An Interview with Ian Moore

Ian Moore's Quest for Creation Bucking Labels, Breaking Ground, & the Man in Black

If all you knew about Ian Moore was that he was a teenage guitar whiz who emerged from the Austin, Texas, scene in the early 90s, it'd be easy to peg him as just another Stevie Ray Vaughan knockoff. And you'd be partly right. Moores earliest efforts for Capricorn Records, including his eponymous 1992 debut and a 1994 EP, Live from Austin, did indeed cater with some success to the coveted blues-rock crossover audience. It was the artist who wasn't buying.

Interested in exploring more varied sounds and atmospheres, Moore began pushing the envelope with 1995's Modernday Folklore, incorporating instruments like strings, Dobros, and horns into his arrangements. His record label wasn't thrilled, but went with the creative flow. Two years later when he turned in his third studio effort, Ian Moore's Got the Green Grass, Capricorn boss Phil Walden decided he had heard enough and dropped Moore from the roster.

"When I turned in that album, my manager listened to an hour tirade from the label president about what a piece of shit I had made," Moore says. "He was so angry that all she could do was laugh."

Fast-forward to a new millennium, and Moore's basking comfortably in a new light, as is his music, which continues to enter exciting new artistic realms. Moore's new Koch release, And All the Colors, is his boldest creative statement to date. On it Moore delivers introspective stories about obsession, love and even Johnny Cash, enmeshed in broad soundscapes where guitar peacefully co-exists with the violin, bazuki, sitar, and Moore's own aching falsetto.

Moore began playing sitar at age five, took up fiddle at six, and didn't dabble in guitar until he was 16. The son of a linguistics and Eastern studies scholar father and a social worker mother, Moore was a voracious reader and absorbed numerous influences from the multi-cultural environment in which he was raised - the music of Ravi Shankar often collided with Bob Dylan in the Moore home and his family split time between California, Mexico, and India before settling in Austin.

Talking over a tenuous cellular phone connection en route to a radio interview in Kansas City, the 31-year-old Moore, who now resides in the Seattle area, offered some insights into his latest work. This record is a varied one and marks a new start for you. What's the lowdown on And All the Colors?

Ian Moore: It shares a lot with Modernday Folklore, which was really the record where I chose the producer and called the shots. The difference with this one is that it's more focused, the songwriting is better, the people around me are playing better, and the production is more consistent with what I was going for. There were a lot of struggles with Modernday Folklore and a lot of dissension, and this one came from a more positive experience. But there are a lot of similarities in form. They both contain intriguing layers of musical elements.

Moore: I go for this kind of Gothic-y sound. My touchstone records are Los Lobos Kiko or Daniel Lanois For the Beauty of Wynonna, to some extent Radioheads O.K. Computer, some of Chris Whitley's more out-there stuff, and of course, Stevie Wonders' mid-70s stuff. Those are the records for me, studio-wise. I just try to bring in different elements. I'm better now at explaining what I'm going for in the studio, and I think what I'm going for is a pretty lofty goal. I mean, those records are some of the most creative ones that have been made over the years. You tip your hat to Johnny Cash on the new CD. What's that song all about?

Moore: First, I'm a huge Johnny Cash fan. I think he's great. And he's such a manly-man, you know. He never sang high, never betrayed that masculinity, and I think there's something kind of endearing about that. But the song is actually about a commercial he did for an electronic Bible, where he's there wearing his Johnny Cash black. They show him with a dark sky behind him, and he talks about how rough his life has been - but now that he has this electronic Bible, he can quote psalm and verse! I thought it was great [laughs]. There are plenty of guitar sounds on the record, but they certainly dont dominate.

Moore: People that really understand the guitar view the guitar as a means. There's nothing worse than a gratuitous guitar solo, or a song that's only about the guitar. Soloing is a beautiful thing, and the guitar is a very emotive tool, and that's why I play it. And that's why a lot of other people play it. [But] I always find it funny when people say, Why don't you get back to playing the guitar? To me, I'm playing a million times more guitar than I played before. It's much more intensive, like thinking about how you're going to play parts that require a lot of thought versus old riffs that you're just rehashing. That doesn't take as much introspection and energy. It's much more difficult to create sonic textures, at least for me. So it's fair to say that singing, songwriting and playing guitar are all equal to you?

Moore: I'm definitely a guitar player. And just like everybody else, I'm a big Hendrix fan. The point I always make is this: In being true to [his] spirit. Would you really want to re-create what he did in 1968, or would you want to capture that spirit of adventure and innovation in new sounds? That's kind of where I'm at now. I'm trying to find new ways sonically for the guitar to get some different sounds. Toward that end, do you spend time with the instrument on a regular basis?

Moore: I play the guitar a lot. But I find now that when I try to practice, I end up writing a song. That's just kind of the evolution of where I've gone. Because to me now, practicing is about finding new sounds, new chords, and melding new melodic structures. Even if I sat down and decided that I was just going to make my fingers stronger, I would end up writing a song, whether I wanted to or not [laughs]. After the battles you've waged to make your own music, does it trouble you that some still pigeonhole you as a bluesman?

Moore: It's pretty off base at this point. It would be kind of like calling Yo La Tengo a polka band. [The blues] has become such an absorbed influence, and it's important, but it's definitely not at all the essence of what I'm doing.

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