Half of the Whole Other: An Interview With Nathan Moore

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Nathan Moore is easily one of the finest singer/songwriters that many folks have unfortunately never heard. His vast catalogue of music is woefully underrated, as he always follows his passion, embarks on projects, follows bliss, and wins. This is not to say that he walks or runs down these golden passion roads with some dumb smile on his face and that only rainbows and bluebirds greet him on his path. After all, the man writes some of the saddest songs – he feels life deeply – wrinkles and all, but Nathan seems to always find himself victorious if not ever truly satisfied. Satisfaction doesn’t really work for Nathan because there’s always the next thing and it’s always around the corner. Nathan Moore’s unquenchable thirst for something new inspires this author and his listeners.

It started with his songs back in his days with ThaMuseMeant that the author first saw and heard Nathan perform. Since then, through shared friends and common music circles, we’ve gotten to know each other and become friends.  Following a new passion that has blossomed into what is a really amazing musical endeavor, Nathan has teamed up with bassist Lex Park to form The Whole Other. And that new project has a slew of upcoming West Coast dates in September that will include a rad return to The Lost Sierra Hoedown in Johnsville, California at the end of the month; these shows will have something for old and new Nathan fans. All at once there will be something familiar and totally bizarre ( in the coolest sense possible) happening at the same time.

Oh and, true to form, JUST as I sit down to make sense of an interview all about a project that is a HUGE departure from Nathan’s traditional singer/songwriter/troubadour roots, he puts out a new record titled Wrong About the Blues that is just that. A guy with his guitar and harmonica and ten outstanding songs.

With the exception of The Lost Sierra Hoedown in Johnsville, California last fall, we haven’t seen you out here in California for quite some time. Now we have a whole West Coast tour. You must be excited! Can you talk a bit about The Whole Other and tell us a little bit about the roots of this project?

A few years ago I started a radio station (Revolution Radio) in my basement that was streaming 24/7 on my website. I did several live shows a week and had a lot of touring bands play live on air including Fruition, Elephant Revival, The Screaming J’s and many others. Eventually, I had a house band that would join me every Wednesday night and Lex Park was the bass player. It was an open ended radio show without any rules. We had a lot of random spoken word clips and strange sounds that we would weave into the music. Eventually, the young guys Lex and I were playing with moved to other towns and it was down to the TWO of us. We started using drum loops and stuff just for fun. I was in the midst of experimenting with lots of other instruments: clarinet, piano, cello and so on. It was the radio, so there was something so freeing out not being watched and, at any minute, we could cue up music from Friends of the Revolution and give ourselves a break to come up with the next sonic experiment. Riddled through the hundreds of hours of broadcasts, somewhere, are some of my favorite recordings I’ve ever made! Eventually, my obsession with the radio show waned, but Lex and I had gotten hooked on our musical explorations and would get together regularly just to see where the music would take us. Our sessions were very experimental. One of my songs would be the launch point, but where we would end up was the Great Unknown.

A while back, my brother gave me a clarinet for my birthday. Having been so focused on writing songs all my life, it was refreshing just trying to learn how to play that thing. Then I had moment suddenly where, at least to me, I really played that thing and it was incredibly exciting! Ahhhhhhh, just playing music, it’s a whole thing. A WHOLE OTHER THING, if you will. But it really hit me how much I was enjoying just finding the music in me as opposed to songs. I love musicians, always wanted to be one. Then it happened. Towards the end of the Revolution Radio project, my dad’s girlfriend, Dania, gave me an electric guitar! I hadn’t had one since I was seventeen. Timing is everything and this is right when Lex and I had started playing with loops on the air. So one day he decides to bring his electric. I still had never heard him play electric. Not only does he walk in with an electric bass, but with one of the biggest, baddest pedal boards I’ve ever seen, with an amazing array of vintage effects. We started a beat, he created some crazy looping texture, I cranked up the electric guitar and BAM! I was a child again. We would play and thirty minutes would pass in the blink of an eye. Just enjoying the exploration and winding up in different worlds.

I kind of get the feeling like you are ready to share the stage with another player and shed the solo thing for a bit. It must be nice to have someone constant that you can play with and riff from. Can you tell us a little bit about Lex Park and what he does for you as a bandmate?

I met Lex a couple years ago, just after he had moved to Staunton, VA (my hometown), at a block party. They had moved into my neighborhood. He came up to me and said “You’re not Nathan Moore are you?” I’ve always loved questioning my own existence, so I appreciated it. Turns out, he was a huge fan of The Slip and was at a show in Virginia Beach where The Slip surprised the crowd with a second set appearance of my act with them called Surprise Me Mr. Davis. It also turns out that Lex is a bass player. We talked a while and, at some point, I told him that, since he was in Staunton now, he should probably get an upright bass and go to Marino’s on a Tuesday night. (I won’t talk about Marino’s here because then I won’t shut up about it!) A few weeks later I was there when his wife, Corrie, gifted him an upright on his birthday and within minutes we were playing together for the first time. When he started playing with me every Wednesday night on Revolution Radio it was with the upright and we basically did acoustic music with the band but we did have a lot of fun with weaving in clips of old commercials, poetry, crickets slowed down, the sound of comets, stuff like that. And if I started ranting, about this or that, the band would just jam.

Lex was always up for anything, very present, perceptive and a great bass player! His nickname, from before I met him, is Stretch Barrington. He loves to jam! When we finally picked up our electrics it was like meeting the real Lex Park. I have no idea how he makes half the sounds he does over there. The music we are making is a whole new expression for me in a million ways and it all comes from playing with Lex. A lot of this is new for him too so we are learning so much together. We both have loop pedals that are locked in sync to the drum machine with midi cables. I’m triggering hooks on a laptop. He’s making beats. There’s a lot going on that we’ve never done before. We are in this together.

I read something somewhere that described this music as “ambient.” Do you think that is fair? I still hear a lot of serious song craft and, at the end of the day, these are largely Nathan Moore penned songs. Are you going to get all jammy on us? If so, can I put in early for a 20 minute extendo-jam of “The Garden”?

There was definitely something very meditative about the origins of the project. We weren’t getting together to arrange music for public consumption. We were getting together to see where the music would take us. If I think about it, the words we probably used the most were “listen” and “have faith”. Those two actions led to musical experiences I never knew were in me. When we eventually decided it would be fun to play out we performed behind a sheet and cast our shadows onto it with color changing lights. We wanted to preserve that experimental vibe and provide the context for us to remain in that explorative space. Well, I have to admit, it was all a little controversial! The truth is, Lex and I were used to toying around a patch of music for long stretches, like we were picking a lock. No matter how long it took, we were going to open that door. And with zero crowd interaction, just shadows, it was a tough thing for an audience to get their brain around. Which was part of the beauty of it! But now we have a real tour coming up and traveling with all the sheets and lights is impossible and people are going to be there wanting a show. So Lex and I have had the task lately, and for the first time really, of wondering what people will like. To be honest, this is a little daunting. We want it to be engaging and entertaining but we also want to find that sacred space where the music completely surprises us. I think the more we do it, the more we will learn about how to strike that balance. That’s our challenge now and I think there’s no better place than the West Coast to begin and to learn, grow and explore the possibilities!

The good news for the songsters is I have been writing a ton of songs inspired by and for The Whole Other. And Lex is so good, that we can crank up a beat and turn almost any old Nathan Moore song into a chance to dance and rock out, have fun with it and see what happens. Our EP is 5 brand new songs and the one you mentioned, “The Garden,” is awesomely tranced out. (So, yes!) As jammy as we are, I wake up and go to bed a songwriter and writing for The Whole Other has been a big source for me.

The sound of this project is a HUGE departure from the way you normally play. For those of us that love an “unplugged,” folk singing Nathan Moore, what will this do to our expectations? Should we throw those expectations out the window?

Throw them out the window! We can pick them up in the morning with some folk songs over coffee. The beautiful thing about being a folksinger is it’s something you always have in your pocket. But the chance to play with other people, and to make music unique to the chemistry you share, is a fleeting precious thing. I celebrate that. But I am also aware that I almost never make it to the West Coast any more and that, to a lot of people, a dose of “Nathan Moore” might not be satisfied by me NOT trying to get them to laugh, cry and sing along! What, a Nathan Moore dance party!? That’s why I have spent the last week recording 10 solo acoustic songs in a collection I’m calling Wrong About the Blues. Consider it a companion piece because I love you all, and come dance with us and push us to find The Whole Other universe where we all become balloon animals boinging through space-time!

I love to wear the troubadour hat and I am so proud whenever I find it fits! The storytelling, commentating, funny, philosophical, songwriter sitting on a stool in a spotlight killing it, is one of my favorite things. It comes natural to me because almost every song I ever wrote was written alone on my guitar. At the same time, it’s such a tiny fraction of the music that inspired me since day one. In fact, it wasn’t even a part of the music that made me want to play music. My first cassettes as a kid were Michael Jackson, Madonna, Quiet Riot and U2! I could sit here and list hundreds of artists and records that I listened to before I ever discovered Woody Guthrie, early Bob Dylan or any of that ilk. All of my original heroes were on records with big sounds. Those sounds will always be a big part of my dream.

I am assuming you’re the songwriter? How did you and Lex decide on material for the EP and then work out the arrangements?

Yeah, we both basically think of the project as a fun framing of my songs. But “Spiral” on the EP was a hook and beat that Lex created on his birthday that I just made up words for. So, anything is possible! Everything on the EP was performed live in our studio to multi-track. We would play each song several times and then cut it up with, what we call, “brutal splices”. One thing that is really fun about playing to beats is that everything is locked to a metronome which makes editing really easy and super fun. We would do a bunch of short versions, what we call, “the late night talk show” version. We’d even start a lot of those with me saying into the microphone “And here they are, The Whole Other…” Then we would play a couple of versions with the twenty minute jams and brutal splice some cool parts of those. It was a really fun way to record and a process I’m sure we will revisit soon.

There are so many textures to these songs. Would you care to talk about the instruments you’re bringing on the road?

This actually scares me a little bit. We have to slim down so much to fly out! I really want to bring my acoustic so we are thinking of just buying a cheap electric guitar the first day there. Still trying to figure it out. I will also have my laptop and FX pedals, and Lex will have the drum machine, bass, pedals and keyboard. I think I’ll have to miss my baritone ukulele.

I personally haven’t seen you this excited about a project since you were deep in the Hippie Fiasco thing a few years ago. What’s doing it for you this time? Has this been a music making renaissance for you?

That’s HIPPY Fiasco. He’s an ancient legend that has little to do with that social movement in the 60’s. Hippy Fiasco predates all that by a couple thousand years, but that’s a whole other story.

I love working with other people. I enjoy being a part of something. I don’t really like promoting myself. But make me part of a team and suddenly I have a whole new sense of purpose. There’s no doubt The Whole Other has been a renaissance for me. There’ nothing familiar about this project. It’s all new sounds, lots of new songs and I’m playing electric guitar for the first time in my adult life. It’s also a way to re-imagine all of the songs I’ve written in the past so it’s a renaissance for them as well.

You’re plugged in! How are you feeling about your electric guitar work these days?

The electric guitar is such an amazing thing. I’m almost glad I waited this long to play one. Tom Robbins once said “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” I get that now. Do you have any idea how much an acoustic player works!? I mean, just to keep sound coming, you have to keep busy. There’s no sustain, no soaring leads, no power chords, always strumming or plucking, working to keep the sound happening. With electric guitar, you can play one note and it can float for bars and bars. I can effortlessly sail melodies over the progressions. It’s sort of the revelation I had with the clarinet but on an instrument I’ve been playing my whole life. It’s just a guitar, a freaking magic guitar.

Anything else you’d like to share before you hit the road and properly birth this new baby?

I’d love to give some special thanks to Lost Sierra Hoedown for being such an amazing festival. I played there solo last year and when they invited me back this year, not only were they open to The Whole Other coming, they were really excited about it! We have some really special plans for what’s going to go down there! Anyone that has read this far should GO! Just look at the lineup and it’s so intimate, it’s very special. That led to this whole tour forming which couldn’t have happened without Mitch Manzella who has begun managing us and booked the tour. Chad Galactic and Josh Sadler have been our men on the ground on the West Coast and are going to road manage the whole run. What a team! And all of the venues that will be hosting us, so much love to all of you. Let’s do this!

 

Head over to www.nathansland.com to pick up a digital copy of this little gem and check out The Whole Other’s upcoming dates. As of the writing of this piece, new dates have been added..

 

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