As the brutal July sun melts into a rippling orange puddle over West Texas, it leaves its imprint behind: Sopping humidity, still pregnant with the throbbing summer heat, presses down upon the darkened streets of Austin, doing strange things to the city. Down along the river the expectant summer crowd gathered around the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the nightly exodus of the world’s largest urban bat colony is frustrated by the creatures’ refusal to leave the bridge’s cool recesses. A few blocks north on 6th Street, where downtown is just beginning to awaken, the opposite is happening. Thousands of souls, thirsty for that first sweet taste of weekend relief, swarm the streets, drawn like insects to the neon.
Here, the humidity is lubrication for the fevered flow of entertainment-seeking tourists, jaded locals, and hormonal Texas youth freed from the gates of the university to descend upon the local watering holes. The night’s soundtrack spills from the gaping eyes and mouths of countless open-air, live-music joints, luring passerby with assorted configurations of blues, jazz, rock, country, funk, swing — all voices in the perpetual chorus maintaining Austin’s claim as the “Live Music Capitol Of The World.”
Somewhere in the midst of this frenzy, tucked away upstairs behind a plain white neon sign reading, “The Parish,” in a room of yellow brick and worn wood lit by enormous, glowing orange paper lanterns, The Stanton Moore Trio is hypnotizing a packed house with the most persuasively funky grooves this side of the Mississippi. This is music born and bred for hot, sticky nights — a brash chest-beating strut against the tyranny of the southern summer. Spicy and strong, full of airy interplay, and loaded with authentic N’awlins soul — this is the sound of Stanton Moore at play.
THIS WEEKEND is a chance for the 35-year-old Moore to stretch out a bit, to release all those pent-up chops he’s pruned from the austere backbeats that drive his flagship outfit, Galactic, whose newest hip-hop/funk-fusion masterpiece, From The Corner To The Block, is set to hit the streets at the end of the summer. “With Galactic, I started to realize that, man, this band sounds better if I lay into the groove and sit on that, and save all the improvising and all that for other things,” he says. “Galactic is more about just trying to get the whole place moving together, just heads bobbing and bodies weaving all together. So it’s just creating this mass movement, which I totally love doing. But then I also love interacting and kind of being a little bit more open. It’s kind of like driving a small car. As opposed to Galactic, which is like driving a Mac truck through a village. Which is fun, as long as nobody gets hurt,” he laughs. “But if driving is what you love to do, you want to do both.”
Fortunately for the few hundred passengers crammed into this steamy upstairs bar, Moore is in full-on Autobahn mode. Sitting high atop the throne, his boyish features scrunched into a classic “funk face” beneath his trademark, black-framed glasses with the purple-tinted lenses, he’s steering his trio — which features Will Bernard on guitar, Robert Walter on organ, and the intermittent contributions of the nomadic sax virtuoso, Skerik — through an exploration of deep, swamp-fueled funk-jazz.
Moore is pulling heavily from his 2006 trio album, III, which he recorded in New Orleans’ Preservation Hall shortly after Katrina turned the city on its head. “With so much going on, with the storm and a young daughter, and all this stuff, I just wanted to put out a record that was just me playing,” he says. “Almost like, ’Here it is. This is the way I sound.’ The city was in bad shape and there was a lot of uncertainty, and it was almost like musical comfort food.” Tracked live in the empty Hall using little more than strategic mike placement for isolation (what Moore calls producer Mike Napolitano’s “guerrilla recording techniques”) the album has the raw, organic vibe of a live recording, sans audience.
At the opposite end of the spectrum sits the Galactic album. Two-and-a-half years in the making, From The Corner To The Block is a patchwork of scattered contributions (integrated with resounding success) culled from countless hours spent plugging away at various studios around the country: Moore dropping beats in New Orleans, saxophonist Ben Ellman writing horn parts with the Soul Rebels up in the Poconos, MCs adding vocals in San Francisco, L.A., and Atlanta, and a producer named Count cutting up Moore’s drum tracks like paper snowflakes (see sidebar).
Everything was pieced together into a collection of 35 or 40 song “embryos,” which the band carried to a Dallas studio and began dissecting, rerecording instruments for the desired sonic experience. This process offered Moore plenty of opportunity to get creative. “We were trying to create these wacky, different kinds of kits with weird hi-hats and different sounds,” he says. “Then I would lay some percussive stuff on top of it, maybe some sleigh bells or garbage can lids, Pyrex dishes.” The result is a song like “Second And Dryades,” where everything but the vocals is actually a highly synthesized sample of a Moore percussion track, even the melody.
Elsewhere, more primitive effects were used. On “From The Corner To The Block” and “Hustle Up,” for instance, that fat, vintage snare sound you hear is Moore playing on an overturned pandeiro (Brazilian frame drum) resting on top of his snare, a trick he says produces an “instant Al Jackson” effect. “Some of it sounds just like a breakbeat but the bass drum’s a little more full,” he says. “Some stuff is a very tight drum sound for the first verse. And for the second verse [Count] opened it up and used the room mikes and it sounds like a different drum set. And you know, this is subtle stuff. If the songs aren’t any good then none of this stuff makes any difference, so we really tried to concentrate on writing good songs with strong choruses.
“It was fun,” he says, “but it wasn’t like playing in one room with guys and interacting, and making music, on the spot. So that’s why, in the middle of it all, I was like, ’Well, I can get this trio record out. And that’ll be a side of my playing that I want to express and get out of there.’”
WATCHING MOORE bring that trio album to life, it’s clear this is a side of his playing that couldn’t have stayed bottled up for long. His hands and feet fly in syncopated fury, as if spring-loaded, over cymbals, heads, and pedals, his right hand often clanging out a modified clave rhythm on a rust-encrusted hunk of metal that looks like a World War II relic, but which is actually just a year-old cowbell. His theory that his acidic sweat has weathered the metal gains credibility as the corrosive droplets scatter across the kit with each exaggerated stroke. With the tops of his legs pitched at a steep angle to the floor (a habit borrowed from early jazz drummers, who often played as if they were just leaning back against the throne), he lords over the drums, burying the bass drum beater on the accents and lifting the back edge of the 18" drum an inch or more off the stage.
Pinched loosely between thumb and middle finger, Moore’s sticks are doing cartwheels. “If you’re pulling sound out of the drums with a loose grip, then you’re going to get a louder sound,” he says of this technique. “And I realized recently — because I keep bumping into my old timpani teacher from college at the coffee shop — I realized that’s really where I got that. It’s almost like you’re thinking of what’s going to happen after you hit the drum. I’m not thinking down, I’m thinking up.”
A few years back, while recording In The Arms Of God with heavy metal band Corrosion Of Conformity, Moore remembers this grip making an impression on guitarist Pepper Keenan. “We’re playing super heavy and I’m laying into the cymbal. I was playing with the back of the stick, and it starts to apple core. And he could see the label rotating in my hand. And he’s like, ’Damn, dude, you’re playing that loose and we’re playing this heavy?’”
Soft and heavy form a new partnership beneath Moore’s churning limbs. His command of the dynamic spectrum allows him to build and relieve tension at will, like a stunt pilot pulling out of a harrowing nosedive at the last second, clearing the smoke from his tailpipe, and zooming off into the clear blue, again and again. Careening out of some raucous fill or solo, he catches wind of a delicate guitar or horn line and downshifts on a dime so not one nuance is lost; the feel remains intact and the mood shifts almost imperceptibly. “I always try to keep the groove happening and keep it relevant to the song,” he says, “to where, if you drop the needle in the middle of a solo you’re going to know what song it is.”
This sensitivity, not surprisingly, is the cornerstone of Moore’s incredible feel, and his incredible popularity as a hired gun. When Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against The Machine, was recently out hunting for a drummer to play on an upcoming “riff rap” album with his Street Sweeper project, he caught one of Moore’s shows in New Orleans and immediately knew he’d found his man. He came up to Moore afterward and said, by way of invitation, “Ask anyone who knows me; I hate drummers. But you’re very tasteful and you’ve done nothing to offend me.”
Moore uses a simple analogy to describe his theory of inoffensive playing: “You’ll hear drummers who play stuff and it’s like, ’Okay, I can understand it took you many hours of practice to develop that. And I can appreciate the work that went into that. But what does that have to do with the music that is here right now?’ Music is a conversation. It just is. It’s a conversation between a group of people and you have an audience that watches that. You want to stay topical.”
Somewhere near the end of the show, the conversation turns, as it often does, to Zeppelin. On the guitar, Bernard calls out a few chords of “Good Times Bad Times” and instantly Moore is channeling Bonham. The intimate club becomes a stadium, swelling against the effort of containing the surge. This is when it happens; a distinct energy shift that begins sweeping the crowd relentlessly toward an event every Stanton Moore fan anticipates: a moment when the intensity of the performance becomes so overwhelming, the energy so uncontainable, that Moore, as if trying to gain a foothold on the turbid forces screaming at him from the void, rises from the throne, standing and thrashing, firing waves of ecstatic voltage through the fevered, funk-drunk crowd at the exact apex of the music’s momentum. Fans call this moment a “Mooregasm.”
“Basically, you leave your body and before you know it, you’re sitting down again,” he explains of this phenomenon. “You get people standing in front of the stage like, ’Stand up! Stand up!’ It’s not something I’m just going to do. It’s just gotta happen. I don’t want it to be something that’s calculated. I like to have a lot of passion and emotion in my playing. And this is something that Johnny [Vidacovich] has always told me. He’s like, ’You always want to have a back pocket. Don’t play everything you know. Play at about 60 percent, and always be able to dip into that back 40 percent.’”
THIS IS UNFAIR advice coming from a guy whose 60 percent is the equivalent of most people’s 110. In the midst of cranking out another upcoming instructional book, titled Groove Alchemy, Moore splits his time between Galactic, his trio, Garage A Trois, and a never-ending slate of sideline collaborations, all while juggling a fiancé and a two-year-old daughter back home in New Orleans. “Even if I’ve got a three-week hole where I’m like, ’That’s it, I’m not going anywhere,’ I’ll get a call and they want to bring you out to do something with somebody somewhere,” he says. “And I’m not complaining at all. That’s just what you do.”
This weekend is no exception. What began as a single trio gig scheduled for Friday quickly multiplied — once Austin’s overzealous music promoters got wind of his arrival — into a doubleheader on Saturday with the Will Bernard Trio and the Midnight Disturbers, and a Sunday gig with Leo Nocentelli of the Meters. They also threw in an early evening drum clinic on Friday for good measure. Too bad Moore had just pulled an all-nighter in San Francisco hanging out with Les Claypool, Leo Nocentelli, and Kirk Joseph after the three had made guest appearances at Thursday evening’s Galactic gig.
But Moore kept everything running smoothly, beginning with an enlightening drum clinic for 50 or so fans gathered at The Parish to absorb the gospel according to Moore — the to-be-used-anywhere RRLRRLRL sticking pattern, the between-straight-and-swung funk feel, endless applications of second-line patterns, and his Dr. Frankenstein approach to sewing together pieces of various drummers to get new creations (“What happens if we take a little bit of this Jabo [Starks], take a little bit of this Clyde [Stubblefield], and what if we took those notes and just pretend Zigaboo [Modeliste] played them”). It’s safe to say, though, that Moore’s favorite study subject is John Bonham, with whom he seems to be endlessly fascinated.
“Everybody loves John Bonham,” he says. “But what’s really hip about him, and checking him out, is starting to realize where he got stuff from.” Moore gives the example of a famous Larry Young organ trio album from 1965 titled Unity, where, in the last few seconds of a song called “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” Elvin Jones busts out a distinctly Bonham-esque triplet fill, four years before Zeppelin’s arrival. “Other rock drummers of note like to claim that Bonham got stuff from them,” Moore says. “And sure he did. But somebody got that from Elvin, bro.”
Paying homage to influential predecessors is a prerequisite for any serious musician, but Moore is a veritable encyclopedia, whom Will Bernard calls “a rare combination of totally serious drum scholar and funk monster,” especially when it comes to his bread and butter material. “If you put on two bars of James Brown’s music, I can tell you whether it’s Clyde Stubblefield or Jabo Starks — less than two bars — and that’s the point you’ve got to get to,” he says.
So that’s why, in the midst of all this talk of tradition, Moore’s response to the question of whether or not he thinks it’s crucial for a great drummer to have perfect time comes as such a shock. “Noooo. Absolutely not,” he says emphatically. “Look at Elvin Jones, man, his feel is amazing. Look at John Bonham, his feel is amazing, and he’s moving stuff around. I think it is possible to get a good feel with a click. But I think it’s definitely a misnomer that the time has to be perfect. We live on planet earth. Nothing’s going to be perfect. Stewart Copeland, one of the most creative drummers of all time, his feel is very aggressive and it’s up there man. So he pushes it a little bit. So what? I don’t know any drummer who doesn’t like Stewart Copeland. I don’t know any musician who doesn’t like Stewart Copeland.”
Moore admits that his natural tendency is to pull back a bit on the beat, but that maintaining the energy and the feel of the performance is what matters most. But then, possibly sensing himself drifting too far into heretical territory, he reels it in a bit. “I know some drummers who have a great feel, but their time is terrible. They would probably get more calls if their time was better. But I think it’s important to have a balance.”
Despite his taunting of this sacred drumming cow, Moore is no stranger to playing with a click, whether it’s with Galactic or anyone else. But that’s all part of being a serious student of the craft. He’s also an avid collector of technique. At different times you’ll see him playing heel up, heel down, French grip, German grip, matched or trad, copping one-handed freehand rolls from Johnny Rabb or bass drum ostinatos from John Bonham, whatever it takes to get the job done.
Moore says that lately he’s been checking out Alan Dawson’s book, Rudimental Ritual, switching out the bossa nova on the left foot for a left-foot clave, and playing a mambo bass drum pattern. “Most of the music that I play, I use that bass drum pattern,” he says, “It’ll work under Afro-Cuban, it’ll work under New Orleans stuff. It’ll work under funk stuff. It’ll work under a train beat. It’ll work under anything; it’s just killin’.”
Moore likes to boil down his approach to a simple mantra: “maximum results out of simple ideas.” But therein lies the mystery: His drumming seems so accessible, sometimes downright easy. But when you try to sit down and do what he does, sound like he sounds, the result is just a pale approximation, like pulling on an Afro wig and a left-handed Strat and trying to pass yourself off as Jimi Hendrix.
LA ZONA ROSA sits by itself on the opposite side of downtown from The Parish in a drafty, expansive building outfitted with a peach-colored, old-West façade. It’s late Saturday night and the crowd is milling about the floor, happily digesting that last energetic, groove-jazz set from the Will Bernard Trio, featuring Moore on drums, waiting for whatever is supposed to be up next.
The smokers out on the patio are the first to hear it: the sounds of what seems to be a parade coming from the parking lot. Moments later, the nine-piece, all-star New Orleans brass band known as the Midnight Disturbers busts onto the patio blowing upbeat, angular melodies that positively demand a celebration. Moore is in the middle, wearing a battered old snare drum pitched down at a 45-degree angle off his stomach, pressing out some rollicking second-line beat. To his left is Kevin O’Day, an old Layola College classmate and a fellow pupil of Johnny Vidacovich, walloping an enormous bass drum.
The Midnight Disturbers is Moore and O’Day’s brainchild. They devised the concept a few years ago as an excuse to get some of the best brass players in New Orleans together for an impromptu midnight marching band gig whenever some magical logistical synchronicity allowed them all to gather in one spot. And it soon becomes clear the two drummers have developed a tight partnership, forged in their mutual appreciation for the music and musicians keeping the sounds of their hometown alive.
As the band circles the floor, the crowd is right on its heels, forming a long conga line procession that snakes through the club, with everyone dancing, laughing, and urging the players on. This is classic New Orleans second line, a demonstration of the street parade tradition branded onto the psyche of every Crescent City native, and the foundation upon which Moore has built his entire musical career. He’s returning to his roots, to before Johnny Vidacovich, back to the Brother Martin High School marching band and the tutelage of the great Marty Hurley.
“I went to that school because I heard they had the best drum line in town,” Moore remembers. “I was young and wild and wanting to play rock and everything. And at first [Hurley] didn’t know what to do with me because I was kind of wild and bouncing off the walls. I was drum captain by senior year, so I really turned it around, really started getting serious. But they pretty much considered me a goof-off. But by having that background, that allowed me to take that energy, that wild unbridled energy, and focus it a little bit. But also, I can unleash that energy and create without thinking about what I’m doing.”
This is, in fact, Moore’s greatest strength, to unleash his boundless energy at will, to get behind a drum and instantly forget about the logistics and the expectations associated with being Stanton Moore, to just play. “At a certain point sometimes, you just gotta let go,” he says. “’Hey man, I’ve done everything I can. It’s gonna be music. Sounds are gonna be made one way or another. Let’s just get out there and make the best sounds we can and hope for the best.’ Luckily I’m in a position where I can usually choose the musicians I play with, and I play with a lot of great musicians. And because of that, everybody on the gig is trying to make the best music we possibly can. And it’s a great position to be in.”
Drums: Gretsch ’70s Stop Sign Badge Gold Glitter
1. 20" x 14" Bass Drum
2. 26" x 14" Bass Drum
3. 10" Snare
4. 14" x 4.5" Dunnett Titanium or 14" x 4.5" Craviotto Solid Bird's Eye Maple Snare
5. 12" x 9" Tom
6. 16" x 16" Floor Tom
7. 18" x 16" Floor Tom
Cymbals: Bosphorus Stanton Moore Series
A. 14" Fat Hats
B. 20" Trash Crash
C. 22" Wild Ride
D. 20" Pang Thang
E. Black Beauty Cowbell
F. 12" Pandeiro
G. Pedal-Activated Prestige Cowbell
H. ES-5 Cowbell
I. ES-7 Cowbell
J. SPD-5 Sampling Pad
Drums: Gretsch ’70s Stop Sign Badge Gold Glitter
1. 18" x 14" Bass Drum
2. 14" x 4.5" Dunnett Titanium or 14" x 4.5" Craviotto Solid Bird’s Eye Maple Snare
3. 12" x 9" Tom
4. 14" x 14" Floor Tom
Cymbals: Bosphorus Stanton Moore Series
A. 14" Fat Hats
B. 20" Trash Crash
C. 22" Wild Ride
D. 20" Pang Thang
E. 12" Pandeiro
F. ES-5 Cowbell
Stanton Moore also uses DW hardware and pedals, Remo heads, Vic Firth Stanton Moore Model sticks, Audix microphones, and Puresound snares.
It’s impossible to talk about Stanton Moore without mentioning Johnny Vidacovich, the New Orleans drumming legend who has been Moore’s friend and mentor since the precocious 17 year old first came knocking on his door seeking a lesson. “He had a good internal rhythm,” Vidacovich remembers. “What he needed to learn was how to gig, how to get along with the rest of the band. I used to tell him, ’Whatever the gig is, take it. If you gotta put on a tux, just take it. Play with the guys; get their phone numbers.”
Moore came to him already boasting a solid rudimental background, and Vidacovich is the first to admit that the teacher/student relationship often got inverted during their lessons. “We taught each other stuff like crazy,” he says. “He would put something on and say, ’Check this out.’ And I would put something on, and he’d say, ’Huh, I never played to Bach before. Or I would put on a concerto, and say, ’Now play a swing beat with brushes.’ Or, ’Play a hip-hop beat.’ And he would say, ’But there’s no drums in this.’ And I’d say, ’Exactly, but I want you to listen to the music.’ Classical music is highly structured. Most drummers don’t think in terms of what I call melodic rhythm — they think vertical. And that’s an important part of it too. But that’s like, your base. That’s where you start.
“It only took Stanton a second to learn something new, man. Stanton’s fast. If I suggested something like, ’Put your finger this way,’ he would come in the next time and I’d say, ’Did you learn that?’ And he’d say, ’Yeah, check it out, but look what else I figured out how to do with it.’”
Moore and Vidacovich keep in close contact, sometimes playing together in a four-piece configuration known as MVVP, an acronym of its members: Moore, Vidacovich, Meters’ bassist George Porter, and Galactic keyboardist Rich Vogel. Another is an improvisational, dual drum set gig they sometimes do at a club called DBA on Frenchmen Street, which Moore says is the kind of thing you can only get away with in New Orleans. “What clubs do you know where it’s two drummers, and that’s the evening’s entertainment from like, 10:00 P.M. to 2:00?” he asks. “And the club owners don’t even balk because they know it’s going to be cool. They know we’re going to make music.”
Vidacovich remembers one such gig around the holidays where he started calling out Christmas tunes on the drums. “Stanton picked that up in a second,” he says. “Stanton’s a professional. And he knows what he’s supposed to do. He knows he’s supposed to teach, and play pop, and rock, and jazz, and funk. You gotta play all of it. Some guys say, ’I just want to be a funk drummer.’ Or ’I just want to be a jazz drummer.’ No, you’ve got to play all of it. It’s like, ’You’re not a drummer anymore. You’re all grown up now. You’re a musician. You’re not doing this for yourself anymore; you’re doing it for the song.’ Stanton knows that. He’s a pro. He was a little pro when he first came to me.” —D.C.
The San Francisco-based producer known as Count has worked with some of the biggest names in popular music. But he says working with Stanton Moore during the production of the new Galactic album, From The Corner To The Block, was like nothing he’s ever experienced before.
“Working with Stanton was definitely the best experience I’ve ever had with a drummer, hands down. There’s no question about it. Now I want to use him on every record. Even if a band already has a drummer I’m like, ’You know what, sorry, Stanton’s going to come in and play drums on your record. Trust me, you’ll like it.’
“He would have an idea and start playing something, and I could bark orders into the talk-back from the other room. And he is the only person I have ever worked with who I can give instructions to, something as complicated as, ’Hey, do the upbeat on the ride cymbal, and do eighth-notes instead of quarter-notes.’ And without even stopping, he would start playing it exactly the way I’d asked. So the track would be rolling, and there’s a click track in his headphones, and without even missing a beat, I’m talking to him, and he still maintains the beat, and just changes and does it. Every other drummer I’ve ever worked with, they have to stop. And we’d start over and they’d play it for a while and it would take them a while to get the groove, or to even get it right. But he would just do it on the fly.
“One of the big components to this record was that [the band] wanted the drums to sound exactly like breakbeats, not just sort of. So there was a lot of effort spent in getting the sound of these drums. And that brings me to my next thing. So it’s not just Stanton being really cool about trying different things, and having no ego in the studio. But he was able to help me get the sounds dialed in, which no other drummer that I’ve ever worked with has been able to help with in any way whatsoever.
“If there’s a drummer stereotype that people don’t talk about, that’s one of them. And that is, they have a drum set, or two, and they have no idea how to get those drums to sound good on a recording. They expect the engineer or producer to just totally dial everything up for them. I can talk to Stanton about the sound I’m trying to get, and he’ll go, ’Okay,’ and he’ll change the tuning of his drums; he’ll help deaden the drums in a very, very precise way; he’ll pull out different drums completely, and literally dial in the exact sound we were going for.
“I could tell him things like, ’Okay, hit the cymbals 25 percent as hard as you normally hit them; hit the kick drum 100 percent as hard as you hit it, and hit the snare 50 percent as hard as you normally hit it. And he could do it. I mean, I can’t do that, and I know this stuff. So I was impressed with his ability to adapt to my very ridiculous orders.” —D.C.
Stanton Moore is all about groove, and Galactic’s gumbo of funk, rock, and hip-hop puts his talents to the test. No worries though, he’s more than up to the challenge. The band’s new release, From The Corner To The Block has a bunch of swampy grooves worth checking out.
The intro to this track has an odd funky groove with a slightly swung feel, as do many of Moore’s grooves. This quasi-linear pattern sounds like he’s moving between a tambourine and his hi-hat, which gives the groove added depth and texture. There are lots of ghosted snare notes that add motion, which is another trademark of his drumming.
“Find My Way Home”
This hip-hop tune has a rare feature — a real drum part. The groove is simple and has just a bit of swing in the feel. Moore makes his part interesting in the way he reacts to the rap by putting funky little pauses in his groove that add structure and variety to the track.
“And I’m Out”
For this track, More plays a one-handed sixteenth-note hi-hat pattern with occasional interruptions that emphasize the bass drum notes he plays in the space. The dynamics between the snare and kick drum are played evenly on this one with a light swing throughout.
The opening groove has a funky, slightly swung feel with the solitary snare note landing squarely on count 4. Moore moves his left hand over to play hi-hat notes that fall on the e’s and ah’s in this section, which explains the syncopated accents that fall in between the beats. The song’s next groove is a straighter funk/rock feel with backbeats.
This track has a very funky rim-click groove that plays off the syncopated horn lines nicely. The chorus section has a cool hesitation just after the quarter-note cymbal crash that’s emphasized by the displaced snare backbeat on the & of 2, while the bass drum part adds a heaping portion of funk to the section.