These days, recording a "road album" is about as fresh a rock gesture as opening a show by shouting "Hello Cleveland" or making a lame "Freebird" joke come encore time. It's a concept moe. guitarist Chuck Garvey writes off as "wanky." Still, there's no denying the jam band's latest release, Tin Cans and Car Tires, is bound together by long stretches of American asphalt. And, what the hell, if anyone can relate to an album about being on the road, it's the itinerant armies that follow moe., criss-crossing (or dreaming of criss-crossing) the country more times than you can say Jack Kerouac.
"But we're not your average Joe Rockers chasing down some vague pharmacological American dream and trashing hotel rooms," Garvey hastens. "Beyond that, you write what you know."
Limp protestations aside, moe. do know the road. Their tour odyssey has them on it more than 200 dates per year, stretching their unique brand of jamming out to sometimes three hours each night. Yes, unique. More Primus than Phish, moe. blend elements of funk, country and delightfully indulgent late Seventies guitar calisthenics, complete with a smattering of talkbox and delay. It's an unlikely combination, and one that moe. have had trouble making work on wax in the past. The band's 1996 major-label debut, Noy Doy, was solid, but stifled. "[That record] got a little genericized from the production gloss," admits Garvey.
For Tin Cans and Car Tires the band enlisted the help of producer John Alagia, whose work with the Dave Matthews Band proved that it's possible for the modern jam band to effectively capture their live sound in the studio. Engineering the project was tech-whiz John Siket, whose eclectic resume includes indie jammers Yo La Tengo, mid-fi Aussie rockers You Am I and genre kingpins Phish.
"Alagia was a charming motherfucker," Garvey recalls. "From the first moment we met him, we definitely considered working with him because we had good personal chemistry. [In other words], he wasn't a typical big money producer spouting catch phrases and trying to blow smoke up our asses." Siket, on the other hand, was the "anti-Alagia," he says. "John would make these rough mixes that just slammed. They worked really well on a visceral level. Alagia was all about the fine details."
The bi-polar production alliance worked, and although they won't win any awards for thematic originality, Tin Cans is a welcome leap in energy and studio mastery. The entire record is dotted with vocal harmonies and elegant guitar interplay. It's compact and edgy, but still retains the airy flow of a live moe. performance. In fact, under the guidance of Alagia and Siket, moe. may have inadvertently recorded a radio hit or three.
"You think so?" asks Garvey nervously. "It'd be too weird."