MOE. CAN ATTEST to the wonders of word of mouth. A college band that came together in Buffalo, N.Y., moe. has been touring non- stop for about three and a half years, DIY style, spreading its funky gospel jams. Thanks to enthusiastic fans, the band's reputation is preceding itself. The members have been surprised to find packed venues in places they've never been.
How did bandmates Rob Derhak (bass/vocals), Chuck Garvey (guitar/vocals), Al Schnier (guitar/vocals) and Vinnie Amico (drums) build such a following? "I have no clue," Derhak said laughing (he and the band seem to have a bad case of chronic unpretentiousness). He finally admitted there are two things responsible for spreading the word - tape trading and the Net.
"We appealed to the people who were into taping and coming to live shows and seeing us more than one time because we don't really play the same show two nights in a row. And after we kept practicing and eventually didn't suck, people started to come and were taping and the word spread," Derhak told POLLSTAR. He said fans use the Internet to trade tapes and chat about the band.
Moe.'s following has been compared to that of hippie groove bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. In fact, moe. fans, affectionately dubbed moe.rons, were kicked off many an on-line chat group before starting their own. "Our name would come up on a Grateful Dead chat," Derhak said. "And eventually, there got to be enough people who were talking about us in other people's chat groups and people were like, 'Quit talking about moe. This is a Grateful Dead thing.'"
Some moe.rons have supported the band far beyond participating in Internet chats. "We had people who did the whole entire country with us," Derhak said. "Everywhere we go, I'll see somebody who flew out to the show like in Ohio from Boston or something. There were a bunch of moe.rons who did the whole Midwest and like I said, the whole country."
Of course, when a band builds that kind of fan base on its own, the corporate music world is eventually going to take notice, as was the case with Sony 550 Music. As the story goes, Sony 550 senior VP of A&R Mike Caplan was looking to sign a "hippie band," Derhak said. "He was cruising the Internet and started to see that there was talk about us and there was a lot of stuff about us. But he had no clue what we sounded like."
One night, Derhak took to the Internet to talk to moe.rons in a sort of on-line "meet the band" chat group with a couple of other bands. "[Caplan] tried to get in touch with me to ask questions during the chat," Derhak said, "but I guess he didn't really know what he was doing yet because he had just got a computer. He ended up mailing to somebody else. And they just kept ignoring him.... So he thought that moe. was ignoring him and he was thinking to himself, 'Who the hell do these guys think they are?' It just made him want to get in touch with us more. He spent two weeks trying to get in touch with us."
Caplan finally got a hold of moe. manager Jon Topper. But the band was playing so much, it didn't have time to get to NYC to meet Caplan. So "he drove up to our house and listened to us practice in the basement," Derhak said. "He totally loved it. We just got all fired up with the record company. We all fell in love."
Since moe. stakes its reputation on its improvisational live show, recording a studio album was a whole new thing. But Derhak said rather than trying to capture the live dynamic on its Sony 550 debut, No Doy, the band looked at it from a different perspective. "We definitely wanted an energy to come across but we also didn't want to make it sound like one of our live shows. And I don't think we ever will with a studio recording because that's what it is," Derhak said. "My personal philosophy on it is we provide people with the opportunity to tape any live show that they want. And some of the equipment that they have with DATs and the mics that they have out now, they'll have amazing recordings. Anyone can have those tapes because people trade them. Why would we try to sell something like that? I'd like to do something totally different and make a really cool studio album."
Some may wonder if all the taping at moe. shows might affect record sales. If anything, the band figures it will increase sales. "It's basically everyone's belief that every single taper is gonna buy the album because they collect tapes and they want to collect every recording that's put out too. And I think all that it does really is just turn more people on to the band and people hear it and then they want to buy the album."
With a major label record, a radio single being released for the first time, and an award-winning agent like Monterey Peninsula's Chip Hooper on its team, moe.'s underground music career may be rising to a more commercial status. Derhak said the band doesn't have anything against commercial success. Hopefully, the moe.rons feel the same.
"I think we're really close with our audience," Derhak said. "It would kind of hurt me to think that they would think we would just change our whole attitude once we had a song on the radio or something. And I hope that they don't think that."
Right now, moe. is working to reach a point where it can actually take some time off between tours or "whatever real bands do," Derhak said. "I'm not sure how it works." But don't get him wrong. The band loves what it's doing. "It's just a little more of what I love to do than I had planned on," Derhak said.
Moe. will take a break from its on-going headline tour this summer to be on the entire run of the Furthur Festival.