Enjoying their 25th year as a band, moe. continues to impress on a regular basis. With a deep repertoire and passionate enthusiasm from their loyal moe.ron fanbase, the jam band from Buffalo, NY have shown no sign of slowing down. In fact, quite the contrary, as their 2014 No Guts No Glory solidified their place in the live music scene.
Our very own Rex Thomson, aka the Mayor of moe.down, spoke to the band’s drummer Vinnie Amico about just about everything, ranging from anniversaries to Phases of the Moon and Star Wars Halloween, to cooking Chicken Reggies and his favorite flavor of gum to chew on stage! Read on for this in-depth conversation:
L4LM: Let’s start with congratulations on the big milestone! When you first joined moe., did you think you’d be part of a 25th anniversary celebration?
VA: Y’know, I never even thought about it. I never thought about even getting to play music, that I would get this chance. It’s always what I wanted to do…then it all just happened like this and we just kept going. I was never really thinking, like, “Holy Shit! This is what we’re gonna do!” I just thought this is what I do. Plus…I don’t think any of us can do anything else. (Laughs)
L4LM: This is a year for big anniversaries. The Grateful Dead turned fifty, and moe. turned twenty five. In those years your band has come to mean a lot to the people, but what does moe. mean to you?
VA: Huh. That’s a hard question, but it’s a good one. It’s become my family as well as my career. We were always buddies…when we weren’t always buddies, we were just dudes who knew each other (Chuckles)…but we’ve become a family.
We’ve grown together, big time, as people. We had all our kids together, we’ve built families together, we’ve had deaths together…it’s wild. They’re about the closest people to me in life.
You’ve hung out with us, there’s a lot of ball busting, a lot of camaraderie, but I’d say we all love each other.
L4LM: Do you have a sense of the impact you’ve had on so many people who’ve found joy in your music?
VA: You know, I don’t really think about it much. When I’m yelling at the kids for not putting their dishes in the dishwasher, sometimes you forget…Y’know…in a way it’s your job, it’s what you do, you spend time away from your family…
But then you get to a gig, five thousand people in front of ya going nuts, calling your name and saying they love you. It’s like, “Oh, right! People give a shit about us!”
It’s pretty awesome to be a part of that love. I’m pretty psyched whenever I meet a fan, I thank them. If they get weirded out about meeting me, I just say “Look, I’m just a normal guy, it’s great that you care!”
L4LM: After all these years, do you guys even NEED to practice anymore? Can’t you just coast on muscle memory?
VA: We don’t do a lot of practicing. We’ll run some newer songs; we’re getting ready to write a bunch of stuff, which is fun because we haven’t for awhile. That’s all the practicing we need to do.
We’ll run something at soundcheck if we’re busting something out we haven’t played in awhile just to make sure Rob [Derhak, bassist] remembers it…(Laughs) but other than that we don’t do a lot of rehearsal. If we’re working material for a new album we’ll rehearse, we’ll have writing sessions.
If we need to come up with something like a Halloween show, we’ll spend a week putting that together, making sure that what we’re thinking about doing will fly.
L4LM: You’ve chosen a “Star Wars” theme this year for Halloween, a film series near and dear to your hearts, it seems. How did it take this long for you guys to do kinda obvious choice?
VA: I think it’s been getting kicked around for a couple of years, but this year was the year. There’s gonna be a new one coming out and there’s a lot of hype going on right now, so it’s probably the right time.
L4LM: How excited are you for the new Star Wars film?
VA: I love the movies…I’ve seen them…maybe twenty times apiece…I mean the first three I didn’t see the last three, and I’m probably the least biggest fan in the band. I will say I think we’re coming up with some cool shit to do for the show.
L4LM: You guys dress up for the shows yourselves. A couple of the costume choices seem pretty obvious, but we all wanna know…who’s gonna be Slave Leia?
VA: (Laughs) Rob! (Laughs)
L4LM: That’s what I was calling! A lot of folks don’t realize how boring life on the road is. Do you have a favorite way to pass the time?
VA: I lay on my bunk a lot… (Laughs)…I do nothing because I’m lazy. (Laughs) I’ll run, or go exercise or find something to do to keep busy, keep my strength up. I talk on the phone to my wife and kids…that’s about it. Plus the day is pretty long…you get in there at 2 o’clock, the crew has been there for hours already…we do a soundcheck, write setlists, get a quick dinner then warm up and get to play for a couple hours.
It’s like an eleven or twelve hour workday, it just doesn’t start til 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
L4LM: One of the biggest rewards of a long life is seeing the next generation spring up. Fans who’ve been seeing you have started families and have adult children, most of the band have children as well. Do you ever worry that you’re getting too old for this?
VA: You know me well enough to know I act like an eighteen year old. Yes, I’m 46 years old…I didn’t think I’d still be acting like a teenager, but I still FEEL like a teenager so…I don’t know…when I go to certain gigs and I see all kids there…I start to feel a little old. (Laughs)
L4LM: To ring out your 25th year, you’ve chosen The Palace in Albany again. You guys must like the place.
VA: It’s a great place, and it’s a stronghold of our fans. As far as upstate New York goes, it’s one of the most fan and musician friendly venues. plus we know all the promoters and it’s my home town, or pretty close to it, so I love it!
I’m pretty psyched myself. (Laughs) I’m close enough to drive home, though I get a designated driver.
L4LM: Looking at your schedule, besides the Holiday shows, you’re one of the headliners for the upcoming Phases of the Moon Festival (more information here), and you’ll be jamming under the stars. Do you have any preference to playing outside or in?
VA: Playing outside is always awesome. There’s room for more people. The sound is great…moonlight on your face, the stars are out…It’s always cool.
L4LM: The band take turns writing setlists. How do you approach writing a festival set?
VA: Everbody has a little different approach for that. I usually just do what I always do, and try to write for a flow…some people will lean more towards writting a greatest hits show but I usually try and go for the groove.
I make sure there’s still enough big strong tunes in there but I just try and make something that flows from start to finish.
L4LM: You have a partner in crime with your fellow guys who hits things with sticks, Jim. How has working with him keeping the beat evolved over the years?
VA: It’s fun to bounce ideas off of each other. Also, over time he’s moved a little bit more away from the timbales and congas more to the melodic side with the vibes and stuff…Which I like. They’re melody instruments and it gives me a little more to play off. We have some grooves that we get into on the jams, and we definitely lift each other up.
The drive…when we’re both feeling a groove…the way we drive together is kinda crazy.
L4LM: You’ve started a jammy bluegrass side band, Floodwood, with one of your bandmates, Al. Do you just not see enough of him?
VA: I know right? (laughs) We were interested in that sound…and there’s not a lot of bands like that up in the Northeast. We started spreading it out more, but lately we’ve pulled it back a bit, just keeping it up in the north east, which was our original idea for how it was supposed to be.
With our schedules it can be too much to deal with, just trying to go out on the road on breaks from being out on the road. You don’t see your wife and kids…no good comes from that…
L4LM: I’ve heard that Chuck Garvey is an excellent marksman and that you’re his favorite target when it comes to throwing guitar picks.
VA: (Laughs) He gets me quite a bit. Sometimes I catch them and throw them back, but because of the lights I don’t see them until it’s too late. I’ll feel them bounce off my head or see them hit cymbals. He never really gets me in the eye or anything! (Laughs) Yet! (Laughs) I wear protective eye wear anyways (Laughs)
L4LM: I asked the .rons to give me a few questions, do you mind answering a couple from the fans?
VA: Go for it!
L4LM: By far the most asked…You’re always blowing bubbles while you play. What is your favorite brand of gum?
VA: I like the sweet mint gums, like the Trident sweet peppermint. Pretty much anything, I just need something in my mouth so I don’t chew my tongue off.
L4LM: I hear you’re quite the cook. What’s your signature dish?
VA: Probably Chicken Riggies, it’s a regional dish from Utica. My father was friends with the two guys who originated it so I got the recipe before it was ever a restaurant staple in the New York are. My dad started making it and we picked it up. I started cooking it when I was 16, so like thirty years ago. When I went to college, if you ask my buddies, they’ll tell you mine was best.
That being said, anything Italian, if you cook at all you know, if you know how to make a base you klnow how to cook like twenty dishes right off the bat. You kinda know how much wine to add, how much chicken broth, how much cream…
L4LM: When you’re home, how much of the cooking do you do?
VA: ALL OF IT! (Laughs)
L4LM: Earlier you said you didn’t think you had any other skills, but it sounds like you’ve got that going for you!
VA: I never worked in a kitchen before…I don’t know if I wouldn’t end up in the weeds. Man, you get on the line in a good restaurant and dude, the hustle. Lotta pressure. I like my job! (laughs)
L4LM: Are you aware that there is a moe. fan group dedicated to their cats?
VA: I had no idea. (Laughs)
L4LM: Are you a cat person?
VA: I’m a cat freak. My wife and I are cat people, we have three right now, it goes from three to five. We talk to them all the time. They jump all over us…never seen anybody’s cats like ours they have to be on us at all times. Next time I see you I’ll show you like a thousand pictures of my cats! (laughs)
L4LM: When you’re not on the road, do you go see shows, or are you ready for a break?
VA: Sometimes, but it depends. If it’s a really good band that I really want to see then yes, and if it’s friends of mine coming in I go, but I do a lot of side gigs. I’d just as soon be playing.
L4LM: Favorite mayor of moe.down?
VA: I’m gonna say Hodge, he’s my buddy! (Laughs) Oh wait, you know who my favorite mayor was? Bob Weir.
(As a joke, Vinnie nominated Bob Weir for the annual “mayor of moe.down” election, torpedoing Rex’s campaign. He seemed to think it was funny…)
L4LM: Yeah…he was great. I bet you like him best ’cause you nominated him…
VA: (Laughs) Yeah, was that your first or second year running that I totally screwed you? Sorry! I love you too Rex. I can say you too because you tried the hardest, I’ve talked to you the most…
L4LM: Anything you’d like to say to the moe.rons who’ve followed you around the country and across the decades?
VA: I think we all really appreciate that we’ve gotten to have this career and I hope we never disappoint. I hope we can continue to please them, and make good music that we can be proud of.
L4LM: Thanks for talking with us, and for all you do!
VA: No problem! See you soon.
Don’t miss moe. on the road this fall, as the band has a number of tour dates and festival appearances scheduled to celebrate the remainder of their 25th anniversary in 2015! The group will also be headlining the Phases of the Moon Festival, alongside STS9, The Disco Biscuits, Warren Haynes, the Lunar Landing Conspiracy ft. Matt Butler, and Yonder Mountain String Band. Check out the full lineup here!