When Ferd Moyse left the Hackensaw Boys, he knew he still had music to make. He just wasn’t sure how to go about it.
It was only a short matter of time before the New Orleans resident joined up with New York State-based fellow former Hackensack Boy Chris Stephens on bass and Tennessean Matt Morelock on banjo, mouth harp and percussion to form FERD the band.
Moyse writes and sings the songs while playing fiddle and percussion with a tambourine strapped to one foot and using a pedal to bash a mic’d suitcase that doubles as a stool with the other. The result is rustic music that echoes from the past and sounds right at home in the early-21st century.
The group released Feelin’ Like the Wind, accompanied by former Carolina Chocolate Drop Leyla McCalla on cello for a few tracks, in 2023 and has about 50 shows under its belt thus far.
As the far-flung band members look forward to more touring and recording in 2024, Moyes, who likes to restore and live on old sailboats in a practice he calls “reverse gentrification of the yachting world,” spoke with Relix via email:
KW: Was FERD the band on Ferd the man’s mind when you left the Hackensaw Boys?
FM: In some sort of way. I was writing a bunch of songs. Busking solo in New Orleans. Had no intention of stopping, but I was making up a new chapter as I went along.
KW: How did the current trio come together?
FM: I stayed in touch with Chris. We’d catch each other on the phone and he would always ask me about new songs. I sent him lots of my boat recordings, and we would get together and give this stuff life. Matt and I had been playing as a duo around Knoxville for years with some of the same songs. It was very obvious what needed to happen. Matt and Chris met and we recorded Feelin’ Like the Wind.
KW: You and Matt and Chris seem to have a musical groupthink together on stage. How did you discover that and how to you keep your chops up given you’re in Louisiana, Matt is in Tennessee and Chris is in New York?
FM: That is because Matt and Chris are great, big-eared musicians! The fiddler and the drummer are mostly tight. I guess that’s how the chops get kept up. We try and meet up enough to play some before a tour starts. Being so far apart, we don’t have too many one-offs, so we get it together for a tour and beat it into our consciousness.
KW: What are your respective musical backgrounds?
FM: We all got into music in our teens and gravitated to the rootsier sounds. And somehow, we all crossed paths. I find it exciting that Chris grew up on the Ohio River and Matt on the Tennessee River and me on the Mississippi River. They all flow into one and out to sea. It’s an image of how we got together and what we do. There’s something there.
KW: Is a follow-up to Feelin’ Like the Wind in the offing?
FM: Oh, heck yeah! The bread has risen, we’re just lookin’ for an oven. Turns out finding a place to record is one of the hardest parts about being so spread out.
KW: Your music seems to come from a time before most of us – or even our parents – were born. Tell me, who or what are your influences and how did you discover them?
FM: My dad religiously listened to a show on Mississippi Public Radio called “Grass Roots.” Always in my ears on Saturday nights. After that show, was one called “Highway 61.” It was a blues show leaning heavy on the Mississippi folk blues. That stuff was mine! I’d listen to that on my own. Fast-forward a few years and I discovered Joe Bussard’s “Country Classics.” A lot of folks around the Delta were finger-picking stuff like “Cocaine,” the way Townes Van Zandt played it. There was a singer-songwriter vibe around. Guy Clark. Willie Nelson. I think that’s me in a few sentences. John Hartford was in my parents’ backyard once. My mom has a good John Prine story.
KW: As a non-musician who struggles to walk and chew gum at the same time, I’m flabbergasted by your ability to sing, play fiddle and play counterpart rhythms with your feet. Is this something you had to work on or does it come naturally to you?
FM: I had to work on it! Still do. But it is like surfing when it’s working right. Once you get on that wave, you’re off! Like a surfing clock. Its a fun feeling to chase.
KW: A related question: naturally or not, are you able to focus on anything outside of what you’re doing mid-song? At your recent gig I Columbus, Ohio, noticed your bandmates—
particularly Chris—paying close attention to any nonverbal cues you might send. Is this because of your getting lost in the song?
FM: Many of the nonverbal cues are more like private jokes. I may be messing up the same part or finally getting it right. The whole suitcase thing is like a mechanical flow state. If I were to think of anything else, I’d probably fall off the thing.
KW: You are the credited songwriter on the debut LP. What is the arrangement process like in the studio? Do you hear the banjo and bass parts while composing or do you bring more of a blueprint to be fleshed out with you to recording sessions?
FM: It’s like a blueprint of the fully formed song. I used to workshop all this stuff while busking, so I got into a habit of making the song before I share it. I welcome all ideas. Most. I am open to them all.
KW: How did you make the music sound so vintage? Feelin’ Like the Wind sounds like it could’ve been recorded onto a wax cylinder or 78-rpm vinyl, yet it pops with contemporary fidelity.
FM: Most of that credit goes to Big Jon Atkinson and Big Tone Records. We recorded with him. He has the most amazing collection of old (’50s and older) gear. Its amazing, beautiful stuff! He fixes it all! Big tape machine, old NASA-lookin’-ass stuff. It’s crazy. He brought his whole rig over to Matt’s house in Knoxville and we dug in.
KW: What is the story behind “Revolving Door?” Musically, it fits in seamlessly with the other songs, but the lyrical content (about recidivism) makes it stand out.
FM: A few years ago, I read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I set out to write an album of prison songs that were more revealing and honest about it than the canon of prison songs you get in country music. “Revolving Door” is one of the songs that survived.
KW: You mentioned you had previously worked as a newspaper reporter. Did that experience – being an observer and chronicler – inform your approach to songwriting?
FM: It must have. That job really pulled back the lens on the world where I got to experience so much more than I knew. Newspaper reporting should be a mandatory service for young people.
KW: How did you come to work with Leyla McCalla? Her cello is such a colorful addition to the album, yet on stage you were able to replicate the songs that feature her without losing anything.
FM: Leyla and I once played in the same band in NYC, Morgan O’Kane. Her music is amazing and I adore her. She made gumbo one day. We had a really sweet family vibe at Matt’s house where we recorded. It was special to all be together at that time.
KW: Any other collaborations in your future?
FM: We have been doing some fun stuff with the Leadbeaters. They’re a string band from Amsterdam. So much fun. We made a few videos during our recent trip to my homeland of the Mississippi Delta. We are gonna do more of that and another tour somewhere in 2024.
KW: What do you have to say to folks who think Jew’s harps and triangles aren’t “real” instruments?
FM: Make a joyful noise! No way you can watch Matt play the mouth harp and think it’s not a real instrument!