Photo by Natalie Campbell Courtesy of Total Assault
Plenty of musicians travel–touring often comes with the territory–and plenty of musicians embrace the road as part of their artistic identity. That said, it’s rare to see a group of musicians who absorb as much in their travels as Peter More and his band. Though currently based in Austin, Texas, they split time between New York City and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in the making of their upcoming debut album.
Their latest single, “Caddis Moon,” reflects that international outlook, and even takes listeners on a self-contained journey. What begins as a pensive acoustic guitar ballad built on More’s fingerpicking slowly opens up into vocal harmonies, strings, and brushed drums. From there it twists into an all-out Latin groove breakdown complete with flamenco guitar by Jose Juan Poyatos and keys courtesy of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, who also produced the track.
When a drum fill finally delivers “Caddis Moon” to its finale, the chorus comes back changed by the musical soul searching; the full-band buildup and string swells signal a renewed sense of hope in a refrain about the cycles of the sun and moon. Refreshingly, the track concludes in a place of earned wisdom rather than world-weariness.
As the group prepares for a string of showcase gigs at SXSW, More spoke to The All Scene Eye along with drummer Adrien Faunce about making the record and finding the ideal recording space.
From the upcoming album, you’ve released “Caddis Moon,” which has a Latin vibe to it, and “In the Basement” with more of a rock sound. I’m interested to hear what other sounds are on that palette.
More: We had written a lot of the songs down in Mexico, and Brazil as well, and the project took shape over an amount of time that allowed us to explore some different styles. We would re-approach songs and try re-recording them in different ways, so there’s a lot of different stuff on the record.
Faunce: I would say that there’s no sort of mission statement or aesthetic we’re consciously going for. It’s really friends just playing music, so whatever comes out comes out. Everyone we play with has a lot of different influences, so you end up with what you end up with. In a good way, I think.
How did the band come together as it is now?
More: It’s sort of a long story. Adrien and I have played the longest together, about eight or nine years. Our current lead guitarist [Jose Juan Poyatos] was my flamenco guitar teacher in Madrid when I was studying abroad in college. I ran into him again five years later, when he moved to Mexico. We played for a bit, went to Puerto Rico, and then I invited him to come play with the band.
We had a Joshua Tree music festival out in California scheduled, so I invited Jose to come play that with us, and we brought our bassist, Diego Noyola, who was from San Miguel. That was the birth of this incarnation of the band. We lived in San Miguel for a while, and Brazil for a bit, then we moved to Austin in the last few years.
How long has this album been in the works?
More: It was a project that went through different phases, because we were working down in San Miguel, and our producer [Donald Fagen] was living in New York, but he came down to record. We started the project in San Miguel, and we would basically record between his Steely Dan tours and stuff we had going on. At one point my computer got stolen, and that pushed the project back a bit. I rewrote some stuff. The album itself, in the studio, probably only took five months when we could work, but it was–
Faunce: Stretched out.
More: It was stretched out over time. We were working on other stuff as well, but that’s a complicated question.
It’s cool listening to these songs with Donald Fagen in mind. Those Gary-Katz-produced Steely Dan records are so sharp, with every element in focus. Fagen’s production is a little warmer, especially on a song like “Caddis Moon.”
More: What we loved about working with Donald was he was always wanting us to do our thing, and trying to be the least bit invasive to the project. He basically wanted to lend a hand and help develop the sound we were going for. He would have different ideas throughout the recording process, or when we were mapping out the songs; maybe another chorus here, or a release, or a move in the bridge, whatever it was.
It was cool because he really had a very helpful, sort of gentle, approach about his production style. He just helped facilitate what the band wanted to do. But then we learned so much through it, it was like a master course in studio recording. Anything from the way he miked the drums to the way he charted some of the horns, or arranged the vocal harmonies. He sung some of the harmonies with us, he played pretty much all the keys on the record, and he was very involved, but it a really cool way.
“Caddis Moon” has this rich string and piano arrangement, with a buildup from section to section. Can you tell me about that composition and arrangement process?
More: I had been working on a chord progression down in Brazil, and then started playing it in Mexico, and we would all sit and play it and arrange parts. It’s three verses, then a chorus, then another couple verses, and a chorus, and then we had this Latin breakdown we liked doing.
Faunce: Who came up with it?
More: That’s a good question.
Faunce: I think Jose had the idea.
More: Yeah, there’s that tumbao section in the bridge where Donald plays the piano solo–that’s that Cuban rhythm–and I think that had a lot to do with our guitarist, Jose. He’s from Spain, and has a bunch of Latin influence, and so we structured that bridge not knowing if we were going to have a guitar solo.
When we first played it live, we had Jose soloing, but it seemed to lend itself to piano. We actually tried a guy out in Mexico on the solo, and that didn’t really work. Donald thought he could take a stab at it when we were up in New York. Donald ended up recording that piano solo, and then he also thought it should come back to a chorus at the end. Originally, we had a jam at the end, and then out. We added that chorus at the end.
When we were in New York, I was talking to Pat Dillett, the engineer, telling him I thought it would be really cool to have some strings on the song. He said, “oh, man, I’ve got a really great guy for this song, his name is Rob Moose. We can send it to him.” So he asked me to write an email, sort of what we had in mind strings-wise, vibe-wise. So I sent it to Rob Moose with the scratch vocal. He was out in LA at the time, and he recorded the string parts, which I thought he did a really amazing job on, and sent it back. It was really cool to hear the song we had been working on with, all of a sudden, these strings over the choruses and over Jose’s solo in the middle, too.
I love that the chorus does come back in the end–there’s that lyrical theme about cycles of life and death, so it really gives the song a feeling of completion.
More: We were so used to playing it without the chorus at the end, we were trying to figure out how to get back into the chorus. I remember at first, I wasn’t very used to it, but as we started playing it, I felt the same way–that it really brought the song full circle.
On the lyrical side, can you tell me where that image of the caddisfly came from?
More: The caddisfly is an insect I’ve always really loved from fly fishing in Colorado, growing up, and that was always something I loved about going down the rivers there, especially in the right time of year. You would see these caddis come off the water in these big clouds, and then at night, I just liked the idea of these caddis up in the moon, and that cycle. That’s also when the fish feed more. But I also just like that word, caddis. I’ve always loved those little bugs. They’re cool.
“In the Basement” is also interesting, lyrically. Toward the end you ask, “why can’t we all just sit at the table in peace?” What do you think is the role of art and music in getting to that place of peace between people?
Faunce: I think art, whatever it is–painting, music, writing, all art–is a positive, peaceful activity in itself. Right there, as soon as you sit down and play the guitar, or draw something, or write something, or paint, whatever it is, you’re adding to something positive in the world. Just by the act of doing it, I think it’s something positive.
And then you can talk about lyrics and what you’re saying with your music, which I think it is pretty important. I don’t think you should have to be socially or politically oriented if you do art, but I think that’s a really great thing to do as well, to raise awareness about certain things. Think of the fact, if there’s a young kid going through life who doesn’t really know what he or she is doing, and they come across a painting or a song that really inspires them, or speaks to them, that can change their whole life in a positive way.
More: I thought Adrien put that pretty well. In that song specifically, it’s a venting of sorts about wishing things could be better, and wishing that things could be more peaceful. There’s a real problem throughout history–but I’m not really one to get too deep. I like putting it out there, and people interpreting things how they will. I don’t want to comment too much on it, but what you said is the idea, for sure, and it’s cool that was a lyric you heard.
Faunce: One last thing I will say very simply is I think that art can be therapeutic. Ideally, in its best form, a release; somewhere to put all this stuff we don’t know what to do with. For the artist, the person who’s making the thing, but also for the people that aren’t actually making the thing. It’s sort of like a therapy for everybody. That’s what Peter was saying.
Adrien, who are your biggest drumming influences?
Faunce: I have a few go-tos. I really love Billy Cobham, Vinnie Colaiuta, they’re more old-school. They’ve been around for a while. As far as the newer guys, I’m a longtime fan of Mastodon, and I really love the drummer, Brann Dailor. I love Zach Hill, from Hella, and he’s done a lot of other stuff as well.
Isn’t Zach Hill the drummer in Death Grips as well?
Faunce: Yeah, he’s prolific and eclectic. And lastly, I would mention Thomas Pridgen, who recorded–I think he only did one or two albums with The Mars Volta, but he’s a virtuoso, gospel-chops kind of drummer. Those are some of my favorites. Stewart Copeland is also awesome.
With all the travelling you guys have done, who are some bands you’ve come across or played shows with you wish more people knew about in the States?
More: To me, personally, it was more of a genre thing. Down in Brazil, it was cool being around the music in Bahia, where we were living. You hear a lot of bossa nova, a lot of tropicália, Brazilian stuff that came out in the 60s and 70s. A lot of that old Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben, and we would even cover some of those songs when we were down there. Also, capoeira, which is that martial-art-dancing down in Brazil. They’ll play along, and we would jam with them sometimes at these parties, and that’s something you just wouldn’t see here in the States very often.
I think being around Jose too, a lot of the flamenco stuff he’s always listening to, a lot of the Paco de Lucía stuff, hearing the influences he grew up with in Spain. And then down in Mexico, some of the Mexican bands that Diego would introduce us to.
We did always enjoy playing with this band, Pilaseca, down in Mexico. They’re a Mexican funk band, and they’re good friends of ours. We would go and do shows with them around Mexico. But to me, when I look back on that time travelling, it’s the different sounds you would hear rather than specific artists.
Is there more of that travelling on the horizon for you guys?
More: I think we’ll always be going down to Mexico a lot. We have some history there, and it’s one of our favorite places to record. San Miguel is a really amazing town. I don’t know if you’ve ever been, but it’s got a very creative vibe about it. A very collaborative vibe, with different musicians in town, different studios, and also just art galleries. The layout of the town is a place where you feel very inspired.
Faunce: Mexico was a great place.
More: We have some plans to hopefully make it over to Europe to play soon, and I’d always be down to go back to Brazil, because that was pretty special.
What makes a recording location great, whether it’s a town or even just a studio?
More: I think it’s an individual thing to each band. For our group, I think Mexico was very conducive to writing, and playing a lot in town, workshopping songs live, and then going into the studio. What we loved about the studios down there is they weren’t like the studios up in Woodstock or New York.
Faunce: In Mexico, going to the studio was kind of like going over to a friend’s house. That was the best thing about it for me. It was our friend, who’s an amazing guitarist, and he just had a little studio in back of his house. We’d go over there, and you’d take walks to get sandwiches if someone’s doing their part. It’s not like you’re on the clock, even though you kind of are. It’s much more of a relaxed atmosphere without the extra pressure of going into a studio in New York, or something like that.
More: As long as you have good mics and the engineer knows how to get sounds out of the room that you’re looking for, which we were fortunate enough to have down there with Rick Shlosser and Ken Bassman helping out with the recording, along with Donald.
I think a lot of it is just having a good vibe in the studio, where there’s not so much pressure, but you’re just trying to get the best takes possible. It’s cool down there because they have these retired musicians, or people that have moved down there with their microphones. I think as long as you have great equipment, a good room, and good vibes, that makes for the ideal studio.
If it’s not quite so rigid, I think you feel more inclined to be spontaneous, and come up with new ideas in ways you might not if it’s more like a job.
More: For sure. One thing that’s cool about San Miguel is, for me, I would be thinking of lyrics, I’d go out, and you’re in this very cool town with this cactus valley, and it’s a very inspiring place. I think also, we went from that to Manhattan, and Midtown, and there’s definitely a change in the chaos in a place like Manhattan. We were in Times Square, for instance, at this place–
Faunce: That was fun in its own way, because you’re in the concrete jungle, in the middle of the city, and you retreat to the sort of quiet, isolated space of this sleek studio in the middle of the city. That was fun.
More: Or you go up on the roof, and you see all the different buildings and the people. And then there was Woodstock too, which was cool, because you’re up in the mountains. You walk out and you’re in the Catskills. We were lucky to get to record in some cool locations with some cool engineers.
Faunce: Now that I’m thinking about it, talking about it, I think we were pretty lucky to record in all the different places that we did. They all have their own little character. They’re all very different, and they’re all great for different reasons.
More: I think some of that came out in the recordings, too, which is cool.
You’ve said there was no overarching thesis statement for the album, but If you could sum up the recording experience in one word, what would you choose?
More: I would say “patience.” We wanted to take our time and get the most out of the recordings, and also the experience working with Donald. There were times where we could have rushed and finished the project, but by waiting to see it through, we ended up writing a few songs, and we’d come in and record some more. That changed the record a bit. If we had done it all in one go, it would have been very different, sonically.
Faunce: When I think of making the record, I think of Mexico, and Ken Bassman’s house, and the different friends and experiences I had down there. I definitely agree “patience” is a good one. I don’t want to be corny, but “friendship” or “fun” might be a word I’d think about.
More: It was a really fun project. And I think if there was another word, I’d say “educational” in a lot of ways. I think we all learned a whole lot in the studio, how to react to being in a studio, and watching Donald produce, and working together. It was an experience like we hadn’t had before.
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