“We’re not interested in deliberately repeating ourselves”: A chat with Bob Moses

You’ve probably heard a lot of people talking about Bob Moses lately. Since emerging from Brooklyn’s underground dance scene in 2012, the duo have released an incredible pair of albums and a string of consistently great singles.

Fresh off the release of the most recent album Battle Lines, we caught up with Tom Howie to chat about the new release, second album nerves, and the influence of punk and metal music.

To do the exact same thing is boring… so we’re not interested in deliberately repeating ourselves“: We caught up with Bob Moses to chat their new album, former punk bands, and the Grammy’s.

HAPPY: Your new album Battle Lines has just dropped… and following the success of an album like Days Gone By, were there any nerves or apprehensions releasing the follow up album?

TOM: No, not for us. I think if anything, the success of Days Gone By gave us more confidence, not less. I think the further we get into it, the more I feel that if you trust your gut and write stuff that you really like, then there’s a chance you’ll get it right enough for other people to like. I mean, there’s always nerves releasing an album. Whenever you put out new shit, it’s like “are people gonna like it?

HAPPY: It’s alway interesting with second albums, because a lot of bands seem to struggle with the choice of either evolving their sound or delivering more of what people have enjoyed previously… did you guys struggle with that choice at all when you were writing this new album?

TOM: No, because I think we’re lucky in the sense that our first album didn’t really feel like a first album. We put out two EPs that actually got reissued when we signed to Domino, which were almost like a first album. We were already touring a lot and we already had a pretty big underground following, like in the underground dance scene. I think this last record was the next step. And that’s always what we’re trying to do… take the next step. To do the exact same thing is boring… so we’re not interested in deliberately repeating ourselves. I think it felt like the next natural thing we were drawn to. I think we were very conscious of keeping our sound, because we took so long developing our sound. There are a few core elements that we try to keep in each song, but then we just follow our creative muse, so to speak.

HAPPY: So you always need things to feel natural? You never push any specific thing…

TOM: Yeah totally. I think the point of being an artist is to push yourself. It’s weird because you make something and you form an opinion of it, then you release it and everyone else forms an opinion. So that’s an interesting experience… of trying to match your opinions to other people’s opinions. So yeah, I think we really tried to push ourselves and make things exciting. There has to be an element that’s different than a past release. It’s weird when you write stuff, because you kind of get too involved in it, and you know every little bit of it.

HAPPY: Do you find that when you’re writing, you detach from what other people think, and then you’re left flying in blind when you release an album?

TOM: Yeah a little bit. But also not really… we’ve always toured a lot. While we were making this record last year, we played like 65 shows… so that’s still a fair amount of playing. So we were still on the ground seeing other bands and seeing who’s on the lineup. We were always listening, so you get a lot of inspiration from that. And the other part is that we have our own trusted sounding board… so you have to find a bunch of people that you trust, and whose opinion you trust, but also so you know their opinion. If I played songs for my brother, for example, my brother’s like a 24-year-old underground DJ – so I know what songs he’s gonna like more than other songs. Then if I play a song for my Mom or something, it’ll be different. Or like Jimmy’s Dad is a musician, but he’s like an old-school songwriter so we know what he’s gonna like. The song my brother likes the most isn’t going to be the same as the song that Jimmy’s Dad likes the most… but we know that.

HAPPY: Have you been playing a lot of the new material before the album dropped… or have you been saving it till after the release?

TOM: We haven’t played any of it. We’re working on all that stuff now. We’re playing with a drummer that we’ve had for the past couple of years, and we’ve added a bass player now… so we’re just working on the material, and working out the arrangements… it’s really fun.

HAPPY: You’ll be down under for a few festival shows over the New Year’s… can you tell us anything about the live show you’ll be bringing down here?

TOM: Yeah, yeah so we’ll be bringing out the full band. It’ll be a four-piece with me and Jimmy, a bass player, and drummer. The set is kind of a balance between mixing songs like a DJ set with transitions… so it’ll look like a rock band and it’ll sound really full with a full drum-kit, and there’s also triggers on the drums… so we mix the electronic drums with the live drums. So it’ll sound really full. It’ll sound like the record but a more energetic version.

HAPPY: With that rock sound, I understand that both you and Jimmy used to play in punk and metal bands in high school…

TOM: Yeah…

HAPPY: Do you think these genres still influence your music at all?

TOM: Yeah I think probably subconsciously, because I think you pick up and you absorb all these thing throughout your life. I think a lot our stuff is influenced by that music a bit, but we don’t actively try for that. Punk is one very specific vibe, and so is metal… so we don’t sound like punk or metal. So not super deliberately does it influence us, but it probably does in ways we don’t realise. Jimmy was just saying to me he’s been listening to a lot more metal lately, and I’ve actually been listening to a lot of punk stuff lately too… so it’s kind of funny that you mentioned that. So yeah, it probably does influence us, but not directly.

HAPPY: You guys have known each other for a long time… what was the first incarnation of Bob Moses? What kind of music were you playing back then?

TOM: Well it was always sort of electronic songs… that was always our sort of thing. We worked on it for about nine months before we worked out what we wanted our sound to be, and that’s when the whole Bob Moses thing happened. We were writing electronic songs and we were producing those kinds of beats. It was a similar sound to what it is now, but it was sort of a bit more varied. If you think of Bob Moses as the focused version of it, there was a lot of meandering to find and settle on. We might write one thing that’s really Moby-ish or something that might sound a lot like Chemical Brothers, you know, shit that had a bit more diversity. It wasn’t like right away that we said we should write dreamy, melodic deep-house with indie feel, you know? It took us a while to find that.

HAPPY: Back to talking about Australia… I understand that you were in Australia when you first heard about your Grammy nomination…

TOM: Yeah I was actually…

HAPPY: Could you walk us through that moment?

TOM: Yeah, it was kind of trippy actually. Because I had no idea when the Grammy’s happened… I don’t follow the Grammy’s. Whenever the Grammy’s come on, it’s like “oh cool, yeah,” but I wouldn’t have known til it came on. So I didn’t know we had been submitted, and I was staying at my friend’s place in Sydney in this sick little attic. Upstairs there’s this little hangout area, and it’s their guest room. So I slept up there, but there was no reception up there… so I got up and I came downstairs and all of a sudden I had like a hundred messages on my phone. So yeah, it was kind of a trip. It was exciting and cool, but also a bit out of nowhere.

Catch Bob Moses live at any of the following dates:

28th December – 1st January – Lost Paradise Festival, NSW
1st January  – The First Festival, VIC