Lost in the Melee of Now: A Conversation with Ian Moore

by Morgan Davis

Ian Moore

When my family moved to Seattle when I was in high school in the early 2000s, I was surprised to encounter Austin singer-songwriter and guitar hero Ian Moore at a friend’s family party. I had seen Ian on countless Texan bills and knew he was an Austin native and never would have thought he lived away from the state he seemed to spend most of his days in. Nonetheless, we bonded over shared musical obsessions and for a time I even babysat Ian’s kids.

It had been several years since I last spoke with Ian, ironically moving to Austin caused us to fall out of touch. When Ian’s publicist reached out to me recently to see if I was familiar with Ian and interested in talking to him for his 50th birthday show at Antone’s, I was eager to catch up and find out how Ian’s journey to 50 has been since we last saw each other. What follows is a frank and reflective interview about the ups and downs of the music business, dealing with personal artistic growth versus fan expectations, the surreality of having your songs performed on competitive reality shows and so much more.

Morgan Davis for Ovrld: So how has this week leading into your birthday been?

Ian Moore: It’s great, I’m traveling a lot. I’m touring like I’m 20 years old but I’m not [laughs]

Ovrld: That’s kind of how you have to be as an artist these days, right?

IM: Yeah, I guess that is the motivation. Part of it just kind of happened. But I’m realizing that the best way for me to get the word out about what I’m doing, even with all the new technology, ironically, is to tour old-style. It’s counterintuitive and despite the fact that everybody up here in Seattle talks about data analytics and that crap, in my world it’s still about touring.

Ovrld: Is that part of why you’re coming back here to do your 50th birthday at Antone’s, where you career began spiritually if not physically?

IM: Actually, where I really started was a place called The Black Cat, that was probably the birthplace of what I was about. But as far as where I grew up, where I learned about where I wanted to put my energy with blues and soul music and what would later be called garage rock but didn’t yet have a name, Antone’s was about as close as you could get to that world in Austin in the ‘80s. That’s where I hung out and got exposed. I knew a lot of those musicians but I first got to hear them and play with them a lot at Antone’s.

A glimpse at vintage Ian

Ovrld: A few years back you told the Houston Press you felt Clifford Antone was the tastemaker for that era and what you wished more record execs were like once you started dealing with them…

IM: I think when you and I first met, we talked about this, but I was such a big music fan. Outside of being a musician, I was a student of music. As a teenager, I was really obsessed with the Muscle Shoals sound, the Hi Records sound, the Motown scene, all of those different scenes. In 2018, when everyone has access to everything, it’s different, but when I was coming up, it seemed like nobody cared about that. Clifford was one of the only people I knew who cared about all that.

You have to keep in mind, this is the ‘80s. The music I loved then is having a second life now, and cooler bands are reinterpreting the better elements. But in the ‘80s it was kind of a dark time for music in a lot of ways. Popular music was really corny and nobody seemed to care about all these great things that had come before. It was the dawn of the tech culture and they were really obsessed with these new sounds, that corny New Wave sound that everyone claims they didn’t like now. But at that time, that was what was ruling people’s consciousness.

People like Clifford were outliers and I think it was really cool that he just didn’t give a shit. He loved what he loved and he defended what he defended. For a young person like myself, who was off on a track that was different than my peers, it was validating to me to experience his depth of knowledge and getting that word out the way he did that.

I mean, he was the guy who helped Buddy Guy get his career back on track, you know? A lot of these people who could not make money anywhere else could come on down to Antone’s and he would support them. He was a really important asset for a lot of things but especially for blues and soul.

Ovrld: There was also a bit of a pocket scene in Austin at that time, with artists like you and the Reivers trying to bring back a classic type of sound.

IM: There were a lot of different kinds of scenes. The Reivers were part of a beach sound scene, those guys were all a few years older than me. I’ve become friends with them over the years but there was a point where there was a little bit of a dividing line between their culture and my culture.

The thing I always try to tell people who are younger about Austin and music in general is that when a music scene is smaller like that, even though internally we might have self-defined as being in different worlds, we were all influenced by each other. I think that was a big part of what made Austin at that point have such a definitive sound. Whereas now, I’m hip to a lot of younger bands here but I feel like it’s hard to tell Austin from Brooklyn– or Brooklyn from San Francisco for that matter– a lot of the time.

Ovrld: Everything is sort of global now. You’re no longer competing on a scene level. But there are groups I would say represent an Austin scene. I mean, that’s more or less what we explore here, “Austin music first” and all that. We’re focused on the community rather than what’s happening with music in a larger sense.

IM: Yeah, I was noticing that, it seems cool, and that’s important. It’s just that everything now is recombining and reconfiguring. The internet has created access to information but I think it also has the tendency to make things more generic, especially if you’re a teenager and you’re trying to figure out your thing.

We had a really limited scope to what we had access to. For instance, when the Seattle sound was starting to break, there were really only a few people in Austin who knew anything about any of those bands. The first time Mudhoney played here, everybody was like “Oh my god, this is amazing! This is so different!” [laughs] Now you’d have access to information almost immediately upon the band forming if they had any kind of buzz. It’s interesting to me as someone a bit older reflecting on the way it happens.

A lot of people from my generation discount what’s happening but I actually thing there’s a ton of great music coming out of Austin. I’m not one those “everything used to be great and now it sucks” people, just to be clear [laughs]

Ovrld: [laughs] No, I get it, I understand. It’s funny you bring up Mudhoney, too, because they’re a classic example to me of how that crosspollination used to happen. They’re huge fans of The Dicks.

IM: Mmhmm!

Ovrld: Their cover of “Hate the Police” is how a lot of people in Seattle found out about what was happening in the Austin scene.

IM: Yep!

Ovrld: You used to have those circuits sharing music back and forth and you’re right about how it’s more general now. You put something up on Bandcamp and someone in another country will know about it the next day. The community aspect of music is definitely harder to build now. But being in the trenches of that, I think there’s a real effort by bands to bring some of that back. I think artists are getting burned out on having to do everything now. You have to be an entire business.

I did an interview a while back with Ian Svenonius of Nation of Ulysses and Chain and the Gang and he talked about how every band now has to be a small business. You have to be on top of your merch game, you have to have good branding, it’s no longer about just making music, per se. People are getting tired of that and are trying to find solutions or alternatives or just some way to make things different.

IM: Yeah, I can relate to that [laughs]. I do all of those things. And because it’s me, it’s just me. I don’t even have a drummer or a bass player to contribute. I’m doing the social media, I’m doing the merchandise, branding. I mean, I have people who help me within my team but it is fucking overwhelming. And really frustrating. I sit there and I go “Okay, fundamentally, I’m a songwriter and singer and guitar player, but it seems like all I’m ever doing is marketing.”

We’re going to be filming these shows at Antone’s and putting a lot of energy into what we’re doing, it’s like a rabbit hole. For those of who are sensitive– and most of us in music are– you can get really lost figuring out where to put your energy. It can be hard to figure out what’s important.

The bottom line is that if I don’t make a great record, no matter how much I market it…well, that’s not true, you can do pretty well with crap [laughs]. But for me, I want to make a good record. That’s fundamentally what I want to do, make music that is the best I can make, that is the most interesting, most true to where I’m at, and not focus on just this moment and success for now. I have to think about what is this stuff going to be like when I’m dead. Is anyone going to hear anything interesting in it? Are they going to be inspired by it? What is it going to say then as opposed to getting lost in the melee of now, when you’re just trying to keep your head above water with all the other people.

Ovrld: When I first met you in 2003, you were actually pretty ahead of the curve on the marketing front. You were using your website, even back then before Facebook and Twitter, to do a lot of fan interaction. And more recently, in 2011, you wrote a column for Premier Guitar about embracing small businesses as a musician. You’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur. So even with all the hassle now, do you feel like you were better prepared for this landscape than your peers?

IM: Well, I don’t know. It’s hard to know what would have been or what wouldn’t have been. I feel really grateful to be able to tour. But it’s hard, man.

Here’s what I notice: where I do well, I do really well. And that’s pretty cool. Once you hit a nexus with culture you can build on it. But what’s frustrating to me is that in places where I don’t have a following, the glass ceiling is lower than it’s ever been because it’s hard to break through the chatter level.

Let’s say you’re going to Boston, since it’s far away from Austin. So you have a small draw. It’s really hard to break through, even if you have a compelling show. That’s what’s different. Even a few years ago, some of those things you were talking about from before worked more efficiently.

What I feel like is happening is that I’m getting pretty burned out. I don’t want to say that I’ve burned out on music, I’m burnt out on marketing. I don’t mind working my ass off to get the word out, because everyone is trying. But there’s a balance to be had between art and commerce. When the commerce is driving the art, that’s when it really suffers. That’s where I’m sitting right now. Whereas a few years ago, I felt the emerging digital culture and the communication was a liberation for artists because it gave us opportunity, I now feel it’s a prison. I don’t want to harp on this the whole interview…[laughs]

Ovrld: [laughs]

IM: I don’t feel negative. To be really blunt about it, I’m kind of dropping out a little bit. I’m still hustling but I’m dropping out, because I want to be a wise old man who makes fucking cool records. I don’t want to be the old dude trying to wear contemporary shorts and sunglasses trying to fit in. I’d rather be cool and deep and trendy and kind of behind the curve.

So that’s where I’m starting to sit. I’m starting to really hate social media and I’m looking at other artists who are super involved with social media as lesser than. Not on purpose. But I start to have this thing where I see somebody really hustling too much and it makes me question their art. I feel that in a year or two, something’s gotta give. Either that or we’re going to be stuck with a bunch of artists who should have been business majors.

To be honest, I just don’t want to hear those kinds of records. I want to hear the records of weirdos.

Ovrld: To connect that back to your current release, Toronto, you’ve got a line in “Lords of Levee” that goes “It’s easy now when you’ve got a crowd.” I found that interesting because you’re at this point where you’re not revisiting but you are looking back on the early era of your career. Is that line semi-autobiographical commentary on when you came up at the peak of the blues rock revival and had a major following, with a deal on Capricorn? Do you feel it was easier back then in a way?

IM: I think it was a lot easier. It was much easier, actually. The tricky thing was getting an opportunity to record because most people didn’t have the opportunity to get in a studio. It was harder to make a record, so consequently there were less records and if you were able to make it past that gate, you really had the chance to get your things heard and get them a fair reading. So in that way, it was easier.

I’m obsessed with group thought and societal movement. My dad was anti-group, he was a very individualistic person, I think I have some of those same traits. I have a tendency to question any group movement. Any time I encounter something that can be defined by a word and an area, I get a little uneasy. So from the outside, I was a part of the big blues rock scene, but I was really skirting a lot of different areas.

Culturally, I came out of the punk rock world because that was where all my friends were, I just didn’t care that much for their music, I thought it was a little bit boring. But that was my culture, that’s where I grew up. I’m an art rock guy, that’s where I come from. I just happen to like simple music but conceptually I’m an art rock guy.

Right now my attitude is I’m playing a lot of stuff from my first couple records and really what that’s about is…you’re gonna laugh when I tell you this and it’s probably going to make you feel a little bit old [laughs]. Max, my older son, is now 18 and he’s super into music.

A number of years back, probably four or five years ago, I took Max and his best friend Abe to a Mac DeMarco show at [Seattle’s] Moore Theatre. It was right when he was starting to break from being the kind of cool weird dude. Now in that world he’s maybe even a bit passe because there’s all these new guys, things move so fast. But I was sitting there watching that show and I was watching the crowd and seeing the way these kids were just freaking the fuck out and everyone was smiling and laughing and I was like “Man, I haven’t had a show like that in fifteen years.”

It’s not just because people are older, it’s because throughout my career I’ve delivered records that are so challenging for my fans. It always created this division in the room. There’s a group of people who are like “You guys are just stupid rednecks, you don’t get what Ian is doing” and there’s another group of people who are like “Fuck you! I’ve been a fan since the beginning!” There’s all this negativity in my shows. And it sucks, to be honest.

It’s fun to deliver things and feel like I’m pushing boundaries but after a while, I was like “I want to be playing shows where people are fucking smiling and dancing and happy.” I realized the way to do that is not to be so us vs. them and cause battles but to be grateful that I fucking have a career and people dig my stuff at all. Of course keep pushing the things that I dig, especially with records. But also really enjoy playing the guitar.

There’s a reason I started out playing the music I did, because I liked it. I like getting lost in that. I like guitar rock. I like that the guitar, even though it’s been do so much and some people find it to be passe, I find it to be very open ended because every time you do it you never know where it’s going to go. And if the player and the band is good enough, each person has their own flow and the way they do it.

Yes, it is often a very generic form, and there are a lot of people that do it very badly, but when you see someone who is improvising and playing in that emotional arc, it’s almost like a bluesier Sigur Ros. It’s all about arcs and valleys. And I like that. So that’s where I focus now in that part of our show, and just try to get better, and think of things I can do that are going to push the crowd up to this bigger apex.

Ovrld: Right, that makes sense. Last year you talked about that with Kevin Curtin at the Austin Chronicle in relation to Miles Davis’ autobiography and how he would get pissed at people saying he was revisiting things. You had said that you felt similarly because the way you play guitar changes all the time, that the way you consume music changes. That’s something I’ve always noticed in your work, you do one sound and then you want to move on with your next work and change it up.

That’s especially clear in songs like “Strange Days,” which Kevin was interviewing you about at the time. You really embrace a lot of new sounds there, from funk to hip hop, and I was curious about how that all came about, because you said the song that was released was essentially a remix of what you recorded with Adrian Quesada.

IM: That was a great project. I hope that keeps happening. When you’re young, you’re surrounded by a lot of people that are cutting edge and just coming up, so they’re pushing ideas that are fresh. They haven’t had a career yet so they don’t have to justify what they’re doing.

I think about this all the time. Like why is it that Elton John put out all these brilliant records in the ‘70s and now, while he still puts out cool stuff, it’s nothing like that? Meanwhile you look at these visual artists and authors and they’re making great great stuff when they’re older. Why is it so hard to do that with rock and roll? I think it’s because it’s hard to surround yourself with new thinkers and innovative thinkers when you’re older. People like Madonna have been great at that in their career. Those types of stars are obviously quite a bit bigger so they have access to bigger people. So for me, it’s about taking chances.

Adrian is a really good friend of mine and I like his world a lot and what he’s doing. We have a lot in common so we cut the tracks with him. Ironically, these guys are all old friends of mine but they’re in a very different world. I was unsure of what to do next so my friend Larry suggested I go out and work with this friend of ours, Jim [Greer], who lives out in Oakland and has worked a lot with Dan the Automator and is super mellow and open minded. He’s not trendy or anything, he’s just really cool and different from me, with a totally different background, he’s worked on a lot of hip hop stuff.

So I went out to Oakland and recorded some with him and I was so excited about the way it sounded. I forget what happened next, but Adrian was going to mix it except I think he had some conflicts. I was going to ask Jim to do it because I wanted to see what he would do. I asked Adrian about it and he said yeah, that’s fine, so Jim took it and literally took the songs and completely remixed them. He sent them to me and immediately was like “What do you think???” I told him “I need like a week to listen to these because I need to sit with them for a minute” [laughs]. They were just so different!

Like on “Strange Days,” for instance, he took the bridge chords and put them under the verse so it was mind blowingly different, it took me a couple days to get my head around it. Then once I did, I was like “This is killer!” If nothing else, it was different than anything I’ve ever done. I never know what anyone’s going to like anyhow, so if I think it’s cool, let’s go with it. And it ended up being great.

Obviously when we do those songs live we’re not cutting and pasting the stuff, we’re just playing them our way but we try to keep that spirit alive.

Ovrld: It ended up being a pretty decent hit for you too, right?

IM: Yeah, yeah, that’s the funny thing about it! Like here I go, out to Oakland to work with a hip hop dude, and then for whatever reason, people love it [laughs]

Seriously, Morgan, the longer I do stuff, the less I know. Especially with redneck people [does a Texas hick voice] “Ya gotta get back to yer roots, man!” I’m like, I don’t even know what my roots are. As I’ve been touring a lot behind Toronto, I’ve had a few people come up and be like “I love that you’re getting back to your old sound” and I’m like “Wow, it doesn’t sound like my old sound to me but if y’all hear it that way and that makes you happy, killer.”

Ovrld: [laughs] I mean, I can hear what they mean on a track like “You Gotta Know.” It has a Jimi Hendrix vibe in the structure and the guitar sound.

IM: Yeah, I guess so. But you know how it is. It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror. To me, “You Gotta Know” I guess I’m hearing it from the perspective of the lyrical content. The one person that I do feel people have compared me to in the last few years that I do relate to is Ian Hunter. He skated kind of glam rock a little bit, then he had this snarkier lyrical perspective that I feel like I use a lot, so I relate to that. Of course, I’m a huge Hendrix fan, so anytime I’m compared to Hendrix, I’ll still take it as a compliment [laughs]

Ovrld: There are far worse acts to be compared to, right?

IM: Fuck yes.

MD: But I didn’t mean that it was explicitly referencing Hendrix, to me it’s more following the post-Hendrix lineage in Seattle, via bands like Young Fresh Fellows.

IM: Oh, that’s cool. In my head it has this thing but I don’t even remember what it is anymore. I remember writing and feeling like the whole thing is lampooning Pitchfork [laughs]. And yeah, that’s a very Seattle thing. Like a Sean Nelson thing…

Ovrld: Right, in both the Harvey Danger and [notoriously cynical and puckish Seattle alt-weekly] The Stranger sense.

IM: Yeah, it’s the type of lyric he would write. He would reference it very differently and the musical styles would probably not be the same as what I use, but that’s what I like. It’s kind of leaning into guitar rock to make fun of this twee, self-indulgent style those people do. I thought it was funny, it gave me a laugh. Plus, it’s just a fun song to sing.

Ovrld: It certainly sounds like it. Since we’re on the subject of Pitchfork and that aspect of indie rock, I want to circle back to what you were saying about Mac DeMarco. When you were telling that story, I couldn’t help but think of how similar his sound at that time was to what you had done years before on albums like Luminaria and To Be Loved.

IM: Yeah!

Ovrld: It wasn’t hip yet when you were doing it, you were a little too ahead of the curve. As an artist, does that get frustrating for you, seeing people come up and get those accolades from a Pitchfork, or a Stereogum, or a Brooklyn Vegan or whatever with sounds you’ve moved on from?

IM: I mean, it would be nice to have the support of people like that, it would be great to put out a new single and have Stereogum do a back flip to put it out. But I don’t know, man. When I see a young artist doing something cool, I’m just excited because it makes me feel like our team is going to win, y’know? [laughs] I’m always rooting for the bigger picture.

In terms of my own career, it’s hard, but it’s hard for everyone. Because I am a bit of a homeless child musically, it’s not very easy. Sometimes I look at these Americana artists who aren’t very good and it’s just because they’re using the right words and wearing the uniform that they’re getting an easy shake and that’s a little frustrating for me.

I don’t fit in anywhere. A little hipster kid might go “He’s just a guitar rock, blues rock dude” but then the people in the guitar world aren’t into it because I don’t play enough guitar [laughs]. All of my words and descriptors are in the way. So I’m skating through this world and it’s kind of a no man’s land and it would be nice to have a scene like that where you can lean in and everyone gets what you do and you just fit in for a minute. But I’ve had a couple of times like those, so I’m not going to complain too much.

It’s hard out there and I’m just grateful that I’m approaching 50 and I’m still able to make records and I’m still able to tour and I’m surrounded by a lot of people who are trying to break down molds. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted. I want to keep making stuff. I honestly feel like I haven’t made that brilliant record yet.

I was talking to Max and a girlfriend of his who’s going to Paris and they were talking about art and how exciting it is to sit around and feel like maybe you’re going to change culture. I said “Man, I feel like right now. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.” I’m trying to make that next record and maybe if I concentrate more and really work on my lyrics or I really get more honest myself, I’m going to put something out and it’s going to change the world.

It doesn’t matter if you ever really do that. That’s the carrot that you’re chasing that keeps you being creative. You’re never going to get what you really want. Even if I had a bigger success and everybody loved me for a minute, you’d be interviewing me and I’d still be saying the same shit [laughs].

Ovrld: That’s true, I mean, you look at something like “Strange Days,” which you had success with and I think a lot of other artists would see that success for themselves and just try to recreate it 12 times. With Toronto, to me you went in the opposite direction. It has this blown out Elephant 6 sound and the songwriting feels like you’ve gotten newly comfortable with where you’ve been and come from. Am I totally wrong in perceiving that?

IM: No, man, not at all. Really all I’m doing is trying to hippie out and go and make a record and have it be cool. And whatever that is, and whatever people are around, I’m going to reverberate with that energy. So if I was hanging out with a bunch of hardcore blues dudes, I’d probably make a really bluesy record.

Hendrix used to always say he plays the guitar that’s in his hands. It’s kind of the same thing. Before this interview, I was coming back from Tacoma where I’ve been working on all these dobro tunes that are pretty blues rock, just because it’s a dobro and it’s open D. But it’s interesting because if you just listened to the music and not as much the words I’m saying, you’d get this gospel, soul feeling but it’s calling out the born again Christians and the influence they’re having on the modern social spectrum and they’re ironically pulling us towards this much darker place.

So that’s the thing, there’s a lot of room there depending on how you’re willing to listen. I’m just trying to connect with people. I feel, like most artists, that people don’t understand what I’m trying to say, so I’m going to keep saying it in lots of different ways until I reach them.

When someone tells me they related to a song and it really made a difference, and it affected them, that’s what I’m going for. Every record I put out, they’re just different types of breadcrumbs to get people to this thing we all feel. We’re all connected and we’re trying to find our people. I mean, isn’t that what you’re doing? Isn’t that why you do what you do?

Ovrld: Pretty much. It’s all about the pursuit of community and figuring out where you fit in with it. Helping put things in context for people is pretty much what criticism is.

IM: Right. I remember talking to you when we first met years ago and seeing some of myself in you, which is probably why we talked a lot, because beyond just Austin we had stuff in common. I think why we do what we do is because we’re trying to build a community and we want to feel in this world of all this different stuff that we don’t understand that there’s something we have in common with people.

I’m just as big a fan as I am a creator. I don’t just put stuff out I’m also sitting here on the other end and when I hear a song or record that blows me away, it’s the best feeling in the world, I’m like holy shit, y’know? [laughs]

Ovrld: You’re also doing a lot of activism on that front. You’ve got SMASH, which I wanted to talk to you about because we’ve got a similar organization in Austin called HAAM, which I’m pretty sure you’re aware of. Tell me about that and how SMASH came together.

IM: Well, that came together because I’d been involved with HAAM for so long, and I’d been a part of the Seattle music scene for so long, but mostly on the art level not the behind the scenes level, so I was trying to figure out what was up here like HAAM. I assumed I just didn’t know what it was. After a few months of poking around, I realized there was nothing.

At the same time, Seattle was going through a major brain drain. We’re losing tons and tons of young people because nobody can afford to live there.

Ovrld: That’s exactly why I left [laughs]

IM: Yeah, I remember, didn’t you end up going to school in Vancouver?

Ovrld: Yep!

IM: I remember we were at Tom’s house and I was talking to you about how it was cool that you were going to school out of the country and you said– and maybe I’m misremembering– but you told me it was because it was cheaper.

Ovrld: Yeah, that’s true, that was the main reason I went to Vancouver [laughs]

IM: [laughs] I was just like “Holy shit!”

Ovrld: It was literally a third the price of UW.

IM: That’s insane. That’s pretty much what I was looking at. I was like “You know what, I’m living up here, what can I do to help.” And not that Austin isn’t hard, but it’s got amazing resources. Beyond HAAM, you’ve got Black Fret, SIMS. We just have an amazing amount of stuff to try to help mitigate the struggles.

Seattle’s way behind the curve. For what a music rich city it is, I’m just amazed at how little support the civic government is willing to put there. So I started doing SMASH and it’s been a huge job, as you can imagine, because I’m trying to juggle just Ian Moore-land, but it’s been great. The thing I like the most about it is that so much of my life is about me and furthering my career and this is a really beautiful thing to put a positive effect on the music community and give Seattle a big shot of B12 in the ass.

If you look right now– and I’m sure you’re probably more aware than most people– the stream of Seattle music that’s coming through is much smaller than it has been for a long time. It’s kind of a trickle right now. That’s a shame. There’s a great community, a lot of talented people, a lot of kids that are coming up, like my son, and they’re probably going to move to other places. I want to help make a compelling argument for why they should stay here.

Ovrld: We have the opposite problem in Austin. It’s at a point where there are perhaps too many musicians, so it is getting harder and harder for anybody to get paid fairly for anything. And to make it worse, there’s no real infrastructure.

IM: Yeah, that’s challenging, it’s getting harder now. I’m hoping that something’s going to change. I’m also really involved with The Recording Academy and the reason I’m involved in that is because I’m trying to push forward some legislation and give a voice against the tech giants shoving us out. I’m trying to be a voice for the musicians and making sure we have a say in these things and maybe we’ll get paid a little bit as streaming evolves.

Streaming seems like it’s going to become the dominant form of music consumption so we need to find a way to get a fair amount from that. Streaming is probably the biggest negative change in music lately, because now when you put out a release, people just don’t buy it, even if you’ve got a legitimate hit. You can’t make a livable wage and that’s a big deal! We’ve got to find a way to change that.

Ovrld: Now you’re stuck trying to get that wage from licensing. It seems like the only Austin bands heading anywhere near a career are doing that off the success of, say, a Samsung commercial.

IM: And licensing has about a tenth of what it used to be because there is so much supply. What I’m seeing, though, with a lot of young bands– especially the artier bands– when you do a breakdown and get to know them, they’re underwritten somehow. Usually someone is independently wealthy through their family or something. And that’s kind of annoying. I mean, it’s true, there’s always been a contingent of rich kids making art rock because they don’t have to have a job so they can sit around and think about art. But it’s pretty out of hand right now.

I think most kids who want to pursue music realize they just can’t survive. You literally cannot survive on it. I’m always talking to bands, especially Austin bands who come up to Seattle because if they’ve made it this far that’s a pretty big commitment, and they’ve got it really hard right now.

And I mean, I believe in this world. Touring bands, putting out records, I like that culture. It’s definitively American, it’s very deep in our DNA. Just like I want small businesses to keep going, I want bands to be able to keep putting out records. Especially rock and roll bands because we’re living in a time where that’s like a side channel. Hip hop is the main channel, and EDM, or at least electronic leaning rock music, is the other big channel. That music is fine but there’s plenty of support in those areas, so I want to support cool, arty rock bands that come out and get a group of people out in front of them and change the world in their way. That’s the revolution I want to be part of.

Ovrld: You’ve also been on the other side of that with your songs recently appearing on both American Idol and The Voice, which I missed somehow.


IM: [laughs] Well, I didn’t have anything to do with that. They just chose my songs.

Ovrld: Still, it had to be a pretty surreal experience seeing your music in that realm.

IM: Oh, I didn’t even know they were on. People would just text me and I just think it’s kind of funny.

Those programs have really changed the way people view music. They think it’s all a competition now. Most of my favorite artists are the Dylans, and the Neil Youngs, and the John Lennons, and the Nina Simones and the people who wouldn’t last a fucking round in The Voice, y’know? Because they have weird fucking voices [laughs]. They can’t do 18 different styles of music, they do what they do and that’s what makes them cool.

I’ve literally never watched any of those shows. I’ve only seen them when I’ve been over at people’s houses and I’ve seen like five minutes. The whole thing is just disgusting to me.

Ovrld: It was weird to see it in the press release your publicist sent out. I was trying to imagine what someone performing an Ian Moore song on The Voice would be like.

IM: Yeah!

Ovrld: But on the other hand, you’ve said this a few times, people really associate you as a guitar god and people think of you as a guitarist first, but I’ve always been blown away by your voice. So when I thought about it from that perspective, it made more sense. You’ve got quite a range, and there’s a lot of power behind your voice.

IM: Yeah, and I guess the other side of it is whatever gets the butts in the seats, whatever gets people to be like “Oh, who’s the dude who wrote that song?” is good. That’s cool. As long as people realize it’s not like a cartoon where they just put the nickel in the slot and we go [imitates a robot whirring up] on command.

That’s the part that’s weird to me about that world. Some people don’t even realize a band is an organic entity that goes from town to town. It’s not this thing that you’re watching on the internet and can just shift. I want people to understand it’s instead like if you go to restaurant and you tell the chef “Hey, I’m allergic to this thing and this” and then they make up a meal for you on the spot and you trust it, because they’re better at envisioning all that stuff. You want to go to a show and not know what you’re going to get. I want to have a show and not have people have expectations from top to bottom of exactly what the show is going to be like.

I think we’re being trained right now to be very monochromatic in our needs and not have a whole lot of levity with where it can go. I think the journey is what’s important with anything cool, whether it’s art or movies or film stuff.

Ovrld: To wrap it up on that note, then, since this is your 50th birthday show, what do you envision for yourself for the next 50 years of your career?

IM: There are a couple things I want to do. I want to surprise myself a couple more times. And beyond that, I’d like to be really honorable to the spaces I’ve been to, because I’ve gone to a lot of places in my music. I want to explore a lot of the things I’ve done and flesh some stuff out. I have a tendency to always be traveling through the wilderness looking for new lands. Maybe I can go back to some of the places I’ve been to and actually grow a garden in them.

For my 50th birthday, there’s two things I want. Number one, I asked all of my friends who are going to get down. I mean, they’re like that but you know how shows are now.

Ovrld: Arms crossed, everywhere.

IM: Yeah, and I just want everyone to do their best when they walk through the door with a good feeling, because that’s going to make me put on a better show.

The other thing is when I put on a show, I’m always trying to be really good and that kind of rules my psyche. I’m really trying to focus on being able to show up and just enjoy it. And that’s what I want to do over the next bit of time, just enjoy it, enjoy the shows I have, enjoy the towns I’m going to, enjoy the records I’m making, try not to get stressed out and overwhelmed by everything. That’s probably my biggest goal moving forward.

Ovrld: It says a lot that that’s where we are now, that it’s getting harder and to just let yourself enjoy things.

IM: And that’s the most important thing, right? As much as I’d love to leave a legacy, I just want to make sure that the stuff I’ve done I enjoyed doing. That’s really where my focus is. That’s been my focus over the past couple years, with just touring so much. I have a tendency to get so dark on the road, so ground out from just giving everything. I’m just trying to make sure I’m being cool to my kids and my wife and my friends. Just being cool and not too up my own ass. Hopefully my music reflects that. And if they all suck from here on out, at least I had a bunch that I really dug [laughs]

Ian Moore plays Antone tonight August 3rd and tomorrow August 4th to celebrate his 50th birthday

Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, the multimedia collective he co-runs. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes here at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.