I recently traveled to Boston to meet up with Peter Moore for an interview. We met at the restaurant part of one of my favorite venues, Middle East. Moore is the frontman for the Boston-based rock band, Count Zero. He has also released a solo album, One Ride. And on top of that, he has a unique persona known as Jim Morissey. If that wasn’t enough, he had quite the experience touring with the Blue Man Group on the “How to be a Megastar” Tour.
Alex Obert: So how has being in Boston shaped you as a musician?
Peter Moore: I’ve been in bands since 1985, I was young. I think it shaped me because the Boston scene then and still now was super guitar-based garage rock kind of music, which I was into but me and my friends were also into electronics and sampling technology, which was new at the time. I think that kind of made us stick out more because everybody else is playing guitar rock bands. We have this weird gear onstage, but we’re still playing rock music. I think it made us different enough, we weren’t like everybody else. But there was an aesthetic to being a garage rock punk band, we did have some of that too. Plus it’s a pretty healthy community, musically speaking, there’s lots of music education around here, so you tend to have a higher bar and a slightly more sophisticated audience then you would have in Poughkeepsie. It makes it a little different.
Alex Obert: What did you take out of those early bands you were in?
Peter Moore: I guess I was influenced by the other members of the band, there was an emphasis on customizing your sound. We’d always make our own samples, we’d always make our own sounds. I took that from the band because those guys were really into being architects of their own sounds. That’s one of the main takeaways that I can think of.
Alex Obert: Did you first enjoy writing in school?
Peter Moore: I started writing songs when I was four or five. It was before I was formally trained. Once I was at that age, it had a more educated composing-songwriting aspect to it. I learned more about the history of it, but I was always very voracious in consuming different songwriting styles and composing.
Alex Obert: Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
Peter Moore: They tend to be social commentary-ish, as opposed to I love you kind of lyrics, but I have written I love you lyrics. I mean that just comes from observing the world and seeing how fucked up it is, like why don’t you do something about this, it bugs me that this shit is all fucked up in the world. I’m going to write something about it. And that’s just like reading the news, shit like that, it’s an influence. There is a lot of good lyricists in this town and just all over the world. I think you can get inspired just by reading really potent sets of lyrics. Like, “Jesus, wow! I never would have thought of that! That’s amazing, I want to write like that. I love that style.” You kind of cop it for a while.
Alex Obert: Who are some of your favorite songwriters?
Peter Moore: I have a million favorite songwriters, but somebody like Joni Mitchell, she had this way of introducing a conversation into lyrics, she would say like, “And you said this. And I said that.” But it sounded natural to me, it wasn’t like it was graceful the way she did it. I found that attractive for a period of time. Like even now, I play with this guy, John Powhida, he fronts a band called John Powhida International Airport. He’s just got this great way of writing songs that are very soulful sounding or very rocking sounding, but the lyrics are kind of funny, you’re more ironic. It’s a nice juxtaposition because you think it will be normal classic rock, but it ends up being about sitting around watching TV or making fun of celebrities or something like that. I find most really refreshing because I don’t really write like that, so when I see other people write that way and do it really well, you’re like, “Wow, that’s great!”
Alex Obert: Who would you say are your vocal influences?
Peter Moore: Like 1970s Stevie Wonder, that’s what I grew up on. I think he is amazing at a million things, but he’s one of my favorites singers, more soulful. But then there’s people like Bowie. When I was in the Blue Man Group, we toured with David Bowie, which was great because I got to go backstage and see him from the side of the stage. I’ve told this to a million people because it still blows my mind to this day, but he has such amazing power as a vocalist. This guy did tons of drugs and he smoked cigarettes all his life, and he shouldn’t have a voice that good. It’s like, “Wow, you’re from another world.” Seeing him night after night, what a professional performer he was! He been doing it so long, just the way he managed his band and just got shit done, just called out the setlist. He was always really friendly looking to the crowd, so he’s singing to you. All these showbiz things that I would never do. But you see somebody embrace it and you’re like, “Wow, that’s awesome!”
Paul McCartney similarly, he had a really great ability to do that. I just saw Paul McCartney like five years ago, again, here’s a guy that’s super old. But he totally had the stamina to pull off a show for like three hours straight without taking a sip of water. He’s just a completely committed professional, like amazing. There’s this band called Luscious that I was turned onto, they’re female singers and they are really strong. There are three of them. Really strong harmonies. Anybody that can sing relatively well with a good amount of power and conviction and emotion, I’m always impressed by them.
Alex Obert: You mentioned being on tour with David Bowie as part of the Blue Man Group, were you in the outfit?
Peter Moore: No, I wasn’t. There were three blue men, but for this particular tour we were doing, it shows consisted of the three blue men trying to be rockstars. So I was in the rock band on stage with them and they were trying to learn how to be rockstars. I actually sang vocals and played keyboard. The Blue Man Group had songs with guest vocalists on the record. They had Dave Matthews on a song, they had Gavin Rossdale on a song, I was on a song on the record. But when they went and toured, they obviously couldn’t get Dave Matthews to sing live with them, so I just sang all the male vocal parts on the record. Tracy Bonham sang all the female vocal parts. It’s kind of weird because when you think of the Blue Man Group, you don’t think of singing, but they were trying to make it more like a rock band, having the Blue Man Group and a rock band.
Alex Obert: With all the opportunities you’ve had, what do you consider to be your first big break in the music business?
Peter Moore: I don’t know there’s like a big break, everything’s so gradual. I guess some people get super huge breaks. More realistically, people work a little bit and then they get on this thing and nothing happens for a while. Then they go on this thing and it gets a little better. I think the Blue Man thing probably was a great opportunity because I was able to tour the world, performing for a show that I thought was fun, and I knew a lot of people in the organization. It was a great bunch of people, it was a good gig, and it lasted a long time. We would play in front of five to ten thousand people every night, I would never have had the opportunity with my own bands. Our music is too weird! (laughs) And I don’t have a cool thing like, “Hey, we all dress blue!” That’s probably the thing where I played to the most people. And I was also able to go onto the Tonight Show as a performer. After I was done doing that, I was back to playing with my own band in a club in Boston. I mean that’s also cool too. You’re obviously not playing in front of a ton of people, but at least you’re playing your stuff. I don’t feel I always need to be playing in front of five thousand people.
Alex Obert: What are your favorite clubs to play in Boston?
Peter Moore: There’s not a whole lot left. However, there was one called Lili’s in Somerville. It was sort of a fancy place because it was such a well put together club, but then they lost money and they had to go under. (laughs) It’s usually hard to operate a rock club and make a profit. I just played the Lizard Lounge. Count Zero has had their record releases there. The place is cozy, but it still sounds pretty good. Everybody can hear anything, it can get pretty loud there. It’s a pretty decent place.
Alex Obert: From your perspective, how does your solo music differ from Count Zero?
Peter Moore: Count Zero is a little bit harder edge, moreso something a rock band would play. My solo stuff was born out of me doing solo shows as a piano player and then extrapolating it into a larger illustration. It tends to be more poppy. I would also say, lyrically, my solo stuff might deal with love songs. There might be one song from Count Zero that’s a love song. Normally, the songs from Count Zero are social commentary.
Alex Obert: What are the influences for Count Zero?
Peter Moore: It’s changed a lot. I think when I listen to the first record, which came out about twenty years ago or something like that, I was listening to a lot of Sly Stone and Led Zeppelin, old seventies stuff. And maybe some funk stuff in there. The next record is a lot more electronic, like Radiohead in a way, or maybe Flaming Lips. The next record after that, not so much a country feel, but it has a lots of Lap steel on it. It has a little bit more of an organic feel to it. The problem with Count Zero is it’s never been restricted stylistically, we’re not like, “We can’t do that! That doesn’t sound like Count Zero!” Stylistically, we’re all over the map. Even within one record, it goes in a lot of directions. The last record, the one we put out a few years ago, some parts of it reminds me of bands like Phoenix, there is a couple songs that sound like dance rock, and there’s some songs that sounds like weird progressive rock. It jumps all over the place. I wish I had an easy answer like, “We sound like blah.”
Alex Obert: How did the band’s involvement with Guitar Hero and Rock Band develop?
Peter Moore: The bass player in our band at the time worked at Harmonix, I actually was there working part-time. They were working on this game that would eventually become the first Guitar Hero. Because the game was new, they couldn’t get licensing from big-name acts because it was this low budget game by this smalltime company. Harmonix couldn’t pay for the licensing. On the first Guitar Hero, all the recordings are soundalikes. And it wasn’t until the game became hugely successful that the original bands wanted to be a part of the game. It would help them to sell records because kids are going to get turned on to it, it’s a popular game. In the original Guitar Hero, they didn’t have that kind of cachet. Most of the original music in the first Guitar Hero is from local bands and a lot of them were bands that had a member, at least one member that worked for Harmonix. So Izzy was like, “Hey, we’re making this game. What song can we use for Guitar Hero?” For various reasons, we could only come up with one song that would work. So we were like, “Oh, put this song in!”
So many people played it, but that became their favorite song off the record. It’s actually one of the crappier songs off the record, in my opinion, but we lost all the files for all the other songs. It’s one of the two songs we didn’t lose all the files for. It could’ve been any song, you could have farted on it and people would still be like, “This is great!” because it is a fun game. People got into it because the played it so much. They like the songs because they hear them so much. That was kind of a big break in way because you try so many things and trying this one worked out because it became a successful game. Most people would never have heard of us before. And people all over the world knew us from that song in the game. Or from Guitar Hero 2.
Alex Obert: Your song in Guitar Hero 2 was Radium Eyes, can you take readers through the writing and recording of that particular song?
Peter Moore: I actually came up with the initial ideas for that into a cheap tape recorder when I was driving home from work one day. And then I assembled them, just these shitty recordings. From that, I said, “Okay, here’s what could be a verse. Here’s what could be a chorus.” And then I started writing lyrics to it. The lyrics eventually ended up being about the Philippines War, about a relationship of two people that love each other and one gets taken away at war. I was thinking a lot about war because it was the time around the US involvement in Iraq, it was on my mind a lot. A love song about people separated by war. And then we just assembled the song. We didn’t have a record out yet, but we knew we wanted something newer than something off our old record. So we just recorded that song as a one-off and then did all the things we had to do to put it in the game. And then it didn’t end up on a record this last record that came out two years ago. (laughs)
Alex Obert: Aside from Count Zero, there is also Jim Morrisey. What’s that about?
Peter Moore: When I was on tour with the Blue Man Group, we’d have soundchecks. You’re playing every day, so it gets repetitive. They would be checking my vocals and I would sing one of our songs, but I would sing it in the style of Morrisey of The Smiths. People in the band would always ask me to do that. Sound guy hated it because it didn’t sound like my voice and he was like, “Shut up! Just sing like yourself!” I would sometimes imitate other singers too. But it got stuck in my head that I should do something where I should imitate Morissey all the time. My friend Josh suggested that we do Jim Morrisey. It would be Morissey thinking he’s in The Doors, that he had some accident in his brain and now he thinks he’s the lead singer of The Doors. So that’s the only way you could pull off why the fuck Morissey would be singing Doors tunes. We initially thought of that because he needed an act for his own band. They would play Doors music and I perform as Jim Morissey. It takes a lot to do it, you have to dress up and do it. What I should do it again because fun and stupid. Josh keeps saying that he wants to take us to Europe because he says, “Oh man, they would totally love that in Europe! Jim Morissey would be huge!” But I don’t know about that.
Alex Obert: You were talking earlier about going against the traditional music scene, doing more of what you wanted to do, rather than what was on the radio. What do you feel is important about staying true to yourself?
Peter Moore: I think it’s okay to not stay true to yourself if you are completely aware of that’s what you’re doing. “Hey, I have to go sell out and play music with this person because they’re paying a good amount of money.” I know a lot of people that get caught in the scene, they just go, “Okay, I’ll just go play with this band.” Somebody has to really suck for you not to play with them. If somebody like Matchbox Twenty came up to me and was like, “Hey, we want you to play in our band.”, I’d be like, “Fuck! I hate you guys!” I don’t know how to deal with that. I probably wouldn’t do it, but then again, you have to make money to live. For musicians, it’s getting harder and harder to do because nobody makes money off of record sales anymore. Because of that, there’s not that much money floating around in the industry, so nobody can really pay to go on tour. It’s not like you can pick and choose that much anymore. Like maybe you could thirty years ago. But I think all that said, I think it’s helpful to know what being true to yourself means. Even if you can’t do it for various reasons. You should be able, at some point, be able to get back to being true to yourself. Years and years will pass and you’ll be like, “Ugh shit! I never was true to myself and now I have nothing to show for it but a bunch of crap.” I do think it is important, even though it makes things really hard to do sometimes.
Favorite guitar riff?
I think of things I like to play air guitar to, I think of some riffs in When the Devil Comes by Farquhar, or when the band pounds in after the quiet sections in Every Holy Shroud by Polvo. The final riff in Veteran’s Day Poppy by Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band.
Favorite one hit wonder?
To Sir with Love by Lulu or Pop Muzik by M. Favorite one-hit wonder artist? Thomas Dolby—so much more depth than She Blinded me with Science.
Show you wish you could relive?
A show that I performed in, I imagine you mean? First thing that comes to mind is Think Tree’s first show at the Paradiiso in Amsterdam for the Tegentonen festival in 1991. Or maybe when we opened up the Boston Music Awards when the audience was full of NKOTB fans.
Favorite video game?
Favorite restaurant in Boston?
Journeyman in Somerville. Adventurous, creative cuisine.
Musician you wish you went to high school with?
I guess it would have to be someone around my age. Maybe Jeff Buckley. I met him once, he seemed like a cool dude.
First concert you ever attended?
The band Kansas at Kemper Arena in Omaha, NE, near my hometown. Fall of 1978.
Song you’re tired of hearing?
Firework by Katy Perry. Every time I hear it, I get pissed because no one ever says Fireworks not in the plural. Firework, without an s, is not really a word. Plus it’s such a calculated business move to write a song that every community in the country will play the shit out of once a year.
Alex Obert: What are your websites at the moment for readers to check out?
Peter Moore: I have Count-Zero.com. I also have PeterMooreWorld.com. And that’s probably going to change, it is gonna change. It’s going to be more like a reel, like what you send out to people in the music industry so they can hire you for like, “Hey, I want you to write this thing for me.” It will still be cool, it just won’t be as much of a fan site. It will still be the same address, PeterMooreWorld.com.
Alex Obert: In closing, what are your plans for the rest of the year in music?
Peter Moore: Count Zero is working on a new bass player. Once he’s worked in, we’ll start getting some new material in. We have some shows in September and October that are already in the books. And if I have time, I’d like to work on some other Peter Moore stuff. Right now I’m scheduled to do a lot of freelance work with people, I’m probably gonna produce some records and do some audio work on this guy’s film. Actually gonna do some acting. I’m keeping myself open to a lot of different things, just keeping myself busy. It’s definitely gonna be something!