Prodigal Sons 

The Moore Brothers move back to the East Bay with a new record, same great harmony.

The Moore Brothers are a trip. Like the Everly Brothers or the Louvin Brothers, Thom, 27, and Greg, 30, are purveyors of song, surrealism, and close harmony. At times, their spare, folk-based ditties could pass for something birthed by the illegitimate children of Fairport Convention. But trying to pigeonhole them as a post-folk thing would be unjust. They can also plug in, sounding like a more educated version of Guided by Voices. Somewhere in between their sidewinding folk and melodious indie rock lies an ingenuous aural confectionery that resembles only the Moore Brothers.The duo's sound materializes at an intersection between each brother's individual style of songwriting and their similar-sounding, buttery voices. Hard-core country- and folk-music fans who've followed brother acts believe that this kind of magic can only happen when two siblings with congruous voices lock into perfect harmony.

"We're trying to make that third note ring," says Greg. "Sometimes when we're singing, our voices braid together and form a third overtone, so it makes me happy to think of it like we're furthering a brother-act tradition."

"Yeah, but if Greg weren't my brother I'd still want to be in a band with him," pipes in soft-spoken Thom.

The Moore Brothers' latest release, Colossal Small, comprises twelve unpredictable and wondrous compositions about inward journeys, out-of-body travels, and love. Cowritten by Greg and Thom, some of their songs are so novel that they seem to have fallen from the sky.

Often the more outspoken of the two, Thom started writing songs and playing music in the fifth grade with classmate Jon B, who later found success in the commercial R&B world. "He works with Babyface now and plays those KMEL 'Power Jammy-Jam Summer Jam Concert Jams,'" says Thom with a waggish grin. "He was in fourth grade when we would do Casio keyboard Duran Duran kind of songs. We were called Colorful Calliope."

Thom continued to grow into his music by writing, playing, and recording with a myriad of musicians throughout high school. Some of these songs first surfaced on his self-titled CD that came out in 1996 on Berkeley's Deaf Khan records.

Greg began seriously writing songs in the early '90s, after moving to Berkeley to start school at Cal. By 1994 he was going to open mikes regularly and trying to get a set of songs together. "That was sort of my spawning period. I would go to Starry Plough Open Mike Night every week."

Greg holds his brother accountable for introducing him to the creatively addicted life of the tunesmith. "Thom was totally responsible for getting me into songwriting," he says. Greg would frequent shows performed by his brother's group, the Rubber Band. Following those gigs, the brothers ended up at late-night parties where fellow songwriters would pass around the acoustic guitar as frequently as the wine bottle. "It was one of those situations like you have with those secret after-hour Oakland house parties, where people get together and drink and share new songs and stuff," says Greg. "I would start singing harmonies with Tom at the end of the night. Then we started singing together regularly."

"Nothing really happened until a year after I moved up to Berkeley from Southern California," says Thom. "We started a band called Thumb of the Maid."

"In Thumb of the Maid we were both the songwriters," adds Greg. "We were more of a group back then, but we still played the same kind of songs as we do now." This was about the time he and his brother began to make friends and meld talents with some local musicians, including members of Cake, the Kinetics, Beulah, and Tom Waits' band.

Unfortunately Thumb of the Maid's days were numbered. As most young bands soon discover, it's not always easy to keep it together. Touring can also really tear up a good musical outfit. "We went on tour and then our band dissolved soon after that," says Thom. "Our drummer was hanging a sign on his kit at every show that read 'Drums for Sale.' "

It wasn't long after the band broke up that the two brothers began to play acoustic shows billed under their last name. Greg befriended Jon Erickson (Kinetics, Preston School of Industry), who was impressed enough to record and mix some of their songs at his Berkeley studio, Casa de Eva. Erickson collaborated on a couple of songs, laying down bass, piano, and organ tracks. Other local luminaries joined in the sessions contributing various pieces to what would eventually become Colossal Small. Borger delivered some well-oiled drumming, moody vibraphone, and percussion while local musician Etienne de Rocher collaborated on one of Greg's '70s-inspired chiming love songs titled "Calligraphy Mouth." De Rocher also recorded some piano and backing vocals for the dipsomaniac love-anthem "Moleslica" as well as the moody and vox-distorted "Anabaptist."

A few weeks after recording the eclectic songs that would make up Colossal Small, Pavement's Scott Kannberg (now in Preston School of Industry) heard some of them. "They didn't impress me at the time," admits Kannberg. "I first heard the Moore Brothers when some friends dragged me down to the Stork Club one night a couple of years ago. They had been hyping the cult of the Moores to me for a few months, and I figured I'd see what the big deal was. It was one of those dreadful open-mike nights at the Stork and by the time they came on, I was completely bored and drunk." Shortly after the Stork Club gig, he received an unmastered CDR of Colossal Small from Erickson.

"From the first listen I was hooked. I couldn't keep it off the CD player. I immediately asked Jon for more copies and sent it to all my friends. It was one of the greatest records I'd ever heard. The songs were classic. They were full of the iconography and twisted humor I love in songs. I guess they reminded me of my favorite British bands I grew up with."

Kannberg signed them to his label, Amazing Grease.

"It was lucky. It was a happy day," says Thom. "We were wondering what to do with these demos. We had no idea how to go about looking for a record label."

One would expect the Moore Brothers to stake their claim in the Silverlake/Echo Park music scene of Los Angeles, where they are currently residing. Many Bay Area bands, after all, have recently gone south to take advantage of the cheaper rents, availability of rehearsal studios, and opportunities to sign with big labels.

But, "We're moving [back] to Lake Merritt!" announces Thom.

"[Down] here we've only been around for two years, and I don't really feel a part of the LA rock 'n' roll community," say Thom. "We've always done our own thing."

And they are still doing their own thing. When asked their favorite bands, Thom is quick to answer: "Unicornucopia is my favorite LA band, and not just because it's Greg's other band."

"It's me and Ben Parke [Deaf Khan Records founder] and a girl named Trinny Dalton," says Greg excitedly. "We all switch instruments for each song. Oh, and every one of our songs is about unicorns."

As for local bands, Greg throws out Helen Renaut's band Beam and the Aislers Set. "I also like the Vivian Girls -- I know they're not really sisters, but I really like them all the same."

Which brings up the question of playing music with a sibling. Do the brothers find it difficult to play songs with the next of kin?

"It's easy because we individually have our own thing [musically], and then we have this," explains Thom. "When we record, Greg has full control of his songs. He can tell me to shut up and I'm not going to feel weird about it. We don't take constructive criticisms personally, we just let each other be the boss of our own songs."

Greg thinks it's easier to play with his brother than with anyone else. "Since we've known each other forever, I'm confident that Thom isn't going to hate me after too long and I don't know if I can say that about other people. And I'm such a fan of Thom's music that I feel that his being in a project with me could only enhance what I'm doing. We're in it together to help each other out."

"We know our boundaries and we genuinely care about each other and we know that's not going to go away," says Thom.

"Yeah," Greg adds, "but once we get a lot of money then we're going to get corrupt really quick and start hating each other and throwing fist fights on stage and stuff."


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