Ian Moore: When Good Record Deals Go Bad

Ian Moore had both the good fortune and misfortune to be a young, good-looking Austin guitar hero who came to prominence shortly after Stevie Ray Vaughan's death created an opening for the position. Joe Ely drafted the native Austinite for the recording and touring cycle behind 1992's Love and Danger, after which the eponymous group Moore founded with bassist Chris White, keyboardist Bukka Allen and drummer Michael Villegas became one of the top draws at legendary venues such as Steamboat and Antone's, rooms Vaughan had trod himself not too many years before.

That was enough to pique Capricorn Records' interest, and the Georgia-based label added the Ian Moore Band to a roster that, at one time or another, also included the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Cake and 311. Capricorn released two albums, 1993's Ian Moore and '95's Modernday Folklore, both of which got heavy rotation on stations such as Austin's KLBJ and Houston's KLOL, sending a handful of songs ("How Does It Feel," "Nothing," "Muddy Jesus") into Billboard's Mainstream Rock Top 25. Soon the band found itself sharing stages with the likes of Bob Dylan, ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones.

But Moore never wanted to be the next Stevie Ray Vaughan. Fiercely intelligent and equally strong-willed, he had always been interested in power-pop and roots-rock, and when those sounds dominated the third album he handed in to Capricorn, Walden hit the roof. As Moore told Rocks Off in this week's print issue, the musician and the label owner even came to blows. That was the end of Moore's tenure on Capricorn, as well as the Ian Moore Band itself.

Re-arranged versions of several songs from that ill-fated record surfaced on Moore's first post-IMB album, 2000's ...And All the Colors, the beginning of a second act that has continued gathering steam through well-received albums such as 2004's Luminaria, '07's To Be Loved and this year's showstopper El Sonido Nuevo. Now he is self-releasing the record, dubbed The First Third, the way it was originally recorded; he re-discovered it when an L.A. journalist friend sent it to him in the mail.

Moore, who has lived in Seattle for more than a decade, begins a six-show mini-tour with his original band in the "third layer of Hades," known to others as Texas and Oklahoma, at the Continental Club this evening and Friday; he will also sign posters at Sig's Lagoon tonight (3622-A Main) at 8 p.m. Rocks Off has known Moore for a while, so our conversation last week was a little deeper than most of the interviews we do.

But we can also tell you from experience that you're not going to find very many musicians who are this smart and candid, period.

Rocks Off: What is the story behind this third, unreleased album?

Ian Moore: It's a long story, and I'm trying to encapsulate it so it's actually writeable. Basically, you've got to keep in mind that there were not tons of indie labels when I was young. There were punk rock labels, Sub Pop and a couple of other ones, there were a couple of really bad roots-rock labels, and then you had major labels. There was no way to really self-release back then, at least not as a serious release.

So when I started trying to find a place to put out music, I ran the gamut of labels and I was having a really hard time finding a place, and Phil Walden, who was the president of Capricorn - I was a musicology major at UT, and at that point I was imagining I was going to be a journalist, Peter Guralnick-style, writing about roots music from the South and stuff. I had this deep love of soul music and blues and country and garage and stuff, and nobody I knew liked that stuff.

So when I met Phil, who had managed Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, he had this history. He was the guy I wanted to be around. We built this really deep relationship, and he loved my first record. And pretty much from then on, he never liked anything that I did. We had this huge falling-out, and the label... many of the fans who had dug the first record just did not get the direction we were going in.

Basically I felt like there was this one point where we kind of hit mainstream culture and just never hit it again. Those people came around us and just didn't dig it. The third record was just basically a tipping point for our career. The second record was received pretty coldly by the label as well, but the third record I actually physically got into a fistfight with Phil.

RO: How did that happen?

IM: He was just so angry at me for making the record, and he wasn't very good at communicating his feelings. The irony of it is if you listen to the record, it's definitely the most focused, song-oriented, but still - like if you listen to El Sonido, I think the songs are great, I'm really proud of the production, but it's an underground record. It shouldn't be, but it is in this realm.

You know what I mean? It's kind of like a power-pop, a little elements of psych and some hip classic-rock stuff, but it will never be a hit. And I know that. The First Third, the one that I'm putting out now, is probably the best chance I ever had at mainstream success. But it's all about timing, and we were out of sync with the label.

RO: Was it that they wanted the group to stay in that kind of blues-rock pocket and you were pushing against that?

IM: I guess that would be the easy way. I'm trying not to be too verbose about it, go on and on and on, but I'm trying to illustrate that Phil's not a dumbass. The reason I would even entertain where he was coming from was he was my Ahmet Ertegun. By the time I started playing, Ahmet was sort of out of the picture. That breed of people that were really hip and sophisticated about music was pretty much dying.

You just don't have those guys anymore. The closest you have is like Gerard Cosloy, but they're all based in punk rock and post-punk - which is great, but I still think the Ahmet Erteguns and Jerry Wexlers, that's a whole other level of sophistication. Phil was one of those guys. So I think Phil honestly - it wasn't that he wanted me to stay in a blues-rock pocket, I think he had this thing where he was like, "Dude, you're not being as deep as you were."

His perception, much like Clifford - Clifford Antone had the same thing. He saw my career, and thought the rock stuff I was doing was this bullshit kid stuff, and whenever I was playing blues, they honestly thought it was more sophisticated and spiritually more deep. That's why I even entertained it.

It wasn't that they wanted me to be this Stevie clone, it was that they really thought that there was - I mean, I can see that, looking back, how you could have that perception, but obviously me being the one who was making the music, and with the band and us, we had a trip. We were on a trip just like any other band, and the trip is what it is and you go on it. You make your record, and whether good or bad, it is where you're at. You do what you do. We couldn't really change anything.

RO: How long did it take you to get over everything that happened?

IM: Well. I mean, probably on a liveable level, it was immediate. The way that I manifest that kind of stuff.... I've had a decent amount of loss in my life, so I just keep going because that's all I know how to do. So I kept going. I formed a new band, and my management, who had been a huge part of my career, she hit a wall where she didn't want to do it anymore, and my band imploded and all those things fell apart.

Definitely, there was a period of everything kind of ebbing for me, as far as material success. But I kind of felt at that point, that that was the best opportunity for me to have some cultural gain. People weren't caring about me as much, so maybe I could grow some and be out of the spotlight for a while, so that's kind of what I did.

So that was a really positive thing, you know, but you never totally get over anything. I have places that I choose not to stand, but I have parts of me that get pretty pissed off about that whole time period, because it just didn't feel right to me.

10 p.m. tonight and Friday at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. The first 50 people who buy tickets at Sig's Lagoon starting at 11 a.m. (i.e. now) will get a free mini-poster.

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