moe. is a progressive/psychedelic rock jam band from Buffalo, New York, and they’ve been playing music together since 1989. After almost three decades, they’ve tirelessly played festivals and venues everywhere, including their own festival moe.down, bringing skilled, captivating musical explorations to their fans. moe. is known for their organic, improvised song structures when playing live. Through their earth-shattering performances, they’ve gained a loyal cult of fans that happily dub themselves “moe.rons.” Frequently on their journey, moe. stops in New Orleans either to play during Jazz Fest or to play around the city. I had a chance to speak with guitarist Al Schnier about their Jazz Fest series this year and live music in general:
Do you guys like playing in New Orleans?
“Oh yeah! One of my favorites was when we did a late night at Tip’s during Jazz Fest, maybe 10 years ago. We had the spot that was after Galactic, so we went on at like, probably 3am [laughs], or something like that and played until the sun came up.”
How does playing festivals compare to playing venues?
“The venue shows are great because you always get to do your own thing, and set up your own show, and it’s just a little bit more of a comfortable space. The thing about festivals, I find, is that you get there and you see all of these bands and these musicians that you know from all over the country, guys that you’ve known for twenty years. That part of it is great because then it becomes like this big hang. That makes the day really fun. Plus, for a festival, especially something like Jazz Fest, it’s a great opportunity for us to get off the bus and go see music. So often we’re so busy working that we don’t get to go see as much music as we’d like, so that part of it I love.”
What’s different about playing multiple night shows, as opposed to doing the next show in another city?
“You start to settle in, not only to the venue, but to your crowd. It’s almost like you start to put roots down, and it’s cool. You get a feel for your surroundings. You get a vibe for the place you’re in, and that’s pretty special when you’re doing it someplace like New Orleans during Jazz Fest. There’s so much great music, great food, great people. The atmosphere is pretty contagious. It’s nice because we can kinda put ourselves down and the whole run becomes part of a bigger event somehow. We just did four nights in a row in Boston, and there was a lot of the same faces every night that were coming out to the shows, which was great. The shows got more and more interesting every night as it went on. The band really started to loosen up.”
When it comes to improvising, how do you guys communicate onstage? Hand gestures, eye contact, riff cues?
“We tend to rely more on musical cues than anything. We do not use any hand gestures. We’ll talk about some ideas before we get out on stage. If we know, “Hey, we’re gonna improvise in this particular section,” we may talk about the framework for a show, for example. We’ll just know, “Ok we’ll play these four songs during this set, but between song number 2 and song number 3, let’s just open it up, and try and find our way from song 2 to song 3. And everybody follow Rob’s lead or Chuck’s lead on this and see where we wind up.” Sometimes it’s complicated, so we might have to map out a few things. Like, “Hey, we’re gonna have to go to halftime somewhere just to get close to our target." We’ll talk about a few of those things, but otherwise, we prefer an organic process. We like to just go out and jam and have these things happen naturally, without them being forced. We’ve spent 25 years cultivating that process.”
If you had to guess, what do you think is the longest improvised jam you guys have had?
“I know there were a couple times when we did either a one or two song set. So, essentially playing 90 minutes of music, but only playing one or two songs. It’s an interesting experiment. Our fans love it. [Laughs] That we’re willing to do something like that. But at the same time, it’s not for the weak of heart. You’re asking a lot of a casual listener, in terms of their attention span and their patience, if you’re gonna go out there and jam for 45 minutes straight.”
What’s the latest on the moe.down festival? Is that coming back this year?
“It is happening this year. It is the first time back in 3 years. We’ve got a great lineup and we’re all really excited about it. Our fans are super psyched about it. Everything about it feels really good. We’re just trying to take a slightly different approach to it, and make it a little bit more fan-friendly. A little bit more of an intimate experience. Kinda focus more on moe. and trying to build it into a bigger festival that has a broader reach. So far it seems to be working.”
After Jazz Fest, what’s next? Are you guys working on anything?
“Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of stuff on deck. We’re just about to announce our summer tour. We’ve got three nights in Colorado that we’re doing this summer, including a date at Red Rocks with Twiddle. We’re gonna start working on some new studio stuff really shortly. We’re very busy at the moment and it feels really good.”
moe. is coming to New Orleans for their Jazz Fest series at Le Petit Theatre on April 27th, and the Civic Theater April 28th and 29th.