Photo by Garret K. Woodward
In 1990, Buffalo, NY, spawned a fresh new jamband named moe. In the 25 years since, the band has developed into a groovy quintet with thousands of devoted fans, yet they seem to remain grounded, if not a little exhausted, after all this time. As they celebrate their silver anniversary with a series of three-night runs in the cities and venues that have made them who they are today, Al Schnier, takes some time to reflect and look forward.
As grateful as he is for what has come before, he is just as excited to continue the ride and keep creating the music that has been the life-force of both moe. and their fans. Here he discusses why the band decided to change up their touring schedule for this current tour, talks about what the guys have planned for their upcoming Star Wars-themed Halloween, touches on his recent departure from Floodwood and gives out a couple quarter-century band awards.
What were the goals going into the 25th anniversary, and what has come of them so far?
One of the things we were thinking going into this year was that we wanted to change up what we were doing in terms of our touring. You know, we’ve spent 25 years of being on the road all of the time. It’s interesting when I look at it: there are venues across the country—and you can pick any city Like Atlanta, for example—we’ve been playing the Tabernacle in Atlanta for I think the last 15 years. Or, you know, The Fillmore in San Francisco for 15 years, and it’s sort of strange. There are a lot of bands that will kind of move through those venues, on their way up, on their way down, or whatever, but there are very few bands that just get to a spot and stay there consistently, and that’s just sort of what we do. We just played the 9:30 Club again in DC. We’ve been playing that place forever, it feels like. And, you know, not to qualify it—there is something really awesome about that. But at the same time, we’re looking at it like, “What the heck are we doing?” We’ve been doing this for 25 years—what do we want to do different for this 25th anniversary tour?
So we thought, well, what if, with some of those places and some of those great cities where we play, instead of just passing through as part of another one of those tours that we just do, let’s make them more destination events. So we wanted to turn them into these three-day weekends where we could go and do a Friday and Saturday night there and bring everybody from the region to that area. So instead of playing everywhere else in a 150-mile radius around there, we’d just go and play those places, and then throw in a smaller venue on Thursday night for people who want to make a three-day weekend out of it. And it’s proven to be a really cool model for us. So we’re working a little bit less, which means we get to spend a little more time at home, a little more time working on other projects, just a little more time doing other stuff. It also means, when it comes to moe., that we’re excited about doing moe. It’s been a lot of fun doing these events, too, because people are gravitating toward the events. It makes them feel a little bit more special than just another night on the tour.
Have you noticed a difference in the feel of the shows because of this new formula, with both you guys and the fans extra-psyched for each one?
You know, I think so. To me, they feel more like events than just another day at the office. And that’s sort of the intent. We wanted to do something a little bit different. The only thing is—it’s funny, I think Chuck [Garvey] touched on this at one point in another interview, or at least in conversation with us—when we’re not on the road, you sort of lose that aspect of becoming a well-oiled machine when we get into a groove. If you start to play together for two to three weeks at a time, then you can sort of lock in, and you get to another level of playing. But at the same time, there are drawbacks from that, too, because you also get beat down by being on the road, people are getting sick. You know, we’re old [laughs]. There’s a lot of wear and tear that comes from traveling on the road like that. There’s a physical demand to it, and it’s sort of nice to come in and just do three shows and go home and then do it again a few weeks later.
So there’s a give and take aspect.
Yeah. And, I don’t know, I like doing it both ways. I can see the pros and cons of doing it both ways, and right now I’m really enjoying this.
Rob Derhak who was doing an interview earlier this year, and he mentioned you guys got some silver instruments. Did you get a silver guitar?
That’s true, yeah. I have two silver guitars and Vinnie [Amico] got a silver drum set, and Chuck has a silver guitar. I was even using silver amps at one point. We had silver jackets and stuff that we were wearing. We were really trying to embrace the silver anniversary.
Moving on to the Halloween show theme, Star Wars, how did that come about? I assume you guys are fans.
Yes, we’re big into Star Wars. It’s one of those things that we grew up with. And the Halloween theme is something we’ve been doing forever. Just trying to grab an idea, either from a movie or some other thing, something that we can grab where there’s going to be something great visually and some great music attached to it. We did a Willy Wonka Halloween show in the ’90s, I think, at the Hammerstein Ballroom, then we did a Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon Halloween show, we did a Simpsons Halloween show. I can’t remember who threw out the Star Wars theme. It might’ve been Rob for this one. And it was unanimous, like, “Yes!” We were all in on it. And again, there’s great music for it, great costumes, just a no-brainer.
So what are some specific plans to integrate it into your show?
It’s the same thing we’ve done with a lot of the other shows. First of all, we’ll all be in costume, in character. There’s original music from the movie that we can incorporate into what we’re doing, but then there’s our music that we can tweak to fit in, as well as covers that may be related to the event somehow. We’ll incorporate all that, as well as stage and set design, lights and everything. So there’s a full multimedia affair that will be incorporated. In fact we were just discussing it this morning. We’re working on the setlist now, because we’ll get together next week, but we’ll all spend this week at home kind of tweaking the ideas, then show up next week for a full week of rehearsals before we do it.
What’s your favorite Star Wars movie?
My favorite one probably still has to be the first one. I don’t know—it’s a close tie between that and The Empire Strikes Back, but I’d still pick the first one. I mean, the first one was just so amazing. It’s still such a great movie. It still gives me chills when I watch it.
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