What's in a Name?
In a business where self-promotion is a necessity, the four individuals who comprise the Houston groove-rock outfit Moses Guest have a special method of getting their name out to the public.
"We have stickers strategically placed in many urinals throughout the city," says drummer James Edwards, with a mock-serious, Spinal Tap-ian flourish.
"Yeah," bassist Rozz Zamorano chimes in, "and that means we have a really captive audience."
With steady gigs and the imminent release of their second CD, American Trailer Home Blues, Moses Guest ought to soon enjoy increased visibility around town -- and not just with those emptying their bladders. It damn well better, hints bandleader Graham Guest, or this might just be Moses's last gasp. With a revamped lineup and a beefier, more technically efficient sound, the group is currently firing on all cylinders. But if their local support base doesn't blossom into something more regional, Moses Guest could wind up careening into the abyss of the also-rans.
As for those longtime fans who have stuck by the band through thick and thin, they're likely to find that American Trailer Home Blues sounds, in many ways, like it was created by a completely different band than the one featured on last year's Geniality of Morality. That's because -- with the exception of guitarist/vocalist Guest -- it is a completely different band.
"This lineup is a lot more melodious, the beat is groovier and all our ears are better," Guest says during a recent band sit-down in which good-natured laughs -- often at the expense of fellow bandmates -- come quickly and often. "Each one of us has a pretty high comfort level with each other."
Actually, they might be a hair too comfortable with each other, seeing as conversation on more serious matters consistently bottoms out with talk revolving around a certain "distinguishing characteristic" of Zamorano's genitalia. The comments are followed by extended bouts of guffaws and giddiness, and usually the owner of said characteristic is the one laughing loudest. Apparently, consultations with Paula Jones are forthcoming.
Graham Guest assembled the initial version of Moses Guest -- which he named after his grandfather -- in the summer of 1995. He added the "Moses" only after club marquees announcing that "Guest" would be performing solicited too many confused inquiries. The original roster featured Sean Simon on bass and John Chupin on drums. That was the trio featured on the 14-track Geniality, a hybrid of solid, carefully contained -- if unadventurous -- Southern jams and jangly alt-rock musings. The group followed the release of the CD with a string of performances in Texas, Louisiana and Colorado.
Guest, however, wasn't all that happy with the direction in which the band's music seemed to be going; he craved a looser sound with roots more firmly entrenched in influences such as Little Feat, the Allman Brothers, the Black Crowes and Steely Dan -- with a little Alice in Chains thrown in for a modernizing effect. Eventually, Guest completely reconfigured the group with help from Zamorano (who also plays with Fondue Monks), Edwards and former Beat Temple keyboardist Rick Thompson. The result is an astonishing turnaround, as recent gigs and a rough cassette copy of American Trailer Home Blues attest. The new sound of Moses Guest is fuller, fatter and more proficient, and it takes its own sweet time to unwind. The linchpin for this refurbished sonic outlook is the masterful work of Thompson, whose solos -- whether jaunty, jazzy or classic rocktinged -- both complement and encourage the musical excursions of the others. That all amounts to stoner grooves that are at once expansive and danceable.
"We work in a lot of different styles, and that gives each song its own flavor," Edwards explains.
Guest, meanwhile, hardly seems concerned that his group falls neatly into the "jam band" category. "We don't mind that at all," he says. "And, in fact, it's hard not to get a good [live] show out of a jam band unless they're really off and rambling around."
The trick is to avoid what Guest calls an "over-jam," and Moses Guest's upcoming CD is strong evidence that the band has little problem with that. Blues features rhythm-intensive, streamlined ditties such as "I Do Not Love You," "Mountain" and "Burning Around the Sun," as well as a rather charming nod to their home away from home, "Colorado." There's also a live version of "Right Down" -- previously featured on Geniality -- that gives a clear enough indication of what the new lineup can do with an old studio track.
"The thing I appreciate the most is where you're getting an audience that's up and dancing, and you feed off that," says Edwards about the live experience. "And these are people that have a choice to go out to Richmond and listen to the music they know and hear all day. We're playing original stuff and they're digging it."
When they're not on the road, Moses Guest take up residence at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar and Rudyard's Pub. Unlike many groups, which are happy to grab a spot on any stage that will have them, the members of Moses Guest prefer regular (if occasional) slots at a few select clubs.
"If you can narrow down the rooms you play at, you get used to the way it sounds," says Edwards. "Otherwise, you can't hear the subtleties of the music." Edwards's stern technical tone lasts only as long as the next ribbing.
"And you can't be seen," Zamorano quips.
"That's right," Edwards adds, not missing a beat. "And it's really important that I be seen."
Thompson sighs and rolls his eyes. "James really wants to be a rock star."
As it happens, bloated rock-star aspirations have nothing to do with Guest's outlook on his future. When he isn't planning the next move for Moses Guest (which is a rare occasion, indeed), the 30-year-old is attending law school at the University of Houston. And though he may have the mind for it, Guest shies away from handling the band's business affairs, responsibilities he leaves up to a manager in Dallas.
Getting out of town as often as possible is important to Guest and the others, who don't want to oversaturate the Houston market like they've seen other acts do in the past. Though each praises the camaraderie they've established within the local music community, they voice the same old complaints about the town's attitude when it comes to local talent. They bemoan the city's lack of a musical infrastructure, and question why radio stations frown on granting airplay to Houston's more promising bands.
But Guest is careful not to wax too cynical. He's hopeful that the planned downtown revitalization will help concentrate clubs that feature original music in an area more conducive to walking around on foot. Still, he's not holding his breath waiting for what could be a lengthy process of rejuvenation.
"Opening up something like the Theater at Bayou Place will help a lot," he says. "And if they're going to gentrify all of Texas Avenue down to the new stadium, I think we'll see a lot more entertainment cohesion. And we need it."
Moses Guest is currently gearing up for an American Trailer Home Blues CD-release party December 6 at Rudyard's. Immediately after that, the group will embark on what should be an exhausting road spell that will take them through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Oklahoma. Although Guest has admitted that having one's own record label is a "pretty nebulous thing," American will be the first release on their own Aufhaben Records, the meaning of which begs a little elaboration, not to mention translation.
"In German, ['Aufhaben'] means to cancel out what's unnecessary, to preserve what you deem necessary, and to take what you've preserved to the next level," Guest says. "The American definition would be 'creative maintenance.' "
So if you happen to be of the male persuasion and see the word "Aufhaben" plastered on the wall in front of you, feel free while emptying your bladder to impress the drunk next to you with your command of the German tongue. And say a little prayer in the name of Moses Guest while you're at it.
Moses Guest performs at 11 p.m. Friday, November 7, at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, 1031 East 24th Street. Cover is $5. For info, call 862-8707.
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