Volume, Yale's Music Magazine - Issue 12 - Dec 2009



A T  W A R  A G A I N S T  M E D I O C R I T Y

Taja Cheek and Jarrett Moran

My encounter with R. Stevie Moore began with
a sharpie-addressed package including: hand-labeled
CD-R releases, some scraps of cardboard, a "Guide
to Good Hosting" brochure. Admired by greats from
Frank Zappa to Guided by Voices, Moore has main-
tained a profilic solo career of over 30 years by record-
ing at home and hand-addressing tapes and CD-Rs for
his fans. Writers tackling Moore, as if anxious to anchor
this career to some conventional benchmark, invariably
relish the phrase "recorded over 400 albums," which, of
course, only compounds this mystery.

Moore's story begins in Nashville, where his father was
a long-standing Elvis sideman. At seven Moore made
his first commercial album appearance in a duet with
Jim Reeves, and at 14 he discovered what would be-
come his life's work: home recording. He released his
first solo album of home recordings, Phonography, in
1976, an album Rolling Stone listed with the 50 most
significant indie albums of all time. His entire career
has consisted of the stuff bands of the oughts would
like to think they invented: releasing material as it's re-
corded, commercially releasing lo-fi home recordings,
and turning the latest technology into an independent
business model--back in '88 Moore even started a VHS
equivalent of a YouTube channel. All this as a byproduct
of doing what he loves doing for people who want to
hear it, from tape collage to surf rock to hip-hop.

In recent years you've sometimes mentioned being on the verge of giving up recording new music. How did your latest album, Sentimental Ties come about?

I still haven't given up, not quite. I do often think about it, but naturally inspiration prevents it every time. Who's foolin' who? Sentimental Ties came about like most of my previous hundreds of home albums, it's merely a collection of my most recent sessions & collaborations. There are always projects hanging around, waiting to be finished and added to the sound diary. Although I've slowed down considerably, I'm always on autopilot. When there are noises to be made, they will burst forth, and they will be good. 100% relevant to the vast RSM catalog. No discarded inferior outtakes or aborted jams. Tsall good, every piece deserves to go on 'the next album'. It's always been like that with me.

What music are you currently listening to? Any new music?

All kinds, old and new. I certainly no longer feel the urgency to keep up with the dozens of young new bands that spring up annually; I am clueless what kids even sound like anymore, I ignore because frankly they are NOT making new music. This perfectly honest, common question so often gives me the creeps, because I have been such a deeply serious listener of music A to Z since being a young child over 50 years ago... and always feel that my answer really says nothing more than 'what i had for dinner today'. Tomorrow will likely be the complete opposite. I always whine about, why doesn't everybody else live this way... instead of the tunnelvision lack-of-variety norm which permeates the world. Society is so obssessed with ranking and favorites - I truly hate this game. Yesterday morning I revisited an alltime classic, PiL Metal Box. In the afternoon I cleaned (!) & played an old Bobby Vee mono Lp. At night it was early Kraftwerk, or Louvin Brothers, and Emitt Rhodes. Today I have not listened to anything. But I want to. It's no big deal. It's a very big deal. Constantly. I live by random instinct, and my musical tastes parallel that. "Currently listening to" does not compute. Thousands of choices. Overwhelmed jukebox.

You're sometimes called a pioneer of the lo-fi aesthetic, which has become a stylistic choice instead of a recording necessity. How do you feel about musicians self-consciously choosing a lo-fi sound?

No opinion, really. It's never been the media format or signal2noise ratio which matters to me, it's the creativity and variety. The only self-consciously chosen direction I believe in is the WAR AGAINST MEDIOCRITY. Naturally, I remain in the small minority there! Fidelity: what does it even mean anymore? I don't do iPod. Diff strokes for diff folks. Surround 5.1 at someone else's house is magnificient, but oh so silly. Monaural cassette home demos are like precious diamonds excavated from out in a field somewhere. Robert Johnson 78's do not require colorized restoration. Old vintage audio vs. 48-track digital... a stylistic choice? I guess this Fi-fi question will never ever go away, but I ain't answering it no more.

What's your reaction to the new wave of musicians deciding to go without a record label and distribute their music on their own terms?

All for it. It's really not as new as is assumed. Since I was doing it over 35 years ago, and still going strong, there's a smirky grin on my face. "Indie rock", what a larf.

A lot of musicians going it alone are using the internet to get their music heard. How do you feel about the possibilities and pitfalls of digital music culture?

No opinion, really. It seems we have arrived here without actually trying to, right? This is what we have now, so this is what we do. There are pitfalls present in every decade of every art. But in general, the wwweb is absolutely amazing for DIY, innit?

As blogs and iTunes have shifted focus toward independent tracks, why do you continue to release your material in the album format?

I'm not sure I agree that the current focus is entirely on single songs versus full-lengths. Ya gotta have both. Or not. It's apples and oranges. Some like one or the other, some like both. Again, this is nothing new. Some listen to the radio for free, some invest hundreds in 15-disc box sets. I do both.

Selections from your home-recorded cassette material have been re-released on a variety of record labels, for example Meet The R. Stevie Moore on Anthology Records (?? note: you must mean Cherry Red?). What is your relationship to these re-releases and the various labels you've worked with?

Simple licensing. It's a dream come true, takes a lot of the burden off of me.

Why did you focus on home recording instead of touring?

It's just what appealed to me. Never was keen on overheavy emphasis on live performance. I wasn't purposefully trying to buck the system or industry by staying home with my tape recorders, I just followed my muse. Touring has never been an option, but stray gigs can be gratifying... yet, usually the tiny payback is very disappointing and I'll hide away from the stage again for months. As I've grown older and much less mobile, the offers have seemingly increased, usually by young people - but I cannot bear the travel and aggravation before and after the show itself. I need a staff. I have none.

Do you feel any discomfort or pressure when transferring your home recordings to a live setting?

A little bit. I do wish the conversion was more polished and more prepared, although so much of my reputation remains refreshingly unstructured and spontaneous. That's the paradox, trying to wear too many different hats at once. Only one head. And yet, on the other hand, I don't find myself with that much stagefright discomfort once I start my set. I feel the beauty of the train wreck is the anxious anticipation of anything goes. And I've kind of turned that into some kind of art form by now. Too bad my audiences are still only 40-50 strong. Perhaps my crazy shows are way too much of an acquired taste. As also my eccentric records show, there are those who get it, and heavily, and those who don't.

What's next for R. Stevie Moore, and can we come along?

More of the same! Somewhat sadly, I don't sit and concentrate on composing concise pop songs near as much as I used to (and wish to), but I enjoy collaborating with other likeminded peeps, and will always dig my extreme variety-philosophy: of recklessly combining A and B to get C. Just to see what happens. Alchemy. Juxtaposition of incongruities. I was born and will die a freeform radioshow. The E stands for experiment.

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(Illustrations by Jarrett Moran)