MOSS BROTHERS Interview November 2014
Questions by Philippe Archambeau and Yves Degand-Philippot.
Hello Jeff, first many thanks for granting us this interview for Road to Jacksonville,
webzine dedicated to Southern Rock.
First Jeff, I'd like you to introduce yourself to our readers, where are you born, where did you grow up and how did you discover the music ?
Jeff: Troy and I were born in Mobile, Alabama. Our father is from in a small town near there. After he joined the army he was stationed in the Pacific Northwest where he met our mother. So we spent time in both places growing up. My dad was a big music lover and listened to old country, blues, and rock music, so there was always lots of music around the house when we were younger. My mom played piano and had a guitar so we naturally experimented with those. On Sundays we would gather around the stereo and listen to Johnny Cash and the Beatles. In that way we developed a love for music and at some point wanted to produce those sounds we were hearing. We taught ourselves to play guitar while living in Alabama, which naturally has a big impact on the songs we write and if you listen to the song “Red Clay Road” from the Royal Orleans CD you will hear the story of that time.
Can you introduce to us the members of your family, is everyone of you a musician ?
Jeff: Our mother Colleen is a musician and played piano in church when we were growing up. Our Dad, Mick, didn’t play but passed on to us his deep love for roots music. There are three brothers in the family. Troy and I are carrying the flame of the Moss Brothers Band and our older brother Billy is the founder of Rebel Storm and is currently in Tahoma Souls Alive. The first version of The Moss Brothers Band started on the front porch of our Alabama home with Billy and me on guitar and Troy on bass. Troy has always been a guitar player but as the youngest brother he was “volunteered” to play the bass!
Can you introduce to us the members of the band ?
Jeff: Troy gives all the members “redneck” nicknames. Kevin “Clyde” Dale is on the bass. David “Dave” Smith is the drummer. Ok, he didn’t work hard on that nickname. Scott “Scooter” Nutter is the Lead Vocalist. All three are incredibly talented with many recordings and tours under their belts. The other thing about this band is we are all good friends and socialize outside of the band. We have frequent “Fam Jams” where we play acoustic music and drink Whiskey!
Jeff “Leon” Moss holds down one half of the guitar duties and plays dobro on occasion, and Troy “Carl” Moss is the other guitar and plays the Mandolin.
When you started, what were your first influences ? What kind of band or artist did you listen to ?
Jeff: We have always been very musically diverse in the kind of music we listen to and play for fun. Troy and I listened to the Beatles quite a bit growing up. After we started playing guitars in Alabama we would walk up to the neighbour’s house on Saturday night and jam with guys three or four times our age. I guess we’ve been doing “Fam Jams” all our life! They would teach us George Jones and Merle Haggard songs and we would teach them Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters songs.
I still remember the day Billy brought home Pronounced Lynyrd Skynyrd. It literally changed my life and opened the door to the other Southern bands from that period including ZZ Top, the Outlaws, 38 Special, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet. We loved the Rolling Stones as well. I’m sure it is no shock to know that the Allman Brothers Band is a huge influence… from the slide guitar to the harmony guitar parts.
Is playing guitar your first choice, or did you try before other instruments ?
Jeff: We all received Ukuleles from our grandfather when we were small and enjoyed playing them. Billy refers to the Ukulele as a “gateway instrument” and it really is. Troy was the first bass player for the band, but always had a love for the guitar. In Alabama we lived out in the country and there were not many other kids around so we played guitar all the time and basically taught each other how to play.
How did the band set up ? How did it start, can you tell us how it went ?
Jeff: Before the band started in 60's Troy and I had been writing and performing a bunch of songs as a duo with acoustic guitars. We found ourselves with this great batch of songs and decided we wanted to put a band together and record them.
Kevin Dale was the first to join this version of the band. Troy and Kevin had gone to school together and he taught Troy a lot about playing bass at that time. He had even played in a band with Billy at some point. When Troy and I started talking about bringing in a bass player we naturally thought of Kevin first.
David Smith had played with Troy and Billy in the blues version of The Moss Brothers Band and I knew him from sitting in with them occasionally. Like Kevin, David can play just about any style of music and together they are a powerhouse!
As we were preparing to record Monarch Jubilee we knew we had some very special songs, but in order to really take things to the next level we needed a lead vocalist. Scott Nutter has been our friend since we moved to Washington State and is a world-class singer. With him on board this band has reached it’s true potential, allowing Troy and I to focus more on guitars and harmony vocals. We also know Scott from our school days and he and Troy had been in bands together.
Why did eight years go by between Royal Orleans et Monarch Jubilee ?
Jeff: Wow, has it been that long ? Life I guess ! We have had much activity with our family; weddings, children born, etc. We have also been working on Monarch Jubilee most of that time. We made several attempts to record this album but continued to make changes until everything was right. For me personally, I didn’t want to put anything out that wasn’t as good as Royal Orleans and it took some time to get the songs and the performances the way you hear them. About the time Monarch Jubilee was coming together David Smith started building his studio, Crash Bang Booom, so we waited until it was ready so we could record the new record there. Looking back, I’m glad we took the time to do it right.
Where and how Monarch Jubilee was it recorded ?
Troy: We did our recording at Crash Bang Boom Studio's, owned by David Smith. We recorded the majority of the basic tracks live to 2" tape. We wanted to get that old school sound that they got in the 70's; which in my opinion, has never been bettered!
Jeff: When we record we also see it as a great opportunity to work with people that we really admire and otherwise would not have a chance to play with. Our brother Billy plays a scorching solo on “I Get off on the Pain”. Chuck Muller play accordion on “Adeline”. We occasionally play acoustic shows and always ask Chuck to sit in when we do. We always planned to have keyboards on this record. After we heard what Lee did on the Tahoma Souls Alive CD we just had to give him a call! Lee is just incredible and absolutely killed it, playing on the majority of the tracks.
What is the meaning of the title Monarch Jubilee ?
Troy: We liked the idea of continuity between the two albums, also here in the states Monarch is a brand of cheap whiskey and as so many of the songs are about whiskey and drinking it seemed appropriate.
Jeff: A Jubilee is a festive event or a party, which is what we try to bring to our shows.
Who wrote the musics on this record and how do you compose, what is the process ?
Can you tell us how went the recording , in several steps ?
Jeff: Troy and I wrote the majority of the material for Royal Orleans before the other members had joined. Because everyone in the band are incredible musicians and songwriter’s in their own right we decided to change the way we approach song writing to leverage everyone’s creativity. Troy and I bring in the musical ideas, but we consciously did not bring many finished songs to this project. We would work on the ideas as a group in rehearsals to come up with the finished song. It’s all about feeding off each other’s creativity to continue to improve and evolve the song. That is when the magic happens! A good example of this is the song “Dirty Mistake”. This was written as an instrumental Jam during a recording session. Troy had the verse part, which inspired me to come up with the chorus part. Neither of us could come up with a vocal melody, but thankfully Scott did and also wrote the lyrics. The end result of the process is much stronger material that we are very proud of.
With regard to the recording process, we wanted this record to sound like we do live. The basic tracks for 7 of the 10 songs were recorded live in the studio in one day. We still refer to that day as the “Super Session”. Then we overdubbed the Vocals and anything else that needed to be improved and added in the guest musicians. Many of my guitar solos are from the Super Session. As we listened back to the songs I’d be asked if I was going to re-record a solo and much of the time my answer was : “I can’t play it any better than that!”.
This record sounds more Southern Rock, something that you can hear since the first title « Tearin' Up The Town » ? Can you tell us more about this tune and those amazing guitars ?
Jeff: Thanks Phil! We don’t deliberately write in a particular genre. We have all played many different styles of music and have very diverse influences. However we did want this recording to be much more rocking than Royal Orleans with a lot of eclectic guitar, and let me tell you there is A LOT of guitar on this record.
I wrote most of “Tearin’ up the Town” and Troy added the bridge including the lyrics. It is the story of The Moss Brothers Band when we first started. We were very crazy, had a lot of fun, and it is a miracle we all survived those times. The line “Head out to our place in the woods… the kegs are tapped the bonfires are roaring” is about the parties we would play during the summer out in the woods with generators, kegs of beer, and bonfires!
Troy plays all the solos and he and I are playing several of the riffs in harmony. The intro is me using Billy’s Gibson SG with P90 pickups and a little Fender Champ clone with an 8 inch speaker. We were looking for a nasty tone, ha ha!
« I Get Off On The Pain » sees Billy Moss play with you, has this tune a particular story ?
Jeff: This is one of the few songs I brought to the project mostly finished. I’d been spending a great deal of time traveling down to Texas for a project I was working on. It’s always hard to be away from your family but I was really enjoying what I was doing. One day I was thinking about that paradox and came up with title “I Get Off on the Pain”.
The tune « Adeline » brings us completely in the bayou, and is the sentence « laisse le bon temps rouler » one of your recommandations in the life ?
Jeff: Let the good times roll…absolutely ! We take what we do seriously and work hard at it, but if you can’t have fun, what is the point ? This band has lot’s of great times together !
New Orleans is a special place for Troy and I and was the inspiration for many of the songs on Royal Orleans as well as the title. “Adeline” is our version of a Cajun song and as you know the Cajun’s are people of French ancestry that settled in south Louisiana. Our friend Chuck Muller plays the accordion on that song and it was really fun to record.
Tunes like « Souls Alive », but overall « Easy Livin' » swing in a drawling « Southern swamp » way, is it the real Moss Bros trademark ?
Jeff: Troy is the primary writer on both these songs so I’ll let him answer…
Troy: The songs just come as they are! I try not to put too much though into it the song writing process. Perhaps it is just our influences and background that makes those songs the way they are.
Jeff: “Souls Alive” is one of my favourite songs and has that “second line” drumming influenced from the sound of New Orleans. It is also a special song as Billy used the song title for the name of his band, Tahoma Souls Alive.
How can we get your record ?
Jeff: For a physical CD you can purchase from Compact Dixie (www.compactdixie.com) our exclusive retailer in France. We want to thank Didier and everyone at Compact Dixie for all their love and support of both our records. You can also download from iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. We prefer you buy the CD from Compact Dixie so you have all the great artwork and liner notes. By the time you read this “Dirty Mistake” should be available as our first “Streaming Single” on Spotify, Pandora, etc.
For our friends that play guitar, can you tell us what is your gear : amps, guitars, etc … ?
Troy: I play a Fender Stratocaster tuned to open G, a Riggio Sierra (Custom Strat style guitar made by our dear friend Joe Riggio) for standard tuning, and a Fender Telecaster for drop D tuned songs like “Easy Livin' “ and “You Gotta Groove”. For amps I play either a Vox AC30 or a Fender Tweed Bassman. One of my key ingredients is the use of a Dyna-Comp Compressor, it is especially handy for slide guitar tone.
Jeff: For guitars I use a Gibson Les Paul ’58 reissue, a Riggio Telecaster tuned to open G (it is setup “Nashville” with a middle Stratocaster pickup), and a custom Stratocaster built by Mike Skansie. I also played Billy’s Gibson SG on “Tearin’ up the Town”. I play slide on the Les Paul and the Telecaster. My primary amp is a Dr. Z Remedy. For the record I would change up speakers depending on the guitar I was using: Celestion Vintage 30 speaker with the Les Paul, and Celestion Gold for the Tele and Strat.
How goes the creation of the very Southern double lead guitar parts?
How did you and Troy share the guitar parts ?
Troy: We look at our guitar parts as if we both are playing one big guitar. We seldom ever play the same chord at the same time. We also rarely discuss our parts, even the harmony parts. We have played together so long that it falls together fairly easily.
Jeff: We really focus on what is best for the song. There are songs I wrote where Troy plays the solo (e.g. “Whiskey Song”), and vice versa (e.g. “You Gotta Groove”). We both play in different tunings but rarely at the same time. It adds a big sound with rich harmonics that you can’t get any other way. The double lead parts come together in different ways but for us they have to be melodic parts. For example the “Whiskey Song” is one of us coming up with a melodic part and the other adding a harmony on top of it. On “The River” we wanted to create an Allmanesque harmony lead. We only spent about 30 minutes bouncing ideas off of each other to get there. Like Troy says we don’t spend a lot of time on it, if it does not come easily we are doing something wrong!
You like the harmony guitar parts, what do you think of the decision of the Allman Bros to stop ?
Jeff: It is sad, but understandable. Warren and Derek both have very successful bands outside the Allman Brothers and without them it makes sense for the band to stop. The part to be thankful for is the forty plus years of music we can always enjoy!
You are a band that plays in family, is it easy to get along ?
Jeff: I guess we are the opposite of the Robinson brothers, ha ha! We respect each other and give each other creative room, which has fuelled our longevity. We have a rule: No Drama!
Can you tell us more about your singer Scott Nutter ?
Troy: Scott has been a great friend since 1982 and we played in a few bands together over the years. He is quite simply a trained badass on the vocals and is one hell of a song writer as our next CD will attest!
Jeff: Scott previously was the lead singer on the first two Presto Ballet albums and toured in Europe at that time. He also has a really great solo CD available. Having Scott in the band has really freed Troy and I up to do what we do best!
Rebel Storm gave in France a concert that is still mythical, do you think that you could come in Europe with the Moss Brothers ?
Jeff: We would love to and are currently looking to connect with an organization that will help facilitate just such a trip. We have sold a good number of our CD’s in France and have been getting played on the radio as well.
Have you the project of a DVD ?
Jeff: We created a great video for the song “Dirty Mistake” that you can find on our website. It includes interviews and tells the story of the band. We are planning a second video to be released early in 2015. A full concert DVD probably won’t happen until later. We have some new music that we want to release soon so that is the priority.
Have you contacts with other Southern bands ?
Jeff: Mostly with the bands in our area. We play shows with Tahoma souls alive who have a great CD out. We know the guys in SweetKiss Momma and they will be doing shows in Europe in January and February.
Do you know some Southern bands in Europe ?
Jeff: There are some truly great ones. We are aware of band like W.I.N.D, Lizard, and Natchez just to name a few. To be honest I think Southern Rock is bigger in Europe right now than in the States. Amazing!
If you have to stay on a desert island, what are the records that you would bring with you ?
Jeff: That is such a hard question to answer…. I’m really into Blackberry Smoke right now so would have to take Little Piece of Dixie. ZZ Top Deguello for sure, probably Billy Gibbons' finest hour. Anything from Robert Johnson to cover the blues. Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin to cover my country needs. The Allman Brothers Seven Turns, the first with Warren Haynes one of my favourite slide players. Let’s round it out with Black Sabbath Heaven and Hell for good measure. I guess the honest answer is I HAVE NO IDEA, ha ha!
Many thanks for answering our questions, and Godspeed to the MOSS BROTHERS in 2015.
Thanks Phil, you have been very kind to us over the years and we appreciate everything you have done to “Extend the Brotherhood” in France and Europe. Also, we want to thank your readers for their interest in The Moss Brothers Band.