R. Stevie Moore on His New Double CD, Classic Nashville Recording Sessions, and His Unexpected Intersections with The Lemon Twigs, Jason Falkner, and Sean Lennon
It's always a personal and creative pleasure to speak with R. Stevie Moore any chance we get. Recently, the Godfather of Modern Home Recording indulged our insatiable curiosity not only about his distinguished history as session musician and pioneering solo home recording artist, but also about current and future endeavors. 2017 has seen already seen the release of the RSM/Jason Falkner full-length gem Make It Be as well as live collaborations with The Lemon Twigs. Never content to rest on his laurels, though, RSM is entering the last quarter of 2017 with a flourish of activity, including putting previously unreleased material out on CD (via Moloko Plus Records) and even playing two rare live shows in Nashville. We covered all this and more in our recent tête-à-tête, and are thrilled to share here.
Bobby Weirdo: You have a new collection coming out on CD, titled World War Four.
R. Stevie Moore: Yes! It’s the biggest thing in my life at this moment, and I’m so fucking excited! It’s sort of a major release, but not on a major label. You’ve noticed all of my re-issues coming out from Cordelia Records in the UK. Those are tiny pressings by Alan Jenkins – all the New Rose records [Glad Music, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About R. Stevie Moore But Were Afraid To Ask, Teenage Spectacular, Warning:], and we’re still continuing that. But this World War Four thing is a double CD released by an old friend in Berlin, and the most exciting part is that it’s all new material – not a re-issue of the old classics. It’s the best of 2011-2015. I can’t wait. It’s an esoteric label, which I’m kind of glad for, but I hope it gets some hype.
Besides that, I really just live for my Bandcamp. I’m working on new mixology stuff right now with some friends, and the minute it’s done, it’ll be on my Bandcamp. I don’t plug it with labels.
BW: In recent days, you and I have been talking about Todd Rundgren, and his latest release.
RSM: Yeah, he’s back in a big way, and I love the new album. I’m into it big time. I understand why people may be confused or not into it, but I don’t care. It’s fantastic. And of course the Todd Rundgren/Lemon Twigs connection is amazing. We could talk for hours about that and what’s happened in the past nine months. I’m obsessed with them, and now they’re my close buddies. They’re doing my song [live], “I’ve Begun to Fall in Love", and played it at Lollapalooza. I’m in close touch with Brian [D'Addario], and they’re fantastic.
So then Todd Rundgren comes into the story [Rundgren joined The Lemon Twigs onstage at Coachella and at the Fox Theater in April of 2017], and now…Sean Lennon! I’ve been in touch him, and we’ve been playing e-mail tag. I keep telling him to send me lo-fi unprepared MP3s, with no plan. I almost scared him away, because he would reply almost instantly, but he kept saying, “Dude, tell me what you want.” And I would reply, “Come on. You know what I want – improv! Turn the mic on. I want your voice. Read something. You want me to send you words? I can.” And he just said “I like to know what I’m doing!” He did improv with Greg [Saunier] of Deerhoof. But he’s into the Lemon Twigs too, and it’s just been incredible dealing with all of them.
BW: How did you get in touch with Sean Lennon? Was that through Jason Falkner?
RSM: That's a long story, too. I followed [Sean] on Twitter, and whaddya know – suddenly I had a private message saying, “Thanks for the follow. Long-time fan. Love your tunes. I produce a lot of young bands, and they're all big fans of yours.” It was on my fucking 65th birthday – January 18th! We had a back-and-forth, and I’ve been mailing him tons of packages.
BW: And how did you meet The Lemon Twigs?
RSM: Facebook posts from Darian [Sahanaja] of Brian Wilson’s band, the Wondermints. He’s fantastic, and is an R. Stevie fan, too. He posted something about The Lemon Twigs, and I said, “This is fantastic. But I don’t know about that band name.” I’ve regretted it ever since! It doesn’t matter; The Lemon Twigs is a great name. They’ve exploded globally, as everyone knows. They’re close friends, and my mind was blown when they started to do my ballad.
And back to the Sean thing, I said “how did you know of me - from Deerhoof?” He said, “No, from Jason Falkner, who plays with Beck.” There’s another whole chapter there, with what happened and what didn’t happen with Make It Be. We didn’t tour, though we did play South by Southwest. It was hard on me, but fun for us. I’m out of touch [with Jason] right now because he’s out on tour with Beck. And he’s also working on his new record. It takes him years to finish [his albums] and he laughs about it. He’s doing pop-rock, which he excels at. It’s unlike me, because I’m rambunctious, and I put out anything and everything.
I’m glad we’re catching up on all this stuff. And you’ve been asking me about my involvement with the Manhattans on “Teenage Liberation”. Am I prepared to even tell that story? It was no big deal. It was a session I was hired for, and there are connections that got me that session in 1972. But it had nothing to do with my dad or country [music] – it was just a one-off. [This was] before the Manhattans really broke big in the late ‘70s on Columbia. They were on the De Luxe Label, a King subsidiary. I was asked to come into the studio to play some psychedelic lead guitar, and that’s what I did. It’s a cool record, and the fact that it’s [titled] “Teenage Liberation” is funny since later I came out with the album Teenage Spectacular. On the day I did the session I [remember I] walked into a four-for-a-quarter photo booth and took a picture of myself. I never heard the album it was on, A Million to One, until the mid-70s. I love that kind of music – the four or five member Doo-wop, all the way up to early funk and soul. I just adore the Stylistics and the Spinners.
That’s all there is to say about that. It’s just part of my early, strange discography, like when I did a Perry Como session ["Love Don't Care (Where It Grows)"].
BW: I’ve always wanted to ask you about the background to that on too.
RSM: That was through my dad and Chet Atkins. It’s a great record too. I’m playing bass on it, and it kicks butt. I’m a 21-year-old guy, and I was expected to follow in my dad’s footsteps, doing countless record sessions. But I was a 60s kid, and didn’t care for doing the country thing. I was doing psychedelic, home recording.
BW: Chet Atkins produced the Jim Reeves single you’re on as a little kid, “But You Love Me Daddy”, right?
RSM: That’s true. Chet Atkins was Mr. RCA, and I knew him when I was a little kid.
BW: You worked for RCA, right? Or what were you doing in that photo I’ve seen where you’re holding tapes in front of the RCA building?
RSM: That’s such a great pic! It’s the legendary RCA building, Studio A. It’s not the big, famous Studio B, where Elvis and the Everly Brothers worked. But Studio A is great. I wasn’t working for RCA; I was working for my father’s publishing company called Mimosa Publishing. It was a short-lived [time] working for my father, and I hated it. That’s why I’m kind of frowning [in the picture]. It was my job to go out like that. He had a stable of writers writing stupid, silly, bad country songs, and I was taking around dubs. I was able to get to the high executives of all the labels because of my dad. But I didn’t care for the music I was giving them.
I was [also] doing a lot of sessions back then, mainly demos sessions. It was thirty dollars for three hours. A big session, like the Perry Como one, was a “master session”. You’re not doing it just for a publishing company; you’re doing it for a record company. That money was so much more, and that’s why my father was able to afford swimming pools and stuff. He did four sessions a day for thirty years, often being the leader of the sessions.
By the way, there’s such a buzz on that new Ariel Pink album. I love it. I love him and am in touch with him and Charlotte [Lindèn Ercoli Coe, aka Charles], and I love her too. I’ll bond with Charlotte, and then Ariel will butt in and get weird on us. She’s weird…we’re all weirdos! And I love you and all that you do. You freak me out with these great photos that even I hardly remember. Of course, I certainly miss being on the road. No wait – I don’t miss being on the road. I miss being on stage. I see those photos and I know that I look great, and would love to get back into it, but at sixty-five years old, it’s tough.
You have no idea what it was like for me to get kicked out of the house by my girlfriend in New Jersey, come back to Nashville, panic and not know what I was going to do next. [At that point] I put out a new record with the help of a friend, and then all of a sudden a kid in New York from Columbia University started a documentary on me and asked if I’d like to go out on tour. I said, “You have to be kidding. I can barely make it to the corner store.” Suddenly I was on the road, and between 2011 and 2014 I went to Europe four or five times! It was unbelievable, but because of my health, I had to stop. It was just too much work. My band was in their twenties, but I was sixty.
Now there’s a new documentary, Cool Daddio, which is still in the process of being made by two London girls. There’s a great rough cut. Ariel’s in it, Jason Falkner’s in it, and it’s a great film. You’re going to flip out.
BW: I’ve heard about some of the footage that was submitted. I love the visual of you, Ariel, and Jason recording together at Jason’s studio.
RSM: That was 2011, at the beginning of my Falkner experience. We had a great time, and that led to Make It Be a year later in November of 2012. My friend financed me to fly back to L.A. and I was there for two weeks. I stayed at a motel directly across the street from EastWest, [formerly] the legendary Western Recorders on Sunset Boulevard, just blocks away from where Jason used to live.
BW: Looking ahead, do you have anything else coming up soon?
RSM: I've reached out to Wayne Coyne and Nashville's Jack White. I do have two local Nashville shows coming up: one is an in-store at a local record store playing acoustic solo, and Calvin Johnson is playing it,too. Then my other show is my new trio with local buddies, and it’s going to be total noise improv. I can’t wait for that. Lately, we’ve been into Can, and of course we just lost the legendary bassist Holger Czukay. That kind of music just blows my mind – I don’t have to worry about playing pop-rock hits.
I just want to explore. I love the exploration. I love when Ariel gets really exploratory. These days, everyone wants to know if I want to get back into recording, and I don’t. I just like mixology – layering sounds, with nothing to prove. I don’t care if it hits the wall and doesn’t stick – it doesn’t matter to me. That’s my whole career.
Catch RSM live at Variety Record Shop in Columbia, TN on October 10, 2017. Then again at the East Room in Nashville on October 15 for the Scorpion Beach Halloween party.