Mount Moriah toured heavily this Spring in support of How to Dance. The gig at the Evening Muse in Charlotte kicks off an East Coast mini-tour following a long break from touring. What was the thinking behind a short tour at this time of year?
Heather has been on the road playing in Angel Olsen’s band. They toured the US and are currently in Europe. We didn’t have a whole lot of options in terms of the timeframe to go out on the road again. We wanted to do something towards the end of the year because things kind of die live show-wise during the holidays.
Do you have any new music that you’re promoting? Will the vibe of this tour be different from the Spring?
We will probably be playing at least one new song at some of the shows. We have some new material that we’ve been working on this year in between tours, but at the moment there’s one song that we feel is presentable most of the time.
You and Heather met while working at Schoolkids Records in Chapel Hill. Do you remember specifically which bands or artists you bonded over? How did that experience lead you to form a band together?
I was a regular shopper at Schoolkids and Heather worked there. She needed to record a demo, and I offered to help because I record music. We became friends, and she ended up getting me a job there. We worked there together for a number of years.
We bonded over a lot of classic rock. Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac type of stuff. You can definitely hear that in the music that Mount Moriah makes. But we also were into a lot of punk and post-punk. At the time, Heather was in a band that was a really loud, angular post-punk band called Bellafea. And I was playing in a noise rock/metal band, so we were both also into that type of aggressive music. We bonded over that. But we really had this interest in classic rock songwriting and traditional forms of music that neither of us was exploring. So that’s what gave rise to Mount Moriah.
The first band was Un Deux Trois, right?
That’s right. We started off with a jangly pop band. We were roommates for a longtime in a house in Carrboro, so that’s what we did for fun. Ultimately we decided to try our hand at more complex songwriting. And we both wanted the ability to get a little bit darker with the themes in our music.
I went to UNC for undergrad and grad school, and I spent a ton of time in Schoolkids. That store was a crucial institution in my musical education. I vividly remember buying Joy Division and Gang of Four CDs from you, and when I saw Mount Moriah for the first time in 2011 at the Visulite Theatre, I remember thinking to myself when you took the stage, “Wow, that’s the dude from Schoolkids!” Can you talk about your experience working in a record store?
I absolutely love record stores. My favorite part of being on the road is being able to go to record stores that I don’t normally get access to. I’ve worked in record stores for a really long time, until very recently actually. I worked at Schoolkids, and then I worked at a place called Nice Price in Carrboro until it closed. And then I worked at CD Alley in Carrboro.
Yeah I know that one. Right next to the left wing bookstore.
Yeah, The Internationalist [laughs]. It has since moved into Carrboro.
That’s right. I used to go there and CD Alley all the time.
CD Alley was bought by and turned back into Schoolkids. So now Schoolkids is back in Chapel Hill.
In your opinion, what makes a good record store? [Full Disclosure: Cream Puff Records is a record store too.]
I love records and I collect records. And so does my wife. We bond over the whole experience of playing records. Digging through record crates is one of our favorite things. But beyond the record collector mentality, to me a good record store represents one of the few places in mainstream culture where creative and otherwise weird people kind of naturally congregate. Because of that, you meet interesting people and you become involved in interesting things. I think it’s important to have physical locations that have that kind of culture.
I’ve met a lot of the musicians in the local music scene here working at Schoolkids. We’re all attracted to those places. So yes, for me and my musical upbringing, the way I understand and experience music culture, record stores are hugely important.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about their future?
I can’t say that I’m optimistic about the future of them anymore. There are ways to maintain record stores that seem to be successful. The ones that I know that have been able to stay open do a lot of online sales in addition to storefront sales. That’s great. Whatever it takes to stay open. But I feel like the larger trend in the music industry has been moving towards convenience rather than quality. That is a disturbing trend in a lot of different areas of consumer culture. It’s certainly true for music. But that said, it’s something that I always will love and will go out of my way to support. There’s no question that having those places around provides value beyond what the actual products are.
When you earn your living in the industry, that’s gotta be troubling.
The trends over the last decade, and certainly the last few years are not good. The only answer to piracy is something that’s equally bad for musicians. Streaming. There’s no revenue streams there either.
I don’t mean to be entirely negative. The record stores that are still around are run by people who are truly passionate about music. It used to be that a lot of record storeowners just saw it as a business venture. The music itself wasn’t so important. But at this point, you know that anyone operating a record store is doing it because they love it and that it’s important to them. And they do find value beyond the dollars, because the margins are really small. I appreciate that aspect of it for sure. And I do see niches open for record stores to inhabit. There are multiple record stores in the Triangle, and that’s awesome.
I hope we can get you to our store one day. We share space with a clothing store and an art gallery and a bookstore. And there’s a common space with a bar where you can get coffee or beer and wine.
That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the future. Spaces where you’re not reliant on just one single clientele to keep the store afloat. That sounds like a sustainable venture. And it’s playing into the idea of record stores as cultural destinations or as points of interest for creative people and weirdos [laughs].
That 2011 Mount Moriah show that I mentioned earlier happened to be the second date I went on with my wife. You were the first band we saw together, and we’ve been to dozens of shows since. Live music is part of our shared identity, and starting with that first show, music has played an important role in our relationship. You released Blues From WHAT this year with your wife Elysse. Can you talk a little bit about the role music plays in your relationship?
Man that’s a great story. Thanks for that. So music is huge in my wife’s and my relationship. We’re so similar in so many ways, and a love, an all-consuming love, for music is one of them. She’s into records and she’s a musician. She’s got huge, diverse tastes. And we’re always trying to challenge each other and keep each other up to date on new releases and that kind of thing. Early on, music is something that brings people together. I think she came into CD Alley at some point when I was working. That was one of the first times that we met. Since then, we’ve been really supportive of each other’s endeavors.
She’s in a band called Some Army that recently put out a record. So music has played a huge role. It’s the glue of our marriage. As a younger person who loves music, it was always a romantic dream to have a partner who was interested in my passion too. I feel lucky to have found someone who shares that passion and we can play music together.
I read a recent Indyweek interview with the two of you and was struck by the thought of y’all jamming together. It sounds like you just play music and lay it down on tape and records sometimes come out of nowhere.
Yeah, it is like that sometimes [laughs]. The trick is finding the time when we’re both free to do that. It just takes a lot of free time to commit to playing together. But when we can do it, it’s really fun. We both really like improvisational, drone-y, psychedelic music. And I think both of us can go to a particular zone with that music that’s relaxing and very positive. It’s an activity that we do together, kind of like taking the dogs for a walk. It’s been a lot of fun. We just jammed together last night actually [laughs].
In addition to Blues From WHAT, we carry some of your other records in our store, including Mount Moriah, Horseback and your solo stuff. I’m particularly intrigued by Spirit Signal, your 2013 solo release on Northern Spy. How did you get set up with that label?
Northern Spy released a number of records by this guitar player I really like named Loren Connors. These days he puts out a lot of records with Family Vineyard. He’s an electric guitar player, and Northern Spy released a bunch of his stuff.
A number of years ago, I put out a collection of improvisational guitar songs called Approaching the Invisible Mountain, and I wanted to do another record similar to that. I started recording tracks and sent it to the Northern Spy guys early on. And they seemed excited about it. I just emailed them out of the blue and talked about why I liked what they were doing. And I gave them a record to put out if they wanted to.
Another thing I was interested in about Northern Spy was that they represent a continuation of the ESP label. They did mostly free jazz stuff back in the day. Some Albert Ayler records. Weirdo noisy pop records. This band called The Gods was on that label. It was a really left-of-center, outfield label. It was really cool to work with a label that was carrying that vibe forward.
Switching gears to another great underground label, Cory Rayborn of Three Lobed Recordings has called you a “master of balancing dark and light.” I would say it’s pretty easy to identify darkness in our current world, but I was hoping you could comment on the “light.” What gives you hope?
Music for sure. Even as the industry seems to dry up, there’s still the activity of playing music. And that’s really important to me. A long time ago, I tried to make it into something more than just playing my instrument. I tried to make it a spiritual practice. I wanted music to be something that played a role in my life that connected me to something greater than myself. And so that took some work. Psychologically getting to that place took some work. But now that’s very important to me. It’s like mediation. It provides a chance for me to get outside of myself for a little bit.
Beyond that, I’m really inspired by nature and wooded areas. One of the reasons I love this state so much is because of the landscape. I love the mountains. I live in the woods in central North Carolina. I feel really at home here. Having traveled to most places in the country, North Carolina continues to feel like home. I always miss it.
I feel this really strong attachment to the state itself. So as a North Carolinian, it makes me invested in what the state represents and the direction in which we’re headed. My love for this state on a spiritual level informs my political opinions and what I care about on that level.
There’s a lot of things to be hopeful for. Some of them are abstractions. But I want to put my best foot forward and perform to the best of abilities even though I don’t know what’s ahead. I just don’t know another way to be. I want to be true to myself and to the things and people that I love. That’s a grounding force in my life.
And we’re lucky to have a partner there with us. I find that being married just keeps getting better.
Oh yeah. I agree with you 100%.
A while back, one of my good buds turned me on to his friends’ band called The Honored Guests. Members of that band went on to form Some Army, so I have been following Elysse’s band for a while. It’s a great Raleigh band whose 2016 record you co-produced. What was that experience like for you?
My role as a producer on that record turned out to be pretty limited. It was more in the initial stages of planning and brainstorming about what it could sound like and what the band would be using in the studio. And I provided some ideas about arrangement. Stuff like that. But I never got into the nitty gritty. The band recorded the basic tracks at Fidelitorium Studios. I went there to be a sounding board, but Jeff Crawford did all the engineering and mixing. He’s produced a lot of other local bands. And after that, Russ [Baggett;singer and guitarist] took it over himself. He did the overdubs. So I was always involved in more of an advisory role. I really don’t want to overstate my involvement there.
You’ve produced a lot of your own music as well. How does your approach to music as a producer differ from your approach as a songwriter and performer?
In general, production is a really big part of making records for me. It’s what I love. It’s related to that spiritual experience in my life. I like sitting there and being able to concentrate on this abstract thing. The process of making records is what I love about music. For most of my solo projects, the production is 100% integrated into the songwriting and arranging process. I’m usually writing and recording at the same time.
It’s different for Mount Moriah. We write stuff as a band. Then rehearse it and record it. But with my solo work, the production and the writing really are the same thing.
You also got a production credit in the liner notes of How to Dance. Which songs?
The band produced that record and we were making the production decisions on our own. We recorded the drum tracks and the basic tracks at Revival Studio in Pittsboro. And then a lot of the overdubbing gave me the opportunity to do what I love to do, which is tinker with the songs and mold them slowly. We had a lot more involvement on this one, so for that reason, I feel a lot more attached to it. For our previous two records, we had put a lot of those responsibilities into other people’s hands. People that we love, and they did a great job.
But I always felt that since the production is so central to a record, it was something I wanted more involvement in. The whole band wanted more direct contact with the record throughout each step of the process, so we decided to do it that way for the most recent one.
Have you ever looked into producing records for other bands? Have you ever considered shifting the focus of your career towards production and away from songwriting, recording and touring?
I have never looked very hard. I produced the last record by The Moliners. For a long time, Heather and I had a label called Holidays for Quince that put out records by a number of bands, mostly from the Triangle. And we released the last Moliners album. So I produced that one.
It’s certainly something I’d be open to doing, but it’s tricky. You kind of develop an identity of how you approach music over the years. Some of my best friends produce records in this area, and there’s only so much work for a producer. So it’s not something I would want to try and butt in because it’s their livelihood. It’s what they do. And they’re really good at it.
If someone specifically sought me out, I’d be totally into it. But I’m not putting myself out there and advertising.
We are really excited that Mount Moriah is coming to Charlotte. The Evening Muse is one of Charlotte’s best venues. What kind of set do you have planned?
Heather is getting back from the tour with Angel the day before the Charlotte show, so our rehearsals will be somewhat limited. It’s going to be a very lively set. We’ll be hitting the ground running. We’ve done shows like that in the past, and it makes for a fun, looser show. It’s gonna be that kind of thing. And it will be two nights after the election, so I hope we’re not too depressed [laughs].