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moe.: How jam band heroes soldiered through cancer, heart attacks, pandemic

Plus, bassist/singer Rob Derhak talks Supertramp covers, new music, 2022 tour plans.
moe.: Vinnie Amico, Al Schnier, Rob Derhak, Jim Loughlin and Chuck Garvey. Photo credit: moe. PR

moe.: Vinnie AmicoAl Schnier, Rob Derhak, Jim Loughlin and Chuck Garvey. Photo credit: moe. PR

Shop for moe. vinyl, including a "blue galaxy" variant of their latest LP This Is Not, We Are, at Goldmine's store.

Our favorite bands aren’t invincible. The mightiest of them have all been hit with adversity and have fought back to become better than they ever were. No band embodies that sense of grit and heart better than moe.

A few years ago bassist/vocalist Rob Derhak beat cancer in record time and got the band out on the road in what seemed like the blink of an eye; especially for an act known for their commitment to touring. Then last year, guitarist/vocalist Chuck Garvey suffered a heart incident that threatened to stop the band right in its tracks. But that was never going to be the fate of this band, born out of the halls of the University of Buffalo. They’d suffered through winters in that Great Lake region more miserable than this and recently let fans know that Chuck was on the mend, not yet ready for prime time, but that they’d be back shortly. moe. — rounded out by guitarist Al Schnier, drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist Jim Loughlin — have now announced a short run of performances for the remainder of 2022, featuring special guests Nate Wilson of Percy Hill on keys and Schleigho's Suke Cerulo on guitar. Here we go!

The new lineup adds keys to their sound and offers the band the opportunity to change up of some of their best-known songs. But the intent remains to get Chuck back out with the boys doing what they have done so remarkably well for over 30 years; and for good reason. His unique tone and ability is evident throughout their 12th studio album and first since 2014, This Is Not, We Are. It was followed by the 5-song EP, Not Normal, released on November 20, 2020. Together they deliver an icy slick rock and roll luge ride that is defined by exceptional writing, arrangement and musicianship.

It’s great to have the band back in market. This is an act that has spent much of its 30-year career on the road, including innumerable headline tours, international festival sets from Bonnaroo to sold-out shows alongside acts like the Allman Brothers Band, members of the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, The Who, Robert Plant, Gov’t Mule and Blues Traveler, to name but a few. As if that weren’t enough, moe. have promoted and performed at multiple headline festivals of their own, including snoe.down and moe.down. A personal favorite is their appearance at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, New York where I went to college. There they hosted their infamous “Moe.lennium” ushering in this new era.

Goldmine caught up with Derhak about the path forward, the side projects that are getting his attention, and the exaltation that upstate New York continues to deliver to their favorite rock sons.

GOLDMINE: When you were ill a few years ago the band went on a brief hiatus. This time around, how difficult was it to decide to tour without Chuck?

ROB DERHAK: When I had cancer, we had thought that we might be off the road for almost a year. The treatments were hard, but I pushed really hard and it only ended up being about six months that we were off tour. It was in November of last year that Chuck had his episode and we did one show without him, which was a benefit kind of thing. At the benefit we had the two guys who are playing with us now (Nate Wilson & Suke Cerulo) and they both know Chuck pretty well. It turned out that they were just a good fit. Then after talking to Chuck about it, we came to the conclusion that while he is rehabbing we should try to get out there and play. We didn’t want to get too deep into anything because we are hoping that he’ll be back as soon as possible. But we wanted to do some shows and we basically got his blessing to do that.

GM: It sounds like you didn’t have to consider anyone else for these roles.

RD: Yeah, because they’ve been familiar with our stuff for a very long time. We just really wanted to remain faithful to Chuck’s vibe and guitar playing. They’d sat in with us so many times that it really seemed like a no-brainer for them to be the ones to fill in while Chuck was out.

GM: When you bring new people into a band it does give you license to switch things up a bit. Did adding Nate and Suke do that for you?

RD: We definitely added a couple of covers that we hadn’t done before. But it’s not so much about adding new songs, it’s about doing stuff we couldn’t do before because we didn’t have a keyboardist. This allows us to change things a bit and give the songs a slightly different vibe. With some of the material that we’ve been playing for like 25 years, we can now turn things into keyboard parts here and there. It’s less about adding new tunes and more about reworking old tunes.

GM: You’ve always been very prolific. Were you able to continue to create new material through the pandemic?

RD: We haven’t been able to get together to work on new material that we’ve written. But I’m sitting on a ton of songs right now that I’m not going to bring out until Chuck’s back. It doesn’t make sense. I started doing stuff with some other guys and I’m putting some of the songs forward that don’t completely fit the “moe. profile.”

GM: Early on the band had steady turnover in the drumming role. How did you know that Vinnie was the man for the job?

RD: It was a like a Spinal Tap thing. For starters we were all friends. We knew Vinny from back in the day in Buffalo at school. He was part of our extended circle of friends. So, he fit right in. For one, he’s a really good drummer. He can keep great time, play almost anything you ask, and he’s tasteful about it all. We just got lucky in that regard that we were friends and that he wanted to do it. When we first started the band we didn’t have any real type of touring schedule and half of us were still in school. None of us saw this panning out at the time. We just wanted to keep playing.

GM: Last year’s LP and EP sound like they could have lived together as one musical expression. How did you decide to divide them in this way?

RD: It came down to the amount of material we had. A lot of it was from when we got together after my bout with cancer. First we got together and started working on a show that we were going to play and I had a lot of stuff written. The other guys had been doing some writing on their own as well. We had a lot of material and some of it just didn’t make it. We went through a bunch of rehearsals and started to pick and choose songs for the album. We got down to like 12 or 14 songs and knew we still had cutting to do. Instead we decided to just release it. At one point we even thought about doing all EPs and releasing them as a boxed set. In the end we decided on this approach. The name of the whole thing we pulled out of a song that I wrote. We could see the first part of the song as the album title. But no one would know what it means because it’s grammatically incorrect and doesn’t make any sense. When we put the next album together with it, everything just all flowed together. We do still want to think about things in terms of putting our music on vinyl because we still like that as a band. I just don’t want to put out something that doesn’t fit on a record. I want to make a record and for it to have two sides. If there’s more then we gotta figure that out.

GM: You have always done wonderfully cool things as side projects, my favorite being Ha Ha the Moose.

RD: Ha Ha The Moose was just Chuck, me and Jim and it was named after a stuffed moose my oldest son had as a toddler. When we asked him what he wanted to name it he just said “ha ha” so we named the band after it. We actually just did a trio that was a lot of fun. It was basically a moe. trio. It was me Al and Vinny. It was playing moe. songs as a power trio. It was almost if The Who was playing our songs. We called it Das Trio. But the other thing that I’ve been doing more of is a band called Blue Star Radiation with me, Vinny, Nate Wilson and Tim Palmieri who’s in Lotus now. It’s us doing originals and covers of songs from bands like Supertramp, Traffic and Wang Chung.

moe.: Chuck Garvey, Rob Derhak, Al Schnier, Jim Loughlin and Vinnie Amico. Publicity photo.

moe.: Chuck Garvey, Rob Derhak, Al Schnier, Jim Loughlin and Vinnie Amico. Publicity photo.

GM: Fundraising and giving back have always been something important to this band.

RD: The older you get the more things pop up that affect you. So cancer has always been a big one for us. We just did the “Real men wear pink” campaign last fall which was pretty cool, actually. We wore pink throughout the tour and each show featured a pink-themed song.

GM: So the local press in Albany is raving about you kicking off their summer concert series. You’ve become real local heroes there.

RD: I had no idea! Really?! We did have “moe. day” in Albany. It’s like February 24 or something. The mayor came to one of our shows a couple of years ago and made it official that that day forever is ours. The weird thing is that we started in Buffalo. We then moved the band to Albany where we got a house. But we got our start in Buffalo and Buffalo isn’t giving us our own day. What’s up with that?! (laughs)

  

moe. 2022 SUMMER TOUR

Thurs, May 26 - Sun, May 29 – Chillicothe, IL - Summer Camp Music Fest

Fri, June 10 – Norfolk, VA – HarborFest

Sat, June 18 – Philadelphia, PA – City Bisco 2022

Wed, July 6 – Albany, NY – Empire State Plaza Concert Series

Thurs, July 7 – Buffalo, NY – Buffalo Outer Harbor

Fri, July 8 – Marshfield, MA – Levitate Music Festival

Sat, July 9 – Patchogue, NY – Great South Bay Music Festival

Sun, July 10 – Seaside Heights, NJ – Live at the Heights, The Beach Stage

Fri, September 2 – Jay, VT – Jay Peak Resort+

Sat, Sept 3 - Sun, Sept 4 – Lake George, NY – Adirondack Independence Music Festival^

Fri, Sept 23 - Sat, Sept 24 – St. Helena, CA – Blue Note at the Charles Krug Winery

  

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