Psychedelic Jam Rock Band moe. Is Back With a Vengeance

Percussionist Jim Loughlin and drummer Vinnie Amico swing by to dish on the new moe. tour, Chuck Garvey’s return, growing weed and getting paranoid by Sativas.
moe.

After an almost three-year hiatus, acclaimed psych rock band moe. is back on the road and ready to rock.

The band is currently touring the United States through the end of the year and is absolutely stoked. “People are showing up, everybody’s psyched to see Chuck [Garvey] back and everybody’s psyched that we’re playing again,” said percussionist Jim Loughlin. “It’s been fantastic.”

When we connect by phone with Jim and moe.’s longtime drummer, Vinnie Amico, the guys are feeling revitalized and excited to reconnect with their fanbase. Among other topics discussed was the potential for new music being created sometime next year.

Over the course of our conversation, Jim and Vinnie share stories of their early days in music, finding success with moe., changes in what it means to be a touring artist today, and how weed impacts their creativity and paranoia on various different levels.

High Times: What were your first exposures to music and how did you each find it?

Vinnie Amico: It’s weird, I always knew I wanted to play but I went to college for something completely different and was planning to get a “real” job and all that, but all I ever worked on was playing drums [laughs]. Music was secondarily the first thing I was ever going to do.

Jim Loughlin: Ever since I was a little kid, I was always fascinated with music. I would listen to it constantly and in seventh grade started playing. By the time I was a freshman in high school I knew that I was going to go to school for music and it’s what I always wanted to do. I didn’t know what kind of music or if I was going to be in a band, or how it was going to work out, but I knew that path was what it was going to be in some way.

Vinnie Amico: Seventh grade is also around the time you get into the Van Halen records and all of this other music, you find your guitar player buddy, you set up in the garage and then you start working out all of that music. Basically when you’re twelve, all of that starts to happen and you really get “bit by the bug” right around then. Some people don’t go forward out of high school, while others take off. That’s when you kind of know.

High Times: So high school was the gear shift when you realized music was what you wanted to pursue full time.

Vinnie Amico: For me, I was just playing all of the time. Next thing you know, you go to college, and I’m playing gigs all the time there. It was just something I did, not something I was really pursuing professionally other than I was getting paid for it already.

I got out of school and got a job, but was playing more gigs than spending time trying to get better at my job. Eventually, everything just switched to where the job didn’t mean anything anymore. It became all about the music.

Jim Loughlin: We had a garage band in seventh grade that played together until ninth or tenth grade, and then in high school, I played in a bunch of different garage bands and then started seriously studying music. In eleventh grade, I went to a conservatory program, so I’d spend my mornings at a different school studying music, and then would come back to my regular high school and take of my English and social studies requirements.

When I got to Buffalo, New York and met the guys in moe.—I was a bass player at the time—but got a drumming gig with them because I played both. At that point, it went down the path of “Okay, you’re going to be in a band,” and it’s going to be all about live music.

High Times: Was there an initial moment or experience that reaffirmed for you that choosing music was the right decision?

Vinnie Amico: I had become a working drummer in Buffalo before getting the moe. gig. The validation came once moe. was touring and I got to play at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), which was the concert venue that I grew up seeing concerts at. When I played on that stage I was like, “This is it, I’ve made it. This is my career.” 

It was like, holy shit, the dream came true. When you’re sixteen and you’re high and watching a concert at SPAC, the big dream is to be up on that stage. To then be on the stage was the affirming moment for me.

Jim Loughlin: When I first started playing with moe., we were playing a lot of local Buffalo gigs and stuff. We then started branching out, making a couple of two-hour drives and doing weekends.

When we moved to Albany, New York, we decided “this is it,” quit our day jobs and moved into a house together. Our first two-week tour down South—we all piled in the van with the gear, did the whole driving thing, sleeping on floors—that was our first actual tour. It didn’t matter how many people showed up, it was just amazing that people in North Carolina and South Carolina showed up to see this band from Buffalo play. The tour was so much and was such a great time that it definitely solidified the thought, “I can do this for the rest of my life.”

Vinnie Amico: That was all pre-Internet. 

Jim Loughlin: No one knew who we were, and at the end of each show, we’d break down our gear and meet the five or six people who stuck around. They’d be like, “Hey, great show, need a place to crash?” They’d sign up on our mailing list, ask for a CD, all that stuff. It was so impactful because it was so far away from what we considered home.

It wasn’t like up in the Northeast, we were playing in front of 5,000 people already, we were still only doing a couple hundred people per show. To be able to go down South and know that a little bit of word had already spread and people were showing up was mind-blowing back then. And this was ‘92 or ‘93. It was a different time.

High Times: Is what went into preparing for your live shows then different from what a band needs to do today?

Jim Loughlin: It’s completely different. I don’t know what would have changed for us necessarily. Back then, you couldn’t record a record in your bedroom. You had to go somewhere where someone had a tape machine and had all the gear. It was so difficult to put out your own album. When we put out Headseed, we carried physical copies of the CD for years. It wasn’t just, “Here’s a link to our new album.”

Back then, what started for us was “tape trading.” People would trade Grateful Dead shows and Phish shows because those were two big bands in our scene who allowed taping at their concerts. When there was room at the end of one of those tapes—like a Phish show would take up X-amount of tape and there’d be 10 minutes at the end of dead space—someone would put a moe. song on it. You’d then trade a tape with a Phish fan and you’d get a Phish show, and then at the end, you’d hear a band you never heard before and now you’re like, “Oh, I like that song.”

You had to really dig back then. The fans had to do a ton of work, bands had to do a ton of work. If we knew somebody in a town that we were going to, we’d mail them a bunch of fliers. Back then, you’d pray that the club that you were going to would hang up fliers around town, too. Nothing was guaranteed.

Bands today have so much control over what they do, what’s going to happen and where their careers are going to go. Whereas, I feel like we had a lot less control back then. A lot of dice were rolled compared to now. You can make a post now on social media and then dig into the analytics and know in which city you’re getting a lot of hits. We were just flying in the dark, man.

It’s also a double-edged sword because these bands today do put in a different kind of work and a different kind of stress for them. When you post something and hope that it catches—that stuff wasn’t hanging over our heads back then, it was just playing in the band and seeing what happened.

Vinnie Amico: The hard part today is that there are so many bands out there and there’s so much content and the kids’ attention spans are a lot less. We were only competing with so many bands and so many markets and now there’s a gazillion bands and people’s attention spans are like two seconds, so if you’re not constantly putting out new content to keep somebody interested, you’re almost irrelevant.

High Times: Back then, the music had to drive the ship. Whereas today, maybe social media posts can lead to virality, which can then lead to someone to the music. There are more avenues today for people to find you other than coming to a live show or being at the end of a tape.

Jim Loughlin: There’s a band from Long Island, New York called Adam and the Metal Hawks, and they basically started on TikTok.

The singer has an amazing voice, they started this huge TikTok campaign, got huge on TikTok and got people like Jack Black to respond to a bunch of their videos. This was all really before they went out on tour or released a record. They built up a fanbase before ever doing a tour. Back in the day, you had to tour for years before your name got out. It’s definitely a different world. The other side of that though is you can fail now before you even get out the door.

Vinnie Amico: And can easily make a ton of money on that platform. If they had a million views on TikTok, then advertisers are going to pay them money—sometimes before they ever go out on the road.

Jim Loughlin: Growing up in the ’80s, you’d always hear the story of “demos.” You’d go and see a band that you really liked, and hopefully, you’d be able to get your demo into one of the guys’ hands and they could listen to it. And then the next thing you know, you’re living in Los Angeles and recording out there. Back then it was about getting your demo into someone’s hands, they decide to record your band, you make a record, and then that record sells a ton, and then you go out on the road to support the record.

Vinnie Amico: And you’d make an MTV music video.

Jim Loughlin: When moe. first started, the mentality was just play as much as possible. Play anywhere. If you play at some fucking parade on the side of the road, that’s a gig. Take the gig. We took everything, it didn’t matter.

It’s really interesting to see the Generation X guys who started thinking about music in the ’80s and then started playing in the ’90s and are still playing now. The landscape has changed so many times, it’s incredible.

For us, the bottom line has always been our live show. It’s been our bread and butter and it’s how we know how we’re doing—when we’re standing on stage looking out into the crowd. That’s always been our gauge for how things are going.

Vinnie Amico: It teaches you to be a good band to play every night in front of people. You’ll have shitty nights and you’ll have great nights, but that changes as you get better—you’ll only have one shitty night every once in a while, but most of the nights are good.

If you’re practicing in your garage and making videos and stuff and then you get in front of people and you can’t play, that’s a big freaking difference. Playing live and being a band night after night after night—it definitely trains you and teaches you to be good and to be out there hustling.

High Times: Creatively, where do you draw a lot of your inspiration from?

Jim Loughlin: Honestly, I draw from everything. I can find something interesting in just about any music that’s been released—from pop music to Indian music, everything across the board.

High Times: And how is cannabis part of that process?

Jim Loughlin: When I was younger, I smoked a lot of weed and all my friends did, too. That’s what we did. We sat in my room and got high and listened to music. When new albums would come out, we’d pass around the record cover so everybody could look at the liner notes and all of that stuff.

Looking at it from an outside perspective, it was just a bunch of kids getting high listening to music. But inside of it, it was an experience for us every single time and it made those moments a little bit more important and definitely a lot more fun to remember.

There’s definitely an element of loosening up the brain as it were, and just being able to accept this new thing and get so into it. When you’re a little high, music hits you differently sometimes—especially back when we were younger, and getting high was a new thing. Now when I smoke, it’s just to relax and make sure I can sleep through the night. Though when I’m writing songs and recording at home, I’ll take a couple hits—cause that’s all you need these days—and things just kind of flow a little bit better.

Vinnie Amico: In my case, getting high and listening to things over and over again is how I learned a lot when I was younger. I sit there stoned in my room and would listen to records with my headphones over and over and learn a lot of stuff.

When I became a working musician, I don’t remember ever getting on stage without being high. I always smoked pot before I played. It definitely loosened you up and also freed your mind so that you weren’t so uptight when you played and weren’t so hyperfocused on screwing up.

That being said, now in my 50s, I smoke a lot less, and more into the hobby of growing weed at this point and giving it all away. It’s still a big part of the creative aspect of life, now it’s just more in the “see what you create with the plant itself.”

High Times: Are you guys more Sativa or Indica guys?

Jim Loughlin: I’m Indica. I can’t smoke Sativa anymore. That’s the one that makes me paranoid and schizy and looking over my shoulder and stuff. I’d rather be mellow and “in the couch” as it were. I don’t know why, but Sativa just hits me wrong now. It still gives me that eighth-grade feeling of, “Everybody’s looking at you, man.”

Vinnie Amico: I would agree with Jim, though for me it’s just a matter of how much I smoke or if I take that gigantic hit and start coughing all over the place. If that happens, I know I need to hide from other people because I’m not going to be able to deal with much.

At night, Indica works much better for sure because you know you’re going to be able to sleep versus sitting in your bed thinking about what you said to some girl in eighth-grade that you’re still thinking about.

As part of my grow this summer, I had a Sativa and an Indica and the Sativa isn’t paranoid or freaky, it’s actually a nice clean high—and same with the Indica. It’s very middle of the spectrum.

Jim Loughlin: I can vouch for Vin’s Inica [laughs].

High Times: In terms of touring and recording, any plans for new music?

Jim Loughlin: First of all, the tour we’re on now is the first tour we’ve been on in close to three years. We have Chuck [Garvey] back, which is huge for us. Playing without him was good, it was just weird. I kept having these ghost feelings like I’d lost a limb but I could still feel it.

Now, playing again and playing a lot—the shows have been really good. People are showing up, everybody’s psyched to see Chuck back and everybody’s psyched that we’re playing again. It’s been fantastic.

We also now have Nate [Wilson], which is a whole new flavor for the band. After doing this for thirty years and having something new—almost a new direction and a new breath coming into the band, it’s been really cool. I’m really looking forward to where everything is going to go and how it’s all going to turn out.

Vinnie Amico: This next year is fully packed with shows, rehearsals and getting the band back in its groove and its feet, so next year, we’re planning on writing and recording new music.

Having Chuck back is amazing and the band feels whole again. Nate also adds another aspect of improvisation, so our ears have a new fresh sound we can jump onto and collaborate with. We’re having a great time.

Follow @moetheband and check out https://moe.org for tickets and tour dates.

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