Interview: Ian Moore Talks New Release “Toronto,” “Sling Blade,” and SMASH Musicians’ Healthcare

Interviews

Ian Moore has a new release, Toronto (Last Chance Records) out Friday. Moore

Ian Moore told us he was calling from where he lives on Vaschon Island, near Seattle; an artists’ refuge. “Seattle’s changing quickly and people who are not “tech heads” are moving to parts unknown. There are huge seismic cultural shifts happening now, and the art class and the deep visionaries are being displaced, here as well as in other cities. In my region there’s a high percentage of creative folks, writers, producers, actors, musicians, chefs, we live here and surround ourselves with this beautiful environment.”

“It’s great here. The surroundings are inspiring. But I am really inspired by cities; I’ve been traveling to them repeatedly for the better part of my adult life. As much as my career has been that of a musician, my career has also been that of observing change. I’ve got a real eye on that; I write a lot about inequity and displacement; money and power. Those are very powerful themes. I have always aligned myself with small businesses and individuals who build “scenes” and cities and who build ideas, and I have noticed there’s this pattern of the money people coming in after them and cashing it in.     There’s a degree of sympatico between the two tribes of people, but it seems like money becomes a little too easy to prioritize, over vision, sometimes.“

This observation led us to consider that people who are creating and artistic are often struggling to make ends meet. “It’s really easy to look past the value of art. I run a nonprofit out here in Seattle for healthcare for musicians. One of my jobs as the president is to sell the vision to people who aren’t yet philanthropists, because they don’t know yet that they need to be.   Because a lot of people take music for granted, it’s everywhere. But some of us were born into an age where musicians were on the radio and touring and a lot of those things are really being challenged now.   I like what I’d call middle class musicians, who were country singers, blues singers. I just don’t see as many of those folks being able to survive now. And it’s concerning, because this is the life blood of the United States. As much as we have material commonalities like cars and other modern archetypes, music is the thing that we all share, and it binds us, so it’s very important. I am concerned about it, I consider myself to be lucky enough that I can survive by playing, but what I see is a lot of musicians that are “inheritance” kids, who can tour because they have the money; touring as a vanity project, spending their money from their other jobs in order to be able to tour. I mean, it’s a beautiful thing however somebody can do it, but I wonder how that affects the end result of how it affects everyone. They can’t commit 100% of their soul to what they want to do. Meanwhile many very talented musicians with less financial backing are really struggling to be on tour at all. I wonder, how does this affect the music we all listen to.”

“On the bright side, I believe that there’s an unstoppable side. Kids will go where kids can afford to go. If we price them out they’ll go somewhere else. New things will spring up in Detroit, the Southeast, Alabama. Because the major cities that have been meccas – NYC, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle — these meccas were affordable years ago, you could afford to live there, and as they become increasingly impossible to afford, the music scene is going to change. People used to be able to live in those places and there’s a precept that art needs a centralized location, so I have a feeling that art is going to crop up in new metroplexes.” I wondered aloud that maybe this explains the preponderance of Americana music in the Muscle Shoals, Americana area and southern music taking root in less populated areas.

Agreeing, Moore added Austin as a stand-out. “I consider Austin to be a model for sustainability because there are infrastructures there that help support musicians. There are a lot of really helpful things, although it’s still difficult for the average musician. The “Live Music Capital of the World” slogan itself has helped build inroads to civic connections. If the city officials are going to put that slogan in the airport they can be approached to back it up. There’s free healthcare there, grant-based systems to help people make records, and civic engagement where the city council does economic development studies so they can see the money coming in through money. When you can tie it to money, they respond better.”

Since he has mentioned healthcare a couple times, I pursue this idea, asking him about the nonprofit he’s part of in Seattle. “It’s called SMASH: Seattle Musicians Act for Sustainable Healthcare.  (https://smashseattle.org/) It’s a 501 c3. It started conceptually about 3 years ago. Ideologies are the harpoon that sink the boat of a great idea, in other words, I focus on where I can affect change, and not on the larger ideologies. I am focused on preventative healthcare here and now, and we’re making inroads. It’s a challenge. We’re having a conversation that nobody was having. With Seattle being such a punk rock town – as opposed to Austin’s scene that has been defined more by deep American roots music — Seattle musicians have a tendency to detach from “the man,” so we have to overcome some of that.” There’s an important alternative sense, theoretically, that “we” are connected with our government. “We offer preventative care, education and advocacy. We operate not just as a link to facilitating care for musicians, but we offer help navigating the difficult healthcare system, clarify to them what their options are, and show them ways to not lose everything when they’re sick.   Because the system is set up in a predatory way now, to take everything when people get sick. If you work at Microsoft, you have an advocate that helps you do that, but if you’re an independent musician, and you don’t have a big company, you’re on your own figuring this out. The spoke of education and advocacy is a huge part of what people need.”

Moore also runs songwriters workshops, which, he says, are life changing.  “The workshops are amazing and transformative for me. I am often moving too fast to analyze decisions I make. So I jumped in, not quite realizing how it would evolve. So the very first time I was in front of the group, I was so completely prepared, and I was talking about concepts of songwriting…. But up there in front of all these people, this sense of the vulnerability of it all overtook me. As much as things like concepts of songs, technique, and natural skills, are part of what needs to happen in songwriting, great arts comes from people who can get out of their own way and allow something great to happen.  The whole thing evolved into something that was about opening up your heart and getting out of the way. That’s what the workshops are about.   They’ve become a completely different thing. The beautiful thing is this group dynamic, the communal idea, the dialectic, the Greek-style of inquiry, where the room becomes the master just started to happen. What happens is that you collectively create the space; you are not “running” things.”

And then Moore equated teaching to concerts. “Teaching those workshops are so much like a concert. I used to get really affected –happy, or upset – after a show depending on my own perspective on whether it was good or not. But my conception of this shifted after one show in particular in Austin in front of 4 or 5,000 people. We were terrible. The whole band agreed universally, this was awful. But then everyone we got feedback from said, unanimously, “that’s the best show we’ve ever seen you do.” So at that point it dawned on me – what we are putting out there is only a partial component of the night. So I re-evaluated how I look at it. And it’s so similar to what happens in the workshops – it’s not me. I set the tone, and the crowd creates the environment. It’s a more seasoned approach, to recognize the group dynamic as part of it. And I try to not worry personally about it if the night feels like it didn’t go well, and enjoy it all, and stay in balance.”

Moore’s new album has a song “Looking for the Sound,” with the lyrics: “looking for the sound that holds the key to everyone’s heart.” I was curious about this line, and Moore said, “That is a spoof song on the Mighty Boosh British comedy skit “El Sondido Nuevo.” Once I started writing that song, and as much as it is a joke, I found some truth to it.   Right now we are living through some really aggressive musical times. There were times, like in the late 60’s for example, when it was the opposite — you would have to lead your audience by a really large margin. You’d need to keep impressing your audience and blowing their minds or you’d be left behind. But now we live in a time where people like you to be predictable; we have to repeat the same record over and over, and if you’re too aggressive, you leave your fans behind. They expect you to stay in your niche. So you have to flow with what inspires you but at the same time you run the risk of leaving people behind if you’re too ambitious.”

“That’s what I was writing about. I want to sing with my heart and I want to be inspired by the words that come out of my own mouth. And that’s always the way that I’m going to err, if I try to do it any other way, I just can’t do it.   I think if you write from the heart that’s when you’ll connect with people at a deeper level, and if you worry about what they are thinking, and trying to put together something they might like, I think they can tell the difference.”

I asked Moore about his song “You Gotta Know My Name,” because to me that song captures something that immediately strikes a chord of familiarity when you begin to hear it. “The beauty of the style of that song is new to me but it is definitely hits and falls on some familiar territory, it feels like the MC5 , and has some social politics within it. The song is about entitlement, about people who are judgmental and have no soul and feel so entitled expressing their myopic, closed-minded view of music and shutting music down that doesn’t fit into their narrow definition. To me, it’s all about failing bravely. I like ambitious artists, people who take chances. Even if I don’t love their music, I love the concept of something brave and new. I want to be an artist like that. I have my feet in so many different worlds that don’t always mesh together. I play guitar, and I have fans that like the guitar; and then there are those who like a really evocative lyric. I’m trying to do both of these things, there are not a lot of people who do that. Bruce Springsteen does that, he can ,   But the fans of each don’t cross a lot.”

Moore was in the movie Sling Blade, and I needed to hear about that experience. He laughed; “To this day I get calls from drunk friends at 3am saying “dfdude, you’re in Sling Blade.” When Billy [Bob Thornton] made that movie he wasn’t a huge star at that point; he didn’t have that much money and there wasn’t a studio, so I got to be part of that whole thing.   And it turned into one of the great Sounthern films of all time. It’s really important to people, a really great film with the style of filmmaking with the long edits and the lighting. The coolest thing for me was getting to be part of that, along with getting to hang out with some great actors.  A lot of the time we spent jamming—Billy was trying to create a feeling of us being a real band.”

Rumor has it that Moore is a fan of the Argentinian philosopher Jorges Borges, he’s named his record label after him.   “I’m a Faulkner kind of soul—so I love so many of the Latin American writers because they are just so passionate; I remember that time in my life when I’d read so much of that stuff. It was all such an inspiration for me, that time of my life. It’s fun watching my eighteen year old son revisit the same kinds of themes trhough Japanese channels. Nowadays I’m looking for books like Jonathan Franzen ‘s “Purity”; I’m obsessed with that book – it’s one of the best modern day honest smart novels I’ve found. I read lines from that book and I feel like someone punched me in the stomach because they are so deep and so true, and so well-written. It’s so well-written it’s invisible. That’s how I felt when I was reading Borges, Llorka, Marquez, Llosa, Neruda, they are all so romantic and so true.”

What’s coming up for Ian Moore? “My life is 100% consuming. Running “Ian Mooreland” is all consuming”  A lot of touring, a special show in Austin, and his album is coming out Friday.  Check it all out here:  https://www.ianmoore.com/

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