“Jack” By Moose
Moose may have flown under many peoples radar in the early 1990’s despite being the band that inadvertently helped coin the term “shoegaze.” In spite of their music being an artistic and critical triumph they pretty much remained a glorious cult throughout their career. The public seemed to prefer the reverb soaked vibe of bands such as Ride, My Bloody Valentine and the post Cocteau dream pop of Lush and The Pale Saints to Moose’s more laid back country tinged output. Moose were never a band bound by the fickle nature of fashion and at a time when the music press where collectively soiling their pants with excitement over My Bloody Valentines much vaunted “Loveless” album Moose where casting aside the white noise guitar wash of their early EP’s to embrace a laconic alt country guitar infused hybrid. This new sound first began to surface on their Mitch Easter produced debut “…XYZ”, the album still retained elements of distortion and effects pedals but didn’t solely rely on a layered wall of sound; it was a much more subtle, nuanced affair.
Despite a generally positive response from the music press the album seemed to baffle the record buying public who possibly expected more of the same shoegaze vibe of their early releases. Sales were a little disappointing and before long Moose were dropped by their label-“Hut.” Undaunted by such a set back Moose continued to produce music which often beguiled, confounded and confused, the reaction it often provoked was encapsulated perfectly in this “Melody Maker” review from 1994 -“Moose are a conundrum, don’t you find? Live, they hunch over big black guitars and tip out blank and unappealing white noise, but then they make the sweetest and darndest records. The lead track here, “I Wanted to See You to See if I Wanted You”, is a camp country-inclined thing which seems to be linked by umbilical c(h)ord to kitsch Seventies classic, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” by Dawn. And then they start singing in Spanish! A curious business all round, quite frankly.”
After signing to “Play It Again Sam Records”, the band released their second album, “Honey Bee”, in early 1994 which included the aforementioned “I Wanted to See You to See if I Wanted You,” a track which certainly stuck a personal chord with me and became my very first break-up song. It taught me a harsh lesson in life…I may have wanted to see her, to see if I wanted her but alas when she saw me she didn’t want to see me. Once more the band received critical plaudits but yet again this didn’t translate into sales. A third album followed “Live a Little, Love a Lot” which also featured the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Frasier and it seemed Moose had reached a creative impasse. It was another four years before Moose resurfaced, releasing yet another fine album “High Ball Me”, which proved to be their final release, although the band have never officially split there seems little chance of a reunion.…..
In some ways Moose were either a band born into the wrong era, or a band who’s timing was slightly out of kilter with what was going on around them. After virtually inventing “shoegaze” and at the height of it’s popularity they chose to walk a different path. When Albarn became the Dick Van Dyke of pop and Noel Gallagher offered us his “Matalan” version of John Lennon, Moose continued to produce laid back, reflective thoughtful music. Their albums contain songs of yearning, beauty and tenderness that were the polar opposite to the gaudy vacuous pantomime that was to became “Britpop”. And where as many of the bandwagon hopping “Britpoppers” now sound incredibly bland and dated (try listening to Sleeper’s lamentable po-faced nonsense without feeling an urge to snigger!) Moose’s own output by virtue of not bending to the will of fashion, has a timeless quality and still possesses a calm majesty which makes revisiting their back catalogue a thoroughly rewarding affair ….We spoke to KJ “Moose” McKillop to reflect on the bands career.
VP: The bands name “Moose” comes from your own nickname (“Moose”) but how did you come by that nickname in the first place? Does anybody call you Kevin?
MOOSE: The nickname comes from my student days at North London Poly.In the bar they always had this cheap,but not completely unpalatable, Canadian lager called Moosehead – you can guess the rest!
VP: Your début album …XYZ has recently been re-released on Cherry Red Roads, in many ways it seems to have stood up to the test of time much better than some of your contemporaries from the same era What do you think of it now, is it still something you’re proud of ?
MOOSE: I’m really proud of XYZ even though it’s not my favourite.We had the most amazing time doing it – Mitch Easter was a real gent.He pushed us to give our best without being a bully.I have very few regrets about my Moose days but to have worked with him on another album would have been a joy.
VP: Some people were a bit surprised at the kind of country infused vibe that was contained within XYZ, did that reaction surprise you, or did you set out to take a different approach after your early EPs?
MOOSE: I think Mitch really brought that country vibe out.When we met him for the first time we went out drinking and very quickly got round to the obvious – songs, bands, singers,LPs. There was so much common ground – Love, the Byrds,Big Star, Lee Hazelwood. More recent things (or recent for ‘92 !) Cocteaus,Valentines,REM, AR Kane, XTC.But what struck Mitch was our penchant for some old school C&W. Willie Nelson,Merle Haggard,George Jones et al.You can certainly here touches of that on XYZ.
VP: There’s also probably my absolute favourite cover version of “Everybody Talking” on the album, what is it about that song that drew you towards it?
MOOSE: We’d started playing Everybody’s Talking live the year before. Russell Fong, who’d recently joined,suggested it. We all loved the song so we thought…Why not?
VP: The story goes that Moose, a band that hated to be pigeonholed or categorised, were unwittingly responsible for creating a journalistic genre, “Shoegaze”. How did that happen?
MOOSE: What you’ve probably heard is true.Andy Ross came along to review a gig for the long-defunct and lamented Sounds.Russell was reading the lyrics from A4 sheets at the base of his mic stand. From a distance he must’ve looked painfully shy. The rest is……..
VP: Throughout your time together you seemed to have a fraught and frustrating relationship with the music industry .What was the worst aspect of it for you?
MOOSE: We didn’t have the best of times with record labels but,looking back,it wasn’t too awful.We were able,after all,to get our music out. We had such a lot of fun that those more troubled times have mostly been obliterated. Russell, Mig and I recently got together for ‘a couple of shandies‘ and once nostalgia took over,we found ourselves laughing about so much of what had happened in the band. It really was a great time.
VP: Do you think the band would have had a better experience nowadays with the internet taking an element of power away from the labels and music press?
MOOSE: I have to agree with you. There is genuine autonomy if you want it. It’s quite comical watching the record labels scrabbling around trying to play catch up.
VP: What would you say were your own highlights of your time together?
MOOSE: Highlight no.1, for me anyway, was the tour we did in ’94 with the Cocteau Twins. They gave us the chance to do our first U.S. dates; being on tour with people whose music we absolutely adored AND our first American shows – I still get teary eyed thinking about it. They were incredibly generous and carried a lot of our gear around on their bus as they knew we had to do the tour without any substantial record company support. Wonderful people, a wonderful time. Highlight no.2 was playing a show in Paris supporting Arthur Lee (my highlights seem centred around being a fan!).Shack were his backing group that night and everyone had arrived the day before to soundcheck and, for Arthur and Shack, to rehearse. We sat there with a few friends,drinking and smoking, as they ran through his greatest hits,doing each song 2 or 3 times until they were happy to move on to the next. We were totally blown away by what was happening in front of our eyes. I’ll never forget it.
VP: Did you see the much feted Blur reunion at Glastonbury? What did you make of it? An artistic triumph or a few middle aged blokes putting their egos to one side for the sake of a few million quid under the pretence of “unfinished business”?
MOOSE: The whole Blur reunion thing passed me by. I wasn’t surprised they did it as I always thought their split, for whatever reason, was a bit premature. I really liked The Good,The Bad & The Queen – it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but Herculean and Kingdom of Doom were excellent.
VP: Do you listen to much music these days, any new bands about over the past few years that have taken your fancy?
MOOSE: I think there has so much great music in the last decade – we really have been blessed. Nick Cave’s Abattoir Blues was outstanding. Low – The Great Destroyer – still play it a lot. Both Burial albums but especially Untrue – genius! Phoenix have put out some great tunes. 5.55 by Charlotte Gainsbourg and, just last month, La Superbe by Benjamin Biolay – fabulous. Sufjan Stevens-Illinois -this had some great songs.Philip Glass-The Hours soundtrack – a joy. The Avalanches and Air France. The Justice album was fantastic. My personal faves have been Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog – it has such a warm, inviting sound; The Great Destroyer and Untrue.
VP: Fast forward ….. In a few years time your kids say” Dad, we want to form a band and conquer the world”, what advice would you give them?
MOOSE: They are very welcome to form a band and conquer the world but I’m selling the T-shirts.
VP: What do you consider to be the five finest albums ever released?
MOOSE: “Forever Changes” (Love) is always there. “Heaven or Las Vegas”(Cocteau Twins) still sounds astonishing to my ears. “Dusty in Memphis” – what a voice. John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – Wow! The Kinks –“The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” – their masterpiece and give me them over the Beatles/Stones anyday.
VP: Finally how do you rate Spurs’ chances this season! 😉
MOOSE: If we can stop gifting matches/points to teams (Stoke, Everton etc.) then the top 4 isn’t out of the question. We’ve got a great squad and when fully fit a potential starting eleven that could beat anyone.It has to include Modric – and he’s back soon. Hurrah!
“Little Bird (Are You Happy In Your Cage?)” By Moose
“I Wanted to See You to See if I Wanted You” By Moose
“Suzanne” By Moose
“Kidney Bingo’s ” by Moose ( Peel Sessions)