Saturday, October 5, 2019

An interview with Bob Moses

Photo credit: Zachary Michael
When Bob Moses crafted its alluring 2018 album Battle Lines, the Canadian duo included natural music elements so there would be an equal amount of “man and machine” amid the electronic pop/rock brew.

“It’s about finding the right balance between the production and the song and which one leads,” explained lead singer/guitarist Tom Howie from his home in Los Angeles, during a rare break between summer concert dates around the world.

For example, he cited 2000s British electronica act Weevil and NYC ambient musician Nicolas Jaar—artists who “have a lot of organic sounds and a perspective of production that’s also the vibe.” Then Howie rattled off other influences on Battle Lines, including Phantogram (which Bob Moses recently hooked up with for a North American tour), Soulwax, Kaytranada, Twin Shadow and Broken Bells.

Yet Bob Moses’ “golden benchmarks” and “huge inspirations” also comprise Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. While attending the same high school in Vancouver, Howie and Bob Moses’ partner Jimmy Vallance (son of Bryan Adams songwriting partner Jim Vallance) had the same art class and played the same talent nights, but were only casual acquaintances. They didn’t connect musically until several years later after a chance meeting at a Lowe’s parking lot in Brooklyn (both unknowingly had recording studios a block apart). Each of them had been seeking reliable collaborators.

After joining forces, the duo was a mainstay within Brooklyn’s warehouse rave scene and signed to Scissor and Thread. The indie label/artist development platform suggested the moniker Bob Moses, named after the urban planner who designed modern day New York City.

In 2015, All in All (a collection of early EPs) and debut album Days Gone By arrived. Two years later, “Tearing Me Up,” a single from the latter release, was a slow burn success and Top 20 alternative hit. Containing a rhythm originally patterned after Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Pt. 2,” Howie’s vocal delivery recalled the late Michael Hutchence of INXS. Producer Andre Anjos (a.k.a. RAC) won a Grammy for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical on the track.

Unlike some electronic-minded acts, Bob Moses’ words are as equally important as the frequently chilled-out grooves.

“Lyrics are fucking hard, man,” Howie admitted. Once they’re completely dialed in, “there’s something about that magic balance between a melody, the way the song works and whatever is being said that, if you can get it all right, there can be these amazing moments where life just makes sense.

“For me, [music has] always been my solace and comfort in times when I’m wondering what the answer and point of it all is,” he continues. “I think that’s the goal with all of our music. We love sound design, we love melody, we love rhythm and we love the whole picture, but we also very much love the ability to convey emotion through words.”

Topics on Battle Lines revolve around universal struggles, personal realizations and outward looking social commentary.

“It’s always been important for us to try and say something concise and meaningful in our lyrics,” Howie said. “Hopefully, we’re getting better at that.”

Battle Lines standouts like the ominous Tim Pagnotta co-write “Eye for an Eye,” the thought-provoking and highly danceable “Back Down” (with shimmering synth shades of Depeche Mode), the snappy piano-based “Don’t Hold Back” and moody “Heaven Only Knows” are all evidence of their focus on meaningful lyrics.

A Top 10 album on the Billboard dance/electronic chart with Battle Lines saw Bob Moses adeptly push into new directions away from the club world. While some early fans might have criticized the guys for sounding “too much like a rock band,” Howie said they have been on an interesting journey so far. 

“We’re very proud where and what the music is and how it was received,” he explains. “We’ve been growing. The shows are getting bigger and better. We’ve had a lot of people reach out and tell us that the songs really changed their lives and mean a lot to them. [Those kinds of reactions have] had an amazing impact, and it’s been humbling to get all that beautiful feedback.”

My interview originally appeared in Prohbtd Magazine.

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