Americana singer Ian Moore on exploring soul influences, appreciating Woody Guthrie's message and his flaws, and being an optimist
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Don't call Ian Moore's latest album "retro."
Yes, he's covering soul music classics like "Cry to Me" and "Fool for You," not to mention his own "Satisfied," on the new EP The Noble Art and, as you'll see, he also has been spending a lot of time thinking about other musical ancestors. But he's proud of what he thinks is a "very contemporary" feel for the five-track collection.
"Cultural judgment tends to be really monochromatic. What I'm getting at is that I was very purposeful in every sound on this record," said Moore, a singer-songwriter and guitarist who started his career in Austin before moving to the Seattle area. "The lazy tag would be to call it 'retro.'
"I look at culture like I'm thrift-shopping," he continued, explaining that he's picking and choosing from influences while adding his own flair to the music.
"I just chose to ignore the things I thought weren't cool and focus on the things that are cool," he said.
The resulting album is a funky mix of soul grooves, also including "I'm a Ram" and "Didn't I," that packs a hard punch, inspired in part by Moore's desire to cut a new version of "Satisfied" (a song from his first album for which he doesn't own the masters) and in part because soul music "is some of the greatest music ever made."
"I love that time period. I think it's the last time we had great singers," said Moore, who will return to Amarillo for a 10 p.m. Thursday show with Jesse Dayton at Hoots Pub, 2424 Hobbs Road. Cover is $10.
Friends like Dayton, who has known Moore "since before we could shave," are fans.
"I love it, man. I love the whole soul thing," Dayton said. "He's really always been into Curtis Mayfield and a lot of that soul music. It's a great thing for him."
Moore said he avoided obvious cuts — "I wasn't going to do Otis Redding from top to bottom — "but I wasn't trying to be obscure." He also kept the album tight, saving one additional soul cover for his next record, Strange Days, and leaving open the option of adding a few more tracks to a possible vinyl pressing.
"I guess I'm trying to take advantage of the fact that we live in such an unusual time and traditional releases aren't how you have to do it," he said. "There's a lot I don't like about that — I'm pretty traditional in a way — but since that's how it is, I'm going to have fun with it and do things the way I want to do it."
"Satisfied" (live), Ian Moore
Audiences Thursday will hear some of the tracks, but they'll also hear a wide swath of Moore's work, dating back to his self-titled debut in 1993.
"I've got ... a fan base that's really appreciative, but they want to hear the songs that they want to hear," he said. "What I really want to do, and I've learned this recently, is that in order to build a really big energy in the room, you have to build a consensus. I went with my older son to see (Canadian singer-songwriter) Mac DeMarco. I was watching the crowd and was so jealous. They were all kids, but they were really unified in purpose, and the energy that that created, having a room where everybody was on the same page, everybody was psyched, I thought that I really to put my energy into creating this.
"When you elevate a room, something extraordinary is happening in the room that's behind the songs," he continued. "At my best, I can do that. I've done it at different times in my career. But because I'm an aggressive artist, there has always been a component of people that haven't dug a certain percentage of what I'm doing.
"I'm at a place right now that there's not that energy in the room, so I can really shoot for the fences," he said. "I want everybody to be ebullient, overflowing with love and excitement."
Dayton is excited to share the bill with Moore for a handful of shows.
"He's one of my favorite guitar players because he doesn't think about what he's playing," said Dayton, who has about another 70 shows to go before the end of 2016. "There are a lot of guitar players ... (who) you can kind of see them reaching into their bag of tricks. Ian is a guy who has no idea what he's going to play before he plays it. It's all off the top of his head.
"Those are the kind of guitar players that I love," he said. "I'd like to think I'm the same way."
Moore said he hopes his show will "take everybody to a different place, away from the election cycle or everything that's going on."
"That's easy when you're 18 and you're out of the house and it's a collective experience," he said. "But it doesn't mean it doesn't happen. I've seen Bruce Springsteen enough times and seen 60-year-old men crying like babies to know it can happen."
"Caroline" (live), Ian Moore
This tour finds Moore traveling through a country roiled by a contentious political debate.
"The message I'm putting out on stage is a message of love and challenging everybody to take a breath and unify," he said. "I think people are getting lost in the negativity right now. ... I am an optimist. I do not ascribe to the doom-and-gloom people.
"People can disagree without hating each other," he continued. "In a different way than religious leaders and so forth, musicians have a responsibility to help in that space. We get people together in big groups, and it's an opportunity for everybody to feel the positivity brought to them in a really big way. That's something we've forgotten as we live in our isolated internet world."
That message was hammered home when Moore recently curated a collection of tribute shows paying homage to Woody Guthrie, the Great Depression-era troubadour who got his start in Pampa.
Moore has long felt a connection to Guthrie, particularly when he read Guthrie's Bound for Glory, his partially fictionalized autobiography, when he was considering where to move when he left Austin.
"The main thing I got out of that, the big, bright message, was that the heart of a country is in the small communities, where you have a voice," Moore said. "That rang true to me."
"Honoring him was a really great opportunity. I got to resonate in his spirit and his message, and I felt like it was a very important revisiting because we are now in a very similar situation to what the country was in back in Woody Guthrie's time," Moore said. "Back in that time, they blamed the Okies and migrant workers. Now, they're blaming the immigrants. But the real blame is the high-level corporations taking money out of the country."
Guthrie had his flaws, Moore acknowledged.
"He was not a nice person to his family and the people close to him, but the bigger message he put out in the world was this really great message that helped elevate the common man," Moore said. "Doesn't that sound like what needs to happen now?"