Steve Moore – The VIA Interview
By Andy McNeil, Assistant Editor
Musician Steve Moore is drinking an Iron City beer in a former steel mill in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The sounds of heavy dance bass lines have replaced of the assembly line racket of union workers forging steel from molten metal. The monstrous building itself has been converted into a massive sound studio used for shooting feature length films – yet despite its modernized function it still carries an old school industrial look, wedged between a bridge and railroad tracks along the banks of the Allegheny River.
“I lived in Pittsburgh for decades and I was never in an old steel mill and now I can say that I have been – crossed one off the bucket list,” says the New York-based musician.
If Moore’s list of life goals is anything like his list of musical projects, then he certainly is set to live out a rich and exciting existence. The mild-mannered, red haired thirty-something has been a creative force in bands such as the instrumental rock duo Zombi and the experimental prog-metal act TITAN (both on Relapse Records) as well as a range of other side projects such as Lovelock, Miracle and last but not least , his horror film soundtrack composing alter ego, Gianni Rossi.
On this night Moore is playing a set as himself – no alias – at 31st Street Studios. This gargantuan sound studio is the size of ten football fields and serves as host to the first annual VIA festival in Pittsburgh (October 1-3, 2010). VIA is billed as a showcase for innovative musicians and DJs who push the bounds of electronic music. The events musical talent performs alongside visual artists to create a breathtakingly fresh audio/visual spectacle.
The festival brought in big name acts such as New York avant-garde popper Matthew Dear, scrappy Indiana wordsmith Freddie Gibbs, Southern-fried beatmakers Craze & Klever and a show stealing bounce rapper from New Orleans named Big Freedia who had the crowd shaking their asses everywhere. The evening’s many performances were an incredible mix of spacious electronica and low-end house beats that rattled the rafters and pumped the crowd into a fevered pitch.
Unlike some of his dancer colleagues, Moore connected with the venue itself on a different level – his bond with filmmaking. He has worked on several indie horror films as a soundtrack composer. Zombi’s early material shows the direct influence of horror soundtracks used by the likes of director/composer John Carpenter, Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci and, of course, the zombie grandfather George A. Romero.
“Zombi did a couple indie horror films. I did one on my own, and then I did the documentary Horror Business,” Moore says. “I’ve also done two total brutal slasher movies under the name Gianni Rossi.”
Moore wrote the soundtracks for low budget Canadian-made splatterfests like Gutterballs and Star Vehicle (both created by Plotdigger Films) under the Gianni Rossi moniker, which he said is meant to sound like a rutty, red bearded 70s filmmaker.
“Gianni Rossi – it just had a ring to it. I thought it sounded authentic,” Moore says.
Rossi isn’t the only side-project that Moore has been busy with. Lovelock, his apartment dance party act that he describes as being “the music for the dance club of my mind,” has been busy creating tracks and remixes. One of Lovelock’s tracks was even picked up and used by funky duo Chromeo on their DJ-Kicks Compilation.
Yet despite the style of music he plays in Lovelock – Moore admits he isn’t into the club scene.
“I’m like the antithesis of ‘club guy.’ I’m making this music totally blind. I don’t know anything about club atmosphere. I don’t know what people want to hear at clubs,” Moore says.
Moore says his distance from club performances has to do with the constraints placed on electronic artists by the pressure to create something to appeal to a mass audience.
“You’re giving them these beats and bass lines that – the whole intent is to make them move and make people enjoy themselves and have a good time,” Moore says. “And I don’t like to do that live. There’s something that sucks the fun out for me trying to cater what I’m doing for an audience. When I play live I’d rather do the more minimal krauty electronic stuff.”
Moore’s passion for music extends beyond the purely electronic scene as he has recently taking up great pleasure in playing bass for Brooklyn’s TITAN. He says that he played bass long before he began fiddling with around on the keys and that merely playing bass affords him the opportunity to over the logistical headache often caused by troubleshooting vintage synthesizers.
“Touring with Zombi there’s always a high element of stress there like what’s not going to work tonight and how are we going to get through this song if it doesn’t work,” he says.
“Because it’s the type of thing that once we start the song – the sequences – it’s set in motion. There’s no bail out.”
He explains that unlike a band with multiple musicians he can’t just stop playing and grab another synthesizer like when a guitar player breaks a string because the only other person in Zombi is the drummer, AE Paterra.
“Whereas just playing bass – that’s just a good time. It’s like ideal situation,” Moore says.
Moore said there isn’t a definite intention for TITAN. They aren’t trying to accomplish a particular goal. They are simply good buddies playing what they want to play.
“It’s just guys in a band making music that they want to make,” Moore says.
Moore says that – with a baby on the way – his touring days are behind him. In Zombi, Moore has done some extensive touring with the likes of Isis, Red Sparowes, Daughters and fellow Pittsburgher’s Don Caballero.
“I don’t think there will ever be a time again where I’m getting in the van for a month,” Moore says. “Those guys may – they’ve done a couple tours without me before with a fill in bassist.”
Moore joined up with TITAN after relocating to Nyack, New York – a suburb of Manhattan. He cites the realization that his touring days were as a catalyst for the move as well as the opportunity to make connections with new people.
“I never made a living off of music,” Moore says. “What brought me to New York was just – because I realized I’m not a touring musician anymore and that had been my sole means of making connections and meeting people. I thought that being in Pittsburgh was excellent for that because the rent was cheap it was like an easy way where you could live off the money that you make on tour. But without that I couldn’t really find work here – I had a tough time with that. I just felt like the opportunities for meeting new people and working with new people would be better in New York.”
Although Moore finds himself in a suburban existence – married, about to become a father and working in a library – his life as a musician is far from over. TITAN released a new record early this month and Zombi is crawling back toward the surface with an upcoming album due out in early 2011.
“We’re probably a week or two away from finishing a new album,” Moore says. “We just have some finishing touches to do on the mixes.”
When asked if the new album has a running theme – like those found in previous releases such as the constellation-oriented Cosmos or the wildness-expanding Spirit Animal – Moore formulates a coy response.
“Not really. Maybe. There might be,” Moore says in a playful tone.
He pauses for a second before explaining his brief replies in further detail. Like a solid film soundtrack – he’s figured out how to draw in suspense.
“Whether it’s a secret or whether it’s not fully formed – it’s hard to say,” he says. “The whole nature of writing instrumental rock is that you can take it different ways. The one thing that we worry about is that we don’t want to come up with song titles or like an album theme that’s too distracting. Ideally, I’d like for the music to take the listener wherever it takes them without any influence of title or cover art or anything like that. But it’s really tough to accomplish that so we tend to just go with sort of neutral sci-fi types of themes.”
Moore continues to describe Zombi’s writing process and comes to the realization that the thematic devices behind Cosmos and Spirit Animal were pretty intentional, which contrasts the point he just made. He shakes his head.
“I guess I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he says, laughing. “Search your feelings and you’ll know. That’s what we want. What does it mean to you?”
Moore stayed true to this self-guided approach and went on to give the crowd at VIA a proper atmospheric dose of his cunning experimental style – electronic music for thinkers.
More Info on Steve Moore and his many musical endeavors can be found at the following Websites:
Bottom Photo Courtesy James R. Southard