You can tell a lot about a record label’s faith in its band by the size of its tour bus. Virgin clearly has high hopes for its recent signee, Moth.
Parked in front of the Living Room on March 29, Moth’s colossal coach could’ve accommodated the entire pre-pubescent audience and still have room for the band to play.
“Ah … the strip mall show. It was quite an experience,” Moth guitarist Bob Gayol said, reminiscing via phone after a show in Philadelphia. “How embarrassing is that. We have this huge tour bus outside and sometimes we play stages that are smaller than my bunk. But that’s part of the game and we love doing it. … Believe it or not I did like playing [the Living Room]. The kids came out, which is always fun. We don’t care if we play for five people or 500, we’ll still put on the same show.”
Moth’s March show imparted the performance of a band on the rise. Touring across the country for more than 40 days with Finch, Moth’s members are weary but with the recent release of their debut album Provisions, Fiction and Gear, they intend to make hay while the sun shines – planning radio festival appearances in May followed by a full-blown summer tour.
“Touring is hard. Sometimes we will have like eight days in a row when we have shows every night,” Gayol said. “We’re good boys, we go to bed early, we don’t get too wasted and call our moms every night. It is definitely hard and it takes a lot of stamina. You feel like you are running on empty sometimes because the show itself is very electric; we expend a lot of our energy on stage.”
Moth’s 40-minute set at the Living Room was awhirl with animation – all the members were clearly at ease with their stage presence and played off each other, demonstrating the cohesiveness vital in a successful band. The material was multi-layered and well developed from years of conscious honing. Yet, the band performed without airs or pretense – so often dyed-in-the-wool of starry-eyed young hopefuls on the rise – and appeared comfortable and connected with the small crowd.
“The reason this album is so diverse is that it contains years of material,” Gayol said. “We changed styles over that time. Some of the songs on Provisions, Fiction and Gear are from like six years ago and some of them are from last summer. So I think that is why we cover a lot of musical ground. We had time for those songs to mature. … The songs have also grown to become their own thing.”
While Moth shies away from being peg-holed into a particular music genre, their sound has been described as both Kinkesque and as catharsis for intelli-pop Weezer freaks.
” We try not to let our influences affect our music. We have our heroes definitely. I listen to Led Zeppelin all day,” Gayol said. “You would never think that we would listen to that because we like to keep Moth like Moth. It’s our baby. I was always a big Eddie Van Halen fan, but I don’t play like him at all. What’s on the album is very ethereal – I use a lot of effects. That’s totally opposite of what my heroes were. I was into the organic guitar sound and stuff like that.”
It is the hard, lithesome guitar riffs and quirky, punctuated rhythms, which make Moth’s sound stand head and shoulders above other wannabe indie-rockers wailing about cocained rock stars and lost love. Brad Stenz’s lyrics are preoccupied with the state of dreaming and/or the state of dying, but he pulls off the slightly deranged lines with power vocals that allude to his punk roots.
Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, Stenz and Gayol have played together for close to eight years. Their self-released two albums before being signed by Virgin and embarking on the great migration west to the city of angels, where drummer Atom Willard (Rocket From The Crypt and tech for Weezer) and bassist Ted Liscinski (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) joined the fold.
“The music scene in Cincinnati was very small and all the bands ran in different cliques. With Brad and I doing the band thing our focus was trying to break out of Cincinnati, so instead of trying to play shows around Cincinnati a lot and getting a huge following, we were at home packaging demo tapes to send to record companies,” Gayol said.
While many wannabe bands find that signing to a big label provides a much-needed meal ticket, the strings attached can be both numerous and inflexible. Moth, however, feels positive about its collaboration with Virgin.
“Now we have the money and the time to actually make the record that we wanted,” Gayol said. “Before [we signed] and we were in the studio … we had to finish like 15 songs in three days because that was all the money we had, but in this case we spent like two to three months in the studio. We were actually able to sit on a song for a week and perfect it to the way that we wanted it to be.”
“We still do have that control over [our music]. There are definitely some occasions where there are too many cooks in the kitchen. But we all tend to agree because we all have the same passion for this album.”
When Gayol and Stenz were still struggling to make ends meet back in Cincinnati the two bought a yellow school bus to tour the country. They removed the “S” and the “H” to make it into the “Cool Bus” – a far cry from the palatial land-liner parked outside Goleta’s strip mall music venue that chilly evening in March.
“This is a lot better than the Cool Bus. There is satellite TV; we are so babied it’s ridiculous,” Gayol said. He laughed when I queried the mirrored ceiling.
“The bus was originally made for Cher, so she liked to stare at herself naked while she was on the couch. But no, no one gets naked on the bus now; the bus is our sanctuary.”
As for the future of Moth, Gayol is philosophical: “Hopefully we will sell some albums, but if it doesn’t happen we’ll still be doing the same thing. If all goes under we’ll probably buy another Cool Bus and carry on doing what we’re doing. I wouldn’t have any complaints. It was my life before this, so I could easily go back to it.