DIY MESSIAH R. Stevie Moore

Wrapping up a U.S. tour this week, the creator of
some 400-odd albums – and subject of a looming documentary – reflects on his
decades-long trip.

 

BY MIKE
SHANLEY

 

After
serving as the poster boy (and man) for bedroom recording over several decades,
R. Stevie Moore has finally left his room and begun performing live with a full
band. Some of his more devoted fans have been rejoicing, sometimes right in
front of the object of their affection. The reaction might not quite be the
same size as when the Beatles hit our shores, but it’s big enough to overwhelm
a guy who has rarely performed live initially because of stage fright. “These
days I need a bodyguard, are you kidding,” Moore
said last month between tour dates. “Because there are just so many, and
they’re screaming. Fan boys and fan girls. ‘Oh my god, R. Stevie Moore!'”

 

There
are plenty of reasons that Moore has
cultivated a devoted following. For one thing, he has recorded the equivalent
of 400 albums, all of them available directly from the man himself, mostly on
either cassettes or CD-Rs. (Several labels have released albums too, including
his 1976 vinyl debut #Phonography#,
which was reissued by Sundazed last year.) When ordering any of these releases
directly from the source (www.rsteviemoore.com), it’s not unusual to get a
picture drawn on the envelope and a note from the man himself.

 

Then
there’s the music: Sometimes he evokes the Beatles; on his new disc #Advanced#, the first available through
iTunes, he borrows from the Brian Wilson school of pop hooks; in person he
transforms the lo-fi Beefheartian blues of “Carmen is Coming” into a
psychedelic metal freakout. And despite all the name-dropping, Moore still comes across like someone who channels his
influences into something original.

 

On the
phone, Moore doesn’t come across as an aloof,
reclusive artist or someone with an ego to match the size of his exhaustive
catalog. Instead, he sounds like a 59-year old record collector with an
extensive knowledge of music that continues to grow (a description that fits
the former WFMU-FM deejay to a tee). While he’s probably entitled to some level
of arrogance, he has a good handle on his work, and why he’s getting the
reaction from fans. “There’s something to be said about being that hermit guy.
Nobody really knows what’s happening,” he says, in a voice that’s much more
gravelly than the high tenor on many of his recordings. “Now at this age,
people just can’t believe it. They’ve heard my music or read my name for so
many years. Here I am suddenly in front of their eyes. Besides the fun of just
bringing great music to the stage, it’s an event.”

 

Moore’s
full-blown return to the stage (he played a handful of on-off shows since the
’70s) can be attributed largely to the efforts of a film student at Columbia University.
Jon Demiglio became fascinated with Moore
after seeing a 1980 video of the artist performing “Conflict of Interest” on New Jersey mainstay #The
Uncle Floyd Show
#. “The song itself was incredibly catchy and it seemed so
far ahead of its time, but the performance aspect too was intriguing on
multiple levels,” Demiglio says. “From watching it, you can tell he’s a really
complex character. What really draws me to [the video] is the economy. He just
has one camera and he sets it up in a stable position and he does so much, playing
with the frame, coming in and out of it.”

 

Demiglio,
28, became fascinated and spent two hours watching some of the numerous Moore videos on YouTube. When he moved to New York for school last year, he contacted Moore with the intention of making more videos for him.
But after he heard about several failed attempts at making a documentary about
the songwriter, Demiglio changed his tune, despite never having made anything
more than music videos for friends. (Watch
the documentary trailer below)

 

 

TRAILER– Phonography: The R. Stevie Moore Story from jon demiglio on Vimeo.

 

 

They
filmed several hours of interviews, before Moore
suddenly picked up and moved back to Nashville
last December after living in New Jersey for
over 30 years. The move proved to be fortuitous, though. Soon after relocating,
Moore received money from the online funding
platform KickStarter.com that he put towards recording #Advanced#, and he played a show, opening a show for Deerhoof.

 

Demiglio
visited him during spring break and offered to help Moore
set up a tour. “He felt like he really couldn’t do too much. He didn’t feel
very adventurous,” Demiglio says. “He needed someone to be there for him to do
all these opportunities. In the spring I felt like I was in the position to do
that, so I acted on it.”

 

Backed
by the New York band Tropical Ooze (drummer Sam Levin, guitarist/keyboardist
Wilson Novitzki, guitarist JR Thomason), Moore hits the stage playing bass in a
set of  about a dozen songs that have
been carefully chosen and worked out. “It’s not that easy. It has to be written
down,” Moore says. “Even I have to go back and
learn my own songs. Are you kidding? They’re itching to learn even more songs
and I’ve having to kind of put it stop to it. You’ve got to prioritize. The
running joke is, ‘Man this would be a good one to do live.'”

 

The U.S
tour began officially back in June, and wraps up July 9. One week later, the
group heads to Europe where they’ll travel for
nearly a month before coming back and wrapping up with a few more West Coast
dates.

 

For his
part, Moore still seems to be coming to grips
with getting a level of attention for which he’s yearned over several decades.
“There’s this [long pause] tsunami of interest that I never could’ve
predicted,” he says. “The struggle has been long and painful, but everything is
falling into place. It’s overwhelming for me to deal with. Celebrity.”

 

The
generation gap between him and his followers is a little disarming too. “How do
I deal with the age issue? It’s heavy on my mind and my heart – having to worry
that I look like goddam Santa Claus, grandpa, whatever. It’s hilarious. But
still I wonder, why wasn’t all this interest happening 20 years ago? And then I
throw all that out the window and think, ‘I can’t control that.'”

 

Another
thing he’s never controlled is the creative flow. Moore
started making his first recordings in the late ’60s and to this day he says he
always has a tape recorder nearby. “My whole thing is that everything I’ve ever
done is released by me and available to anyone whoever wants to buy it,” he
says. “And I have compilations, edited Best Ofs or there’s all different ways
of dealing with my music. But when there’s 400 albums, that includes everything
I’ve ever recorded. In other words, nothing on the cutting room floor and no
outtakes.”

 

The
effect can overwhelming, but Moore would
rather do that than curb his muse. “I’m a diarist of sound,” he admits. “I’ve
often had the dilemma of [whether] I’m shooting myself in the foot, confusing
people and offering too much information and available music. Why hide it? It’s
been a long byline. People say this man needs an editor and I’m the first to
agree. But that’s not what I’m about.” His work ethic has inspired numerous
musicians involved in the DIY approach, from prolific Guided by Voices leader
Robert Pollard to Ariel Pink, the latter an avowed Moore supporter who has
talked him up and played shows with him.

 

Demiglio
intends to complete his documentary – tentatively titled #Phonography – The R. Stevie Moore Story# – within the next year.
(He has received funding from a fellow student in the film department at
Columbia.) While he has assembled a trailer for the film he says the project
has taken a different direction since it began. “I initially thought I’d bring
in other musicians and have them give their take on Stevie’s story and his
music and what it’s meant to them,” he says. “I’ve kind of abandoned that. I’m
going to let Stevie’s story speak for itself.”

 

The
trailer offers more of a teaser of the true artist: vintage footage of Moore
hamming it up, looking like quite the eccentric musician, interspersed with
accolades. It doesn’t reach the serious quality behind the personality. But the
man himself probably doesn’t mind.

 

“A lot
of people are looking up to me like I’m this messiah of DIY, you know. And I
guess they’re right, but I’m also just a guy,” he says.

 

***

 

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