Ian Moore: When Good Record Deals Go Bad
Ian Moore had both the good fortune and misfortune to be a young, good-looking Austin guitar hero who came to prominence shortly after Stevie Ray Vaughan's death created an opening for the position. Joe Ely drafted the native Austinite for the recording and touring cycle behind 1992's Love and Danger, after which the eponymous group Moore founded with bassist Chris White, keyboardist Bukka Allen and drummer Michael Villegas became one of the top draws at legendary venues such as Steamboat and Antone's, rooms Vaughan had trod himself not too many years before.
The Ian Moore Band today (L-R): Ian Moore, Chris White, Bukka Allen, Michael Villegas
That was enough to pique Capricorn Records' interest, and the Georgia-based label added the Ian Moore Band to a roster that, at one time or another, also included the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Cake and 311. Capricorn released two albums, 1993's Ian Moore and '95's Modernday Folklore, both of which got heavy rotation on stations such as Austin's KLBJ and Houston's KLOL, sending a handful of songs ("How Does It Feel," "Nothing," "Muddy Jesus") into Billboard's Mainstream Rock Top 25. Soon the band found itself sharing stages with the likes of Bob Dylan, ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones.
But Moore never wanted to be the next Stevie Ray Vaughan. Fiercely intelligent and equally strong-willed, he had always been interested in power-pop and roots-rock, and when those sounds dominated the third album he handed in to Capricorn, Walden hit the roof. As Moore told Rocks Off in this week's print issue, the musician and the label owner even came to blows. That was the end of Moore's tenure on Capricorn, as well as the Ian Moore Band itself.
Re-arranged versions of several songs from that ill-fated record surfaced on Moore's first post-IMB album, 2000's ...And All the Colors, the beginning of a second act that has continued gathering steam through well-received albums such as 2004's Luminaria, '07's To Be Loved and this year's showstopper El Sonido Nuevo. Now he is self-releasing the record, dubbed The First Third, the way it was originally recorded; he re-discovered it when an L.A. journalist friend sent it to him in the mail.
Moore, who has lived in Seattle for more than a decade, begins a six-show mini-tour with his original band in the "third layer of Hades," known to others as Texas and Oklahoma, at the Continental Club this evening and Friday; he will also sign posters at Sig's Lagoon tonight (3622-A Main) at 8 p.m. Rocks Off has known Moore for a while, so our conversation last week was a little deeper than most of the interviews we do.
But we can also tell you from experience that you're not going to find very many musicians who are this smart and candid, period.
Rocks Off: What is the story behind this third, unreleased album?
Ian Moore: It's a long story, and I'm trying to encapsulate it so it's actually writeable. Basically, you've got to keep in mind that there were not tons of indie labels when I was young. There were punk rock labels, Sub Pop and a couple of other ones, there were a couple of really bad roots-rock labels, and then you had major labels. There was no way to really self-release back then, at least not as a serious release.
So when I started trying to find a place to put out music, I ran the gamut of labels and I was having a really hard time finding a place, and Phil Walden, who was the president of Capricorn - I was a musicology major at UT, and at that point I was imagining I was going to be a journalist, Peter Guralnick-style, writing about roots music from the South and stuff. I had this deep love of soul music and blues and country and garage and stuff, and nobody I knew liked that stuff.
So when I met Phil, who had managed Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, he had this history. He was the guy I wanted to be around. We built this really deep relationship, and he loved my first record. And pretty much from then on, he never liked anything that I did. We had this huge falling-out, and the label... many of the fans who had dug the first record just did not get the direction we were going in.
Basically I felt like there was this one point where we kind of hit mainstream culture and just never hit it again. Those people came around us and just didn't dig it. The third record was just basically a tipping point for our career. The second record was received pretty coldly by the label as well, but the third record I actually physically got into a fistfight with Phil.
RO: How did that happen?
IM: He was just so angry at me for making the record, and he wasn't very good at communicating his feelings. The irony of it is if you listen to the record, it's definitely the most focused, song-oriented, but still - like if you listen to El Sonido, I think the songs are great, I'm really proud of the production, but it's an underground record. It shouldn't be, but it is in this realm.
You know what I mean? It's kind of like a power-pop, a little elements of psych and some hip classic-rock stuff, but it will never be a hit. And I know that. The First Third, the one that I'm putting out now, is probably the best chance I ever had at mainstream success. But it's all about timing, and we were out of sync with the label.