Multi-instrumentalist and music theory aficionado, Jamie Moore has been a longtime friend of The MIC, and finally released his much anticipated debut EP, Stoneflower & Other Microsongs. Sitting down with Stef from The MIC, Jamie reveals his songwriting process and the inspiration behind the dichotomy of including both microsongs and standard-length tracks on the EP.
SJ: What was your first memory of music?
JM: One of my hyper-fixations as a kid was film scores and soundtracks. This was around the time the first Shrek came out, and the idea of a movie soundtrack being comprised of licensed pop songs was still a thing to a degree. So I’d listen to these soundtracks on my sisters’ portable CD player(!) and memorize the songs and sing them incessantly. I’d also memorize music cues from the scores to films and video games and hum the melodies nonstop, aping the sounds of orchestral instruments as best I could and almost certainly sounding very annoying and weird to people who could hear me. But in my mind, I had the full force of the orchestra behind me, and I guessed subconsciously I yearned for the ability to capture moments and emotions through music the way my heroes Danny Elfman and Harry Gregson-Williams et al did in my favorite movies. Music wasn’t always an explicit ambition of mine, but it was always with me.
SJ: How would you describe your own sound?
JM: This is a tough one because, for one thing, I make it a point to be something of a musical chameleon, never lingering too long in one style, as a way to reflect the broad listening palate I’ve cultivated over the years. The other issue is that genre is so slippery and imprecise to the point of being nearly meaningless. I could tell you I make “alternative” music, but that umbrella term covers artists as disparate as Stone Temple Pilots, Sheryl Crow, Imagine Dragons, Lorde, etc. You could label me DIY cause I did, in fact, Do This Myself, but I worry about having put too much polish on my work for it to be authentically lo-fi enough for a hypothetical audience. Ultimately the only thing I can say about my music stylistically is that it’s mine, and I try to make it fun. If you can pigeonhole me into one sub-genre, I must be doing something wrong.
SJ: What do you think was the best part about going to school to study music? Worst?
JM: Undeniably, the best part of majoring in music turned out to be the people I’ve met and the connections I’ve made. I learned plenty I didn’t know before college, but the real reward was meeting like-minded musicians and cultivating meaningful friendships with people I could potentially make great art with. I wouldn’t trade my music school friends for the world. The worst part was the Studio Maintenance night class that was 7-10:30 PM every Wednesday night at a commuter school, and also, it only ran in the fall. Literally, the only thing that could have made that class worse is if I’d had to take it over Zoom.
SJ: What made you decide now was the time to release your first EP?
JM: I’d been going to college for six years at this point, got an Associates, on the cusp of getting a Bachelors, so I knew that I had to cap off my time in academia with something big and new. And the one sort of white whale that had eluded me for years was songwriting; I’d tried and failed to finish writing original songs over and over again, so I knew managing to write enough songs to fill out a professional release would be a big challenge worth making the culmination of my college career. It’s also like, if I’m ever going to step beyond the classroom and do music professionally, it’s now or never. I won’t be able to hide behind the excuse that I’m still just a student. So I really pushed myself to go beyond relying on performing and recording other people’s music and write my own music I could be proud of having created.
SJ: What was the most challenging part of creating Stoneflower & Other Microsongs?
JM: The hardest parts were getting started and knowing when to stop. The work in-between was a matter of course. Once I know what work needs to be done, it’s just about making time to do it and pacing myself so that I A) get a satisfactory amount of work done on a given day and B) don’t drive myself completely insane from overworking. But it’s laying the groundwork and making the plan for what needs to happen that’s the tricky part, and I’m prone to getting frustrated with the slow going of early-stage creative work. The songs were all pretty much done being written by the time I began work on the EP, so I just had to resign myself to the slog of plotting MIDI drum tracks to go with a song that doesn’t exist yet. Oftentimes I’d play back what I had, and my initial reaction would be, “this sounds like shit!” And then my rational brain would go, “well, of course, it sounds like shit. It’s sampled MIDI percussion in isolation. It’ll sound better later when there are other instruments.” Stifling my impatience with the early production was the hardest part. But also, figuring out when to stop working on the damn thing was difficult. Obviously, I had both a school due date and a self-imposed deadline, but I could keep making minute changes to various parameters for the rest of my life and never be truly 100% satisfied with every element. Such is the curse of this kind of work. Being able and willing to let go of something you’ve put so much effort into and put it out into the world is an important skill for any creative.
SJ: What is your favorite part of being able to create music?
JM: That moment when it all comes together and starts sounding the way I imagined it would at the start, that’s something magical right there. I know I just said there’s always things I’m not satisfied with in hindsight, but having a finished product I can look back on and be content with is the feeling I chase when I’m putting together songs. Even songs I recorded years ago, I look back on fondly every once in a while, almost to prove to myself that I really am capable of this. There’s even some stuff I re-listen to and say, “how did I do that?” There’s a story that Kurt Vonnegut tells in various speeches and novels about an architect he hired to build him an addition to his house. And when the construction was complete, the architect looked at it, awestruck, and said something along the lines of “now how in the hell did I do that?” I’m that guy. That’s me.
SJ: What is your favorite track from the EP and why?
JM: Well, boy, there’s a lot to choose from! I’ll say my favorite of the microsongs is probably “I Never Wanna Die Again” because it was an idea that made me chuckle at first, and once it was fully produced with vocal harmonies, I realized it was accidentally a Jayhawks song. In timbre, at least. And if you sound at all like the Jayhawks, you’re doing something right if you ask me. Anyway, if you don’t count the microsongs, my favorite of the three full songs has gotta be Beyond Reproach. It has the longest history of any of this crop of songs. I first wrote a shorter version with different lyrics as a sophomore in high school and recorded it in Audacity with a shitty mic. The lyrics were drivel, meaningless words and phrases I just bunched together in an attempt to capture some of Elvis Costello’s snide wit and energy. That’s why the chorus is so accusatory towards some unnamed (and nonexistent) person, cause I was trying on this angry-young-man pose without any substance to back it up. I held onto the recording, though, because I thought the song had some potential, and eventually, in 2020, I found a fitting target for some real vitriol and anger in the then-president of the United States of America. Once I knew the song had to be about Trump, it got longer, meaner, and altogether better and more powerful. I think it’s a strong statement to cap off the EP. Like, we have fun here, but I staunchly refuse to be apolitical in my art, and I’m taking my stand here. It’s what Joe Strummer would want, you know?
SJ: Tell us about “microsongs.” Aside from three tracks on the record, the rest is a suite of 19 microsongs which were clearly inspired by They Might Be Giants. How would you describe microsongs in your own words, and what drove you to create this sweet, suite?
JM: So I’d known of They Might Be Giants for a few years, I’d listened to their classic record Flood and a few other bits and pieces here and there, but I didn’t really start digging into their catalog until early last year. What happened was I was taking a songwriting course at Ramapo with the inimitable Gilad Cohen, and one day he played us the entire Fingertips suite from the album Apollo 18. Twenty or so songs totaling about 4 minutes, the longer ones being 30 seconds to a minute long, but most of them much shorter than that. And the impressive thing is that each song is undeniably a complete and fully produced work: they come in, express a full idea, and then end. Often these ideas are non-sequiturs communicated in very strange ways, but that’s what gives them their charm. And so the class exercise that day was to write at least one “ten-second song” and perform it. I ended up with 3. The first 3, in fact: Bee In A Jar, Moon, and Silica Gel. It turned out I had a knack for this sort of thing because I walk around being autistic and making up stupid funny little songs all day anyway. And I also found the idea of artistic brevity very stimulating. That something can be a fully realized work of art while being presented in the smallest possible form. So I kept those three little songs in my back pocket until it hit me that I should make my own suite. For the rest of 2020, I would jot down phrases and lyric ideas in the Notes app that struck me as song-worthy. Some of them were inspired by things my friends said, like when my friend Dan referred to the N-word as “the gamer word.” The song Boss is straight up a message my friend Joel sent in our Discord server verbatim. And some of them were written specifically to venture out of my comfort zone, like Bee In A Jar and Trapped In The Darkness, which are basically just butt rock. It worked out because the necessary level of commitment was significantly lower than if I were to make a full song out of these ideas. Hard, fast, and loud is not really my style, but I only need to keep up the energy for ten seconds, and then I’m on to the next song. It’s like trying on clothes. This one doesn’t fit, right? Who cares, try the next one. It was a lot of fun in that regard. And as a bonus fun fact, I wrote the lyrics to Fuckler’s Cove in January 2021 while in the ER in the early hours of the morning after passing a kidney stone. So that’s where that one came from!
SJ: What influenced you to create “Nationalism is Dumb Part 1-4?”
JM: The genesis of that idea must have been some long-forgotten incident of years back where I guess I forgot the words to America The Beautiful but realized that the words to Mary Had A Little Lamb scanned properly in their place. Which works on a couple levels: on the one hand, it’s a mashup of two familiar songs that basically everybody in this country learned at a young age, so there’s little chance the joke will go over anybody’s head. But also, it communicates my evil pinko commie disdain for America and the very concept of American national identity. I’ve grown very distrustful the last few years of the ways in which we are encouraged to seek self-worth and identity outside of ourselves, through consumer products, for example. There’s a reason I don’t call myself a gamer despite playing a lot of video games, and it’s because I know deep down that I am more than just a consumer. I don’t exist merely to give corporations money. Similarly, I live in America, yes, but I don’t believe I have an obligation to swear fealty to an increasingly fascist death cult that habitually sacrifices the poor, people of color, disabled people, et al merely because I happened to be born in it. I follow the news, and I’ve studied history; I know what this country has done and what it continues to do, and I disapprove. So I categorically reject the pressure to perform patriotism in favor of independent thought. If this offends you, oops. I guess you can kill me about it if you want, but maybe don’t, thanks. Anyway, that’s where the first song came from, and the rest followed logically as I tried out the same trick in different countries’ patriotic anthems. The kicker came when I went on Google Translate and discovered that the French for “your fleece as white as snow” (ta polaire blanche comme neige) scanned perfectly to the tune of La Marseillaise. I was like, “okay, it’s happening now. Now it’s a mini-suite.” And that’s that!
SJ: What do you wish you could accomplish with the EP?
JM: I see this EP as a way of getting my foot in the door and putting myself out there. A showcase for my talents and voice (both my literal voice and my songwriter’s voice) and production skills. I made this almost all on my own (apart from borrowing a couple instruments from my brother-in-law) in my own copy of Ableton Live with precious few fancy plug-ins and pieces of gear. And I think it’s a pretty impressive product. So imagine what I could do with more of that sort of thing, or more collaborators. I think with this EP, I have something really nice in my portfolio that I can show off to producers, employers, prospective bandmates, etc., as a way of demonstrating my potential. The future is wide open.
SJ: Will you be releasing Stoneflower & Other Microsongs on other major streaming platforms?
JM: Quite possibly yes! I’ve been tentatively looking into distribution services for a wider release. I wanted to start with a soft launch on Bandcamp just for the sake of being more able to personalize the release and make sure I had a place to put all the special thanks and shout-outs I needed to give out. I’m no graphic designer, so an iTunes digital booklet or what-have-you wouldn’t be feasible. And Spotify doesn’t have liner notes (unless they do and I’m just a hopeless Luddite who still uses an iPod). But now that it’s been out for a while and hopefully getting more publicity I’m probably gonna look into something like Distrokid to get it further out there. Everyone has their own listening preferences after all, and it’s worth meeting people halfway.
SJ: What’s next for Jamie Moore?
JM: Well, I’m trying to write some more songs for a future release. Coming up with ideas, chord progressions, titles. It’s in the chaotic early stage where ideas and themes float around every which way, and it’s a matter of grabbing them out of the air and assembling them like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. I have one song with a full set of lyrics written already based on the novella City of Glass by Paul Auster. The issue there is deciding how it ought to be arranged and produced. Whether there will be another microsong suite on the next album is up in the air. The first one was really fun, but if I do too many microsongs, I run the risk of pigeonholing myself. All I can say is I’ve got ideas in the works, and at some point, I’ll get them sorted out and get ready to paddle off into the night, as it were.
SJ: Well, we’re excited to hear whatever and whenever that may be! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat and discuss Stoneflower & Other Microsongs, already looking forward to doing this again, hopefully soon.
JM: Thank you for the interview! It was a joy to put this EP together and I appreciate the opportunity to blab about it! Wahoo!
LONG STORY SHORT: Jamie Moore’s Stoneflower & Other Microsongs encompasses many sounds and genres all in less than twenty minutes. This EP is humorous, lighthearted and filled with personality. Why haven’t you listened yet?
Buy a copy on Bandcamp! We already got ours.