The Many Worlds of Nathan Moore

By: Dennis Cook

Nathan Moore
One way to gauge a man's worth is to see how he measures up with those around him. While he is undeniably one of the finest songwriters of the modern age, I've also never heard anyone who knows Nathan Moore speak an unkind word about the man. In fact, spend even a little time with the consistently stubbly, forever tousled blond fella with sad, smiling eyes and you'll likely walk away feeling you've met somebody who knows a lot about a lot of things. And he gives a good hug, too.

"He'll be the pastor at my wedding. He always knows the right thing to say," says Andrew Barr of The Slip. "He's got a gift. I'll be going through some problem and the next thing you know he's written a song that totally deals with it."

"With Nathan, there's so little effort involved. It's revelatory," says Brad Barr. "Surprise Me Mr. Davis (the pop savvy quartet comprised of The Slip and Moore) is a scenario where everyone's part is very clear. There's no struggle. For me, it's the happy role of lead guitar player and occasional singer. The Slip is comfortable and well balanced and a lot of paying serious attention to everything going on. Having Nathan up there deflates some of that pressure. He reminds us how fun it is to be up there with people you love."

And from the unpublished liner notes this writer composed for Moore's brilliant new solo album, In His Own Worlds (released June 27 on Frogville Records):

Nathan does a soft shoe with the Cosmic Be All And End All, the tunesmith's Stephen Hawking sussing out a theory of everything. He uses ecclesiastical ideas but never in a way that's cloying or familiar. Instead, Jung's invisible world unfurls in his songs, God smiling at us behind the trees. Moore's willingness to engage big ideas - knowing full well he's in a bear-wrestling match - emboldens us. If Jacob wrestled an angel then maybe so can we.

Rare is the time Moore's music hasn't filled my eyes with tears. Like Bob Dylan and Elliott Smith, he's continually fearless in the face of dark, truthful mirrors. His metaphysical striptease dresses the listener down, and naked together we're born anew in trembling laughter.

In His Own Worlds is Moore at his finest, which is saying something. Whether rockin' like Warren Zevon fronting Badfinger in Mr. Davis or plying a more subtle acoustic trajectory with ThaMuseMeant - a four-piece that swings like the Hot Club of France if Joni Mitchell had led them – Moore rarely fails to differentiate himself from the herd. On Worlds, the man many of us have come to genuinely love, both because of his art and his heart, is fully in the foreground. He's backed by a tight, lustrous band with a primo '70s singer-songwriter feel akin to Jackson Browne's For Everyman or Jesse Winchester's divine Robbie Robertson-produced 1970 debut. His sad men in jam bands and angels of delight long for peace, home and the blooming delight of another's touch. Moore tells their tales in a way that lifts us from the malaise of the everyday. You hear it in the sudden skyward swoop on "O New Day" or the bittersweet lilt of "When A Woman." Everywhere what was hidden is laid bare, cleaned by the light in his music.

We had the great fortune to sit down with Moore over locally brewed ales on a sweet, temperate San Francisco evening not long ago. What transpired over that happy hour touched on Jesus, Mr. Davis, ThaMuseMeant, fame and so much more. Again and again, Moore turned up faith and softness hiding in the shallows of this hard world. If you've been looking for a few new reasons to believe in the future, you've come to the right place.

JamBase: How did you pick the title In His Own Worlds, which seemed to go through several incarnations before settling on that one?

ThaMuseMeant
Nathan Moore: It had to be a bad decision [laughs]. There were a few good decisions on the board for a while but they were all too good and we needed a bad, bad title. So, we stayed up burning the candle and came up with In His Own Worlds, thinking, 'Yeah, that's the opposite of good!' [laughs]. It does seem to be the thing that's haunted me. I love wordplay and it doesn't seem to be the best marketing angle in America. It can be, of course, but people are already misspelling In His Own Worlds and it's not spoon-fed as much as it probably should be.

JamBase: It's subtle and that's not ever a good thing in terms of American marketing. I think it has be one of the hardest parts of the recording process to take that last step and decide what is the umbrella you're going to throw over this thing. Have you always had that battle with titles?

Nathan Moore: It's usually a struggle. Sometimes it just falls right into place. Once or twice I've made a recording where we knew what it was before we started, and that's a gift. Single Wide (1999) was sorta made that way. We knew what it was, the vibe of it. But, on most of the records we put down the songs that were hot at the time and then tried to come up with the umbrella. With In His Own Worlds, ultimately it fits in some way or another.

JamBase: When you were working on the new record did you know these songs would be solo stuff? How do you compartmentalize things as you write so you know which ones go to ThaMuseMeant, which to Surprise Me and which ones are just for you? Or is the material malleable enough that it can fit anywhere?

It amazes me how songs do tend to fall into the different camps. I knew I was going to make this record with a few months advance notice, so my whole being went into crafting this thing. It's the same way if I know there's a Davis or ThaMuseMeant tour coming up. The songs that come out of that time point in that direction. That's even without much conscious effort. Once the seed is planted particular seeds bring particular plants.

Continue reading for more with Nathan Moore...

 
Saying that Christ is not my savior is like saying Jim Morrison is not my Lizard King.

-Nathan Moore

 

You do take the fruits of different plants and taste them with different configurations. How does it change for you where they start in one band and end up in another? "Rubberball" is a good example of this.

Nathan Moore
That is the one song that I still don't think any of the bands have really tapped into the novelty pleasure that song is designed to offer. But, it is the one song every band has their own version of and people respond very strongly to. Whereas, a lot of songs will shine in Davis but ThaMuseMeant wouldn't know what to do with them or vice-versa. A lot of songs in my solo act don't cater to other settings.

There's a number of tunes on the new one I can't imagine making the leap to these other settings, like I can't see say "The Tanks" working elsewhere because it's just so you.

I wrote that song on Slip tour and it was first debuted with The Slip at Stanford [University] but it went to sleep for a few years and woke up on this record.

I like that you speak to power but you don't do so in the traditional Woody Guthrie way. This very gifted songwriter I know once said, "It's hard to write a protest song" [from ThaMuseMeant's "Protest Song']. It's tough to avoid getting up on a soapbox these days, to avoid preaching to people, but at the same time you have to say something.

Right, right. I think living at home in Virginia has really changed a lot of things for me, and I even see it now that I'm out touring the West. I'm doing rants on this last tour that I would never do at home. This record was definitely made in the light of being back home. When I'm there I have my grandmother and mother in the audience. I have my high school teachers and 16-year-old kids. It's the community holistically represented. In that sense, when I was making this record I couldn't really live with myself if I didn't speak against the injustices or for the evolution we all like to feel a part of as often as possible. But, I wanted to do it in such a way that it wouldn't put anybody off or my grandmother wouldn't feel uncomfortable giving the record to her friends at church [laughs]. It was a pretty daunting task for someone used to waging a war on drugs with a million friends. I wanted to find a more backdoor approach to these topics. I think Jesus is mentioned on the record three or four times. A lot of it was definitely in the hometown light.

I think there's a value in putting conscious restraints on yourself, not the ones other people put on you but ones where you go, "I'm going to put this wall up here and operate within that boundary because I see value in it."

Anybody who's ever worked with a rhyme scheme knows how brilliant that kind of restraint can be. So much magic can come from that restraint. People think, "Oh I don't want to be tied down. I don't want there to be rules." But, it's pretty amazing when you have to rhyme one line with the next. The most perfect thing you would never have thought to say comes from being forced to find that rhyme. That's just always amazed me. I used to say, "My limits are my wings," and that was sort of in praise of the form I was sticking to – not free verse, not abstraction – but trying to find beauty in such formulas.

Surprise Me Mr. Davis by Zack Smith
Songwriting, at its best, is a form of poetry, and poetry is all about structure and leaps between the stanzas, but leaps that make sense, not just random words that sound pretty. Even if it seems that way, I don't think any poet ever did it randomly.

I agree. I don't have anything to add to that [laughs].

As you say, you bring up Jesus a few times on this record. That's a hard subject, especially in 2007 America. God has been so co-opted for so many stupid, ugly, even barbaric things. I guess it's really all around the world. You can't limit it to America. There's tremendous stupidity involving God happening all over the place. And it's almost as if God has dropped out of the discourse with rock and folk songwriting. I guess it's easier for most people in that world to not deal with God at all.

I don't personally have much issue with the language of religion. Saying that Christ is not my savior is like saying Jim Morrison is not my Lizard King [laughs]. I just don't have that big an issue with the language. I was raised by it, found beauty within it and made it make sense to me. It took a lot of work, and maybe that work wasn't necessary. It could have come from other kinds of work but I worked with that language, that story and found truth within it. After I'd done all that work I didn't want to throw it all away. I know so many people, especially where I come from, that still go to church every Sunday and are still speaking that language. So, I don't mind throwing my interpretation of the story back at 'em using the same language. At the same time, I completely understand why someone would throw that language away and start anew. For me, it's part of how I was raised, what I went through, and I happily refer to that story. I still believe Jesus said and did all the right things. It's the perfect story that we need today.

The other point I wanted to make is for a while there, the zealots - be they Christians or Islamic fascists or whatever side of the spectrum – really looked like they were taking over and we were going to live in their world for a while. What I've seen in the past few years is the majority of the societies on all ends are not accepting that, not letting them have their way. I don't think religion in this country has been co-opted by the Right. They tried and it seemed like they had for a few really frightening months, maybe even a few frightening years, but I don't think they've ultimately been successful.

Continue reading for more with Nathan Moore...

 
There's hypocrisy with the religious community waging these wars and damaging the environment that made me want to pull the Jesus I knew up. The Jesus I know is completely against these wars and the use of fossil fuels. The Jesus I know would never be in favor of these things. On [In His Own Worlds] I wanted him to be there in the room, to invite Jesus into the conversation, hopefully as tactfully as possible.

-Nathan Moore

 
Photo by Jon Bahr

If you love words you cut yourself off from such amazing imagery, language and touchstones if you totally reject religious subject matter. What would the Grateful Dead be without songs like "Sampson and Delilah"? These are bedrock stories, and they're in the air whether you want to believe them or not. Even our cartoons are informed by these stories. So why would you want to cut yourself off from them?

Nathan Moore by Zack Smith
As a writer, the idea of a story that's traveled so many years to your ears, you just have to have some reverence for a story that's shaped so much, done so many things, come so far, to me, this little boy in Virginia.

Being Americans, I think it's impossible to not have the Judeo-Christian tradition be the one you tap into on some level. I know plenty of people who've converted to Buddhism or Hindu paths but that doesn't diminish the impact these stories had on them as little boys or girls. They grew up within the same meta-structure we did. It's sort of funny, this conscious rejection of it when it's impossible to really get away from it.

We all know Jesus studied Buddhism during his missing years. He traveled the Orient and picked up on the mystic ways.

The number of congruencies in all the big religions, which were birthed largely around the same time, far outnumbers the places they don't sync up. That tells you they were all listening to each other.

They all serve a different purpose. Buddhism really represents the inner struggle towards enlightenment, and Christ energy relates to a more social realization of the enlightened state. Buddhism's internal action is really the same thing as the external Christ action. To me, religion isn't that important, but there's a part of me that sees the wars we're in, the caretaking of the environment and other issues. There's hypocrisy with the religious community waging these wars and damaging the environment that made me want to pull the Jesus I knew up. The Jesus I know is completely against these wars and the use of fossil fuels. The Jesus I know would never be in favor of these things. On [In His Own Worlds] I wanted him to be there in the room, to invite Jesus into the conversation, hopefully as tactfully as possible [laughs].

It's an expressly hopeful record. It's striking. I like the wit and cynicism in your earlier work a lot, maybe because it plays to my own cynical tendencies, but when I really dug into this record – and it didn't take very long – there was a sense of a light being held up, no matter how small it may be, that says, "It's not all darkness out there."

A lot of times I tend to do that for myself. I write myself advice. I write things I wish people would say to me like "It's all going to be okay." I'm not even necessarily saying that to you, I'm reminding myself. In some way, I was trying to put a light up there for myself.

It carries over to the listener but it makes sense that it would start with you. You have to figure out what advice you need before you start giving it to others. That's actually pretty enlightened, dude.

[laughs hard] It is a little weird though, huh?

What does playing in a number of different settings like Davis or ThaMuseMeant do for you?

ThaMuseMeant
I think it helps in a lot of different ways. One is individually. Playing with a lot of different people expands my playing and the perception of the same song. Just playing with The Slip guys, just spending an afternoon with them making music, I can tangibly feel the growth in my own playing just being exposed to the way they hear music and the way it comes through their bodies. It's just such an insight in perception. I start playing a song and then all of the sudden they take it somewhere else, and I didn't even know it could be seen in that light. Once you've seen it in that light you have an expanded perception of what it can be. The other thing that's cool is say I go from Davis to ThaMuseMeant, all of the sudden the strengths of those projects are so glowing to me. High Sierra this year is a great example, where I went from the nighttime Davis set to the ThaMuseMeant in the morning. It was night and day in such a beautiful way. It just makes me love everybody so much more when I can contrast their uniqueness.

It's got to be a kick being the one who brings these fantastic musicians the songs, the springboards of your craft, so much of the time.

I feel really lucky. I don't know any other way to put it. I have no idea what I've done to deserve such a royal slot. I feel I benefit a lot from having these great people willing to play with me and do my songs. I just scored big time.

Don't think I've ever asked you this but where the hell did Percy Boyd (Moore's demo spewing alter ego) come from?

It came from Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy that includes The Manticore. Percy Boyd Stanton is one of the key characters and I'm from Stanton. I was reading that trilogy when my dad came up one night. We'd been drinking all day and he tells me I need an alter ego. I had a lot of trouble playing in the Shenandoah Valley because I came from the West, where I was a ranter, a political spokesman of sorts and I liked my stump, but I'd get out there and I'd shut down. I'd be playing at a gazebo in the park or something and there'd be all these normal people in front of me and I wouldn't know what to say because it wasn't a bunch of radicals or hippies or revolutionaries. I like preaching to the choir. I like being a cheerleader for the counter-culture. That's just really comfortable for me. Talking to the mainstream I just shut down, so my dad suggested I come up with this other identity. He said, "They'd love your voice and playing. Just be this other guy who doesn't have to represent everything you are." So, I came up with Percy Boyd, who's a sort of Everyman but still ambiguous. He's not necessarily this innocent guy that everybody would know and love. He's just as complicated as me but maybe a little more fun [laughs].

Continue reading for more with Nathan Moore...

 
I write things I wish people would say to me like "It's all going to be okay." I'm not even necessarily saying that to you, I'm reminding myself. In some way, I was trying to put a light up there for myself.

-Nathan Moore

 
Brad Barr and Nathan Moore by Joe Mozdzen

You're a mix of that, where you'll write a long, gorgeous love ode and then say "Rubberball," which is a ditty in its way. You value toe-tappers as much as weepies.

No doubt, no doubt.

I was really frustrated at the lack of response to the last ThaMuseMeant record [Never Settle For Less released 2006 on Frogville Records]. I felt like everything you folks had been trying to do for a few years gelled on that record. Even the cover photo of all of you dressed to the nines, looking good, seemed to suggest that your four-way conversation was in great shape. Is it hard to pour yourself into something like this and have it not get the reaction you hope it will?

Nathan Moore by Zach Ehlert
It hasn't even really been put out in the world in any significant way. The band isn't touring. What you expressed about us all being together and looking good is true but it's also a bit of an illusion. We're not out there working it like we did when we were younger. The label, Frogville, as awesome as they are and for all they've done for us, there's not a big budget for distribution and publicity. It's as grassroots as it's ever been except the band isn't touring much. So, it doesn't surprise me at all. On the other hand, we were in Nederland, Colorado the other week and this great musician comes up to us and said, "Do you all realize you've made one of the best records in years?" He actually made it sound bigger and better than that. He just wondered if we had any awareness that we'd made a great piece of art. So, you're right, it hasn't had that much fanfare and we haven't been there to see people get it or enjoy it. So, it is a bit like tossing a penny in a well.

I can only tell you that it makes me crazy. The biggest reason I write about music is to tell people about this kind beautiful, wonderful music that they shouldn't miss. If it moves me there's a decent chance it might move others. Never Settle For Less is one of those rare records I can put on every few months and it gets to bowl me over all over again. That's such a grand surprise that only the best records possess. Most albums don't give you that jolt every time you listen to them.

The good news is ThaMuseMeant just came off two weeks from Santa Fe to High Sierra, and I've never heard the quartet sound better or more excited. We had a couple new songs to boot, and it felt like we're about ready to make another record. It's sorta like Davis, where somebody came up after High Sierra and said, "You have to do this! You're our generation's band. You're singing our song." On the one hand, I thought she was right but the reason she was so excited was she'd just heard Surprise Me Mr. Davis. There it was. It exists. It's not like this sad thing that never happened. It just happened and that's why she was so pumped. That's a cool thing we're finding with all these bands. It's not like we're out there hitting the pavement trying to make some big deal. We're coming together to make this music because we love it, and in that these bands are stronger than they've ever been.

That's it! Even though the mechanism of radio and traditional publicity can't seem to get a handle on what you do, if people actually hear this music it seems to do the job.

Almost every time. The batting average is definitely respectable [laughs].

No doubt about it!

The other thing about not getting out there and hitting the pavement is we're not getting rejected. We're not getting jaded, and we don't have that same 'jade' that a lot of bands who push it but don't break have. We're not pushing. We're just making the music whenever we get a chance to do it. That adds levity to it. So many musicians my age are SO jaded at this point. It's understandable in this changing music business but luckily the bands I'm part of come together to make music and the rest is just not our game right now. Maybe someday it will be. I know each band would maybe like to try to break but it's just not what's going on right now.

I think you love music too much to play a lot of the games necessary to reach that next level of fiscal and fame success.

Either that or I'm just really lazy.

[laughs until out of breath] Oh lord...

I think, "Not today, just not today. Maybe tomorrow [laughs]."

JamBase | Virginia
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Comments

FreeHawk starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/23/2007 07:33PM
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FreeHawk

now this is what Jambase is about.

phaslam starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/23/2007 07:47PM
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phaslam

Great in-depth look at Nathan. I've chatted w/him a couple of times at some 'MuseMeant shows and I've got to say he is one fun guy. Lots of great stories and really easy to talk to. Like Dennis, I don't know why more people aren't into his tunes and different facets of performances, but I'll definitely check out his solo stuff, ThaMuseMeant or Surprise Me whenever they are near. Awesome Tunes!

phunkle starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/24/2007 07:13AM
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phunkle

Great article! Living in Staunton like Nathan, it was interesting to read how his stage persona changes playing in front of us at home. I'd really like to catch him out on the road somewhere and see that scene also. He absolutely makes some beautiful music and if you're not familiar with him you should get familiar with his stuff. He does some cool juggling & such at many shows while he plays which is also very entertaining.

SuperDee starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/24/2007 07:26AM
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SuperDee

A perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee on a rainy morning. Thanks, Dennis, for the words, and thanks Nathan, for so often being the light in my dark. I agree with you Freehawk, this IS what JamBase is about.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstar Wed 10/24/2007 09:26AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

nathan who? see, I like to find new things here, its fun.

thank you for covering the obscure JB.

peaton Wed 10/24/2007 10:15AM
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peaton

Musical intelligence at its best. Thanks Dennis, this is inspirational.

Andrew W. starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/24/2007 11:19AM
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Andrew W.

Great article. I can never get enough Percy! Bring back the Davis!!!!

alsoa101 starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/24/2007 11:32AM
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alsoa101

percy boyd, american hero!

The1AndOnlyDJCT starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/24/2007 12:18PM
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Great interview, Nathan Moore is amazing! I was at the Surprise Me Mr. Davis show in Brooklyn about a month ago which they said was their last show ever. Does anyone know why? What's Nathan Moore going to be working on next?

Tan starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/24/2007 03:29PM
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Tan

The Davis rises: http://www.jambase.com/Shows/Event.aspx?EventID=645421

Nathan Moore has enriched my life musically, I hope you let him to the same to yours.

Vapetones starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/25/2007 09:56AM
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Vapetones

Raise the roof!

bluefox starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/25/2007 08:27PM
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bluefox

re: that Brooklyn show Nathan was just joking around.

Thanks for the great article, jambase! This type of reporting keeps me coming back for more. I can't wait for Mr. Davis @ The Independent!!!

chicoavenue Fri 10/26/2007 09:14PM
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Thank you, thank you, thank you Nathan for the many years of enlightening, heart warming music!! Your bands consistently put out some of the best live music out there. Remember Chico, Ca when tour season comes around again.

p.s. kudos jamase

tomspeed starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/31/2007 09:43AM
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tomspeed

Another excellent article by Dr. Cook, the resident professor of rockology, on an outstanding artist who deserves the attention, except this one was even more excellent than the other excellent ones somehow. One of the best artist interviews I've read. Kick ass.

tomspeed starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/31/2007 09:55AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

tomspeed

Another excellent article by Dr. Cook, the resident professor of rockology, on an outstanding artist who deserves the attention, except this one was even more excellent than the other excellent ones somehow. One of the best artist interviews I've read. Kick ass.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/31/2007 08:29PM
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RedHeaven

Im a huge ThaMuseMeant fan, for anyone who likes SMMD, dont neglect ThaMusemeant....some top notch underground awesomeness. its great that jambase is giving attention and time to the smaller microcosims this music community envelops. Huge kudos to that.

roberto767 Thu 11/8/2007 02:49PM
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roberto767

This guy's shit smells like roses too.

PrinceofDANKNESS Sun 11/18/2007 09:33PM
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Who the fuck are the Knutsens?