“The more successful you get at a creative endeavor, the less time you get to actually be creative.”
Pianist/composer David Moore’s instrumental project Bing & Ruth released its second album, Tomorrow Was the Golden Age, late last year. Comprised of nine beautiful compositions, Moore’s album is filled with rich textures that has earned it comparisons to the work of some of the biggest names in minimalist composition.
Moore took a moment to speak with us about living in Brooklyn, the folly of naming instrumental tracks and the difficulties of a large ensemble. We are proud to present the Spectrum Culture interview with David Moore.
Although you’re based in Brooklyn, I am assuming you aren’t from there.
I grew up in Topeka, Kansas. I kind of bounced around a few different music schools, but all roads led to New York City. I got to New York City when I was 21 and sort of fell in love with it. That would have been, wow, 2004 or 2005. Everyone I knew and played with lived in Brooklyn so I ended up moving here and I’ve been here ever since.
Has Brooklyn changed a lot in the 10 years you lived in New York?
Yeah, definitely, but I feel like everywhere has changed a lot in the past 10 years.
In a lot of the reviews I’ve read about Tomorrow Was the Golden Age, there are a lot of big names thrown around as comparison. I see Steve Reich and Terry Riley. How does that sit with you?
I don’t take any of that stuff too seriously, but those are great guys and I’m proud to be in the same sentence as them, for what it’s worth. It’s pretty cool. I am sort of doing my thing. Those guys were big influences to me early on and I learned a lot from them, but I also feel like I went through them to find where we are now, which is not super related to what they did. But, I came through that world to get to where I am, so it doesn’t bother me at all.
Speaking of influences, who else were touchstones for this specific project?
Honestly, I was really taken with a lot of film scores. I started getting into films scores, not writing them, just listening to them, and Thomas Newman had a pretty profound impact on me. His soundtrack for In the Bedroom, was huge, huge for me. I listened to that record hundreds of times. American Beauty is another that is very good. But there is something about In the Bedroom. I still come back to it. There is something very magical about that album.
This is not the Eastern European music the wife was conducting in the film, right?
I was very glad that was on the album. They were these very nice palette cleansers between these very still pieces that featured a piano as the main instrument with this atmospheric thing happening behind it. Sometimes it was strings and sometimes sounded more like electronics or sampled stuff. In my description, that is pretty close to what we do, so that was a big influence on me early on and kind of helped shape initially my taste in that area.
The title of your record, Tomorrow Was the Golden Age is a little cheeky considering there are some tense issues going on there. What was the intention behind that?
I don’t know. I just liked the way those words sounded together. There really wasn’t a lot of grand thought that went into it. It was something my best friend, I really liked it and just started using it. It really seemed to fit the record somehow and I didn’t question it. I was like, “Okay, I guess that’s what this is called.” It does mean something to me, but I generally prefer to keep my attachments to the album and to the title to myself and give people room to attach their own meanings to it. I’m certainly not in the business of trying to make people feel a certain way. I like presenting something and letting people make of it what they will.
The title really can be taken optimistically or pessimistically.
It’s the same for a lot of the music. Some people say it’s the saddest music they have ever heard and some people say it’s the happiest music they have ever heard and they’re talking about the same song. It’s really fascinating how that works.
I usually ask this question of people who make instrumental music: How do you come up with song titles, especially for something that plays like one complete piece instead of nine distinct tracks?
For me, the song titles just happened. I don’t really remember coming up with any of them. As I was writing the piece, a title happened and I liked it and I put it on the piece so I could bring it to rehearsal and say, “Let’s do ‘Police Police’” or say, “Let’s do ‘The Towns We Love is Our Town.’” It was a way to call it out. When we did the record, what I wanted to do was have no song titles at all, no track list, no anything, just the record as a nine-movement piece. But the band had really fallen in love with the titles at that point and pleaded with me. So I gave in. Actually, I am really glad that they made do that because I do like the titles a lot. It’s not like the music was built around that title. It was a meaning that I affixed to it myself and they were vague enough that other people could affix their own meaning. The same thing as the title of the record.
When you’re working with this type of music, the concept of pretentiousness freaks me out. That’s probably just my own insecurities. A couple of people were like, “Oh, you gotta put titles on it or it’s going to be pretentious.” The music is what I’m here to do and the other things sort of come along with it. There is no grand concept, there’s no code you’re supposed to break. It’s really just however you come to the music. If you want the title to be part of your experience, then that’s wonderful.
The Arcade Fire people didn’t come after you for the song title “Reflector?”
I wrote that song and gave it that title long before that album came out. It was kind of a bummer. It was the same thing when Microsoft released their search engine. I was like, “Seriously?” It actually happened to a few friends of mine where the name of their band was suddenly the name of a tech product. I had these friends with a band named Nook and then Barnes and Noble released their e-reader. We had Bing & Ruth and suddenly there is this search engine called Bing. When the Arcade Fire is putting out an album called Reflektor, I’m like, “Okay, I give up.”
So, is it difficult to get that many musicians in a room to perform at one time?
It is a headache but it’s just part of the deal. I spend organizing schedules and writing emails. Honestly, I’ve spent more time the last couple of months doing that then playing music. It’s like the more successful you get at a creative endeavor, the less time you get to actually be creative. Trying to wrap my head around that. It’s fine. I love my bandmates and I’m really grateful for the opportunities we’ve presented to us in the past few months since the record came out. I’m just trying to keep up with everything and get us in a position to make as much music as we can. Sometimes it just takes a little work to do that.
How many people played on this album?
This album had seven people. That’s the other part of it. It feels like a dream having only seven people now, six not including me. Before it was 10, not including me. I was happy to work with all those people and I’m happy to work with all of these people, but organizing six schedules is easier than organizing 10. I’m really happy with the ensemble as it is right and I’m looking forward to exploring what we started to do. I feel Tomorrow Was the Golden Age is just the first step in that particular ensemble’s life.
Are you going to take this on the road?
We’ve got a couple of tours cooking right now. Nothing to announce yet, though. That’s the big reason for dropping down to seven people because touring with 11 is pretty much impossible unless you’re already established or have some pretty solid financial backing but none of us have that. We have the most number of people you can have and still fit into a 15-passenger band.
How will playing this music live differ than the recorded versions?
Well, the live shows are very different from the album. The sounds that we’re working with are similar. The album doesn’t really have many overdubs on it. It’s pretty much just the raw ensemble. The way these pieces are structured are so they can be shifted and moved around and parts can happen in different places. The album is just one rendering of what that can look like. In the live show we really try to approach the pieces by gathering the vibe of the room, where we’re at, what the weather is like. All kinds of factors go into how we’re feeling on any particular night. The set lists are written accordingly, but just before the set starts. We’re working with the same sounds and same songs, but it’s a different experience.