Conversation with a Van Guy
Moses Atwood performs at The Monkey House this Monday, December 17, at 8 p.m. $5. Paddy Reagan and Hunter Robertson open.
Moses Atwood lives in a van down by the river. Seriously, he does. The classically trained guitarist and songwriter was raised in Maine, dropped out of Berklee, landed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, moved back to Maine, bought an old van, and went on the road. Somewhere along the way, he managed to record one of the year’s most stunning folk albums. Atwood’s self-titled debut is a moody, haunting affair, rife with grievous angels, inner devils and the whiskey bottles that often introduce us to both.
Seven Days recently caught up with Atwood by phone, at a coffee shop in his newly adopted home of Asheville, North Carolina.
SEVEN DAYS: So, what prompted the move to Asheville?
MOSES ATWOOD: Exploration, I guess. I sort of moved into a van that I outfitted as a home and then hit the road. I didn’t really have any planned agenda, but Asheville was sort of my first stop of significance. Just because I’d heard it was a great town with a great music scene.
Then, when I got here, I sort of ran out of money, and I’ve been here for about two months now.
SD: Speaking of the van, weren’t you living out of it in Burlington this summer?
MA: Yeah. I love it up there and I have some really good friends, some artists, in the area. So I was just sort of coming to see them and to check out the town. It’s the same reason I came here. I just like to go to new places and meet people.
SD: Tell me more about your van.
MA: I bought a 1986 conversion van called the “National Traveler.” It used to have the hydraulic bed in the back and the captain’s chairs in the back and that whole bit, you know? But I stripped all that out and spent a few weeks last summer in Maine just rebuilding it. Now it’s got hardwood floors and a sink and stove and a bed. It’s got space for my instruments. Oh, and it’s upholstered in denim.
SD: Awesome. Where do you park it?
MA: Wherever I can. When I was in Burlington I parked in my friend’s driveway. A lot of the time, people are pretty happy to have a “van guy.” For a little while, anyway. As long as you don’t overstay your welcome, it’s kind of exciting to have a van guy. You can go to work and be, like, “Hey, I’ve got a van guy!” So it really works out for everybody.
SD: Indeed. So, switching gears — no pun intended — could you tell me a bit about how you created the new album?
MA: It’s sort of a fusion. I have this friend named David Goodrich, who is a brilliant musician and producer. When I started to think about making my first record, having no experience in the studio and having no concept of what record production and the process of making a professional album was all about, I went straight to him.
The whole record is just me and him, and the idea was just to make it really simple and sparse. Really not much more than two instruments on any given track.
I’m a solo player, for now. And one of my pet peeves is songwriters who write songs that are appropriate for a band, but then when they tour, they don’t change the arrangement for playing solo. And you’re, like, “OK. This sounds like a great song . . . if you had a band.” And then you buy the record and it has the band on it. I don’t know. I wanted to avoid that.
We wanted to avoid any forced retro feel. We wanted to be simple and stripped down, but also modern. A lot of what my music is about are guitar arrangements that are full enough that you don’t feel like something is missing. That’s my intent.
SD: Do you have any plans to play with a band?
MA: I did once in Portland. We did one show and then I sort of disbanded it. It was definitely a learning process. It’s really important to have just the right players. I went for the players that were the best in town, just by their reputations. But then it turned out that they were really good, but . . . sometimes you can get the person who’s technically “the best,” but they don’t play the music quite the way you want them to. It’s difficult. There are a lot of subtleties.
SD: Any holiday or New Year’s wishes?
MA: Um . . . well, I have made little to no effort trying to organize myself as a professional musician. I’ve had that common musician’s problem where I like making the music, but I’m terrible at schmoozing my way into the music scene. And I’ve made no attempt at trying to present myself in a professional manner to anyone that might be able to help me when it comes to organizing and booking and expanding my career.
So I think I’ve come to a point, after living in a van for a while and being hungry and stuff, that I sort of need to get my act together and see if I can become, at least a little bit, financially supported. It’s tricky these days.