moe. returns to Denver this weekend for a two-night run at the Ogden Theatre, fresh from recording a brand-new album. These jam-band veterans will be celebrating their 25th anniversary next year, but they're still creating interesting new stuff while refreshing old classics. Bassist Rob Derhak spoke with us recently and said the band is excited to get back to the energetic Colorado crowds of moerons. The outfit doesn't rely on tons of lasers to excite an audience, just group communication and lots of improvisation to keep your ears tuned in to what's coming next.
See also: The best jam-band shows in December
We had a moment to speak with slap-happy bassist Rob Derhak as he finished up in the recording somewhere in Connecticut, where the band is "sequestered," and he candidly discussed what it takes to work one job for 25 years, as well as what's potentially in store for the future of the band, and the upcoming Colorado shows.
Westword: So you are in the studio right now?
Rob Derhak: I am. We actually just finished up recording the new album.
How did recording go?
It was good. It was a really easy sort of natural experience this time. A lot of times, it gets pretty tough. I don't know how to put it -- there's a lot of breaking down of songs that you don't really think about when you're writing them, and it gets a little too detail oriented, sometimes.
You can't see the forest for the trees?
Yeah, yeah, that's a good way to put it. This recording process has been a lot simpler and nicer, but we've been living here for a month; it's a bit much, enough. [laughs]
I'm assuming it's just you guys up there? No families?
Yeah, we are all away from home, holed up together and sequestered in a carriage house in Connecticut, just outside of New York.
So you're working on the new recording with Sugar Hill Records? That must have been a positive experience with the last album. How is it working with them again?
Sugar Hill's great. They're a nice extension of our family. They're not overbearing about what they want from us and what they expect us to do. They basically let us do what comes natural to us, and then take their team and do their thing with it. It's a lot easier, trying to get people who work for us, who aren't really record people or never have been, doing jobs they aren't prepared to do, and they are very easy to work with, so it's a nice fit.
Will you be putting out an accompanying acoustic album like you did with the last album?
We don't have any plans for that. I don't think that's going to be a serious "thing that we do," but you never know. I don't know. That's a good question! [laughs] We loved that acoustic album. We came close to just making this album acoustic, but when all was said and done, we just had way too much rock still in us to allow it to happen.
We'll probably come up with some promotional ideas that might be a little different. We still have a lot of time. We have to mix it, master it, make an album cover, all that crap. That's when it's in Sugar Hill's hands. You must know what it's like, interviews and all this lead up stuff that is required. Now, once I leave this place, it's out of my hands.
The jam band scene in Colorado is huge, and we look forward to having you here. Do you feel a special energy here?
Oh yeah, it's like the epicenter of hippie jamdom. It's a great, great place for us and our style of music. Just a really great energy.
Have you ever thought of having Snoe.down here?
We have. We've talked about it, and would love to. And we've actually been in talks with a couple different people about doing it. It's not out of the question. The other problem is taking it out of the Northeast, where we are from, and live, and traditionally had it. If there's a big enough calling for it, I'm sure that would outweigh any issues.
I'm sure you'd have a few vocal, angry East Coast fans.
Well, I wouldn't say angry [laughs] but...
Well, more just vocal. You read how critical your fans are. It's wild online in the jam band world.
Yeah, we take it with a grain of salt. You laugh it off most of the time, and sometimes some of the criticisms are 100 percent dead on, which is good for us. And then some of it is just completely out of left field, and you're all, "What the fuck are these people thinking?" Better to just laugh it off. You have to have a good sense of humor and maybe be highly medicated.
Hey, at least they are talking.
It's crazy. It's funny. One day, I will write something myself about it, but I'm not quite there yet.
Are there any improvisational or inter-band communication games that you play when you rehearse?
We don't do any drills or anything. We rehearse songs, when they are new, especially, and then, we've gotten over everybody -- when you are a young band, you get attached to what you are doing really personally, and artistically, and people tend to feel like what they are doing is the most important thing going on. The older and more mature you get, the more you see the big picture of what's happening, and we try to apply that to our playing.
So no one is going to get offended if you say, "You know what? This part needs to have "x" here, or "y" here, and you really aren't getting that." So then you'd reply, "Okay, then how do you want me to do it?" We just try to really listen to everyone's suggestions and play the song and listen to what everyone is doing.
We just try to make the whole improvisational part of a song build and become something of it's own by organically letting that happen together. You don't necessarily need to do any games to get there -- we already know how to play -- it's just a matter of "how do you play together nice?"
moe. is coming up on your 25th anniversary next year, so you've certainly learned to play nice together. Did you ever think you'd still be here in moe. with these guys?
No! No, not at all, I didn't know what I was going to be, or what was going to happen, but 25 years is crazy. And think about it, in the end, it's our job. How many people have been working at the same company all of their life for 25 years? Even my dad worked for a bunch of companies, I don't think he stayed anywhere for 25 years. I mean, who does?
Yes! That's what we are. We are grandpas, and happy to be where we are.
How do you keep it fresh after all those years?
Time away from each other. It's true. If we all lived near each other and toured 200 days of the year, it probably wouldn't have lasted. It would have been too much, and we wouldn't have the time to grow. You have to grow apart to grow together.
That's good advice for anyone in any relationship. Now, you have a teenage son; does he listen to moe.?
He loves moe. We're his favorite band, whether he says it or not. He's into other stuff, Death Cab for Cutie, Manchester Orchestra, but he knows all the moe. songs. I think he likes the Al songs better than mine. At the end of the day, my job at home has nothing to do with the band. I'm not a rock and roller whatsoever at home. The people in town know me as Coach Derhak and stuff like that.
Is there anything you would have changed or done differently in these past 24 years?
There are probably choices. Everyone has choices that they think they shouldn't have made or wouldn't have made, but everything affects everything, so probably not. The smallest thing I could choose to do could have taken me down a different path, and I'm happy where I am. I would have done nothing differently, even the painful, sad stuff.
I started to go to school working on an ROTC scholarship. I didn't get the scholarship, so I didn't end up there, but I still may have become an officer, but there would have been no moe. I'd never have done moe., so it's really about the choices that you make.
Tickets for Summercamp went on sale today. Being in its fourteenth year is incredible. Do you have any say in the lineups?
We get lots of input, but the credit really goes to Jam Productions and Ian and Don over there. Those guys put together an amazing festival, and we've been lucky that they have been good friends of ours that have basically nurtured us and allowed us to have say in what's going on, even though it's gone WAY beyond anything that's moe.
Really, at this point, I mean, fourteen years ago, yeah, I can say it's pretty moe.-centric, and a couple thousand people and some fun. But it's grown beyond us; we are just glad that we can still participate. [laughs]
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.