Moss are a multicultural indie rock trio of Tokyoites who, in their short history, have released 2 EPs and made it to Japan’s semifinals for Emergenza 2014 (an international band competition). Laurier Tiernan caught up with them for an interview in a family restaurant, as they prepare to release their first full-length CD.
By Laurier Tiernan
Laurier Tiernan: How long have you been playing together as a three-piece?
Matt Hogan: I’d say almost two years.
Laurier: Can you please identify yourselves as well as your roles in the band?
Matt: My name is Mr. Matt. I play synthesizer bass with my left hand, and all matter of funky chord instruments with my right.
Alex Lee: I’m Alex…and I play…all things drums. And occasionally, when we play some acoustic gigs, I play a little box between my legs, called a “cajon.”
Erik Reiff: I scream.
Laurier: How did you all come together as a band?
Alex: One of Erik’s family members is a colleague of mine who spoke about having this family member who played music and was coming back to Japan, and that I should meet him. He came out to this Irish gig that I was playing, and during one of the breaks, we invited him up to play a song. He blew my mind with his voice and his original composition. Then we started talking and we said, hey, let’s [try] making some music together. So we started together as a duo, [playing] mostly his original songs , but then we wrote maybe 3 or 4 songs together. Later on we decided we needed to fill out the sound a bit, and we knew of this guy named Matt (a jazz bassist) who was the husband of one of my colleagues, so we thought, let’s bring this guy along.
Matt: It took me a little longer to come around because as a professional bassist, I get so used to people saying, “My son plays music, and he’s really good,” and then they show up, and they’re not really good. [But] after I saw them play together, I had to say, “Oi, actually, she’s right, he’s really good and I want to play with them.”
Laurier: Who is the main song writer?
Erik: [Laughs] No, the songs were there from before, but what’s great is that when I started working with Alex, we started writing together, and when Matt came in, we started writing songs together. So the album that’s coming out soon is a mixture of [those] songs.
Laurier: Your sound is very fresh and contemporary but it bears some hallmarks of some famous alternative and indie icons. Could you please name your biggest influences?
Matt: When it comes to my work with this group, I’m going to have to go with 70s Genesis, with Peter Gabriel: synth heavy, [with] funky keyboards.
Alex: Nirvana started it all….then Foo Fighters…I wanted to play guitar in the beginning, and then drums came up…so Dave Grohl was a big hero. I guess Radiohead was a huge influence on me.
Matt: Alex and I bonded over Brad Mehldau and John Scofield.
Laurier: Could you please described how you think your backgrounds might have influenced your playing?
I’ve always wanted a Moss Copter! Like a helicopter with the Moss logo you can see on the blades as they spin, and lights coming out. So every time we go out it’s like Batman!
Matt: Before I moved to Japan I lived inside a 75-mile radius of Boston my whole life. When I got into high school I joined up with these two brothers who played jazz, piano and drums, and I played bass. It was a fun experience for me to learn that music isn’t something you sit nervously [through] watching someone turn your page, and hoping you don’t screw up, but you actually create and enjoy it. That was the big eye-opener for me.
Alex: I guess identity-wise, if I had to label myself, I’d be considered Taiwanese-American. Born and raised in the States. Apple pie. Baseball. 50 presidents. I can speak a bit of Chinese but I’ve been living in Japan for 5 years. The identity thing is a long story.
Laurier: Mr. Erik?
Erik: I’m the worst of all of them! I don’t know where I’m from. [Laughs] Born in the Philippines, grew up in Japan, but I’m German. Done. [Laughs]
Laurier: Which are your favorite Moss songs so far and why?
Matt: I’m really fond of “The Calm,” and of we rearranged that song “Pepe.” We added a really funky “inspired-by-Queen” part in the middle. Those are my two favorites, I think.
Alex: I would agree. “The Calm,” and “Pepe” represent the two extremes of our “rainbow connection.”
Laurier: Your band name is “Moss.” What does that mean for you, and why did you choose it.
Matt: Maybe we were hoping for a sponsorship from a certain burger chain? [Laughs]
Erik: Yeah, we were. [Laughs]
Laurier: Your logo looks like a circled “e.” Why did you choose that?
Erik: It spells Moss. It also looks like the Japanese character “No” (“of”), which is very important to me for various reasons.
Laurier: The first EP’s were focusing on acoustic guitar, but the upcoming album focuses more on electric sounds. Was that intentional?
Erik: Natural progression.
Matt: I think what happened is that I bought a little analog synthesiser and we just tried playing with it. As a joke one day, I said, “let me try playing bass on this,” and then we added the other keyboards and it all just fell into place.
Erik: For the first year and a bit, it was more the three of us and finding what sound we could have. We tried different arrangements and when we did the March 8 Tohoku Artist Caravan Launch; it was the first time we played a show with electric guitar, Rhodes, synthesizer and drums, and that just seemed to fill out all the spaces that we wanted.
Laurier: Are there any artists who are more famous than you, to whose level you would like to ascend, or whom you see as role models?
Erik: Prince? [Laughs] Maybe Led Zeppelin? [Laughs] You look at anyone who’s had a constant career in music, who’s been able to change, someone like David Bowie, who’s always been able to take different musical styles and always make good songs out of it that are relative to the time, but when you look back they still sound awesome.
Laurier: What are your dreams and goals for the band in the next five years?
Matt: Play some big really big gigs, maybe make a little money out of it and tour the world!
Erik: I’ve always wanted a Moss Copter! [Laughs] Like a helicopter with the Moss logo you can see on the blades as they spin, and lights coming out. So every time we go out it’s like Batman! [Laughs]
Matt: Moss Manor!
Erik: Moss Mobile!
Alex: That was going to be mine!!!
Laurier: Do you have any cities or venues in particular that you’d like to play?
Matt: Saitama Stadium!
Erik: Madison Square Gardens! Wembley. You know, the small places! [Laughs]
Laurier: Just as you looked up to certain musicians when you were younger, there are inevitably going to be younger musicians looking up to you. What would you like to role model for them?
Alex: Just be passionate about what you want to do. Aim to do it better than anyone else, and don’t be discouraged by those who can do it better than you. Just use it as a springboard to move forward.
Matt: Don’t ever look down on something because it’s different.
Alex: Being humble, I think, is very important. Especially after a good gig! You should always know that there’s always someone who can do it better.
Laurier: You have your first full-length CD coming out on May 23! What is the name of that CD?
Matt: Pepe’s Dream!
Laurier: And is there an overall theme to the record?
Erik: Yes, it’s designed to be a dream sequence. The album cover art, as you can see [holds up album cover], represents that. It has our Moss logo with things growing out of it, like “moss grows on a rock.”
Laurier: Is it going to be available in stores?
Matt and Erik: iTunes Store!!! [Laughs]
Laurier: Are you planning a special show for that night, or will it be Moss as usual?
Matt: It will be a very special night.
Laurier: Do you have any last words for our readers?
Erik: Laurier [Tiernan] is a very good interviewer! [Laughs]
Matt: Brian Wilson is God!
Alex: That sundae was great!
Laurier: Web presence?
Laurier: How would you like fans to contact you, if you’re open to that?
Matt: Just through the Facebook page is easiest.
Laurier: Thank you for doing this interview!
Erik, Matt, Alex: Thank you!
Moss will play a very special concert for the release of their first full-length album Pepe’s Dream, on Friday, May 23, at 8:00 pm at Super Deluxe in Roppongi. They will also be performing as a part of TELL Band Night, performing at What the Dickens in Ebisu on Saturday night. Admission to both events is free!