Thursday, September 30, 2021

An Interview with the Gypsy Moths

There are many amazing bands in the world today. One of my favorite Boston bands is The Gypsy Moths. Below is an interview with their guitarist Chris Conway. 

If you haven't heard the Moths check them out!


The first Gypsy Moths album, Alright, was all cover tunes, yet it felt like a party set list, instead of just a collection of songs. How did you go about choosing what songs you included on the first album? Where there any songs that you wanted to include but couldn't? What are some of your favorite memories of making the album?

Thanks for the kind words on "Alright!" and for all of your support of the band over the years! Essentially that record was a snapshot of our setlist at the time, or at least the stuff we were most enthused about recording. We had done a proper studio recording of a Christmas song before the album sessions as kind of an experiment after having recorded "home demo/live in the rehearsal space" Christmas songs for a few years prior ("Come On To The Christmas Party", a J. Geils Band song they released only to WBCN in 1980 under the pseudonym "The Snowballs" which we knew as rock radio obsessives growing up around Boston at that time), and were floored to get airplay for it on the Underground Garage channel on Sirius XM, so I think that opened our eyes to the possibilities of making a recording and getting exposure that way. It was also before we had begun writing for this band; we all had written in prior bands and projects, but at the time of that record the band wasn't really focused on that. I think we all also wanted to have some kind of document of this band not having a firm plan in place for the future of where we might take things, and with us all being serious vinyl fans it seemed like a fun idea to make a document of our band at that moment in time and preserve it on a record. It was also a bit of a nod to bands we love like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that had very little/no original material on their first records, as well as a ton of r&b/soul bands we love from the 50's/60's who never wrote their own stuff. The best element or memory to come from it was working with master engineer/mixer/studio owner Ed Riemer, who is like another member of the band when we work together, and who we work with on our recordings to this day. Amazing guy and unbelievably talented musical mind whom meeting was the best thing that happened to us as a band

You have a lot instrumentation compared to most rock bands, how challenging is it to get the mix just right?

It certainly can be! We very much aapproach recording and the studio to be something special and unique to the live experience, and try to take advantage of what the studio offers as an approach to songs as best we can. I've always loved bands that have a different element live than what you hear on their records, giving different approaches to the songs depending on the format and environment, so we lean into that with enthusiasm. Ed is a wizard in the studio and has a true natural talent for finding where things sit best in a mix, and our collaborations with him over time have grown to a place where we're all pretty much from the same mindset on what goes where, how much, and why. We also made a lineup change right as we were headed into the studio to record the "Wollaston Theatre" EP adding Scott Miller to the fold on woodwinds, and his contributions on a variety of instruments has added another layer to the palette that actually makes the mixing process more fluid as he's so talented and intuitive on playing to the song and understanding what benefits them in terms of instrumentation, approach, and what to play when. It's great enhanced our growth as a band and vision for the road ahead.  

The Gypsy Moths have played at yacht clubs, on a boat, clubs, breweries, porch fest, and other various places/events, yet the band has turned every spot into a party. What's the secret to making that happen?

I guess that comes down to our attitude and approach in doing what we can to bringing that vibe and feel to every gig, but a lot of credit for that must also be given to the folks that come and see us show after show, they're really the secret element that brings the room alive and creates that kind of atmosphere. We've also been fortunate to have a fair amount of new folks at most every gig we play that recognize and jump right into the spirit of the shows, which adds its own unique element as well. Probably also doesn't hurt to have the band full of guys who have been attending shows, playing shows, and listening to live albums for decades so we have our own take on what to bring to the party to make it a party. 

A couple of years ago, the band played at the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade which is of course, a gigantic event, and it was broadcast live on TV. What was the band's feeling about playing such a big Boston event? What enabled the band to stay focused playing on truck in a parade?

That's a funny story, actually. We submitted the application to play the Parade as a complete lark, thinking we'd never in a million years get accepted and that it would be a funny thing to hang the rejection notice on the wall of our rehearsal room/band headquarters (which is in Southie, adding to/instigating the humor). But then we were accepted! What the hell are we going to do now!?! Luckily, we were in a situation where our piano man, Mark Donahue, was able to secure a flatbed truck, power generator, and driver for the day so we somehow managed to pull it off. It was such a surreal experience, I don't think any of us will ever forget turning the corner onto Broadway at the start of the Parade (after sitting on the idling flatbed for 4+ hours waiting in place for the event to start) and kicking into our song "These Days Will Run" (we figured what the hell, why not start with one of our own?) with a sea of people ahead of us as far as the eye can see. And it stayed that way for the next three hours! Focus was near impossible between the crowd (estimated at over 1,000,000 that day!), the elements (briskly cold and biting bright sunshine), and the truck being a wavering, constantly moving object that was a lot less steady and stable than any surface any of us had played on prior. We had a few spills and even more near misses, but the exhilaration, crowd response, and sheer determination to get through it kept our big ol' 18 wheeled ship afloat for the duration. 

Last year you released an EP called, Wollaston Theatre. What's the story behind the title? The EP is made up of four original songs, what did you think the reaction would be to self penned material? How difficult was it to transition to recording original material?

"The Wally", as we all knew it, was a theatre most of us in the band (five of us are Quincy natives, where the Wollaston Theatre was located) grew up attending. It was this amazing early 20th century art deco theatre/performance space meets legitimate professional world class live venue where vaudeville, live music of all kinds, musical theatre, and film screenings had happened for many, many years. By the time we all started going there in the mid-to-late 70's it was strictly movies, but had such an amazing architecture and look to it that remained pretty much untouched from its inception. That said, it was also in an accelerated state of disrepair that got really bad in the 90's, so much so that the owners decided to close it to make repairs. But they didn't have the knowledge or resources to actually take on what had become a massive project, so in between their mismanagement and the lack of involvement that could have been a crucial benefit from the City, by the time a nonprofit had been formed a decade later to try to save it, it was very sadly way too late. The building was basically ready to collapse and it was finally torn down after having sat abandoned for several years. We were all heartbroken! But as far as the "Wollaston Theatre" record goes, we were ecstatic to get in there and record the stuff we had been writing, and it came at a time of profound transition for the band; Matt Miceli had joined on drums the summer prior, who was a bandmate and creative collaborator of mine, Steve (O'Brien, vocals), and Phil's (Thompson, bass) throughout the 90's into the early 00's, we were writing and arranging a lot, we had the ongoing development of our relationship with Ed in his studio, and added Scott as the final piece that set our next chapter in motion. I actually found it to be infinitely more fulfilling and engaging to record our own stuff, and we were truly excited about sharing these tunes we had introduced into our live shows in recorded form, knowing they would have a whole different flavor and feel in that format. And luck, perhaps timing is more appropriate a word, was on our side as we actually finished the mixes the night before everything really started shutting down due to the pandemic in mid-March of 2020, so it became our little joke that since we couldn't gig we'd put the songs on tour!

Wollaston Theatre has been a big hit, being played around the world. What does that feel like? The production is fantastic, where did you record it? How long did it take to put the EP together? Any fun stories about the process?

It felt pretty great! We approached it with an attitude of "why not?". We had a lot of friends in more established (both regionally and nationally) bands who were getting great airplay and support from this whole sort of informal network of independent (mostly) streaming radio shows and stations all around the world, some affiliated with larger stations, some single shows, and some simply podcasts. But the common theme was they all took chances on new, independently released music in a way that reminded us greatly of how FM radio used to be in Boston, both from the larger commercial rock stations and the plethora of college and indie stations we all idolized and listened to with devotion for years. So we decided to throw our hats in the ring, drafted press releases in a similar manner to how an established independent record label would, and sent each of the four songs on the EP out over the course of a year or so, working the records to each of these stations the way legitimate labels or a music PR company would. Much to our amazement, each of the tunes were received and welcomed as if we actually were being represented by a label, and we ended up getting airplay in 18 different countries on over 150 stations/shows, with many of those stations actually adding our songs into their standard rotation over and above a single play on a new music show. It was pretty cool seeing our songs make "top ten indie charts" in the US, UK, Australia, Japan, Spain, Portugal, and Canada! I guess the lesson there is to always give it a go if you believe in what you're doing. And we did. We really appreciate the compliment on the record production itself, we went in with a collective approach that the studio was another instrument for the band to explore and expand our sound with, which I think encouraged us to have fun with it and push boundaries and ideas to make the recorded versions of the songs the best they could be within that format, and not limiting ourselves to worrying about replicating how they might sound live. The studio is a very fun and rewarding place for us so we enjoy the process immensely and embrace the opportunities it provides for exploration. Like the prior stuff, it was recorded at "Ed's Barn" in Canton with our sonic partner in crime, Ed Riemer. In terms of time, it was a staggered approach on getting it out there, as once it was mastered we were ready to roll it out for digital/streaming and promotional purposes, but took some time to get the jacker/cover art, sleeve, and vinyl label designed (by another amazing creative partner of the band, our great friend Ed Devlin who does all of our design, layout, and logo work), and then some unanticipated delays in the actual manufacturing of the vinyl record itself on top of that. We work with an independent pressing plant in Ohio, but because so many bands were looking to press up vinyl during the pandemic, and with the major labels using indie pressing plants on a freelance basis as they themselves were so far behind in manufacturing and production (our job got bumped for over a month at one point as they got a major contract to press up a Paul McCartney record!), it created a multistep approach to the rollout, with the first single getting played on the "Rodney On The Rock" show on Sirius XM's Underground Garage channel in late May, and the finished vinyl pressing arriving at our doorsteps in early December almost seven months later.

What's next for the Gypsy Moths?

We're coming off our fourth gig since being back at it, which has been pretty incredible and an amazing experience in appreciation after having no shows for 18 months! We played our first ever "stripped"/semi-unplugged show mid-summer, and three really fun and high energy outdoor gigs as well. The elements weren't really on our side for any of those three outdoor shows (two high heat late afternoons, and another with intermittent downpours both before and during the set), but we accepted the scenarios and ran with it and all three turned into some of the most fun gigs we've played to date as a band. At this writing (late September), we have three more shows booked for the year: 10/15 at a very cool new spot in Norwood called The Magic Room with our pals/Boston legends The Dogmatics, 10/30 at the Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain with two bands that have become good friends over the last few years Tsunami Of Sound and The Ghost Truckers, and finally 11/13 at one of our longtime homeposts, the New World Tavern in Plymouth with B-52's tribute band Bikini Whale. We're also headed back to the studio in late October, with a general plan to record a series of two-song streaming singles over the next year which will culminate in a vinyl pressing of those tunes once we hit a dozen or so songs overall. Hopefully lots of fun and interesting gigs sprinkled in there as well, as time goes on we continue to strive for a balance between mainstay spots like the New World/Midway/Plough & Stars and new offbeat and unusual spots like the outdoor shows, breweries, etc. And the band continues to write and explore new territories with where we'll take things musically, and have gotten pretty heavy into workshopping "pre-production" home demos as another aspect of the recording process, so expect plenty of new music in the year ahead! 

Here's a video of the Gypsy Moths in action