Slight of hand musician Nathan Moore returns with a new stripped down EP titled Folk Singer that is a touching, passionate journey into the mind of the talented wordsmith. Moore pushes forward with his distinctive voice on a new batch of songs that speak about everything from the current financial breakdown in “Hard Times” to blossoming love in “I Can Make You Smile”.
Moore, based out of Staunton, Virginia, has been producing some of the more magical “neo- folk” albums of the last 10 years. At times he has expanded his sound out from a lone songwriter to a full band sound; the best example of this can be found on his album from last year You Yeah Smokin’ Hot. However with Folk Singer, Moore returns to his roots with something that sucks you into his personal thoughts and reflections in a way that is truly cry-in-your-beer beautiful.
Glide’s Joe Adler had a chance to catch up with Moore over the phone recently and touched on many aspects of the singer’s history, future, and his peculiar, reoccurring obsession with dancing.
It’s good to talk to you Nathan. Tell me how the tour for the new album is going and the general feel of it on the road.
I’m really really excited that we called the record Folk Singer because it’s sort of helped give a good sense of direction, almost purposed, with the performances lately. And I think if I tried to talk about it, it would seem very vague but there’s just a spirit to it.
Like the spirit of the old time folk singers?
The spirit of the new time folk singers! (Laughs) The modern age. Yeah the history and the tradition, the spirit of it, and conjuring the ghosts of the old hobo minstrels. They’re some powerful powerful ghosts. It’s been really fun to embrace that spirit for a little bit.
And you recently did a show in Woodstock, New York with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.
Exactly…stuff like that getting thrown in there. It was really magic, a special evening. Not only was I honored to be a part of it, but I had so much fun playing with all that energy in the room. Jack was a sweetheart, he definitely shared some stories with me. As a wanna-be storyteller, to listen to a legendary storyteller casually tell stories during sound-check was a thrill.
So tell me through the eyes of a folk singer, you were a big supporter of Obama during the last election cycle, what’s your view right now with the current state of politics? And how does that enter into your performances and songwriting, or does it?
I guess one of the big differences between me and a lot of the classic folk singers is that the voice of the people was easier represented by someone like Woody (Guthrie) because the lines were more clearly drawn in the sand. Because, these days, there are so many lines and we don’t even have any sand left. So it’s hard to feel like you are singing for the people against the machine. But, on the other hand, there is a spirit of searching for truth and justice, and for what is good for the common man. And definitely with the healthcare debate raging… I include those things topically in the show but I don’t necessarily have a soapbox about anything. So I’m being sure that I’m saying what’s coming to my mind, and hopefully in some ways with clever rhymes (laughs)… that have to do with topical issues. But I’m not going out there saying that this should be done, and that should be done unless it’s just what I’m saying that day. If I do ever say anything like that, it’s quite likely that I’ll say the opposite at the next show.
So with the album itself, I have definitely found it very much to the point. By having it be just you and your guitar, the lyrics are just right there in your face, and come across with a very passionate intensity. What inspired this approach, which was a big departure from your last two albums that were more band oriented, and back to your older albums like Cans-n-Cants and Sad Song Make Me Happy?
Well first of all I think it was necessity. I had talked to Kevin (Calabro) at The Royal Potato Family and had decided that we wanted to put out a record together. And then I met this guy who had a studio when I did a show with Devon Sproule in Virginia. She recorded her album there and it was 30 minutes from my house. So I called up Kevin and said that I found this little studio and we booked some hours there. And I’m really glad to hear you say that it is passionate because, really to me, that was very purposeful. I went in just determined to sing the songs how they went and how I knew they should go. As opposed to a lot of records where you go in and you’re playing with other people and you’re experimenting and you’re trying to find something new sometimes in the studio. And this really wasn’t about that, it wasn’t explorative or experimental, it was very purposeful and focused. Luckily I had recorded all of those songs in various ways in my bedroom, like I usually do. So by the time I got in there, I knew exactly what I wanted to hear: just me being with my guitar, and how I wanted to sing the song, and how I wanted to play guitar on it, and how I wanted the harmonica part to go.
Your relationship with magic continues on with this disc especially in the song “Bending Spoons”, which also showcases the beautiful finger picking style that you have developed…
And one of my favorite lines from the album is found in that song; “For what wilts when employed, should twice be saved.” Where did that song and that lyric come from?
A lot of times I will write a song and not know quite what it means. But if it has a certain feeling to it when I’m writing it, a sort of shimmer or something, I’ve learned over time that those lines will one day make sense to me. A lot of times I write stuff that doesn’t make sense, but I just have a feeling, and that song was just full of those. I’m not sure exactly what any of those mean. And some of the responses to that when the label posted some of the lyrics on Facebook… one person wrote back, “and as opposed to being a musician?” or something like that. I didn’t respond immediately, but a few days later I wished I had Facebook right there because I want to respond that there is just as much of my life where I’m just employed, where I have to do things that I don’t want to do, that I don’t feel like doing. And that’s such a great part of life. If that line means anything, it means that we should do all we can to help each other recover from all those activities every day and all the time, that’s why it’s twice and not just once, but they should probably forever be saved.
And in the song “I Can Make You Smile”, which is just another one of my favorites, your hopelessly romantic song. It feels like a departure from a lot of your previous songs, like “I Hate Love”.
Yeah, yeah! (Laughs)
So I guess the question is, are you mellowing with age, and letting your guard down now?
I don’t think so; I mean I’ve always written sweet love songs too. Even if I wasn’t as good as I was at the other ones, the darker side. “If I Didn’t Love You”, and “Never Let Your Lover Down”, and there’s been some gems all along the way. It usually happens when I’m falling in love. So I wouldn’t say that was indicative of a real sea change, just one of those sweeter moments in life.
And, not that this is going to be your last album or final statement, but I find it interesting that the theme of “dancing” bookends your catalog at this point. Starting with the first song on your first album, “But I Can Dance”, up to the last song on Folk Singer, “All I Can Do Is Dance”. What is it about dancing that intrigues you so much, what does it represent, if anything?
I remember when I played the song off Single Wide, the first song on my first album. I was singing it on a patio in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And I got about halfway through it and this Hispanic guy jumps up out of his seat and says, “This is a whole new philosophy on life!” And he just starts dancing around the patio. And he was just so excited, it was like he had an epiphany, I can dance, no matter what, no matter what! Emma Goldman says, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” And there is just something about that. It’s a good metaphor for letting go and celebrating. And it’s hard to dance selfishly. I see where you’re coming from with the bookend theory, but there’s another way of looking at it in that Folk Singer is an 8 song EP on Royal Potato Family and, in that sense, Kevin is sending this album out to a lot of people who have never heard me before. So this is sort of a new debut. It’s sort of starting over again in a sense. So it’s like my first record again, I gotta dance again.
With your rock band, Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Marco Benevento has been playing with you a little bit. And the question I have is this, last year right before you started your spring tour, there was an incident where Joe Russo had a party with a smoke machine, and you were, tongue in cheek, questioning whether or not he was trying to sabotage your voice. Do you think he had a premonition that Marco might try to defect from The Duo to join Surprise Me Mr. Davis?
(Laughs) Well apparently Joe just joined The Dead! And I definitely want to say something about Davis; I played with the band last night. It blew my mind. I shouldn’t be surprised I guess, it was really awesome playing with those guys. And Marco… any holes that were there before (he started playing with us), are now overflowing!
Is Marco in the band now, or is he still just guesting?
You should ask Marco. It’s pretty much up to him, and it looks like he’s having a hell of a lot of fun with us.
In the recordings that I have heard, it is definitely a whole new level of Davis.
Yeah. And that’s just the beginning. We’re still playing songs every night that he hasn’t heard in his life.
Is there still a lot of song writing going on with you and Brad (Barr, lead guitarist and co-singer/writer in SMMD)?
Absolutely. We debuted two new ones last night. And we have a rehearsal planned for tomorrow so there will be some new stuff coming out. Not to mention the stuff we’ve been working on over the last year, or new classic songs. We’re really hoping to take over the world in 2010.
Nathan Moore 2009 Tour Dates:
September 24 | Paradise Rock Club | Boston, MA (w/ AOD/Emmitt Nershi)
September 25 | 92Y Tribeca | New York, NY (w/ Marco Benevento Trio)
September 26 | Narrows Center | Fall River, MA (w/ Shemekia Copeland)
September 27 | The Iron Horse | Northampton, MA (w/ Emmitt Nershi)
September 28 | Stone Church | Newmarket, NH
September 29 | Langdon Street Cafe | Montpelier, VT (w/ Joe Adler)
September 30 | Parima | Burlington, VT (w/ Bryan Elijah Smith & Joe Adler)
October 1| Falstaff's | Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
October 2 | The Note | West Chester, PA (w/ AOD/Emmitt Nershi)
October 4 | Crozet Music Festival | Crozet, VA
October 15 | Purple Fiddle | Thomas, WV
October 28 | Conneticut Yankee | San Francisco, CA
October 29 | Las Tortugas, Dance of the Dead Festival | Groveland, CA
October 13 | Bear Creek Music Festival | Live Oak, FL
November 27 | Mockingbird | Staunton, VA
For more info: www.NathanMoore.org
To get deeper into Nathan a.k.a Percy Boyd, try his secret site: http://percyboyd.com
Glide senior writer Joe Adler is a singer/songwriter performing regularly around Burlington, Vermont. http://joeadler.com