411 Music Interview: Keith Moody
A mix of country, classic rock, blues, and soul is what Keith Moody immerses himself into. He has been making an impression in the southern part of the United States since his 2008 debut The Only Ride You Can Get and last year’s Lines EP. His music is versatile, going from a soft acoustic touch one track to an electric, bluesy jam the next. Busy touring and getting his music out to a wide audience, Moody is also working on his second untitled LP. Sufficient to say, he won’t be slowing down anytime soon. I had the chance to speak to Moody in early June about his past work, his involvement in benefit concerts to support the tragic natural disasters in the South, and what he would like to incorporate into future albums.
Dan Marsicano: What made you want to pick up a guitar and play music?
Keith Moody: Well, I would say I started listening to music through my grandfather’s record collection, which was early country stuff, but I never really got into wanting to play until my teenager years when I got into classic rock. I was into The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Stones, The Doors; those types of bands. That’s when I knew I had to play guitar, if that makes sense. I had to play. Before that, it was more or less just listening to things, and I sort of was a songwriter all along as far as lyrically. Even earlier, when I was 11 and 12, I started writing poetry. I got into that stuff and rediscovered Johnny Cash going through my grandfather’s record collection, and I started to really put the whole puzzle together and using it for something I wanted to do.
Did you start playing an acoustic or an electric guitar?
The first guitar I owned was a Takamine G330 in an emerald green. It was an acoustic guitar.
When did you first start writing your own material?
Like I said before, I was kind of writing all along, but didn’t know it. I didn’t put it all together until a couple of months after I started playing guitar. By the time I was 18, we were technically putting out material that I had written. It was all CD-R copy off my friend’s computer, which is the way I also recorded it. I would say I was putting together complete compositions around the age of 18.
When did you think this material could be worth distributing out to the masses?
I think as my band in Montgomery that I had, my rock band, I started to see people singing back words that I wrote. When you have that, you start to realize, ‘Maybe the things that I’m creating are a value to people.’ When I came up here to do my own thing, I decided I would get it to the quality level it needed, and I knew once I did that, it would be ready. Several thousand copies later, I guess I was right.
Your first solo album, The Only Ride You Can Get, came out a few years back. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with that; the writing, recording, etc?
That one was a snapshot of things that I had written down. I had stuff going from the time I was 17, 18 years old all the way through to 26, (the age I was) at the time we were recording it. I went through and picked the best of everything, from stuff I had written a few days before, a few weeks before, all the way back to when I was a teenager. I cherry-picked things I thought were great. I started with a population of about 125 songs, then I trimmed it to 75, and 75 to about 35, and 35 down to 20. From 20 down to 13, and then I went in the studio with 13, and trimmed off the last two.
It turned out great in establishing me. It started steering me towards my sound. It combined all that early country with classic rock. I’m a big fan of soul music too, which is something I discovered from classic rock. Getting into stuff like Otis Redding was huge. Combining all of that to sort of make my own roots/pop sound. It took us out on the road for a couple of years, then back in the studio to do the Lines EP. Those songs were pretty much written while I was out on the road.
When you went from the 125 songs to the 11 on the LP, what was the hardest part of getting it down? Was it in the beginning, when you had all the songs, or was it when you got down to about 20 or so?
The hardest thing, I try to tell people, is even the songs you tell yourself you don’t really like that much, they are still your creation. They are kind of your babies. It’s kind of like asking you to abort your babies after they are born. As an artist, you can see the merits in everything. Even in things that you think are garage, you’ll find a line or two that you think may be good in there. It was kind of tough to do that. You have to make those decisions…you have to go to the fact that people will like these better.
You said you wrote the Lines EP while on the road. Is it easier for you to write on the road or in a certain environment, like at home or somewhere else?
The best is either at home or at my grandparents. I just sit in a room and chill out and not be worried about whether I’ll wake up a band member that’s asleep or whether it will disturb the people in the hotel room next to me. I can be myself and sort of allow my brain to drift and think of things. That’s usually when I’m the most truthful…being home or being in some sort of environment where I feel at home, like my grandparents.
Credit: Julia Oakes
What inspires you to sit down and write a song? Does it start with a riff? A melody in your head you just have to get out?
It varies with me. I think a lot of people tend to have one or the other, but with me, sometimes it’s a riff, sometimes it’s a chord progression, sometimes it’s a melody, sometimes it’s a hook. I guess from there, I do have to play around with it and let it go and see how it comes together. I think the most common with me is I usually get a hook line with a melody. If I get those two things, that’s 90% of the song right there. It’s the hook that brings them back. People remember the part that is catchy.
Once you get a hook, do you feel like the rest of the song is easy? Have there been any songs you’ve written and halfway through, you sort of had a brain fart?
Yeah, it happens. My better songs usually come to me quickly, but I’ve definitely had some where I’ve been laboring over this thing and I just go, ‘My brain is not firing. It’s definitely got a fart now. I just need to put this one in the drawer.’ Sometimes, that song never gets completed, but parts of that song may end up in new ones moving forward. You try not to throw away any kind of lyric. Just because one song may sound stupid, three or four lines may make it off the verse for a tune later. Some of those lines in “Next In Line” came from that; inspirations of songs that didn’t work.
As a musician and songwriter, did you notice any significant changes in your style of playing and writing between The Only Ride You Can Get and Lines?
I just think there was more put in there. I started to pull from places I had listened to before that I hadn’t in a while. I don’t think my playing style really changed. I’m sure it evolved; you’re always learning new licks and you’re learning new tricks. Vocally, I probably got stronger because of all those shows I did. Between those records, there’s probably 300 or 400 shows worth of playing in there. So my range opened up and stretched a bit.
As far as how I write or the way I write or the style I write, I don’t really think so. I think a good song is a good song. We went way more rock on the four-song thing (Lines), but there were some rock songs on the first one too. I think the next full-length album will be more multi-sided. I think Lines, with four songs, you don’t really get as many sides to me as you got on the 11 songs on The Only Ride You Can Get. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how this new one comes out when we record it. I’m kind of interested myself. You never really know, do you? (laughs)
Speaking of new material, what kind of stuff have you written at this time?
I got about 12 I’m thinking about doing. I may not do all 12 of them. We may only do 10 or we may only do eight. It’s one of those deals where I get a little bit closer to time…I have to feel 100% confident in every single track. The people who bought Lines will probably overall like it more, but I think the only Lines people who were upset that there weren’t an acoustic song or a laid-back more folk or country kind of roots thing on Lines, I think they will be more pleased. I think we found our sound between the two, but now we have to go back to opening it up to more textures. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when me and Jason (Elgin) get in there and start talking about them. In fact, I have to send him the songs in the next couple of days. Even though we’re months out from thinking about it, it’s an exciting thing when it starts to shape up.
What would you like to see the music incorporate in the future? Any instruments, different tones, anything you haven’t used in the past?
I would love to one day to have the budget to do full string arraignments, like The Beatles did. I will say this. I have a feeling we will do bigger vocal arraignments on this new record. More four-part type harmonies, things like that. I’ve been doing more back-up vocal arraignments live with the band, and I have been listening to a lot of The Brown Album by The Band and going back to The Beatles. I want to add those textures to what I already do. That would be cool, especially also being from the South and listening to country and Southern rock. Harmonies being such a big part of that, it’s something I think I really want to push on this next record. We’ll see. You don’t want to overdo it, you don’t want to force it in there.
The band recently did some benefit concerts for the tornado attacks down in the South. Can you tell me a little bit about how the concerts came together?
I was actually supposed to do “Tennessee Mornings,” which is a pretty big TV show in Tennessee, on April 27. I had to get there at 4 a.m. for television call. We get up there and they come to us about 7 and they go, ‘Hate to do this, but the weather is going to be really bad. We’ve been advised to go wall-to-wall weather coverage and we’ll going to have to bump you.’ I had just gotten in off the road the day before, so I’m exhausted. So me and the guys all dispersed and I came home and went to sleep and basically hibernated. I had no idea what had happened.
Later that night, I was supposed to go meet somebody for dinner. I met them and I was talking and I noticed up on the screen they show a tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and they showed what it had done. I sort of freaked out; I had a cousin in grad school at the University of Alabama. He was okay, but for a while, it freaked us out. Once I overcame the shock, it took a couple of days to find out if all my friends and family were okay, to get a response back from everyone. Once I found out everybody was okay, even as I was trying to, my wheels were turning, ‘What can I do to help?’ The first thing I did was…to make my Twitter, my Facebook, my Myspace become a conduit of information for what’s going on.
As that was going on, I started to think the Red Cross is going to need money for this. I had worked with the Red Cross during Katrina, and I knew all the things they did. All the hundreds of thousands of meals that they served. With this many tornados, they were going to need some funds. So I called Vinny Saele, who runs Rock Bottom in my hometown of Montgomery, and said, ‘I want to do this benefit concert,’ and he goes, ‘Man, I’m right there with you. Let’s get it done.’ He took the ball and started running and I took the ball and started running. Then I started thinking, ‘I could add another one here in Nashville.’ So we added one in Franklin for that. Wayne Mills, who is also an Alabama artist, added another one in Nashville. I think we both ended up raising $600 each at those that we did and Wayne played mine, in addition to the one he did. We raised about $3,000 in Montgomery and then Nick Gill, who is from Mobile and played the other two benefits, asked to do one in Fairhope. Then we made another few hundred dollars down there.
All total, we raised over $4,000, almost $5,000, for the American Red Cross. Even though each piece had to go to that various chapter to be divvied up, it’s still for the disaster relief fund was a very big thing. It was one of those things that came together on its own and it was great. It’s one of those things I tell everybody as a musician you work so hard on yourself, you are your product, that you don’t often get to do our thing for something greater than yourself. This allowed us to do that.
Are there any other big tour plans for the summer and fall?
We’re going to be touring through the rest of the summer. Then we’re taking some time off to record and then I’ll be back out on the road later in the fall and heavily on the road starting 2012 with a tour for the new record, which is yet to be titled. Also, we may have a live DVD hitting at the same time. We’re working on that.
In your opinion, what makes a great rock show?
You hear all the songs that you love from the artist/record, with a few surprises thrown in that are just different enough…maybe a different improvisation section or maybe they jam into something or maybe they stick songs together or maybe they go into the middle of the cover song in the middle of the track and back out. A unique experience away from the record, but still very much tied to the thing that you emotionally identified with to begin with.
What’s the one thing you want people to get out of your music?
Honestly, the one thing I want people to get out of my music is I want them to just feel better. Whether they are listening to a sad song or a happy song, when they walk away, they feel like that time was well spent listening to Keith Moody’s music.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
The Beatles; the greatest band ever. A close second would be Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Any final thoughts?
I just want to drop home the point that I would love people to visit American Red Cross and find out how they can help the Red Cross. Please donate to the disaster relief fund because you never know, it could be you that needs their help next.