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 fa├žade 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.