Interview: Bob Moses discuss new Album, Tour, Gear, Plugins, and more
Vancouver-born and Los Angeles-based, Bob Moses is a duo comprised of Jimmy Vallance and Tom Howie. Known for their signature and eclectic blend of rock/pop and dance-oriented styles, the pair have been making music together since 2012 but go back way further- the two were high school buddies, famously reconnecting years later in a parking lot in Brooklyn! They’ve recently come out with a new album, “The Silence in Between“, that adds to an already stellar oeuvre, so we sat down to talk with them about the record as well as their current tour, favorite gear, plugins, and more!
We Rave You Tech: You guys are often referred to as an “electronic” duo, which feels too broad or simple to describe your style- How would you define or categorize your own music?
Tom: We always say we’re like rock ‘n roll meets house music, or rock ‘n roll meets techno- obviously that’s an oversimplification. I think in those descriptions, people want something simple and bite-sized, so we’ve always gone with that. The best way to describe it beyond that is to just get into it, and listen. As opposed to words, you know?
We Rave You Tech: You’ve already played the likes of Coachella, Bonnaroo (as far as festivals) and venues such as Red Rocks and Pacha- what’s the favorite festival or venue you’ve played so far?
Jimmy: Red Rocks is up there, Red Rocks is probably one of the most magical venues in the world, just because, not only is it a natural amphitheater, but there’s something about the crowd in Denver and the way it sounds there… maybe it’s the fact that it’s really high altitude. Red Rocks is a really special place, and we’ve also played Burning Man a few times, there’s also nothing quite like that on the planet. I think we’ve been very fortunate to play everything from super-famous Ibiza clubs to small, underground dive bars to legendary venues like Red Rocks and The Gorge Amphitheater. We’re very fortunate to have done all those, but I think when you play certain ones, like the ones you just mentioned- like where you have to travel there and it’s the only place you can get that specific vibe.
We Rave You Tech: Is there any bucket list place you haven’t played yet?
Tom: I think it would be cool to sell out Madison Square Garden, or something like that. That’s less about the venue, I guess, and more about the achievement of being able to connect with that many people. Another thing I’d like to do, is play a show at like an old Greek or Roman amphitheater, like in the middle of nowhere. That would be super cool.
We Rave You Tech: Kind of like what Pink Floyd did at Pompeii?
Tom: Yeah, something like that. But I think otherwise Red Rocks is basically the most awesome venue ever, and if we could just play there every year, or close to it, that’d be awesome. It’s beautiful- it’s an amazing venue cos you’re looking up at this natural amphitheater and you see this big crowd and rocks jutting out of the sky. It’s really magical. As far as like a proper or pure venue, I’d say that one.
Jimmy: The Greek [amphitheater] is kind of like that too. The thing that’s cool about the amphitheater venues is that people in like, the fifteenth row, are actually not that far away because the seating goes up like a wall, where when you play a club or a standing room GA venue, it goes back, and the furthest away from you is quite far. In an amphitheater, it’s not that far, and it feels intimate even though it’s a big place. That’s what makes it fun.
We Rave You Tech: Tom, your vocals have always sounded smooth yet brooding to me- can you tell us about how you fleshed out your style? Who are some of your biggest influences as a vocalist?
Tom: Just singing a lot, to be honest. I think, when I was younger, like a teenager, I played in punk bands and tried to sing really pushed and aggressive. I figure out that that’s not what my voice is built like. Vocals are very much like your instrument, you know? Like a physical instrument. Like a guitar or piano, you can switch those out and each is built a certain way and has its own feel and sound, but a voice is like, you get one, you know? In the same way, my body is my body so my vocal chords and the way it all resonates is just built a certain way, and I think the thing for me was just figuring out how to let my voice just be what it is and communicate emotion the most honest way. I think it’s just a process of singing a lot and just being as honest as possible, and not trying to over-sing or overdo something. I learned the limits of what my voice can achieve and I did my best to drill myself into that, and be as honest as possible when singing.
We Rave You Tech: So it’s more about self-discovery than trying to get somewhere with it?
Tom: Yeah, I think Rick Rubin has a quote that basically said “Know what you’re singing about, because if you don’t know it intimately, then it won’t come across to anyone else”. That’s why whenever we write a song, it has to be as honest as possible, I have to be able to connect with the lyrics intimately because then it’s the most honest and I can convey the most emotion and that’s how we get the best results.
We Rave You Tech: Where does the inspiration for the title “The Silence in Between” come from?
Jimmy: We finished touring for our last record in March of 2020, and our goal that month was to go to LA, build a new studio, and start making a record. Obviously, at the time, we had no idea the pandemic was going to happen. We built our studio, and like 10, 12 days later, the world locked down. Tom and I live about 15 minutes apart in LA, so we were in each other’s bubble- for about 8, 9 months, no joke, we were some of the only people we saw. Unlike the rest of our career- we’ve spent a ton of time on the road over the last ten years- this was a time when we were locked away, writing music. The world was going crazy. So much stuff happened, there was a lot of stress and anxiety for us. Are we gonna be able to continue to tour? Are we gonna be able to continue to make music for a living? So this record is sort of about when the world went on pause and when it reopened, and our take and experiences of that. It was a very liberating and freeing experience in a sense because all of that anxiety and fear ultimately turned into hope. We realized that when everything’s stripped away, when we’re not able to tour- and things got quite difficult, not just for us, but for the world- but when everything’s stripped away, music is our life raft and the thing we love more than anything. Writing music is our way of understanding the world. This record is a reflection of being locked away for two years, and what it meant to us as people.
Tom: It’s like the silence in between our old lives and the new life that eventually came, and our processing of all the looking back, looking to the future and trying to understand our lives previously and what they would look like going forward. All the anxieties and fears that we were facing, and the loss of identity, like Jimmy said, around being two touring musicians. Who are you, when you’re just two dudes, alone in a room with the world shut off? There was a lot of stuff to face, so “Silence in Between” comes from the chorus of the song “Believe”- it summed up the period in which the album was made, the sort of silence in between the two parts of our lives.
Jimmy: And it sounds uncomfortable, you know? It forces you to dig in and reconcile with yourself, and like Tom said, look to the past and figure out a way to move forward in the future. It just made sense.
Image Credits: Press
We Rave You Tech: Your style involves a combination of organic and electronic elements- can you tell us what elements of the track you prefer to keep organic or electronic, and the reasons behind this?
Tom: The way we always put it is that we’re trying to find the balance between man and machine. I think we love depth- we love really deep and sort of soundscape-y recordings in general, and a lot of that is achieved through organic sounds. Then there are elements like the low-end specifically and other elements that modern speakers and sound systems are able to achieve. A lot of that is best explored through digital or synthetic [sounds]. Even if it’s analog or a circuit-based synth sound. It’s really just the effort to satiate our own creative calling to use all the things in the sonic spectrum that excite us. There are certain things about sampled drums and synth bass hits in a certain way that live or organic instruments can’t. There are also certain things about how a guitar sounds or how a microphone in the back of the room sounds that synthesized stuff can’t achieve. We just really like to try and find the balance between both man and machine, as we put it. It’s just what we’re drawn to as artists, you know?!
We Rave You Tech: Can you tell us a bit about your favorite pieces of gear? What mics, synths, racks do you use?
Jimmy: One of the things we absolutely use and abuse is the Korg Minilogue– it’s a relatively inexpensive synth, but it sounds amazing and it’s so versatile. I think, to anyone who’s getting into analog gear or wants something to see what that’s like- couldn’t recommend that synth enough. It’s awesome, we use it on pretty much everything. We have a Prophet 08 that we use on “Hanging On” and “Never Ending” and a lot of songs on the record. We have a Moog Subsequent 37, which is where a lot of the low-end on the record comes from. It’s probably one of the deepest and richest sounding synths out there. Everyone talks about Moog, and it’s not until you actually own one and mess around with it that you realize why they’re so coveted and respected. It’s an amazing piece of equipment and they do wonderful work over there. All of this, is coupled with a lot of plugins on the computer. I think one of the most amazing things about modern day music-making is that all it takes is good ideas and a laptop. You don’t need a million-dollar studio, you don’t need all this crazy stuff that you needed back in the 90s, or even in the early 2000s. You can just be a kid in your bedroom with some good ideas, Ableton, and a few plugins, and you can write music that literally affects people and changes the world. And I think, for us, having that DIY ethos has always been a core part of what Bob Moses is. 90% of what we do is just Tom and I in a room. On this record we had the opportunity to write with some friends. We always get our songs mixed by a third party. For this record, we were fortunate enough to work with Spike Stent, who’s done tons of amazing work. Other than that it’s just Tom and I doing everything- writing the songs, engineering. I think it’s about having a few pieces of gear you know really well, and just using them to death.
We Rave You Tech: Can you tell us about some of your favorite plugins?
Tom: Yes, we use a lot of the Slate plugins, a lot of the Soundtoys plugins. Valhalla reverbs, Arturia… We use Arturia a lot for synths. Native Instruments… we use all the Waves stuff for compressors… SSL compressors and the CLA stuff. Those are the big companies we use.
Jimmy: I’d say we use about 30 plugins over and over again. I think keeping it consistent- especially if you’re a band like us, we can be quite versatile. We can do acoustic stuff, we can do electronic stuff, rock stuff, and club. I think using a lot of the same compressors, EQs, and synths, keeps it cohesive. It’s important to us to not go too wide with the sonic spectrum in terms of what plugins we’re using in order to keep it focused. We’ve also just developed tricks; we know when something sounds Bob Moses now.
Tom: With every new record we try to mess around with some new stuff and we might find something that works a bit better. You also kind of get in your rhythm of what works and what you know. Like Jimmy said, with all the physical stuff and plugins, we try to keep it limited. It’s easy to get lost or go down a rabbit hole, whether it be with plugins or physical instruments. We try to keep things tight, and know a few things well, and use them sparingly.
We Rave You Tech: Can you give us an idea of what the setlists will look like for this tour? The reasoning behind that?
Jimmy: This was a really fun tour to write a setlist for. We’ve got three albums, we’ve written three EPs, and so we have a lot of music that we can sort of pull from that people like. It’s really fun for us as a band, cos we love seeing people react and connect to our music. To have a catalogue you can do more of that within a set, it’s really rewarding to play live. We were very fortunate that, over the pandemic, we released the “Desire” EP, we released a single with our friend Elderbrook. Those both did very well and we never had a chance to play them live. The setlist kinda looks like a “Bob Moses’ greatest hits”: some of the best things that came out of the pandemic, some of the fun new things off of the new record. And some of the old favorites- we’ve even thrown in a cover for good measure! It really is, we think, the sort of best of Bob Moses that we’ve been so far. It’s a really fun show for us to play live. It runs about 90 minutes right now- we get off every night and wish we just went on longer. I think we’ve realized that that’s a good feeling to have, leaving feeling like you wanted more, those have always been our favorite concerts. When you kind of go “that was so great but I wish that they played this B-cut, or that B-cut.” Concerts where you walked away feeling that you saw everything you wanted but you’d kind of wish they’d played something- those are the concerts I’ve always been the most excited about. We talked about it with our band, with Joe and Julio, about building a show that would be exciting and leave people wanting more.
Image credits: Press
We Rave You Tech: Your tour, up until April 17, features a lot of stops in a little less than a month- how do you stay focused and energized with such a grueling schedule?
Tom: Try to get some good sleep, try to get some exercise, try to eat well, try not to party too hard- that’s about it really. Otherwise, we’re pretty accustomed to life on the road now. We’ve learned. Everybody has their own way to deal with it and do the things they need to do. We try to check in with family and friends. We love exploring the local delights of each place and embracing the fact that we’re on the road and we get to check out all these cool places. It’s definitely a lifestyle that’s not for everybody, but it’s for both of us. We’re just happy to be back doing it.
We Rave You Tech: The Lollapalooza lineup dropped recently- you guys are returning, if I’m not mistaken, for the first time since 2016- are you planning anything special for that performance? How does it feel to be back?
Jimmy: It’s one of the best festivals in the world- any time you get asked to do something like that, it’s always an honor and a pleasure. I know the stage we’ll be playing- we’ve gone and seen bands play there before- we’ve played it much earlier in the day in 2016, and now we’re the last act on the stage. It’s an awesome festival, not only to play… the fact that Metallica are playing, that Green Day will be there, you get to see so many amazing acts. Festivals like that kind of feel like summer camp for bands- you get to see your friends, parties- it’s just a big celebration, we’re really excited to come back. We’re ironing out our set right now. It’s still quite away but who knows, maybe we’ll pull out something special for Lolla. We’re still enjoying the setlist we’re playing now.
We Rave You Tech: What advice would the two of you give to aspiring musicians?
Tom: Takes a lot of hard work to get lucky. We always used to talk about this back when we were starting- there’s no key other than writing great music and putting on great shows. It’s easy to get caught up in social media or strategies of marketing and all that. I just think that it’s good to know the business side, but it’s really about making music that connects with people and putting on great shows. Just work really hard- you really have to love it. Don’t do it for fame or money or any other thing- do it because you love it and you want to wake up everyday and make music. Just enjoy the ride and enjoy the struggle a little. It’s beneficial to be involved in a scene- we were involved in this really cool electronic music scene in New York. We kind of got to piggyback off all the energy and excitement, and sort of learn from them and find some people to partner with. Other than that, just do it for the love of music, beyond everything else. That’s all that matters, really.
Jimmy: The most important thing is to try and enjoy the ride because when you look back, all those little stresses you had like we had when we were in our early twenties. Are we gonna make it? Any sort of bad moments are like badges of honor. The hardships sort of help you enjoy the good moments. Enjoy the ride, because it’s really fun, and making music is supposed to be fun.
Image Credit: Bob Moses Facebook