. A self-proclaimed "MTV junkie," he can appreciate even the most insipid junk. Ask him what he likes, and he'll rattle off a list that includes everybody from Jack Kerouac to Ween.
    "I love jazz although I don't quite understand it," he said. "But I'm not sure how I feel about rap. One minute I like it, the next I think it's ridiculous. All it takes is a little cleverness and the lowest common denominator of intelligence. All it really is is a beat."
    It's no surprise that the author of a song like "I Hate People" lives alone. He has a girlfriend but rejects marriage because "I'm not family-oriented at all. I just like to be in my own world."
    But since the release of Contact Risk, press hounds have been sniffing around, trying to pry the fox from his den. "I have to do promotion and I'll have to play live again," he groaned. "That kind of freaks me out."
    Ever cynical, Moore doubts this attention will bring mainstream success. "I have notoreity but not fame. My name comes up in 'Trouser Press' or 'Rolling Stone' and I see that I'm an influence on other musicians. I feel pretty amused by that because I feel like I'm still at square one."
    Major labels aren't ready for him because "I'm too esoteric, too avant-garde. I appreciate how the music industry works; it's who you know."
    Moore has already prepared his wish list if success finds him anyway. "I'd like to be more secure financially so I wouldn't have to keep my day job," he said. "And I'd like to be on 'David Letterman.'"