NINO MOSCHELLA: SORRY, THIS HAS GOTTEN HEAVY
Nino Moschella started out four-tracking funk-soul that sounded like Sly and Shuggie and Stevie in a mountain shack at midnight and exploded into fidelity once he visited the wider world. His newest Boomshadow is out now on Ubiquity. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
If you were to make a soundtrack for a ’70s crime movie like Superfly or Jackie Brown, who do you want cast in it?
I would make a crime movie that has the Muppets in it. That would be cool. Maybe not Kermit and Miss Piggy but I want to make a gangster crime movie with all Jim Henson-type muppets. That would be silly.
You sort of have an accent from the East Coast.
My dad is from the Bronx. I’m born and raised in California. A lot of people say my accent sounds East Coast. It’s my dad for sure. And my mom’s from Minnesota. My dad’s overbearing. Not really, but he’s very influential, and I guess it comes out. I’m from Cali though. I love it here. I don’t think I’ll ever move. Are you from California?
Oh, my grandfolks moved there when they got old. It’s hot and humid. I mean, it’s hot in Fresno—gets 110. But it’s dry heat. When we go to Florida in the middle of the summer, it’s humid and terrible. Man, and big old cockroaches. They’re humongous. Tropical bugs. I couldn’t stand the humidity. You’re always wet.
What kind of bugs are common in Oakland?
No cockroaches. We have mice and flies. I haven’t seen a cockroach. We had mice for a minute but they’re gone now—luckily. I put out some traps. We were expecting our two mice to multiply but they are gone.
It only takes mice two or three weeks to spring babies. In fact, rodents are the most successful mammal on the planet. I guess they didn’t like our house.
Who is the baby chanting on your song ‘I Love Myself?’
That’s my daughter, Stella. Me and my wife and her were in my home studio where I finished the album. Stella was playing the drums. She likes to have a microphone and hear her voice through the speakers. We were asking her questions: ‘What’s your dog’s name? Who are your friends? What do you love?’ That was how the vocals came about. She was like, ‘I love myself! I love the people!’ It was one of those happy accidents that came out. It’s a spoken-word Stella piece. She’s super musical. She’s going to be four in August.
You seem interested in doing things a little bit out of the box. ‘Ok, I am going to stick a song with my baby in between all these funky tracks…’
I am not trying to do anything that is status quo. There’s no point. If I don’t feel like it’s moving things forward, then it’s not worthwhile. Mainstream music might be satisfied with mediocrity and stuff, but for me, if it doesn’t challenge me, then naturally by extension it’s not a challenge. It’s got to perk my ears. But at the same time, I’m not doing it to be like, ‘This song is this type of song and it fits in this type of category and so on.’ When I put a collection of music together, one of my goals is to personally express something I think is fresh. That also lends itself to a flow. The stuff that comes naturally and easily most times is the stuff that is exciting and fresh and new and unexpected. It doesn’t come from a lot of struggle and laboring over it. The stuff you over-think and deliberate is the stuff that can fit into a box—because you have those constraints. Freedom allows you to do things that are fresh as opposed to doing things that have already been done.
Your stuff isn’t hard to take in. It’s digestible but I can pick out the little details happening at once.
I don’t want to create music that’s just heady. ‘Oh my gosh, this is so complicated and out there that it’s inaccessible.’ One of the goals is to make music that you can listen to easily and you don’t have to go to that place where you’re totally listening to every little thing. But if you want to delve into it, it’s there. That’s the challenge as a music maker. Off the bat you don’t have to get theoretical about it to dig, but you want to create something long-lasting so people can come back and hear something new. The music that I love the most is the stuff that originally just struck me and made me feel good. It gives me an emotion or something I can relate to. What I come back to are the intricacies and that brings up feelings too. That’s the beauty of art in general. It’s not a one-shot thing. It’s not just, ‘Alright, listen to this, put it down, you’re done with it.’ I think as a culture in time, that’s naturally what we’re doing. We get something, put it down, and it’s disposable. Good music isn’t supposed to be disposable.
What’s a record you’ve held onto since forever?
There’s so many! That’s a beautiful thing. There’s so much good music and it continues being created. The first record my mom bought me was Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis. She bought it for me when I was ten. I listen to that weekly to this day. That’s the best selling jazz record of all time. Thriller, you know—speaking of which, Michael Jackson was the first musician and entertainer that I consciously said, ‘Oh man, I want to do this. I want to dance.’ I was in grade school, and popping and breaking was huge. I heard Michael and I was like, ‘I wanna pop. I want to sing.’ He was an icon. David Bowie, later, Prince. My mom got me the red Thriller jacket. It wasn’t actual leather—that shit ended up falling apart.
Your mom seems pretty cool.
She was totally cool. When I was maybe eleven or twelve, my mom took me—a kid—to Purple Rain, which was very controversial when it came out. It was like, ‘Do you know what this movie is about?’ Prince and Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder—and Etta James was a huge influence. This was just the music that was in my house. Along with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix and Coltrane and Miles and Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus. My folks were into this stuff. My dad is a musician. They met in Greenwich Village. My dad was a performer at the same time when bop was in the Village. They were seeing Coltrane and Miles. Coltrane kissed my mother’s hand. Bop was huge and folk was huge in their world. That’s what they were digging. It was all going down in the same places. There was a club called the Bitter End that my dad was playing at, and Nina Simone was playing there, and at the same time Bob Dylan was playing there. Music wasn’t, ‘This is folk and this is jazz, and that’s where this goes and that goes there.’ It was all in the same club and area and thriving. Luckily that influence of my folks was accessible to me growing up. I feel blessed for that.
Did your parents give you any advice on what music is all about?
What I’ve learned is that music is about communication. Music is about expressing yourself. My dad didn’t want me to be in the music business. It wasn’t until I started making my own records and putting my stuff on the forefront and him being able to hear it, and that was just a handful of years ago. This was after I became a man—he was like, ‘Alright, you really want to do this? OK, I’m proud of you.’ He always supported me playing music for the sake of playing music but it was clear he didn’t want me to make a living at it because it’s such a hard thing. Very few people actually make it and many of them at the end of it lose everything. It’s not something you get into because you want to make money and be successful. You get into it because you have to. You will do this regardless of what’s happening around you. He knew it was a hard life because he went through it. I mean—now he is a school teacher. He still gigs but he was doing music as a living for twenty years and it was really hard to feed his family. He didn’t want me to live that life. But he realizes I understand that it’s up and down and it’s for the love of it.
Not everyone can articulate their life’s meaning that way.
It’s taken time. When I was a teenager, my idea was, ‘I wanna be famous.’ The important things with time become clear. I know for sure regardless of all the other stuff that exists in this business, I do my thing. I know it’s crucial to my existence to write songs, record them, perform them. That is the stability in it all. Nobody has control of that except for me. Nobody can tell me whether I can do that or not. Regardless of success—and maybe I am not a huge success. This is an underground thing after all. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is you stay focused on the point of it and the point of it is to express it and get it out, and if that’s to 100 people in your immediate community or to a million people globally—the point is that it has to be created for me to feel good about myself and to feel like I’m contributing to the world. I got to make music and that’s how it is. It’s still hard and all that other shit and you can’t ignore that, but when it’s all said and done, I know why I’m doing this. Sorry—this has gotten heavy.
L.A. RECORD PRESENTS NINO MOSCHELLA WITH CHIN CHIN AND ARMEN NALBANDIAN PLUS DJs ON FRI., JULY 31, AT THE DAKOTA LOUNGE, 1026 WILSHIRE BLVD., SANTA MONICA. 7 PM / $10 / 21+. DAKOTALOUNGE.COM. NINO MOSCHELLA’S BOOMSHADOW IS OUT NOW ON UBIQUITY. VISIT NINO MOSCHELLA AT NINOMOSCHELLA.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/NINOMOSCHELLA.