INTERVIEW: Moses Guest
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Light?”
“Light” was one of two songs that just sort of came to me in the Summer and Fall of 2015. The other tune was “Black Road.” My daughter, Edie, then 8 years old, helped me with the arrangements on both, telling me parts to keep and parts to throw out. I seem to always be having the experience of getting really excited about something or someone, then getting really disappointed by that thing or person, and then, finally, just totally not knowing what’s up with this thing or person at all. Of course, then I have to ask, Is it all just me? So the title, “Light,” is, obviously, ironic. The music itself is all happy and up, so it creates a little tension with the dark or ambiguous lyrics. But as just a listening experience, without worrying about what the words are saying, positive energy should be conveyed.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Many events in particular inspired the lyrics, many experiences of: “Yes… No… What?” in life. Lots of doubt and uncertainty. But I guess the fact that the music itself is so up and forward-pushing suggests an underlying and motivated hope, a desire to go out into the world and do things and meet people anyway.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
No, but we would if we were given the opportunity.
Why naming the album after this track in particular?
Well, for one, arguably, “Light” is the most “up” track on the album, and it’s the right length (relatively short) for a title track and for a single. But it’s sort of funny…how little we can know ourselves sometimes: in a moment of unconscious un-self-reflectiveness, I had the passing thought that “Oh yeah, this is a great track to name the album after because I’m such a lighter person now than I was ten years ago.” But now I can see that, lyrically-speaking anyway, this is one of the darkest Moses Guest albums ever! Pretty funny. Also, when we used to tour a lot, I was always noting the different sorts of light in all the different parts of the country, and I’d take pictures and sort of memorize all the different lights, and then come home and watch TV with Jennifer and say shit like, “Oh, see, now that right there, that’s the southeast, that’s Georgia,” and more often than not, I’d be right. So I developed this forensic-like talent: the ability to identify geographical location by light as shown on TV or in pictures. Now maybe I can get a real job in the police department or as a detective…
How was the recording and writing process?
Really great and satisfying but also really long and slow. I’ve been writing mostly prose for the past ten years, so these songs just sort of eked out whenever they could. Also, I live in the SF Bay Area now, and the rest of the band – James, Rick, and Jeremy – still live in Houston, so I have to fly down, obviously, if we want to get anything done together, like play a show or do group tracking sessions in the studio. I guess we started working on this album in early 2015. So yeah, it took a long time, a number of studios, and also a fair amount of remote recording. But everything was real deliberate on it, so it should have a pretty polished, intentional feel – not necessarily like our six previous studio albums.
How would you say this album showcases an evolution since your first album 10 years ago or so?
This album definitely showcases an evolution since our first album, Geniality of Morality, 20 years ago. Moses Guest started as a three piece grunge-jam band. It morphed from there into something jazzier. In 2002, we put out our self-titled double album, which we worked really hard on and was well-received. The double shows what the band is and what it still is at heart today: a southern jam rock band. The albums after that are good but were done faster and with less attention to detail. Light pays a lot of attention to detail and so echoes the double. Also, we’ve been pigeoned as a jam band, but that ‘s, you know, not quite right. We show jam elements live, sometimes, but we also shy away from what you might call the “over-jam.” I think we become uncomfortable when we sense that the noodling might be inspiring some people, including ourselves, to gouge their eyeballs out.
Would you be getting back into your original roots with this material?
Well, yes and no, I guess, because Light does hearken back the double album, which probably was the band’s original tap root, but the album pushes us forward too: it’s more sophisticated and professional.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
The music emerges automatically from an unknown place: put hands on guitar and see what falls out sort of approach. The music comes from something emotional and amorphous, a mood, and the music always comes first, for me. Then comes a gibberish of vowels and consonants, vocal rhythmic place-holders for future lyrics. They determine how to sing the song. The lyrics themselves come later and are often inspired by personal experience blended with stuff I’ve read in philosophy, literature, and psychology. Sometimes, I try to inject a sense of humor into the lyrics, and more and more, I think, when I do that, I get mixed results. I seem to want to “lighten up” sometimes, lyrically speaking, and be frivolous, but yeah…mixed results. I think I’m much better as a raging iconoclast. You know, “Fuck the man! Fight the power!” type shit. So there’s a punk element too. I remember this country music studio I recorded in when I was just starting out, and this drunk guy the studio let live in a tent in the studio’s backyard used to wander in and listen and call what I was doing “country punk.” “That right there, that’s country punk! Ha ha ha,” he’d say. It was hard to get anything done with him in there.
Any plans to hit the road?
No, not really. Aside from playing shows every few months in Texas and California, we’re pretty much committed to being a studio band. That said, I think if we were to get some invitations to some of the bigger Summer festivals, maybe in 2018, we’d hit the road to play them.
What else is happening next in Moses Guest’s world?
Big album release show at Rockefeller’s in Houston on Saturday, August 5. Big show at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, CA, on Saturday November 4. Official sales release of Light is Friday, August 4.