The Legend of Moonalice Rises

When he [Steve] worked with the Dead, his job was to keep the Deadheads away from the band. Thousands of people have stories about getting thrown out of the backstage area by Big Steve. In Moonalice, Big Steve's job is exactly the opposite. He is there to get fans as close to the band as possible.

-Roger McNamee

Photo by Susan J. Weiand

Does that make the finished release more expensive for a fan to purchase?

Roger: The CD and DVD are priced like a single CD. In a world where artists are their own label the math works pretty well.

Do you encourage taping or sharing music?

Barry Sless by Weiand
Roger: Our view is that once people buy our music, they own it. That's why we give everyone an optimized FLAC file. We want people to share our music, and we let them share something that sounds really good.

Describe your involvement with the new CD.

Pete: We recorded the basic tracks as a band, so I ended up playing on all the songs that T-Bone selected for the album. Sometimes I'd play keyboards, sometimes bass. If you listen really carefully you can occasionally hear the plaintiff strains of an accordion off in the distance. There are minimal overdubs on the album.

Jimmy: I played drums and tried to be as supportive and musical as I could, always trying to serve the song, the songwriters and the vocalists.

Was there anything unique or notable about how your sessions were recorded?

Pete: T-Bone arranged for nothing but vintage amps and instruments to be used in the studio, which was nice. I had a Mellotron, a Wurly, as well as the usual B3, etc. And the basses were mostly short scale; we often used a Hofner Beatle bass. T-Bone likes to track to two-inch tape for warmth, and then transfer over to the digital realm to overdub and mix in. The whole experience was wonderful.

Jimmy: Absolutely! T-Bone created an organic, relaxed, and creative environment. His approach to recording drums was like nothing that I had ever experienced, but truly appreciated. I recorded all of the basic tracks on a 1930s Leedy drum set with a 26-inch bass drum, goat and calf skin heads - wide open, ringing for days with deep, low, resonant tones. It allowed me to play simply and creatively. I brought "Otis" - my 14" x 14" snare drum that I, essentially, try to get to sound like a bass drum with snares. It fit in perfect with the Leedy set.

Roger, do you really have a mathematical formula that you've used to calculate when the band will become profitable? How does commercial success relate to artistic satisfaction?

Roger McNamee by Weiand
Roger: The commercial side is less complicated than you might think. We don't need the band to be profitable. What we need is a tribe of fans who value the band enough to cover our costs. We're making fantastic progress on that. How? By giving stuff away. It's cheaper to give away music and video over the Internet than to do advertising or make an album, so that's what we do. Now we have a real tribe - people who spread the word - and lots of fans who come to shows.

Do you think the whole Moonalice legend/Chubby Wombat shtick amuses or alienates your audiences? Is it a necessary form of branding or just a decorative narrative?

Roger: Man, you are cynical. Call it what you like, but the legend has evolved organically as part of the Moonalice scene. As GE likes to say, we were all fans before we became musicians. In those days, you paid a buck or two to go to a show. The shows themselves were totally unlike shows today - low production values, low prices, low expectations, huge fun. Moonalice liked that vibe and is trying to recreate it. One of the tools available to us is humor. The notion of a "native" tribe that has only two aims - to play bass and grow hemp - is pretty funny. It allows for a legend that is equal parts Merry Pranksters and Mr. Magoo.

Chubby Wombat is a character, just as GE's Greyhound bus driver is a character. Big Steve is a character. The tribe likes these characters, so we work hard to make them better every show. There may be some people who don't care for it, but if there are, they have never said so to us.

How are setlists created for live performances?

Roger: I do the first draft of the setlist. GE approves it. Then we play whatever we feel like during the show.

Pete: But we will even stray from that on the spur of the moment if the mood takes us.

Roger: Sometimes we play the setlist [though] often we change it on the fly. The best changes are when GE says, "This one's in A," and then plays something we have never done before. That happens very often.

Are you aware of the high quality of the sound your production/sound crew achieves at concerts and festivals?

Roger: Are you kidding? None of this happens by accident! We all work really hard together - we focus on details to make the shows great. Our crew is amazing. Tim Stiegler does a fantastic front of house mix, as well as the recordings. Glenn Evans is our drum tech, but he also makes the videos and slide shows. Alan Sesak has done an amazing job on lights. Crystal Polley makes sure the shows go off smoothly. And then we have two great drivers who get the bus and truck to every show without a hitch.

How does the Moonalice on-the-road experience compare to other times [i.e. touring with other bands]?

Jimmy: I love and cherish every moment of touring that I've done in the past. In this experience, due to Roger's intent and ability to make this as professional as possible, it's much more comfortable. Attention is paid to getting everything right.

Pete: And we have Internet on the bus, which helps on the long journeys.

What's the best part of being in this band?

Pete: I've somehow kept working in music either as a band member or a hired hand since 1964. It's sometimes been a rocky, winding road, with some amazing highs and lows along the way. I feel fortunate to be playing in a band full of wonderful musicians and people.

Jimmy: Just like in any group with which I played in the past 44 years, there are good days and there are slightly less good days, but never bad days. The best part of being in this band is being part of a large family. We look out for each other, care about each other and have little disputes, too. But, ultimately, when we go onstage, we have a purpose to play good music and entertain as best we can.

Are you having fun?

Roger: Are you kidding? I'm living a dream!

Ann: Absolutely! I describe it as a dream that I never even knew I had came true.

Moonalice tour dates available here.

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[Published on: 5/14/09]

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