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Al Schnier From moe. on Being Present, Grateful And Normal In The Music Industry

Photo courtesy of Jade Presents

As one of the most well-known jam bands in music history, moe. is no stranger to touring and performing.

After forming in a Buffalo, N.Y., bar in 1989, the band now has 24 albums and more than 200,000 monthly Spotify listeners. They’ve toured around the world, headlined at Red Rocks Amphitheater and Radio City Music Hall, played in several festivals, developed a few of their own and more.

While the line-up changed a bit in the band’s formative years, moe.’s current quintet (Rob Derhak, bass and vocals; Al Schnier, guitar and vocals; Chuck Garvey: guitar and vocals; Vinnie Amico, drums; and Jim Loughlin, percussion) have all played together since 1999, making them and their followers like one big family.

moe. is performing at Fargo Brewing Company on Monday, Oct. 15. The gates for their rain-or-shine show will open at 5 p.m. and the show will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $29.50.

We got the chance to talk to Schnier about gratitude, what it’s like to play with the same guys for more than 20 years and more.

Did you always want to be a musician, or did you have other career aspirations growing up?

As a kid, I probably always wanted to be a musician. I just didn’t think that it was a thing. It was kind of like when you’re a little kid and you want to be an astronaut. A lot of kids don’t actually pursue becoming an astronaut, and it was sort of the same way for me. I didn’t pursue playing in a rock band as a thing because it just didn’t seem real, you know? It was almost like a fantasy.

You started playing guitar at a young age, so how did you first get interested in that and then how did your interest in music morph over the years?

I started playing piano at a really young age, but my interest in guitar, I think it was probably a natural progression just because I was obsessed with rock bands. It probably started with an early obsession with the band KISS and grew from there. I didn’t start playing the guitar until my early teens, and everything just kind of went from there. I was fortunate enough to have a really good network in my high school of other guitar players, and our art teacher was also a guitar player. We had a guitar club in school that he ran, so that was a really good community of musicians at an early age where we were all playing music with one another and that was probably a good way to kickstart this whole thing for me.

You mentioned KISS, but who were your other big influences growing up and who do you enjoy today?

My biggest influence growing up was The Grateful Dead and that’s still who I enjoy listening to today. It’s funny. Throughout my life, there’ll be times where I would probably take a break from them, but it seems that the last 10 years or so, there’s just been something about their music that I don’t know if I’m just feeling nostalgic at this point in my life or something, but it’s the thing I keep going back to and I listen to most of the time.

You sat in with the band back for a show in 1991 and then you joined in early 1992 and you’ve been with them ever since. Looking back, did you know the band would have such longevity, or what were your initial expectations or goals when you first joined?

Actually even before I moved to Buffalo, the very first time I heard moe., I said out loud, ‘I want to play in a band like this.’ They were doing something that was more like what I wanted to do. And I remember when I first got there, I’d only been in Buffalo for like two weeks when they asked me to play with them. I was just filling in for a guitarist who could not make the gig, and that kept happening. It started happening more and more, and as you mentioned, over the course of a couple of months, it went from a point where I was like the substitute guitarist and I ultimately became a full-time member of the band.

It was just a thing I wanted to do right away. In fact at one point, sometime during that first couple of months, Rob and I even started our own band with another drummer. Our plan was just to start another band because I couldn’t be in moe. at the time and there was no reason we couldn’t just have two bands, so I think that was the plan in the beginning, and then ultimately it just wound up making more sense for me to play with moe.

I know that the lineup changed a bit during the band’s first few years together, but it’s been the same five of you since 1999. What’s it’s been like to be all together for so long playing music? Because I imagine you’re all just like one big family now.

That’s exactly it. We’re definitely like one big family, and it’s awesome. We are fortunate enough not only to get to play music but also to have had the same job for so long. It’s really unusual. People don’t do that anymore. I feel like that’s something that happened with our parents’ generation maybe, but these days people don’t even stay in the same line of work, let alone have the same job for so long, and we do and ours is playing music in a band and to make it even better, we get to do it with people that we like. It’s a really awesome thing. Some of our crew has been around for a really long time as well, and some of our fans, too, I should say. It’s very much a family atmosphere, and people have a stake in what we do. It’s part of the culture of our band and our group of fans and everything. People come for the long haul, and it’s really awesome.

That is really awesome. So you guys took a hiatus last fall when Rob [Derhak] was undergoing treatment for cancer. What’s it like being back all together again?

It’s amazing. It’s hard to believe. We’re so lucky. If you reflect back on what I just told you about us just being lucky and fortunate in the first place, to already have this sense of gratitude for everything we have, but now to have actually gone through this situation with Rob and come out on the other side of it, it’s almost unimaginable. The attitude that we have, actually that Rob had when we came back, there’s this new lease on life that is understandable. He has this newfound energy and this positive outlook. There are many things that sort of come with going through that kind of experience, and I’m sure things that we’ve all read and seen, but it’s contagious to be around. To be a part of that group with him and be working with him, it’s been kind of amazing because it’s affecting all of us in a really positive way.

What’s something that people may not know about the band that may surprise them?

We are far more normal than you might think. That might not actually be a big surprise.

For somebody who’s never been to one of your shows before, how would you describe your live performances?

That’s a good question. It’s like a cross between a rock concert and a rollercoaster ride that you’ve never been on before.

Do you have a set list that you stick to or how do you approach that?

We start with a set list. That’s usually in everybody’s best interest. But then the way we play and the way our shows are written, there are spots throughout the entire show throughout the night that are wholly improvised. Basically the setlist sort of exists as scaffolding for the building, for the framework for the show, but everything else gets made up along the way.

I feel like that makes it more interesting for you guys and the audience, too. I think it’s more fun for everybody involved when you mix it up a bit.

Right, and we tend to mix it up a lot. And again, that has a lot to do with what we’re feeling spontaneously, with what’s happening in the audience. And that’s what makes it fun, and there are songs that can be seven minutes long or 17 minutes long and it just kind of depends. We’re not going to do something for 17 minutes because it’s wholly self-serving if the audience is disinterested and it’s not the right thing for us to be doing at that time. However, if, and the only way to know is to be sort of in the moment and be present and to be a part of that, but everybody has to be a part of it. Otherwise, we’d be better off just in our garage doing this and playing this music for ourselves.

What’s next for you and moe.?

That is a very interesting question. We’ve been having a lot of conversations about that, about whether or not we should be making another record or something else and we’ve been writing a lot of music and we’ve been gearing up to make another record. At the same time, we feel like all we want to do is get out and play more music so we’re trying to balance those two things at this point and we still just want to keep writing songs. We don’t feel like we’re working enough so I think right now we’re just really excited about the way everything feels and how everything is going. All that I can really say is that we’re really, really happy and we want to do more moe.

Here are their top tracks on Spotify:

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Written by Jessica Kuehn

Jessica Kuehn is the web editor for Spotlight Media. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead with a degree in print journalism. When she isn't writing or correcting her and other people's grammar, Jessica is obsessively quoting The Office and reading way too many books.

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