Interview with The Weasels (1998)

So there are band interviews. And then there are band interviews. And the surreal-rockin’ Weasels are a close-knit bunch have spent so much time together over the years that injecting an outsider in their midst is almost guaranteed to produce one of the latter.

“We started working together in the late ’80s . . .” begins guitarist-songwriter Roy Weasell as we watch Beavis and Butthead in the cozy basement den next to the control room at Delmar’s Big Saucy Sound Studio.

“Mid ’80s,” interjects keyboardist-producer (and Big Saucy honcho) Chris Graf.

Singer-lyricist Dr. Fun rides in on that interruption’s slipstream. “I was at Rumrunner’s and I read an ad in the paper that said sax-slash-keyboard player wanted . . .”

Weasell counter-interrupts: “Remember when you used to play keyboards?”

“And remember when you used to play sax?” adds Graf . . . and the Weasels’ conversation carousel is off and running, with three separate voices symbiotically processing the story as if they were a singular entity.

“So I borrowed a quarter from Andrea the bartender and called and these guys were playing in a band . . . this was about ’84 or ’85 . . .yeah, it was before I went to law school, so it was a long time ago . . . and I started writing tunes around ’88 . . . I did a lot of them on four-track but wiped the vocals off when Fun came in and wrote the first batch of lyrics . . . and some of that early shit is on the fourth CD in our new box set . . . is ‘Red Meat’ on there? . . . no, that’s not on the original tape . . .’Red Meat’ was from Morris Street . . . that was a hot fucking summer . . .we were on the second floor, right down from Valentine’s . . . we wrote a bunch of tunes, but we were so delirious because it was like 1,000 degrees in there . . . we had this eight track . . . no, a four track . . . no, we had my brother’s reel-to-reel . . . no, I didn’t use that . . . yes, I know there was a reel-to-reel involved . . . okay, right, the reel-to-reel . . . and anyway, that’s how we got started.”

Got that? Good, because there’s more. After a few years’ worth of basement work, Fun, Graf and Weasell submitted one of their tapes to Metroland‘s EarJam competition in 1992. The Metroland judges were so impressed by The Weasels’ eclectic offering that they invited the group to play live as one of four EarJam finalists — despite the fact that The Weasels didn’t exist as a performing ensemble.

Undaunted, The Weasels made their concert debut that fall with a rented rhythm section. And while they didn’t win the EarJam competition, The Weasels did earn positive feedback from Albany’s concert-going cognoscenti while also road-testing the cabal of supporting musicians who would help flesh out their ensuing albums: Meat The Weasels Volume One: Fondue Cabaret (1993), Leon’s Mystical Head (1995) and Uranus or Bust (1998).

Fun, Weasell, Graf and keyboardist Adrian Cohen (the fourth core member through Uranus or Bust‘s production) will again be enlisting helpers for a concert at Valentine’s tomorrow (Friday) night. This rare live appearance will celebrate both the release of their new rarities album, Generation Xcrement, and the public inauguration of former Caged Monkey guitarist Matt Pirog and off-and-on collaborator Jon Cohen (Adrian’s bass-playing brother) as official members of the Weasels’ creative collective. This new six-piece line-up is already at work on the next studio album in their Delmar basement hide-out.

Despite the decade separating Generation XCrement‘s oldest and newest cuts, the fundamental, underlying premises of recorded Weaseldom remain fairly consistent throughout the package’s four discs. “I think one of the neater things about what we do is that I write some sort of pretty-ish material that can lure you in,” explains Weasell. “But once you’re in, then we cut your throat.”

“It works on different levels,” agrees Fun, whose literate, poetic and eccentric lyrics provide much of the karmic bad juju behind the group’s throat cuttings. “I mean, I write my lyrics by finding little bits of things that appeal to me; I write them down and save them. And then at some later time I’ll extrapolate a whole lyric from one little thing that I found. As an example, in the song ‘Red Meat’ there’s a line that goes ‘this is not a sushi bar.’ And that’s a line that I got while watching The Rockford Files: Rockford walks into a bar to meet this guy and there’s a sign on the wall that says ‘This is not a sushi bar.’ So I wrote that down and saved it . . . for two or three years.”

Weasell and Graf both laugh aloud at this revelation. “If I sound surprised about some of these references,” Weasell offers once his chortle has passed, “It’s because I am. Back in the early days he’d just send me the lyrics and I’d write the music. And now sometimes I’ll write the music first and he’ll write the lyrics to the music — but for me to know that this song fits with this lyric, I don’t have to know what’s going through his head . . .”

“Thank God!” Fun erupts. “Actually, though, I think that’s why we’re so good at what we do: we don’t collaborate. He writes the music and he’s great at that. I write the lyrics and I’m great at that. And Chris records the music . . .”

“And I’m mediocre at that,” Chris interrupts, modestly.

“But this is what we do,” concludes Fun. “It’s a part of us now. If we were to never make a penny doing it or never play Shea Stadium, we would still do it because it’s our art. It’s what we do and, in a certain way, it’s what we are.”

And for the first time that night, no one interrupts, denies, corrects, appends or laughs.

Interview with Annie Wenz (1998)

Record store clerk, waiter, guitar salesman, bartender. These are the sorts of day jobs that most typical musicians hold while waiting for their proverbial commercial boats to come in. Annie Wenz, however, is not a typical musician.

“I worked for a year and a half after college as an obstetrical nurse at the Harlan County [Kentucky] Appalachian Regional Hospital,” Wenz notes during a recent phone interview. “So I got to deliver the babies when the doctors got stuck on the other side of the coal tracks.”

Despite having brought any number of coal miners’ daughters into this world, Wenz herself is not one: she was born in New York City’s rough-and-tumble Queens borough, spent her teen years in Long Island’s melting pot suburbs and now claims pastoral Western Massachusetts as a base of operations from which she can launch regional, national and international musical forays. One such regional foray will bring the singing multi-instrumentalist to the Eighth Step Friday night for an evening of both new compositions and songs culled from her albums Gypsy Moon (1993) and Time is Magic (1996).

Wenz’ diverse upbringing is mirrored in both her records and her concert performances, where she deftly incorporates elements of the jazz and folk styles that have touched her over the years, be they from American, European or African traditions. “My grandmother could have been an opera singer in Poland, but instead came to the United States and worked in sweatshops,” she recalls. “But she loved to sing and would sing at all the family gatherings. So I listened to her and my parents’ big-band, Lawrence Welk kind of stuff growing up and I also used to go to the Rub-a-Dub Pub in Queens with my grandfather to listen to jazz trios there with him.

“Later on, I belonged to this folk mass group and in the early ’70s we were doing all these great protest songs . . . at church! It was amazing, we’d be wearing black arm-bands in church, doing all these Pete Seeger numbers; I always loved that whole folk protest tradition. And another big influence was when the great African percussionist Baba Olatunji came to my school; I was just blown out of my shoes by what I heard. So there have just been so many types of music that I’ve been exposed to–and I’ve loved and learned from them all.

“Unfortunately, however, when a lot of folks see the instrumentation I use now to draw from all of those traditions, they think that what I’m offering is going to be ‘world-beat’ or ‘new age’ music–and those terms really tend to freak them out,” Wenz concludes with a sigh. “But I just look at what I do as being a folklorist who builds on tradition; it’s just that I just don’t see anything odd or weird about having a chorus in Polish here and then a native American flute there. ”

Wenz’s eclectic folklorist’s vision wasn’t conceived full-grown. After sporadic gigging for friends, neighbors and patients during her nursing tour in Kentucky’s mountain country, Wenz relocated to Western Massachusetts and immersed herself in that region’s rich folk scene before shifting gears again and setting off to study jazz piano for five years at the Hartford Conservatory. “After studying piano, I started playing jazz and pop standards in more club-oriented settings for awhile, which led to me getting a great gig playing for a summer over in Sweden, where they love jazz,” Wenz recollects. “I brought my guitar over there with me and it was there that I finally realized that I really missed playing originals–so that’s when I came home and decided to record my first solo record.”

After releasing the extraordinarily eclectic jazz-folk fusion disc, Gypsy Moon, Wenz attempted to tour with the extensive band she had used in crafting her first record. While difficult logistics and plain bad luck kept that tour from becoming a reality, its failure indirectly contributed to Wenz discovering a place and purpose that have come to serve as catalysts not only for her music, but for the rest of her life as well.

“I was headed over to Berlin with my band when my contact there lost his job,” Wenz explains. “So it was February and I was stuck with this non-refundable plane ticket. I called the travel agent and said ‘I don’t want to go to Berlin anymore, I want to go to somewhere warm and I’ve heard it’s pretty safe to go to Belize or Costa Rica alone.’ Costa Rica was cheaper, so there I went. And I had read about a little village in Costa Rica called Montezuma and a woman who lived there named Karen Mogensen, who had started the national park system in Costa Rica. So the whole place just sounded really interesting to me with the emphasis there on the environment and nature.

“When I got to Costa Rica, I told someone I met on my first day there that I was looking for work and he saw my backpacking guitar and offered me a barter deal where I would play in swap for staying and eating at his place on the East Coast. After that I auditioned at a big-ass touristy hotel in San Jose and they offered me work right then and there for decent pay, by Costa Rican standards. But I got to thinking that I could play in a hotel anytime and I was just feeling very called to Montezuma.

“So I got up at the crack of dawn, took a bus, took a ferry, rode in the back of a pickup truck to Montezuma,” Wenz continues. “It turned out to be really a special, powerful place. Lots of old volcanic rock and strong elements, the wind, the water, everything; it’s actually hard for me to write there because the waves crash and made this white noise all the time, but I can practice and take notes and write things from there. So I just fell in love with that village and its people and have since gone back several times and have gotten very involved with the Karen Mogensen Reserve; I do a lot of fund-raising for it and I may even be going there in December to record a therapeutic tape I’m doing.”

So . . . obstetric nurse, jazz pianist in Sweden, fund-raiser for the Costa Rican national park system. These are the sorts of day jobs that Annie Wenz has held while waiting for her proverbial commercial boat to come in–which almost literally happened a few years back when one of Wenz’s compositions was used in ESPN’s television coverage of the America’s Cup.

“My brother was the skipper of the tender that accompanied Stars and Stripes when it won the America’s Cup back from Australia in Perth,” Wenz explains. “He was over in Hawaii and I was missing him so I wrote this song for him and for some reason I was talking to someone at a radio station around that time and I mentioned my brother and the song I’d written and the guy said ‘Send it to me!’ So I did . . . and he sent it to a friend at ESPN and they made this incredible video out of it.

“And when Stars and Stripes won, ESPN played some Billy Joel song first and then they showed the video they had made of my song, so it was just amazing. But, of course, they only got the song right before the final race so they said ‘Y’know we don’t have time to go through all the paper-work and everything so if you want us to just do this to do it, that’s fine but we’re not going to be able to get anything set up with royalties or anything.’ So I said fine because I was just excited to get it out there. But I never made any money on it or anything, even though it has been shown internationally many times. Oh well. Maybe next time.”

Interview with Jason Martin (1998)

Jason R. Martin is on a mission, maybe to your basement.

“I just know there’s groups of 16-year old kids out in the suburbs somewhere doing cool shows and recordings and stuff in their basements or dens or wherever,” the ebullient new music impresario explained over a recent hot chocolate and soup lunch at Lulu’s on Lark Street. “But I’m not quite sure how to reach them in the ways that other people reached me nine or ten years ago, since they did it via this network of independent spaces and shows that doesn’t exist anymore. Which is sad, because as a teenage weirdo with a basement band and some video cameras back then, I could go to these shows and meet people who were a bit older than I was and could teach me or guide me or give me the encouragement that I needed. And I think that was important in my growth as a musician and a performer.”

Martin obviously learned those lessons from his teen years in Niskayuna well, since he’s grown up to be one of the Capital Region’s most unique musicians and performers. Over the past decade, Martin has made his mark with Brown Cuts Neighbors (both the band and the television show), as a solo performer (garnering Metroland’s best male acoustic artist honors this year) and as a collaborator with an eclectic mix of regional and national talent. For perspective, recent Martin efforts have included: composing a soundtrack of dialog and original music for choreographer Vanessa Paige; producing a segment for WAMC on a local inventor; co-creating the Lettuce Little and RRR 500 multimedia packages with illustrator/musician Steven Cerio (the second item features a vinyl record with 500 bands in 500 locked grooves); and performing on the Horseback Solids’ collection of freeform soundtrack music, Five Hopes. (For additional information on the last three releases, see Martin’s website).

Martin also has new solo and Brown Cuts Neighbors’ records ready for release and recently took a job at Schenectady’s Public Access Television, where he holds the ominous title of Master Controller. On top of all this, he and a handful of collaborators have also begun to make waves on the area’s concert scene as event promoters, cultural propagandists and media terrorists via the mysteriously named Department of Experimental Services artists’ collective.

“The whole Department of Experimental Services thing just kinda came together really organically over a period of time,” Martin explains. “It’s definitely a collective: I came up with name but it’s not like I’m the guy that’s in charge of it or anything. It’s just a group of friends doing their own thing with this title in the background as a way of making us see something other than what’s right in front of us. We’ve tried to come up with a structure that can grow and change, so if one of us in come capacity gets more professional at what he or she is doing, it kinda helps everyone else in the group.”

While the Departments’ cast of characters expands and contracts based on the needs of each project, core contributors include Martin, Cerio, Brown Cuts Neighbors players/writers Jim Kopta and Roger Koslow, web-site designer/comic book distributor/musician Marc Arsenault, promoter/drummer Mike Lopez, image and technology specialist Pete Barvoets and conceptualist Amy Francis. While the collective has worked well together in successfully planning and executing performances to date, Martin is the first to admit that the team’s odd composition and unusual name may be off-putting to some potential patrons.

“It’s the word ‘experimental’ that gets to them,” Martin explains, laughing. “And I just put that word in there because I think it’s kind of a funny, almost satiric thing. It’s a joke, a play on words. But since a lot of our stuff doesn’t fall into traditional categories people see ‘experimental’ and they think ‘oh, it’s the weird stuff’ or ‘look, a bunch of guys making noise’ or ‘yuk, art stuff’ or ‘yeah, those are the ones who can’t play in a real band’. And that reaction is strange to me, because the rock and pop and jazz and folk scenes around here are really interconnected and supportive of each other while the so-called ‘experimental’ stuff is just really neglected these days.”

“I really become aware of that fact when I play out of the area,” Martin continues. “I did a show in a record store in Easthampton, Mass. recently that was so cool. There was this guy with a saxophone and a bunch of electronics and it wasn’t all wacky sounds, ‘look at me, I’m a crazy experimental dude’ stuff. It just wasn’t like that at all: he was a serious player who did a really beautiful piece with what he had. And then there was this other younger guy who did a solo acoustic piece that was in the same genre that I’m doing, although I didn’t know it was a genre until I heard him do it! So it was really beautiful, and I didn’t feel like I had to translate anything for this very learned subculture of kids and young adults who knew this sort of stuff and didn’t look at anyone who was performing as an oddity. Or as a genius, for that matter.”

Martin is currently working to cross-pollinate the local new music scene with sounds from both Easthampton and the thriving free jazz scene based in Amherst, Mass. “I hope that the Department of Experimental Services can get people out of their basements by bringing in some people from those other communities to play here,” he concludes. “We recently had trumpeter Raphe Malik, who’s just amazing, in town and we’re putting on an exhibition of some of the people from Easthampton soon. So to me, it’s all like saying ‘Look what’s going on, right next door! C’mon, we can do that here, too!'”

As Martin and I finish our hot chocolates, our waitress (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Icelandic pop star Bjork) approaches our table and asks Martin if he would consider bringing her favorite Midwestern noise ensemble to town to help allay her weariness with the usual local pop and rock club fare. After a stimulating conversation about the pros and cons of a variety of experimental musicians and bands, she signs up on the Department of Experimental Services mailing list and expresses great enthusiasm and gratitude for the group’s efforts in the community.

Mission accomplished, returning to basement. Over.

Interview with Commander Cody (1998)

Ever wonder what’s fueling the roots rock revival these days? George Frayne doesn’t.

“It’s real simple what’s happening out there now,” explains the fast-talking and faster-thinking artist-musician-subculture icon during a recent phone interview. “Ever since the ’90s came on there’s been this whole generation of people who actually thought that Janet Jackson and Madonna and all o’ them were singing and dancing at the same time when they saw them on stage. But now they’re realizing ‘Oh my god, that was on tape!’ and they’re looking for something real. So when they go to some bar and hear what a real live band is all about and grasp the concept of people making it up as they go along, they’re like ‘Whoa, we’ve been missing something all these years!’ That means that people who can do what I do are in business these days.”

And what exactly is it that Frayne does? Well, among many other things, he turns himself into Commander Cody and fronts a band called the Lost Planet Airmen. The sounds Frayne and his band make together are usually derived from some combination of country, blues, swing, jazz and bop styles, are virtually certain to have a good beat to which you can either dance or slosh your beer on your neighbor–and are absolutely guaranteed to keep you from winning any political correctness awards if you choose to sing along with them. Whaddya call that? Sounds like rock & roll from here.

The Long Island-bred Frayne first donned the Commander Cody persona in a band he formed with engineering Ph.D. candidate John Tichy in 1967, while he was working on a Master’s degree at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation, Frayne took a teaching job in Oshkosh, Wisconsin but found Commander Cody hard to abandon, commuting 14 hours each weekend to Ann Arbor to play his parts with Tichy and Company. Eventually the Oshkosh-Ann Arbor double-life became even too taxing for the high-intensity, hard-livin’ Cody–so he abandoned both lives, piling into a van with singer Billy C. Farlow and steel guitarist West Virginia Creeper and heading for San Francisco, following the route that Lost Planet Airman guitarist Bill Kirchen had taken a year before, leaving bread crumbs along the way so that Tichy could follow once he’d completed his doctorate.

“Yeh, we did the whole hippie thing out there,” recalls Cody. “Got ourselves on welfare, got ourselves some food stamps, had twenty people living in a house. And it was a ball! We were drinkin’ and drivin’ and goin’ crazy and every bar didn’t have a cop stationed outside the door checkin’ to see if you stumble on the way out so they can follow you all the way home and bust you. Hell, I remember the California highway patrol guys helping me dump out the empties and driving the underage girls back to their mothers’ houses. Nowadays, with this political correctness, you can’t even say anything nasty any more, much less do it.”

The freshly reconstituted, California-based Lost Planet Airmen, on the other hand, were more than happy to both sing about and do most of those nasty things through the late ’60s and early ’70s, earning themselves accolades as the world’s greatest live band and a couple of hit singles (“Hot Rod Lincoln” and “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette”) along the way, spewing seven classic albums to record the fun for posterity’s sake.

“We were travelin’ and playin’ and drinkin’ and havin’ a great time all those years,” Frayne notes. “And we were playin’ the stuff that we liked, stuff that came from all over the place; we didn’t think we were coming up with anything new, we just liked a lot of different stuff and didn’t see any reason not to play it all. I mean, we were the last band to back up Gene Vincent before he died. We played with Bob Wills’ band. We played with jazz guys from way back. I played boogie-woogie with Les Paul and the guys from his band. I opened up for Led Zeppelin. We went on between the Chambers Brothers and Alice Cooper at the Spectrum. We went on between Slade and Sly Stone out in Fresno in front of 50,000 people. I’ve done a gig with Howlin’ Wolf and Steve Miller, where Wolf came ridin’ out on a Vespa. So from that kinda standpoint, I couldn’t have had it any richer then.”

Unfortunately, many of the more tangible riches that should have been flowing Frayne’s way given his band’s successes in the ’70s were being diverted into the pockets of unscrupulous management, driving the original incarnation of the Lost Planet Airmen into the ground around 1977. Frayne continued to make his home in the San Francisco Bay-area over the ensuing two decades, performing as Commander Cody with a revolving cast of supporting characters and developing a successful second career as a respected visual artist, known particularly for his music-inspired paintings and portraits.

By 1996, however, Cody’s California dream had gotten stale. “Y’know, I was payin’ $1,700 a month for two bedrooms and a half-an-acre and some half-assed and everybody in the world was descending on the Bay area because they had read about it on the Internet,” explains Frayne. “But the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when I went down to the Sand Dollar Bar–the one bar in the little area where I was living that used to rock–at 10:30 on a Saturday night and it was closed. Why? Because everybody was over at this other place called the Sweetwater drinking Perrier and listening to Clarence Clemons, the famous sax player who can’t play sax. I knew I had to get out then.”

Frayne chose Saratoga County as his new home–and couldn’t be happier with the decision “This area’s great,” he enthuses. “And Saratoga Springs is one happenin’ little burg. You can go and hear a band any night of the week until four in the morning, just like New York City–except that you don’t actually have to be in New York City to do it. But being close to New York is always a good thing for me as an artist, because people respect me out here. In Marin County and all those places, where you are on the social ladder is defined vis-à-vis [Grateful Dead bassist] Phil Lesh, y’know what I mean? That attitude really pervades out there. That’s not the case here. People take me work seriously, I’ve got a lot of great new clients and a lot of interest. So I can just hibernate here in the winter and paint and then go out and rock & roll over the summer.”

Frayne’s got a new rock & roll infrastructure these days after stalwart side-kick Tichy (now a professor at RPI) served as a catalyst for linking Commander Cody with a new set of Lost Planet Airmen: guitarists David Malachowski and Mark Emmerick, bassist Steve Clyde Davies and drummer Steve Barbuta. The band will be playing this summer’s inaugural Alive at Five show tonight (Thursday) with guest spots by Tichy and drummer Gary Burke and an opening set by Rocky Velvet (fronted by Tichy’s son, Graham), before heading out West for a summer tour.

“Wait ’til I show these guys from back east how I used to live out there,” Frayne says with a laugh. “They’ll be like ‘How’d you afford this?’ and I’ll tell them ‘I sold my soul each and every week to do it.’ Whereas here in New York I can actually have a house and a soul–which is about all that I ask for, y’know? Hell, when I was a kid I didn’t ask for money, fame or wealth, I just asked that my life would be exciting. And it has been! Never a dull moment, ever . . even though a lot of the not-dull moments had to do with last minute, no-cash, high-tension kinda shit. But that’s all rock & roll and I plan to keep on doin’ it until the point when there’s no places left for people to come smoke and drink and listen to me.”

Interview with Adrian Belew (1998)

CLICK HERE TO READ PDF VERSION OF THE INTERVIEW

How to Talk to a Sleeping Rock Star: Abra Moore Interview (1998)

Part One: How To Talk to a Sleeping Rock Star

Abra Moore’s publicist set up the phone interview for Saturday morning, 10 AM Albany time. Abra was in Austin, Texas, so it was 9 AM her time. It seemed a bit early, yes, but hey, I had a small child, so I’d been up for four hours already, seeing as how it was summer and children (or at least my child) rise with the sun.

Abra, on the other hand, did not. When I called, the phone rang twenty times or so, leaving me worried about whether I’d botched the time, or whether the publicist had botched the interview. Finally, though, I heard the phone lifted from the receiver in Austin, with a clunk, then heard some susurrous sorts of sounds, then silence.

“Hello?” I said, the repeated myself, louder, half a dozen times or so, until finally I heard fumbling noises and then a soft, barely detectable “mmmm . . .” It was a very evocative noise, and I instantly had Tennessee Williams visions, imagining a sweltering southern bedroom, a glass of melted ice tea and an empty bottle of bourbon on the bureau, a dusty fan barely twirling above a king size bed, the petite Miss Moore lolling and stretching languorously amidst a tangle of sheets. And then I heard the sheets tangling some more, and a throaty sound that made it clear that Abra was indeed stretching, and I suddenly found it very difficult to remember what I wanted to talk to her about.

“Hi, this is Eric calling from Albany, New York,” I said in my most businesslike voice. “Your publicist ask me to call to interview you about your show here next week.”

More mumbling, something that could have been a giggle, all of it very quiet, very intimate sounding. A yawn. “I’m sleeping,” Abra finally said. “I was out late last night.”

“Do you want me to call you back later?”

“No, s’alright.” Then silence again, and gentle breathing.

So what to do? I had interviewed angry rock stars, bored rock stars, boring rock stars, rock stars who gave away nothing, rock stars who bared their souls, but never a rock star who let me sit on the phone, long distance, listening to her breathe. I decided that I needed a quick attitude and approach adjustment — so grabbed the phone, climbed into my own bed, pulled my grandmother’s afghan up over myself and sighed contentedly. And loudly.

“I’m sleeping too,” I lied. “Late night here as well. Wonder why they made us talk to each other so early this morning?”

“Mmmm . . . dunno.” Pause. Yawn. “Whad’ja do last night.”

I made something up, or maybe I didn’t, maybe I told the truth, but I told her something, and she told me something, and we snuggled, each in our space, and chatted softly, intermittently, as Abra (“Miss Moore” being too formal for such a cozy arrangement, don’tcha think?) flitted in and out of consciousness. Go with the flow, I figured, get what I can — which wasn’t much, except for a sense of Abra Moore as a real person, not as a façade or promo product, not as a collection of canned quotes that were being shared with every other journalist who had called or was going to call that day. I mean, I not only got into her head, I got into her bed, kinda sorta.

“Are you gonna back to sleep?” she asked after a while.

“Yeah, how about you?”

“Mmmmm . . . . ,” and in that sound, I saw the mosquitoes beating against the screens in her bedroom, and her clothes from the night before, strewn across the cedar chest where she kept her sweaters, safe from moths, and the smell of magnolia drifted into the room from the verandah, where later she’d sip juleps and eat biscuits and pet a huge Persian cat named Big Daddy, as his tail flicked restlessly while he watched black-cap chickadees hoping about the packed dirt yard. And then she hung up on me.

I didn’t write any of that, of course. I just cribbed some stuff from Abra’s official bio and slapped a couple of juicy (or at least juicy sounding) quotes from my notes into the article, pulling together a nice professional looking puff piece from cobwebs and ether and mist. Because honor the morning after is the hallmark of a true gentleman, after all.

Part Two: The Printed Interview

Abra Moore was sleeping in her own room when I called to interview her. She hadn’t quite gotten around to the waking up part yet.

Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. (Sound of phone knocked from cradle by clumsy hand, followed by rustling sheets and a heavy, breathy sigh). “Hhmmmmmyello . . . ”

“Hi, could I speak to Abra, please.”

“Hello?”

“Hi, is this Abra?”

“Hello?”

“Hi.”

“Hi. Mmmmmmm . . . I’m just waking up, ha ha. I’ve been enjoying a little time off. I’m kinda between getting ready to go to Europe for a couple of weeks for some promotional work and just got off a bunch of tours, the Lilith thing and some other festivals. Busy, ha ha ha.”

Moore laughs a lot, her little staccato bursts of “ha”‘s (pronounced exactly that way) making it clear that she didn’t rely on studio trickery or lyrical chicanery in fabricating the giddy mirth and joy so evident throughout her second solo album,

Strangest Places. Of course, just as her first single, “Four Leaf Clover”, rides up the charts on the strength of that angst-free vibe, Moore is discovering just how hard others will try to generate conflict and competition where none was intended. Case in point? How about the header on a recent article in Interview magazine which read: “Abra: Move over, Alanis Morissette.”

“Isn’t that crazy?” Moore asks. “I don’t get that, it’s just this strange reaction that people have, like my success has to hurt hers or something. And it was really crazy being on the Lilith Fair, watching [tour founder] Sarah [McLachlan] have to react to a lot of media questions about her ‘girl tour’ and all of that, ha ha ha. I mean, when people ask me ‘How does it feel to be another popular female singer’, what am I supposed to say? Y’know, it’s not like it’s a fad or something, or like a phase I’m going through, being a new chick singer and all that, ha ha ha ha.”

Moore actually began her career as a musician over a decade ago in Hawaii, where she was raised by her father and step-mother. “I was actually born in Mission Bay, California”, she notes. “But I moved to Hawaii when I was about five. My father was an artist and a painter and he was lookin’ for a change. I lost my mother when I was young and so he just remarried and moved us to Hawaii. So later on, I was hangin’ out with this big bunch of college kids, ha ha ha, having fun with, y’know, these big spaghetti wine parties and songs and all that. And we all just decided to go travelin’ after we’d been playing together for a while.”

That big bunch of musical friends went by the moniker Poi Dog Pondering: Moore toured extensively throughout the United States with the band and worked with them on their eponymous first record, still generally regarded as the group’s finest. After a few years of helping her mates reach the proverbial “next level”, however, Moore left Poi Dog Pondering just as the group was inking a deal with Columbia Records.

There were no artistic differences involved in the split. “I just wanted to go live in Europe for a while,” Moore explains. “No negatives, ha ha. Just sort of a family affair: ‘I’m gonna go do this now’, ‘Okay, you go do that,’ ha ha ha. An’ I lived in Europe for about a year, almost. Lived on the coast in a small town near Nice with a friend of mine whose family ran a patisserie. I rented a flat above the patisserie and I worked in the little clubs along the beach playing mostly, y’know, swing and standards and jazz. I didn’t really do much original stuff then.”

Upon returning to the States after her European adventure, Moore settled in Austin, Texas, a city that she had first sussed out when Poi Dog Pondering had made a temporary stay there. “I kinda just chose Austin as my home,” Moore explains. “I just really like it. It’s not really a big city or a tiny town; it’s just kinda got a nice melting pot oasis feel about it, ha ha ha. And it’s a nice music town too. But, y’know, I do kinda feel geographically rootless, I do, ha ha ha. Whenever I go to California I always feel it in my cells like that’s home . . . an’ I didn’t live there very long or anything but there’s just something special when you get there, the smells, the feel, the memory bank or something tells you it’s home. But there’s something familiar about Austin too, something special, something I like . . . I dunno what it is, but it’s there and so I’m here, ha ha ha ha!”

While Moore released her first solo album, Sing, after relocating to Austin, the music that comprised that critically-acclaimed debut disc was actually an accumulation of material Moore had been working on for years. “Sing was filled with stuff from years ago, y’know, it was kinda backtracked, kinda like a first chapter in my music life, my first efforts, my first recordings. An’ it’s like a treasure to me now, like a captured piece of history in that collection of songs that I had been been carrying with me since age 18.

“An’ I was lucky ’cause I was given an opportunity to make another record, which is like the next chapter–but ’cause of the timing involved in making that second record, there are several songs carried over from a few years back along with a few brand new ones that were written right as I was making the record.” Moore yawns deeply, spent by her lengthiest declamation of the morning. “So, y’know, it’s half brand new and half tunes from three-four-five-six years ago. An’ having a major label gave me a little more time and creative freedom to go after things a few more times than I might have been able to before, which was nice.”

Moore is finding the public and media response to the finished record equally nice. “I’m in Spin this month and Interview and in People magazine too,” she marvels. “There’s a nice, what do you call it . . . ummmm . . . a nice review, ha ha ha, a review of the record in People. And a nice picture, too, and everything.”

She pauses, and I think she’s drifted off to sleep again before she resumes, leaving me with one last happy, dream-come-true-as-she-dreamed-it thought before fading away completely. “Y’know, the best thing about having the new record out there for everybody to hear is that I get to have the really special experience of pulling into a town and playing a gig in a place that I’ve never been in–and hearing all the people there singing my song! That’s really nice, really good, really . . . mmmmm! An’ I like it that people are coming out to see me, ’cause I’m fun, I really am, ha ha ha, really, I have a good time. Mmmmmmm, ha ha ha!”

Sweet dreams, Abra.