The Little Crack of Light: CHRIS MOORE with Peter Markus
I’m always on the hunt for other writers and artists to look to as models, men and women who have carved out their own cave in the world and find a way to stick their heads out from time to time to say something about what they see. I turn to their words, mostly, in interviews like this—though of course the real truth and wisdom is best found in the work itself. Beckett, Faulkner, Stein. Jabes, Cormac McCarthy, Gordon Lish, Jack Gilbert. Pollock, Basquiat, Hesse, Maso, Mann. The list is long and continuous. Let me add one more name to the list: Moore. Chris Moore: musician, songwriter, artist. Better yet: friend. Brother. For over thirty years, I’ve looked to Moore when I’ve needed to be reminded of why I do what I do, why I call what I do my life, and what I hope to get out of it.
Peter Markus (Rail): I've known you since we were kids back when you used to drum in Negative Approach. Talk to me a bit about that time and how the early hardcore punk scene made you into the man I know today. Ways it shaped you? What early influences or lessons that you took away from it and maybe even how some of that influence is still present in you and your approach to making music?
Chris Moore: At the gigs the musicians on stage would return to the audience after a twenty-minute set, and then four friends in the audience would take to the stage. It wasn’t a precious, ego-driven rock star trip, just a community vibe I guess.
We didn’t really know how to play our instruments, but we managed to create songs, or a concept of songs—kind of sloppy playing but somewhat organized noise forms. The scene was made up of angry kids and older, more experienced musicians, artists, writers, all from different suburbs of Detroit and Toledo. We were embraced and encouraged early on. It was a loose, fun time. Some stupid, crazy things went on, but I felt safe in that scene then—a breakaway from the high school click trip.
I think in all the arts this is a good grounding point to focusing in on the work—the quality and intensity first before anything else.
I really begin to look at the “work,” the tunes, trying to get “tight.” I imagine writers starting out, open forums/mics, friends and peers making up the audience, until they get their time on stage to “sing.” Is that true too with writers, poets?
Rail: It's strange because with writing, or at least my writing, my approach, there is never any sense of an audience. When I write it's just me and the page, me and the pencil, the typewriter for some books, the laptop for others—it all depends on the work itself, but never anyone else beyond that room. There might be other writers who write with a particular reader in mind, but I write to write the books of which I would like to be the reader, even if that means that I might be the lone reader of those stories, those books. I'm okay with that. It might be akin to you in your room, just you and your guitar, or the ice sculptor who does what she does in the freezer and then takes the work outside and sets it under the hot sun. For years I wouldn’t think of standing on a stage, naked, no instrument to hide behind, the pages of a story, or book, a see-through veil. Maybe that's because for years I'd been writing stories that weren't mine to write, stories that anyone could have written, could have placed his name on top of those pages. I did, though, when I first came upon the stories that make up my first book, Good, Brother—that first edition of which you illustrated! Those were pages that I felt that I could stand behind, and so I did. I remember us doing some gigs together in upstate New York, then coming back down to Brooklyn back in 2001 to read at Great Lakes. That was me and Sam Lipsyte and the writer Jane Unrue coming down from Boston. So yes, once I found my way to those stories, I felt that I could make them public. But it took me a while to get there. I've always admired musicians, sixteen years old, like you, kids, putting it out there. I think maybe it just takes writers longer to find what we’re all looking for: something, a subject matter, maybe a language, a landscape, a sound, that is ours to lay claim to, ours to make.
You’ve been writing songs for thirty-five years. Think about that. That’s discipline. I've always admired that in you. An iron will. And if anything, your songs seem to keep moving you out towards the margins, away from any sense of middle, whereas with most musicians and writers, in my experience, the older we get the more lukewarm we become. Not with you. You seem to continue pushing outward. You seem to keep seeking those outer spaces.
Moore: Yeah, discipline, and maybe manic obsession—maybe like you in the room, inside the page. I think I write a lot, but the movement is mostly very slow—subtle. On occasion I catch a wave and I’m free from the last group of tunes, and this new wild inspiration comes. I get a happy, light feeling, like I’m young and high, mentally healthy, but it’s a pretty solitary place, mining away. In your work, there’s a lot of repetition, rhythm, patterns, and then out of the blue come these bold revelations, surprises: a big event occurs; there’s a lot of emotion and color. Do you work hard setting it up, or do you just drop it in as the feeling arrives?
Rail: If we were to ask a bird how does it fly, what might it say? A fish: how does it swim? When I'm writing, or trying to swim, stay afloat, keep my head above the water, when I try to achieve a sense of flight, to experience something I can't touch—the sky—I am fully engaged in the act of doing so that I don’t have to think. So I don’t think. I just do. I just am. I just be. That sounds vaguely, what, new age, Buddhist? Something I know nothing about. Truth is, Chris, I don't know what I'm doing when I'm doing it. I can step back later and say, “Oh, yeah, I see what you were doing, brother.” Yeah, it’s true, when I'm in the doing way of doing things I like to talk to myself. But in the midst of this doing, I just write. I just keep my hands, my fingers moving, and hope that I might say or do something new. My stance on repetition is this, if I had to say what it was: that if you say a thing—a sentence, a word—enough times, it begins to say something else. It begins to dig down into some new meaning, some new thing that we are hearing, and through this process of saying and saying and saying it again and again and again we might then fall into something never before. That dropping in that you make reference to: it’s more of a falling down through, a door where there’s really no door for us to open, a window that is made of brick. And yet, and yet, and yet: If you look and if you listen closely enough, if you pay attention to the process of this way of doing, this way of making, things that have never happened before start to happen. That's when the big music hits.
Tell me how a song begins for you? Does it start inside your own head, as something you hear before you reach for the guitar? Or does the instrument take the lead? What is the role of the words for you? What part of the writing process comes first, listening, words on paper, the strum? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again: I’d burn every last sentence I’ve ever written for just one of your songs. When I’m no more and if you're still with a voice I’d like you to sing “A Better Example” as they put me in the ground. You down for that?
Moore: Oh man, that’s heavy! I would do it (if that was your desire) for me to sing something, but it’d be tough to make it through. Your process sounds more connected to a spiritual level than my own, though when the powerful stuff arrives it does feel like it floated in and landed. I feel like I’m mostly digging around, mining, carving into dirt, walls, my heart. For me, the music and words are worked on separately, at least in the beginning stages—the music is in “here,” and the words are over “there.” They never arrive together (I wish!). I have books of lyrics and poems that I draw upon when the music is ready and I just try to fit them to the mood of the tune. There’s a lot of shaping, editing. It’s a pain in the ass, since I have to sing it, feel it, so it’s got to be right and come off natural—like the song was born with the lyrics—and sound as one whole. In the last couple years I’ve come to recognize how crucial the sound of words are in writing a piece to be sung. You’ve always had sound going on in your work—the tonal colors seem musical and painterly in your work. How important is the sound of words for you?
Rail: I’m all about sound. If I don’t have my sound, I have nothing. The rhythm and cadence of a sentence, of a word, supersedes everything else. Brother means nothing to me if it doesn’t have that sound. River over ocean over water, because river is the sound that brings me to want to write it down, to go into that place. In a boat, on a river, lived a man. Music is the highest of powers. It is the closest we can get to it. I'm a failed musician. This I'm not afraid to say. Maybe it’s mostly because I do not play well with others. I prefer the room with no one else inside it, in other words. Empty room, empty page—that silence. It's in that space that I begin to hear. My ear becomes a way to the eye. Then I can see through sound. Like that, maybe, the words on the page begin to appear.
Talk to me some about the relationship between word, song, and image. Your visuals, scribbles, word-image collages are like no other thing I’ve seen. The cave you create in and take the viewer into, it’s its own space. Few artists do that for me: put me inside that cave with the pictures, the petroglyphs, on its walls telling stories of a time long past. That’s what we’re after here—some thing that almost seems to precede us and come even before the word itself. The drum is its own language, a kind of tongue for that which cannot be spoken.
I know for years you’ve made a living as a printer, working literally with ink, with machines that press words and images onto paper. Tell me a bit about how that whole process feeds into what you do when you pick up a guitar, or a pencil or pen, or sit down at the piano.
Moore: The visual thing is a meditative experience for me, just flowing, no brain-work really. I just draft stuff, get an idea, explore the idea, variations come—it's really fun. I rarely get frustrated by it. I keep my expectations low, stay pretty minimal. I'm usually in a good mood when doing art. Relationally speaking the word-collage things are song lyrics from different set lists and records—overlapping they become landscapes or walls with pieces missing, holes where you can look in and out, catch your breath, rest in. With music and songs my expectations are high, so I'm carrying ideas around a lot more in my thoughts and I'm less present; I’m pre-occupied with the unfinished lot. The visual thing is more peaceful. The music stuff gets there in a different way: it’s messier and draining and I’m no fun to be around, but it sure feels great once I’m able to record or perform it.
Rail: I love that notion that these visuals “become landscapes or walls with pieces missing.” There’s so much there to get lost in. That’s what we want, is it not? To get lost in the process, to find something unknown or mysterious there, both as writer and reader, artist and viewer? The idea, too, that you hold no expectations for these visuals must also be liberating, a part or path to that happiness, those good moods in the doing. There’s something pleasing, too, I think, in doing something when it's new, when it's young. Like any first time there's that rush of excitement and no risk of failing. Oh, yeah, it’s just some shit I’ve thrown together. I can hear you saying as such. Yet with the song, the song is aiming for something higher, and the pressures that come with going higher can sometimes lead to falling. But those great heights I know are what you're reaching for. It’s serious shit and different from the kind of seriousness that comes out of just fooling around, playing it loose, like the way a child invents, makes up stories, plays games with cards or action figures. The fact that you’re messing around with words, the topography of words, word as visual, as these three-dimensional sculptural objects, that's what I love. I mean I really love, in the way that I don’t love much, what you are doing lately with these word-image collisions. Here again the portrait of an artist in the cave brings me into that primal space.
Moore: Yeah, definitely getting lost in it: experimentation and improvisation and keeping those lines open. For music there are certain set forms for songwriting that are useful frames to both work within and bust out of. That’s very important to me—to roll with both of these two options. My day job trip as a printing pressman is physical, task-oriented, mechanical, lots of troubleshooting, many variables. It’s not a copier, you can’t just press a button and out comes this beautiful image. It’s a skill, a trade, and it takes years to get good at it. Artistically speaking, you learn to appreciate an image, a line of type, and here it lands on the page—the paper, the density of ink, that kind of stuff. I always considered it a healthy contrast, that I never could make enough money in music and art, so the day job feeds the desire, the need for fulfillment through music "after hours,” though recently I’ve been teaching younger musicians and as you know, I almost feel guilty getting paid—I love it so much! I’m getting an extension on my creative life and I get smiles back at me. The kids get it quick and they think I’m a magician or wizard. You know this vibe, right?
Rail: I’m glad you mentioned this new leg in your journey: the teaching. You passing the pick, passing the drumstick, so to speak. Teaching as a kind of kindness and joy. The kids do get it quick. Hands, feet, heart. To simplify the process, break it down to this: This is a drum, hit it. This is a pencil (this is a rocket ship). This is a circle. Or what else might it be? To use language to explore the question, the possibilities. The circle might be a moon. The moon a button on an old man’s overcoat. Or a coin without a face. Or the bottom of a bucket: a planet not yet discovered. To see inside that space. To teach the kids—kids!—that they can do it. It's not as hard as they think. It's not science after all. School teaches kids to be afraid to fail. To walk in the middle. I want to open up a new door. A new path to walk on outside the lines—strangeness as a way to get to the heart. I became a better writer at some point by saying to myself, “Heed your own advice, brother. Listen to what you preach.” A big part of teaching is getting the students to unlearn, right? Not every poem rhymes. Not every song is in 4/4 time. Did anyone formally teach you the drums, the guitar? Or did you just sit down in the chair and start to hit, strum, pick? Was there anyone in particular who said to you, “You can do this. This is where you put your hands. Hit like this.”
Moore: I learned how to play by listening to a lot of music and banging away. My mom and dad loved music too, so the stereo was an important piece of furniture in our house. We had these large speakers. When I got my first drum set it was placed between the speakers so I had optimum monitors! I played along to mostly rock and punk records. I had older friends that were in garage bands and they let me hang out a lot, and soon after I was jamming with them. With guitar I started with one string, writing riffs, really primal short blasts. It worked for NA [Negative Approach]. I started in with chords soon after and just kept experimenting with chord variations. I never had formal lessons, but I did have to teach myself to read music a bit, and after the move to New York I was playing with a wide range of writers and musicians that drew from multiple styles so I learned a lot from them, and I made a lot of friends in the process.
Rail: You mention earlier how in those early hardcore days the stage was a kind of revolving door, that one band would finish their set and the next band would step out of the audience, sometimes as many as five bands a night, ten songs per fifteen minute set, three bucks cover, etc. I’m thinking of those Freezer Theater/Clubhouse days in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. You’ve been in New York now for over twenty years. I know a lot of your friends are other musicians. What's different and what's the same between Detroit in 1983 and Brooklyn/NYC in 2017, or even when you first moved to New York in the mid-‘90s?
Moore: Wow, yes, a revolving door. I had good luck moving to NYC in that time. I had a friend that had a space I could live in. I had another friend who had a practice space on the Lower East Side that I could use—both affordable. And I got a job the second day after arriving. I did open mics in the beginning and quickly made friends with other singer-songwriters; we had each other’s backs for sure, trying out new tunes—a great time of inspiration, focused writing, jamming and partying. It still goes on now and again except the partying part. Isn’t it similar in the literary scene? I’ve been to readings and there are lots of other writers there. Do writers “jam?”— like show, share, exchange works, get input from others that have a different style, or is that something that you outgrow?
Rail: I think musicians are more open to that sort of loose companionship than writers seem to be. Here I’m mainly speaking about myself and my own reservations when it comes to showing new work to others and asking for feedback. Maybe what I need to outgrow is my own inhibition, or my own refusal to listen to what others have to say. That said, when an editor points something out to me, catching what my own eye or ear might not see, I am open to spending more time with that particular sentence. Though because I work slowly, sentence by sentence, word by word, before I ever send a story or book out into the world of others, the work, I feel, is pretty much the way that I want it, and see it, and hear it. The closest I came to jamming with another writer is when Robert Lopez and I run our fingers at each other via email or Facebook messenger and talk about hockey mostly, though we usually begin our free-wheeling by running our mouths about something pissy going on with us as it relates to something literary. Any writer I’m pals with, though, if it’s only a friendship based around words, then it’s not a thing that’s going to last. There’s got to be something else between us: hockey, baseball, a river, fishing, something that has to do with real life, the stuff that matters. Like us. We've got music and words and art, etc., but when we get together it’s just two old guys laughing and talking shit about getting older. That said, I’ve always envied the way musicians are able to connect through song and can plug in, or not, and just go, let it rip, be it a loose jam or running through a cover. All I can do is bang a tambourine, or at best, pluck a single-stringed guitar. At best a fish out of water, a pig out of mud. But I'd rather listen to song than what any book can offer me. Two things I wished I’d done: one, stuck with playing music, being in a band, which I gave up on when I was 18, and two, like the Waterboys’ song, I wish I was a fisherman. I mean a guy who goes out every day after the fish. Not just to eat but to live. In my next life, maybe. Maybe even in that next life I'll come back as a fish. If not a fish, maybe a tree.
Let’s get back to you and your teaching. I’ve been teaching for over half my life. It’s what I do, who I am, etc. One thing I'm always asked is how my working with young writers has influenced my own work. I'd like to ask you to take a stab at that.
Moore: Younger musicians tend to play less, which is always something I’m after: raw energy, the essence, less clutter and confusion. That’s not to say I don’t like busy music or ambiguous pieces of music, but for my thing it works better with less—you have to be creative and break down the parts with other instrumentation. I’m always on players to play less, and if I’m in a drumming role I’m looking at the composition and what I can get away with not playing, (like your writing style?): the sonic and tonal components that will support and propel the song forward. When kids start out it’s the heart, the energy and spirit, so I’m into maintaining that. After lessons I’m usually pretty high and upbeat. My teaching style is pretty laid back, mostly jamming, noise-making, patterns and variation, improvisation, getting them to trust their ears, not a whole lot of “book” or “technique” stuff until later, but I guess I sort of sneak that in.
Rail: When I first picked up a guitar and didn’t even know how to tune it, let alone “play,” that’s when I felt like I was making sounds with it that felt right, that felt tuned in by some other ear—that the sounds were in the best of ways slightly off: off kilter, off color, off on their own grid. As soon as I learned about chords and how a guitar was conventionally tuned, I couldn’t keep my hands from going to certain places—these muscle memory ruts, G, D, C—and soon I lost interest in the entire proposition. I guess it’s something like the notion of a painter painting with someone else’s brushes. On my better days I feel that the pencil in my hand is my own—whereas the guitar never was. How do you deal with that issue of falling into the grooves of other musicians, if at all?
Moore: I always keep my fingers moving around, different positions on the fret board. What happens if you take a G chord position and move the second finger to a different string? It creates a new mood and then you can go off from there. People ask me sometimes what chords are those and they probably can be named, but I just always enjoyed the search for different voicings, and there are endless chord variations, tones and tunings. I love simple three chord riffs too, but you know it’s been done before and done so well.
Rail: Ha, yeah, I feel that. Like when someone asks me what’s up with that word; is that even a word—the way you’re using it, is that its proper usage? Why do you keep hitting that one note over and over and over again? I think the ear can hear the entire song in a single note, a single word, maybe even something epic, on a single string. Makes me think of you writing those early NA songs on a single string. Those tunes have stuck around. Some might say they have in them something grand, epic, sweeping, primal for sure.
Moore: The vibration of collected sounds and overtones can cause an incredible, powerful, emotional reaction. It’s so intimate to me, and at the same time also communal—it’s love; it’s rage; it’s tenderness and sex; all great music, all great art contains this regardless of style or genre. Speaking of genre, writers are subjected to being thrown into categories too, no?
You’ve got your own category.
Rail: In Greek my name means rock. Call it an island. I’m mostly under water. Not on a map. No one knows me. I am unknowable aside from the few who have run their boat aground on me. I like to think those few have been pulled under by my devices. Or have not minded being sunk and taken down to my mud bottom. It’s all just metaphor, this speaking in tongues, saying what I have no other words for. I know very little about genre or categories that may or may not exist. Again, the island theme shows its face. What does Jagger say? “It's only rock and roll but I like it; I like it; yes I do.” I'll go with Mick on this one. The Stones and Bowie were my biggest influences growing up. I think I even went through a phase where I only listened to the Stones from like 1980-82. That was a ripe time for new music. To think of all the great records that were being made in those two years alone. The first two records by Echo & the Bunnymen, The Psychadelic Furs—those were the bands that opened me up to what my ears are still on the hunt for. Later on it was The Waterboys. The “big music,” as Mike Scott says.
I'm curious about something—the idea that a band’s early work is often stronger than what comes later. The Bunnymen fit into this category. The Furs. The Waterboys, maybe not. What's your take on that? With writers, the early work shows the promise, but most of what an 18 year old writer writes never gets read. And yet, the songs of 18 year kids find their way into the word as gospel. I still go back to those first two Bunnymen records, those first two Furs records. Songs written by twenty year olds. I couldn’t write a sentence when I was twenty. I didn’t write fiction that I could claim as my own until I was almost thirty. Talk to me about age, youth, words that last, words and songs you can't live without. Or wherever else these words of mine take you.
Moore: Yeah, or this: “Rock and roll can never die, there’s more to the picture, than meets the eye.” – Neil Young. It sure gets confusing, I bet, to young artists who make “masterpieces” out of the blue, then get all bogged down with touring and recording commitments, maintaining their celebrity status, money, managing adulthood, etc. That PR shit is a drag and I do very little of it. You have to fight against being sucked into that vacuum and the trend scenes. “I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day.” Again, Neil! I’m in the underground, “indie.” Keep a real connection to the work. I carve out the time, collaborate, experiment, keep checking myself with challenges. “Keep some steady friends around” (Bill Callahan). Family too: they keep you in check. When NA hit Europe for the reunion tour 2008, it was fun and exciting, but the attention and hype was weird to me. Don’t get me wrong—I love playing to a full house of appreciative listeners! But only once in a while.
Rail: To carve out time: hammer, chisel, stone. To make a cave. You’ve done that the past thirty-odd years of doing what you do, underground or not. You’re disciplined. You’ve got that iron will. Where does that come from? Do you adhere to any kind of schedule? Wake up early? Do you struggle or beat yourself up if you don't? I know you run, jog, bike. How does that feed the maker part of you?
Moore: My family is very supportive and I’m really lucky to get time “away,” but I don’t really adhere to a schedule anymore, so twenty-thirty minute chunks here and there, morning and night, and a couple hours on the weekend, depending on rehearsal/teaching load is how I work. I’m always carrying notebooks and recording ideas and riffs, dating them and editing them, trying to keep organized. So after a couple weeks I can usually get one or two “close to” finished pieces. That’s kind of the routine—a little scattered but I’m still getting stuff done. The biking and running keeps me chilled out I guess, and my heart beating. It also gives me the illusion that I’m getting out from the confines of subway trains, apartments, practice spaces, away from the “crowd,” but I guess all the noise helps too with inspiration. I don’t think I could go write a record in the woods as some artists claim. How do you “get away?”
Rail: Even when it might seem that I’m getting away—going out on a boat on the river, at night sitting around a bonfire in my backyard—I'm really just getting down deeper into that space where I know the fiction lives: that quiet time, that gazing into a fire. Just paying attention to when nothing much is actually going on: night sounds, river sounds, the sky, the stars, a bird perched on a buoy. Others might call it meditation, and when I used to run it was that space I was running after, hoping to drop down into that. My body was in tune with the street. Now I prefer to float. All of it makes me a better listener.
Talk to me a bit about how being a good listener plays its part in the music-making process. Also, as a listener to the music that other musicians make—you’ve mentioned Neil Young and Bill Callahan above—what do you listen for? What do you hope to find when you tune in to a song?
Moore: Wow, yes to that floating; I wish I could float. Sometimes I do when I’m playing.
What I listen for is honesty, real emotional contact, elevation (to float), sonic connective tissue, revelation and a simple surprise, something in the arrangement or form or melody that I’ve never heard before—otherworldly. And it can be subtle. It doesn’t have to be Sun Ra!
Rail: When I watch you play with the Sons, or Pete Galub, or with Negative Approach even, I see you listening not just with your ears, but with your hands, your feet, the entire body is involved, which is maybe what sets the player apart from the viewer. It must be electric—that feeling, akin to floating, is its own kind of levitation. Music has its higher power for sure. It’s what sets it apart from the other art forms, I'd say. Even as pure listener, pure viewer, I’ve experienced moments of transcendence: The Waterboys at Traxx in Detroit, a time or two seeing the Flaming Lips, Dylan once, a handful of others. Time standing still. Everything else in the world dissolving. A shamanic experience. A band like Spahn Ranch. Psychic TV. The aim is always toward the otherness. I wish more books took me to that place.
Moore: Oh yes, it’s incredible. I’ve experienced it a number of times; it’s transcendence; you do float; its really trippy afterwards too, hard to come down and be normal, both as a player/performer and as a listener in the audience. Good writing takes me to another place too, but in a different way: I’m kind of viewing it in my imagination and it takes me out of my present. I love how the right words can evoke energy and feeling, in poetry and in song, getting the most from line to line. It’s tricky to be simple and colorful. Your stuff is very vivid and raw—you don’t play around. I love that.
Rail: I hope to do my own thing with that single-stringed guitar. It doesn’t take much to take a thing and make it your own. I think of people like Bill Callahan who keeps it simple and yet he goes deeper than most, says more than most. It doesn’t have to be deliberately complex. I don’t know squat about jazz but when I listen to Miles Davis there's something simple and direct about it. It doesn’t sound like a lot of notes. Find the right notes, the right song, and put that shit on repeat. A writer like Gertrude Stein did just that. She taught me about that one string. My book The Fish and the Not Fish really tried to take that to its own new level. It fails as a book but I think it works as a word experiment. And yet: it may be my most inventive book. But it’s a book I know many people can't appreciate. I’ve even said it's unreadable. Maybe it’s a book not meant to be read in the way that other books are meant to be read. Maybe there's music out there like that too: music that's not meant to be just listened to.
Moore: Or music to just to play for yourself, or perhaps a lover, a companion, to heal, console, some intimate expression of feeling that you can’t really identify or find the right verbal language for. I think that’s the main thing in art, the thread.
Rail: Let’s talk about Threads, your new record. It's a five song EP on vinyl. I know it’s on its way to me. Can’t wait to drop that needle. I know I’ll wear those grooves out. What can I expect from it? How might it go against expectation? What excites you most about it?
Moore: I hope you’re surprised in spots! The energy and flow are very immediate; we did it fast. I hope the listener moves their body to it. It’s very rhythmic, while also kind of dark and introspective. We wanted to do something with a lot of room—less instrumentation. I loved working with Eric Hoegemeyer (the producer and engineer); he totally got my trip, and he really got me to sing, to get the most feeling out. He doesn’t fuck around with a bunch of gadgets and instrumentation. He’s a great musician too, lean and subtle. Sometimes when you’re working/recording on a family of tunes that you’re hoping could be a record, there’s these turbulent ups and downs, super highs, then some doubts. This one was pretty fluid, even-keeled, no real scares. You ever experience that, in or mid-book, this sort of yin-yang?
Rail: I know the record’s in transit as we speak. Can’t wait. Glad to hear this record was a good experience. Fluid. That’s a good word for it when you’re in the river, the current tugging at the backs of your legs. You know that if you keep standing there the river will keep moving, changing, pushing against you. “Dive in,” the river seems to be saying. “Or just stand there and listen.” I know that feeling. I’ve been in that river. I’ll hold you up, the river whispers. Trust me. And it works the other way, too, or so I’m learning. When you’re in dead water. To recognize that, even if some fish have been pulled up from it. I’ve been working on this thing for a while now. In a House In a Woods. A novel was the idea. Every last word in it a monosyllabic word. Not unlike my last book of fiction, The Fish and the Not Fish. Why’d I want to do it again? I guess my idea was to have written the first monosyllabic novel. Was it not enough to have written the first all monosyllabic book of fiction in The Fish and the Not Fish? I’ve published enough in lit mags from this In a House book to maybe even call it a book of stories. I might still do that, save it from itself, or save it from myself. Make what I can, an act of salvaging, of salvation. But I might just scrap the whole damn thing. Put it on a boat and set it on fire and let the whole damn thing drift away: smoke, fire, ash. That would be the brave thing to do. We’ll see if I’ve got the courage, the cojones, the duende, to do the right thing. Probably not. In the end, brother, I’m afraid to say it: your brother here is a coward.
Moore: Yeah, man, damn, do it. Though from these paragraphs here it sounds like it’s a book to me. I’m looking at some new tunes that are sounding pretty dark, that will be difficult on the listener, but I’m pretty agitated about things lately. The music is colder and confined sounding; I’m trying to sneak in a little crack of light somehow musically but it’s not arriving. I’m just gonna have to ride it out.
Rail: I’ve already said too much, already run my mouth too much here. I don’t like to talk about it, truth be told. There’s the fear that the genie will be let out of the bottle and never come back to us with its wishes, its blessings, its curses. Sometimes you just got to rub the lantern, gently shine that glass skin. I look forward to that difficult listen, brother. Sometimes the best in us comes from that space, with just enough of that little crack of light as you say.
Chris Moore’s most recent album is Threads (Drawing Room Recordings). He lives in Brooklyn. www.mooresong.com
Peter Markus’s most recent book is Inside My Pencil (Dzanc Books). His interview with Pamela Ryder appeared in the July/August issue of The Brooklyn Rail.