(Editor's note: Read a long Q&A with Craig B. Moore here.)
Though it could have been easy to misread Craig B. Moore's natural charismatic stage presence for over-confidence throughout the Birdy's Battle Royale this spring, it would have been a mistake. The band, fresh off the February release of debut album Life Matters, had actually entered the competition on the last-minute suggestion of venue booker Henry French.
“I was actually given Henry's contact information a week before the competition started, and I called him just to try and get a show booked,” says Moore. “So he says 'why don't you come be a part of our Battle Royale?
' So we did. I just wanted to make an impression on people and get our name out there, and suddenly we ended up advancing. So that was a good deal for us.”
He's being modest, of course. The band advanced on a tough night late in the competition, placing second to Stackhouse, a crowd favorite that showed all its cards early, keeping nothing in reserve. Moore's Invaders, meanwhile, proved that building an audience requires finesse, a willingness to challenge even the band's expectations. When they returned in the late April semifinals against a brutal slate including Prowlers and The Prey's Jeff Kelly and Westside rockers Speedbird, they upped the ante and advanced again, placing second to prog-rockers Dead Birds Adore Us.
“[Making the finals] just made us look closer at ourselves,” Moore says of the preparation involved. “We watched the videos people had taken, and listened to our performances. It just made us critique ourselves harder, which I think for any band, for any show, is a good thing to do. The challenge is, from this point, to keep doing that now that we're not up against a band trying to advance. It's a challenge to go into each and every performance with the same mindset.”
Though they didn't place in the top half of competitors during the battle's final round, they were certainly worthy of a “most improved” mention, particularly for how they took songs from early rounds and pushed to make them sound new. Top single contenders “Einstein” and “Your Dreams” benefited from the added self-scrutiny, helping propel this band beyond early, easy Pearl Jam comparisons.
Moore, an educator who serves as the assistant principal at Doe Creek Middle School in New Palestine, has worked with guitarist Tom Baumgardner for more than a decade, since the two were college roommates. For Life Matters, the two teamed up with Brant Cook on bass, Corey Miller on rhythm guitar and Nate Wiencken on drums. Once the Invaders lineup was set, they set to recording the debut last March at The Lodge Recording Studios in Indianapolis.
Just weeks after releasing the album, they threw themselves to the Birdy's wolves.
“I think anyone who saw us in March and then saw us again in May would have seen a noticeable difference and I think a lot of it is due to the fact that the Battle Royale really stretched us,” says Moore. “It challenged us to look at ourselves individually and as a band to bring out the best.”
That's a message he strives to impart on the students who pass through his office
“I just had a neat experience, as our high school jazz band covered our song “How To Fall,” and they invited me to perform it with them at their spring concert. It was a really neat experience. And then they interviewed me after the performance. And one of the questions was what advice I would give to a student who wanted to pursue a career in music. And my answer was easy: 'Go for it!' I think a lot of kids, especially these days, are so focused on doing one thing well, they don't feel like they can find enough time for music.”
The album has resonated with his students. “They know I have an album on iTunes, and they think that's cool,” he says. “I think the whole message throughout the album, Life Matters, is that we're all experiencing emotions. We all experience these different relationships, going through ups and downs through deaths or loss of loved ones, the excitement of love, bitterness, anger. The album is about all of those things, and I hope through the lyrics that people hear a mix of all that.”
There's no rest for the weary just because the album's out and the Birdy's Battle is finished. The band has secured a performance spot at the Indiana State Fair on August 18,
about which they'll know more as the summer progresses. They're also hard at work on a three-song EP which will see the band's members writing more collaboratively this go-round. A new album in the spring is also within the realm of possibility. Most important for now, however, is that they continue to get out there and play.
“There is nothing that compares to playing your music live and doing it well,” Moore says. “I think playing live shows in front of people, and playing something you've written and put together collaboratively with a bunch of guys, I don't think there's anything else like that. The studio, sometimes, can be very grueling, very tedious. But it is a fun process. Still, I really don't think it compares to performing live in front of people.”