Three days later I sat down with Moore at the Tick Tock Lounge in Indianapolis to talk about their songwriting. That interview just proved to be the introduction. Two months later, the final battle in the rearview, we were able to talk again at greater length, to go into more detail about the songs on Life Matters, as well as Moore's stance on the vital importance of music education and why he's always had a great deal of respect for bands like Counting Crows, who can make the songs played at each show seem brand new.
This transcript combines the two interviews, and is edited slightly to flow as one straight conversation.
NUVO: Can you tell me a little bit about the band, how you got started?
Craig B. Moore: I'm from Rushville, Indiana, originally. But my wife and I live just east of Indianapolis. And I've been playing acoustic shows with my lead guitarist Tom Baumgardner, for about 12 years. We were college roommates, and I had this list of songs that I wanted to record so we got together with some mutual friends. The bass player is Brant Cook, and the drummer is Nate Wiencken. And Corey Miller is the sound engineer at the Lodge, he plays rhythm guitar for us. So we all came together and recorded these songs at the Lodge Studios. And once we put the album together we realized we had something really special.
NUVO: When did you record the album?
Moore: We started last March actually, so just over a year ago that we started this. And we released it this February.
NUVO: What were you listening to that influenced these songs?
Moore: I've been influenced by several bands and artists. Personally bands like Pearl Jam, R.E.M., U2, Counting Crows, the Beatles of course — all the way to musicians like Michael Jackson. They've all influenced my musical tastes in writing and lyrics. It's all over the board pretty much.
NUVO: I knew Pearl Jam had to be — that performance of “Alive” in the first round of the Battle Royale, it took a risk to use such a big chunk of your time to do a cover. But then you nailed the cover.
Moore: Yeah, that's a band that has had a huge influence on me as well as on my guitarist. We've been playing that song, believe it or not, acoustically for several years. So doing it with a full band is a lot of fun.
NUVO: Was that the first time you'd done it live as a full band?
Moore: Oh no. We really enjoy doing that one.
NUVO: Is there a song by someone else you wish you'd written?
Moore: A song I really enjoy is “Pride,” by U2. I think that's an incredible song. Songs like “Round Here” by Counting Crows, and it's not always the music and the lyrics together either. Like “Round Here” I love for the lyrics, those lyrics in that song are just incredible. And the music U2 puts down for most of their songs is amazing, so you combine all those things and if you did, you'd have the perfect song. Those are examples I really enjoy.
NUVO: When you're sitting down to write songs do you guys write as a band, or do you each do separate things and bring them together?
Moore: These songs on this album are all songs I wrote. I bring them to the band and then they put their parts to the songs. And it's interesting to see how they morph from what I brought in that I thought might be a lower-key song, and then you put the band with it and it turns into more of a rock song.
NUVO: Do you twist the songs live, like Counting Crows where they develop and grow on stage?
Moore: You know that's an amazing thing. I've seen Counting Crows several times and to see the way that they can make a song sound completely different than what you hear on the recording. And a lot of people don't like that, but I think it takes a lot of talent to be able to do that. We haven't gotten to that point yet, We're still trying to nail the live performance with the songs the way they are on the album. But I certainly hope to get to that point someday.
NUVO: How much have you been playing around the city?
Moore: That's what we're trying to do a lot. And I think this Battle Royale at Birdy's is certainly helping us do that. Right now I'm trying to make as many connections as possible with different musicians in the area. Certainly getting hooked up with Henry French at Birdy's was a real key for me, to be able to become part of that competition, just to meet other bands and musicians.
NUVO: You'll keep him happy by just bringing out tons of people every time you play.
Moore: Yeah, no doubt. We're trying to play more and more and like I said, right now it's about perfecting our on-stage presence and our performances live.
NUVO: Have you had any other big shows that stood out?
Moore: We've had a few big shows at the Tin Roof, downtown, that have been a lot of fun to do. Any time you can play downtown Indianapolis and bring a crowd in I think it's a lot of fun to do. But we're certainly looking this summer to do more festivals and those types of things.
NUVO: When you're writing, do you prefer writing the song as you record it, or do you enjoy fleshing it out onstage complete with crowd interaction?
Moore: There is nothing that compares to playing your music live and doing it well. So 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.
NUVO: Now that the Battle Royale has finished, how do you think your live show has evolved since you've had that experience?
Moore: I think it has evolved quite a bit. 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. It challenged us to look at ourselves individually and as a band to bring out the best. So I think there is a noticeable difference between our first competition performance and the one in May for the finals.
NUVO: In that first competition you were last of the night and still won the night. Did you expect from that point that you'd steamroll past all these bands, that you'd have no trouble getting to the finals?
Moore: No, I'll be honest with you. Going into the first round, we were asked late in the process to join the competition. 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. So he says 'why don't you come be a part of our Battle Royale?' So we did. To be honest with you, all I wanted to do was get to Birdy's and play live as a band, because it was one of our first shows as a full band after the album dropped. 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.
NUVO: So when you made the finals, did that change anything about how you went into preparing?
Moore: No it just made us look closer at ourselves. We watched the videos people had taken, and listened to our performance. 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.
I remember being impressed upon first seeing Craig B. Moore's Invaders play the Birdy's stage back in March, that the band could take a song like Pearl Jam's “Alive,” anchor it at the end of their set, and make it sound as though they'd been playing it longer than Pearl Jam.