The Art Of The Sit In | moe. Guitarist Al Schnier

Written By: Chad Berndtson

:: The Art Of The Sit-In - Al Schnier::

Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. Be sure to check out our recent discussions with Roosevelt Collier, Luther Dickinson, Matt Butler and Nikki Glaspie – you’ll be glad you did!

Al Schnier wears “jamming” well, whether with moe. or another of his projects, from Floodwood to regular appearances with the Everyone Orchestra. He’s been at it a long time – one of the jam world’s more protean players, and not always recognized as such in a scene with so many top-gun guitarists.

[Photo by Jay Blakesberg]

Al’s spent time focused on musical pursuits outside of moe., and given moe.’s long, remarkable arc, you can’t blame him or any of his bandmates for poking around elsewhere. And yet, moe. itself hasn’t much slowed, enduring through periods both fruitful and stagnant, and now in 2013 charging to the end of one of its most consistently hard-hitting tour years in ages.

Let’s hear from Al on what’s getting him going these days.

JAMBASE: You’ve played with a lot of people over the past three months, in a lot of configurations. What stands out?

AL SCHNIER: I have to think about that – it’s hard because when you play music as much as we do, it’s hard to remember back three days let alone three months. The thing that’s freshest in my mind – one of the most recent things I got to do – was an Everyone Orchestra gig. I’ve done a few, but this one was at Harvest Festival in Arkansas. It was a pretty unique one.

I’ve been doing EO for like five years now and this one brought together a lot of people who have done it with some people that haven’t. It was really cool. Mike Dillon was there and Carly [Meyers] from Mike’s band, and Jeff Austin. Jeff, it’s really funny, I brought up at some point that he and I have known each other for like 14 years now – you forget how much history you have sometimes when you see people like Jeff all over the place and you all just keep moving.

But this EO gig was really cool because I also met a few different players from Elephant Revival. I’d played with Bridget [Law] earlier this summer and I got to meet the rest of the group and what a pleasure to play with them. Super-talented and they bring a really unique voice to what they do.

I think they were nervous – you could see it on their faces – but you could also see how excited they were and that’s part of what makes something like EO work.

JAMBASE: What is it about EO that’s particularly appealing to you? I spoke with Matt Butler recently and he called out you specifically as a collaborator he knows he’ll keep inviting back and that obviously has to go both ways to work.

AS: You walk into it with kind of no expectations and no pressure, and it’s always so much fun. It’s a great creative outlet without the trappings of having to do any homework – you don’t show up with anything arranged or pre-configured. It’s interesting, it’s almost like the sum-total of all the work you do in your other creative outlets, and you just get to show up and bring that and play.

Plus, it’s always with new people. I remember we did an EO at Summer Camp and Mike and Carly were there. I didn’t know Carly then and had never met her before. I remember meeting before the show and I recognized everyone there and then I’m scanning the faces and it’s, you know, who’s the nerdy librarian girl? [laughs]

Before I know it she’s out there wailing on trombone and doing her thing. By the time she got to moe.down, we’d already played together a bunch over the course of the summer. So that’s why EO is so cool because you make those connections.

JAMBASE: Let’s talk about moe. You guys have hit so many milestones as a band and it’s always worth noting that you’ve stayed together – your core is intact – and that it’s a short list of your jam-scene peers who made it and an even shorter list of those who didn’t have to go through major disruptions to make it. What’s motivating you guys to keep doing this?

AS: Survival! [laughs] No, you know, all those things you said are true. And we’re grateful. I heard some data on the current job market and the economy the other day about how much has changed since our parents’ generation about holding a job. The average job tenure at this point they were saying is like 5.3 years now, versus before when people might change jobs every 10 to 15 years. I don’t know how much of that is accurate but, you know, look around, I’ve had the same job for 24 years.

We are so ridiculously lucky in moe. This is like winning the lottery when you think about the odds of us being able to pull that off. So when you ask what our goal is or what we’re hoping to achieve, it’s really just that I’m happy we get to do this and that we just get to continue to do this.

Artistically or creatively, we’ve been so lucky to play with so many of our heroes. We are working on a new record right now, and it’s one of the easiest records we’ve ever made. It’s interesting to me that that would happen at this point in our careers, because sometimes we’re all showing up at different times to record and we can’t always see each other like we used to.

JAMBASE: What do you think is making it so easy?

AS: Well, we’ve figured out how to work together, that’s true. We know what the group dynamic is, and that goes a long way in this organization. We’re old friends – brothers – but we also know how to get along with each other. We’ve been together so long that you have to be connected that way or else you wouldn’t be doing this.

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