Beyond the Folklore

by Lindsey Eck

Originally appeared in Austin Songwriter 2:3, March 1997

Ian Moore is one of Austin's classiest acts. Imposing, charismatic, dripping with talent, ruggedly handsome — he’s the kind of guy a fellow longhaired rock ’n’ roll guitarist could just hate if he weren't so damn likable.

Moore was fresh from a string of five consecutive nights at Rockefeller’s, Houston’s tony rock and blues venue. As so often in the past, his hard-won set brought the audience to its feet crying for “Mo(o)re! Mo(o)re!”

Ian’s just-released full-length video project comes on the heels of two highly respected albums on Capricorn. If anyone in rock is on the verge of national recognition from Austin, it’s Ian Moore. His songs push the boundaries of classic rock themes and exhibit a versatility that bespeaks a talent of the first rank. It’s because of his insistence on transcending his Texas roots that Moore may build a national reputation.

Unlike many other Texans I have interviewed, Moore actually grew up in the music capital and has an urbanity and sophistication about him that contrast with more rural Texas songwriters. We met at the Spider House, a café near U.T., on a chilly and wet February evening over coffee (Moore) and beer (me), where I taped this interview.

Q You have the reputation of being one of the nicest guys in the music business. What would you say to someone who believes the business is nasty and hard, and you have to be a cutthroat to survive?
A Fuck off, probably. Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know, … That’s not true at all. I don’t know anybody who survives that’s an asshole. Everybody that I know that is successful has a certain amount of humility about ’em. I mean, people tend to be confident because you have to have confidence to make it through the, the fire, but you have to have quite a bit of humility as well, you know.

Q Your show in Houston at Rockefeller’s was very impressive, and you promised a different show for each of five consecutive nights. Certainly the night I saw you you worked up a heavy sweat. I'm wondering if knowing that patrons have paid $17 or more to see you helps to focus the attention as compared with a $5 show at Steamboat.
A Nah, focus the sweat glands maybe. No, … it’s the same thing. Well, what I will say is that when people are paying more money I do feel I have the responsibility to kind of — there’s the balance between what you feel is artistically right and the fact that some Joe just paid, you know, his day’s salary to come see you … and all your artistic esthetics can go out the window because the guy’s giving you his money to see you play. So I try to give ’em a good show. I mean I don’t cater to the people exactly but … that’s real rock showmanship: the balance.

Q Do you have a vocal coach?
A Not a vocal coach per se. I've worked with a lady a lot with breathing. And with vocals, I mean we don’t do vocal exercises because … that doesn’t help your singing. What happens with me is I have a tendency to lose my voice, and also I have a tendency to … well, that's a whole bag. We could have — we could have the Vocal Interview. But vocals are essentially the whole way you’re expressing all the words that you’re saying, so it’s not just about singing in key … there's so many little nuances to it that I — I have mentors. There's a lady I work with named Susan Lincoln and we’ve spent a lot of time in focusing on what you’re trying to do and so forth.
Q Is she here in Austin?
A Yeah. We don’t do the scale thing. [mock operatic] La-la-la-la-la.

Q At the Rockefeller’s show you were continually changing guitars. I'm wondering if the difference between, say, a Tele and a Les Paul is really enough to justify all those changes. Would you still keep changing guitars if you didn’t have a roadie to help you out?
A Well, I always have. Well, first of all it’s not just that, it’s that, number one, I knock the guitar out of tune in one song generally. Number two, there is significant change in tone and in feel. It’s like any guitar I play on I play quite a bit differently. Put me on a Tele and I’m playing more twangy, pull-off-y, kind of a country style; that’s just the way it is. On a Les Paul, because it’s a much thicker sound you play a certain way and they really, they’re just vehicles, like different lenses for a photographer, to get to a different place. And also, the other reason I change guitars quite a bit is they’re all in different tunings.
Q Meaning different pitches or they’re actually in different tunings, open tunings?
A Open tunings.

Q You cut your musical teeth as a guitarist in Joe Ely’s band. Was Ely a mentor to you?
A Sure. I mean — well, I didn’t really cut my teeth so much; I just filed them down. … I’d already been playing for about six years when I started playing with Ely. But Ely was a huge, was really, really a blessing. I had just been … signed and subsequently dropped by EMI and I didn’t have a record deal; Joe didn't have a guitar player. And Joe called me up. And everybody in Austin thought he was crazy because I obviously wasn’t David Grissom — or for that matter Jesse Taylor or any of those guys. And Joe’s real famous for doing shit that people don’t understand and taking chances … The biggest thing that I’m really realizing that Joe imparted to me is the sense of doing things the way I want. I am so stubborn now about what I want. And I’m completely willing because I know that what I want is what’s right for me.
Q Meaning that you saw [Ely] want to do things his way?
A I saw him tell the record companies, … “Yeah, so what, I can be a star. But I … have a certain thing that I’ve created through all these years, through the Flatlanders and all the stuff. And that’s something that I’m very proud of, and I’m not just going to sell it out for a hit song on TNN.” You know? And that’s what I’ve carried in my own career as well as — he really re–turned me on to a certain way of songwriting. … He comes more from the …. Texas style, the storytelling style, and … the songwriters I was listening to weren’t necessarily coming from that vein. …

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