DIY, Not Lo-Fi

R. Stevie Moore Sets the Record Straight

R. Stevie Moore / Photo by Mimi Gibson

This week R. Stevie Moore, the revered beardo wizard of DIY recording who has released over 400+ albums on his own since 1967, wrote to his publicist of his frustration regarding my interview questions about his new album, Afterlife.

RSM explained that he had trouble answering my questions around the selection what old songs wound up on Afterlife because each track on the album had its own unique scenario, process and story. He decided to re-record these songs in 2010, and the project was produced by Irwin Chusid, a legendary WFMU DJ/record collector/keeper of Sun Ra’s estate who has known RSM since ‘78.

Over the last nine years, they were then recorded by friends and/or RSM on new digital home machines, across five states including New Jersey and Tennessee. Long story short—there were a ton of moving pieces and contexts surrounding this album’s existence. Asking RSM to recount them all was a puzzle with no tangible solution.

Nonetheless, RSM indulged my questions around Afterlife. I’m glad he did, too, because seeing how the man resists any attempts to overintelectualize or find some deeper, meta-zeitgeist journalistic angle around his work is crucial understanding how he works, too. All of RSM’s music is there for our hedonistic consumption, generously available on Bandcamp as a digital iteration of his long-running R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club.

These are pop songs about being alone, psycho riffs about fucking, sweet ditties about the joys that come from doing your thing. RSM’s songs are direct in their sentiments and hooks, not concerned in the least with self-righteous proclamations about the state of the world or politics. The only real glut in RSM’s catalog is the catalog itself, and that’s a good thing.

There are songs on Afterlife that originally date back to 1974 (“Pop Music” from NEXT/Apologies to Mr. Gottlieb 2), while “National Debate” was first released as a demo in 2010. Like his other compilations of past tunes, this latest RSM release acts as a sort of gateway drug to the man’s unique universe, one certainly worth getting lost in. Unlike any past comps or re-recordings, though, these cuts are downright sparkly. What’s more, it’s a testament to RSM’s strength as a songwriter that songs from over 40 years ago still sound ahead of their time.

After a first set of responses to my questions where every other answer was either “ask Irwin” or  “joke response, do not use!” RSM did his best to clear the air of assumptions and over-analysis in an email with the subject title “RSTEVIEMOORE AFTERBIRTH PLACENTA.”

RSM / Photo by Mimi Gibson

When I once asked about your prolific online presence, you told me you were “followin’ my wind”. How are you following your wind on Afterlife?

I have no idea what this means! You mean ‘…my mind’? what does ‘followin my wind’ even mean? 🙂 The wind beneath my wings?

 

Is this your final album? The analogy to how Lou Reed treated Loaded [in Afterlife’s press release] suggests as much.

My final album? Nope, I live day-to-day. Again, there is no INTENT to mislead my fanbase that it’s all over (though I AM aging + suffering health, abandoning normal pop songwriting & recording, and semi-retiring before I desired to!), yet my droll humor may often suggest otherwise. Who’s to say! I’ve ALWAYS poked fun about my onsetting mortality.

[Side note: he’s not kidding. “Too Old (To Fall In Love)”, which appears on Afterlife, was first released in 1978]

 

 

Are you forecasting your future on this record at all? Between the title, the cover and the themes implied in tunes like “Another Day Slips Away,” one wonders to what extent you think of this collection as a deliberate swan song.

Not at all! Total coincidence. No underlying vague theme or plan, just a collection of unrelated tunes.

 

What do you think of artists like Bowie and Cohen, who recently left this astral plane with parting gifts of music?

See above, there was/is zero attempt to exhibit what I think is a parting gift of music.

 

How did Irwin select and compile songs on this album? What input or influence did you have over his approach in selecting them?

I myself decided what old favorites to remake, before this project was closer to finalization. As often happens, new remakes usually sound 1000% better, yet many times lose the naked unforced innocence of the original home version. Not easy to always replicate. A compromise. I enjoy attempting it, for good reason, but can never rank and decide which of the two is superior. All or nothing.

I selected & compiled & sequenced (with my minimal suggestions), but he didn’t affect my choices to re-record them in the first place. Make sense?

 

What can you tell me about the newer tunes ? How do they work in conjunction with the older tracks for you?

How do they work? There really is no connection whatsoever between song composition dates, in lyrics or styles, with Y2K writings. They both seem to flow mainly because of the improved sonics. For somebody who knows NONE of this timeline history, it’s easy to assume they’d enjoy the record as ONE single statement.

 

You’ve built up your whole mystique around being a lo-fi dude. Why release this hi-fi opus?

Crazy! The world builds up that mystique, I don’t ever intend to build it myself. I always argue, What exactly IS ‘fi’? We know my 70’s-80’s analog reel & cassette tapes had the hiss, the distortion, the amateurish ‘demo’ elements. But since the 90s til now, ‘digital’ eliminates any ‘lo-fi’ tag. Doesn’t it?

DIY is my jam, not LO-FI. The DIY dude, liking to stay home to do it yo’self. Long outgrown ‘indie’ portastudios (unless it’s a digital workstation, which creates false BIG STUDIO impression to the listener).

 

When does an artist stop looking forward and start looking back? When was the point where that really started to happen for you?

Incorrect assumption. My situation is unique to me, no way I’d advise to others how and when to decide personal things like that. I have slowed down tremendously, but there’s no termination papers (yet). And re: looking back, I’ve forever embraced nostalgia itself, both in what I enjoy by others AND in my own massive back catalog. Both as inspiration AND respect for the past. Blah blah blah. With me, there is no right or wrong, no mainstream commercial or rebellious underground, no forward or back.

 

 

Justin Joffe

Justin Joffe writes about music, art, technology, and other cultural treasures. Reach him on Twitter @joffaloff.

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