Extreme Stylistic Variety
Andrew Stevens interviews lo-fi genius R. Stevie Moore.
3:AM: You’ve often been described as overlooked, specifically a “lost treasure” and “criminally neglected” on wikipedia. Would you consider that to be an apt description?
RSM: Such a problem. Oh my. The more I complain and whine about being ignored, the more it seems to work against me. Tactless insecurity. Playing on the “pity” card, please notice me since no one else has, sympathy for the downtrodden sufferer…
So, again, I didn’t say that, others did, yet I’m now forced to exploit it to death. Who wouldn’t?
Yes, it’s apt. Quite. Because I have created and recorded unique quality original musical varieties by myself since I was a teenager — 40 years now –, and still am as unknown as ever. Seen trends and fads come and go multiple times, but remain the ambitious old man boy, forever sitting at home pitifully waiting for the fairy godmother to create me a secure place in the record books, just one hit disc please.
But it’s not really for the household name chart positions. Ultimately, I always simply craved to be a universally strong influence of DIY combined with Extreme Stylistic Variety, and they often say I am, but I must disagree. Because DIY, Indie and Lo-Fi have become such charming little sub-genres for the youth these days, one assumes I am to be credited, since I unarguably did it first. But my reputation is ridiculously tiny, far from ever being acknowledged by the ones who’ve become massively popular in that classification — Beck, Guided By Voices, Sebadoh, Ween, They Might Be Giants, Pavement, all the melodic witty deep ‘college’ bands bands and more bands etc etc etc. Competitionism has crushed me decade after decade.
I’m the fantasy granddaddy of cheap underground desperation, whack-genius following my forever spontaneous, expressly homemade muse through all styles of music, drawing and film Dada — taking pride in never getting stuck in any ignorance ruts or tedious sameness, which is certainly modern society’s norm. And little me, trying to promote that eclectic philosophy in today’s severe target market tunnel-vision is absolutely fruitless, to say the least.
I’m all about diversity. Freeform radio show. The Beatles White Album. One artist who can and does sound like a V/A compilation album. And there exists nobody out there who successfully accomplishes this. Because the populace lacks imagination, open-mindedness and making effort to accommodate short attention spans. Little bit of everything, all the time. All extremes.
So I crown myself King Visionary and try and pretend that all is well with my self-integrity and steadfast dignity… but “neglected” and “lost” were not part of the original plan!
3:AM: Do you agree with the DIY/lo-fi pioneer label, or prefer to see yourself as a self-contained innovator?
RSM: I agree that I am or should be recognized as a pioneer, but that’s mainly just happenstance, the fact that I was doing it so long ago, before it was such a popular modus operandi. It’s simply what I did, what transpired, in Nashville homes, in the early seventies. But I definitely had no “plan” to rush and become known as the very first modern DIY pioneer. “Self-contained innovator” — yes, but not satisfied to be content as merely that.
3:AM: OK then, what’s it like to be the “curator of your own museum”?
RSM: Proud as punch, on one hand… but surely somebody else ought to be doing that for me, eh? Like some huge universal multi-corporation in my dreams. Blah blah blah.
See, the little guy and his homemade small-change cottage industry is one slant the story must have; a very worthy quality in this horrific industrialized nightmare we find ourselves living and dying in. We’ve completely lost the timeless basics in favor of megabucks. But conversely, that very quaint individualist DIY art concept certainly doesn’t pay the bills.
I honestly do believe that there is a way to achieve both extremes. How, I have no clue.
3:AM: You mentioned a plan. What was it?
RSM: There was never a plan, any ‘plan’. I just innocently did what I did, what I was into sounding like, writing like. Releasing it all as it is. Autopilot following the deep inspiration from Beatles, Brian Wilson, Zappa, Bowie, Roxy, 10cc, Roy Wood… Over the edge, yet mega-tuneful too.
Unquestionably, I did loathe what was surrounding me in my country-fried hometown at the time, and I guess I did in fact consciously TRY to point myself in the totally opposite direction. Not very difficult!
My famous rich father expected me to follow in his footsteps, to become a wealthy country session picker. My personal interests couldn’t have been more opposite than that. So I easily shot myself in the proverbial foot, rebelliously veering away from certain employment expectations into the deep and wide unstable abyss of fine arts and craft poverty. I still suffer from that ill-advised decision!
3:AM: Didn’t it occur to you that there’d be no market in Nashville for that sort of thing? Is that why you moved to Jersey?
RSM: Sure, naturally it occurred to me. But I was stuck there. Not a big traveller-type, so I had no big ambitions to just blindly hit the road to any Celebrityville USA. Though I’d worked with rock cover bands, I had no means whatsoever to perform my solo home recordings live.
Then, this is where my Uncle Harry Palmer comes in: Yes, he convinced me to move north to New Jersey, only 12 miles from Manhattan. And the critical element: he also helped me find a good job in a local Sam Goody’s retail record store. RSM Stage 2 begins!
3:AM: Wouldn’t your Anglo-centric sound have been more appreciated in London?
RSM: Boy oh boy, what I would have given for that to have happened! My entire career could have turned out completely different, likely much improved. I did dream of that for years. But again, I had nothing nor no one there to help me set up shop. Without income, such a drastic relocation might’ve been disastrous.
3:AM: Given your father’s role in the recording industry, were you determined to follow a more ‘unorthodox’ calling?
RSM: Obviously I was determined to follow a more unorthodox calling, whatever it might’ve been. Not sure I thought about it too much, just followed my muse. And the path my favourite private musical visions took was kind of found on auto-pilot. Especially as compared to, as I’ve explained, the absolute dullness of the country session lifestyle surrounding me.
3:AM: When you started out, the political situation featured quite prominently on the musical agenda. Is that something you ever thought about?
RSM: Nope. Not then, nor now. Loathe politics. Perhaps sadly, I’m King Apathy, but not at fault for it. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to world affairs. Can’t believe the amount of obsessive importance that human beings place on the theatre of government. With keen, almost panic-like interest. As if it’s a fun puzzle-game for them to keep up with the circus of leaders, policies, unrest, mindless laws and rules, elections, territorial pissings, false promises, traditions, public suffering, almost certain financial corruption, sports-like ‘team’ competition, exploitive news developments etc. Not interested! How could anyone be? I have no faith. Just like my proud atheism… I’ve nothing whatsoever to believe in aside from waking up mornings, then going to bed at nights. The clock is the only thing which doesn’t lie… unless you pull the plug.
You mention the political situation featuring quite prominently on the musical agenda when I started out. Such as ’60s protest and hippie revolution lyrics, Vietnam references, etc? But do you think it’s really any different now? Who knows? Not allowed anymore. Today’s new political-correctness-or-die threat vibe is absolutely unbelievable… what we could get away with back then is unthinkable now. De-evolution? Progress schmogress.
So, I myself was never interested in politics, so I certainly never wrote music about it. And I wasn’t necessarily impressed with music that was about it.
3:AM: Your home cassette label was integral to your recorded output for years, what do you make of MP3s and MySpace? Is this something you’ll utilise in future to get your music across?
RSM: Extremely mixed feelings. I think a lot of it is pure poppycock, the reliance of over-importance on the convenience factor, the technology circus which has warped the whole ideal of what good music and good sound is/was, and the very micro-methods in which they are now presented and absorbed have overtaken the priorities of the actual goddamn composition and arrangements! Blame the youth market. They gotta have their reliance on mix-tape style and take-out service. Fast food, fast music…
I surely dig being R. Stevie Moore online, but not to exchange or distribute music. Sheesh, that’s the beauty of hardcopy records and tapes; I’ll cherish that quaint notion forever. But it’s really taking me a long time to embrace today’s modern fileshare silliness. Doesn’t apply to my old school DIY. MP3s are fine for quick cheap sketches of exchanged sound, but I don’t subscribe to loading up I-pods with hundreds of hours of em’. Useless concept, for me. And the services like iTunes etc. I know little or nothing about, although I do have authorised music posted there for sale, taken care of for me by someone else. And I enjoy having a few sampler albums uploaded and available on various underground sites. No big deal. Need extra bandwidth and byte storage on my own website account and I’m good to go. But rsm.com is more about my story data, lifetime images and ye olde general store, than concerned with today’s mere super-new super-cyber cellular-MP3 age.
I do hear from new fans who discovered my music because of first hearing via the internet, and you can’t really beat that, can you? But that doesn’t mean I have to totally rely on the web by constantly updownloading and rotating song after song. A handful of song samples are enough to persuade newbies whether to investigate me myself or not. Most folks these days don’t know any other option exists than to hype on the sites. Mildly amusing to me…
Like I said, it’s all taken over to the extent of everybody losing awareness of what’s even worthy to listen to. Pre-packaged to go.
MySpace is another huge dilemma on my bad attitude plate. I find it appalling, the juvenile, community-based, banner-advert-riddled atmosphere — hate it with a passion. Kiddie herd mentality, bandwagon-esque shite. Cannot fathom why the urgent necessity of having to participate there. It’s too dang sickeningly popular. Anybody and everybody. A spam magnet. The very opposite of individualist originality. I have my own personal worldsgreatest website, don’t need to register with the MyGen MyFrend school gang. It’s all about upping the exposure, yes, but their fake-hype machine serves me best as avoided at all costs. I’m so proud to NOT have a MySpace page. Zip, out of the way, I move at mice pace.
Improviser, composer, arranger, producer, musical conceptualist, comedy writer, vocal stylist, filmmaker, sketchpad artist, drama example, self-taught instrumentalist and bon vivant, R. Stevie Moore was born 1952 in Nashville to famed Elvis bass player Bob. Since 1966, he has recorded nearly 2,000 songs on over 400 very original homemade albums of alarmingly idiosyncratic variety and styles, often considered a seminal pioneer in the DIY ethic. Remaining virtually unknown, he quietly resides in New Jersey as curator of his own museum.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, December 13th, 2006.