Rising from the dingy college bars of upstate New York, moe. carved a niche for themselves with a distinct blend of Americana, melodic turns, clever songwriting, and jam band ethics. The bandmates were born and raised in the industrial town of Utica, but it took matriculation at the University of Buffalo for moe. to finally coalesce. Founded in 1990 by bassist/vocalist Rob Derhak, guitarist/vocalist Chuck Garvey, and original drummer Ray Schwartz, the band toured the university's party circuit under the name Five Guys Named Moe with several rotating members. Although they covered both contemporary pop and classic rock songs in concert, they also recorded two demo tapes of original material — Codename: Weaselshark and Spine of a Dog — in 1991. Guitarist Al Schnier was added that same year.
While playing Buffalo bars like Broadway Joe's, they refined their cartoonishly offbeat sound, a slaphappy mix of Primus-like dementia and focused rhythms. By the time Fatboy was released in 1992, improvisation had begun to creep into the band's sets. Schwartz was soon replaced by Jim Loughlin. As Schnier began to develop his trademark psychedelic oscillating guitar sound, the quartet recorded HeadSeed in Buffalo and migrated east to Albany, which served as the band's home base for the next three years. In early 1995, the band began to tour nationally; by mid-July, Loughlin had left to join Yolk and was replaced by Mike Strazza, a meticulously precise player. The band recorded Loaf over a two-night stand at New York City's Wetlands Preserve. By December, Strazza, too, was gone, replaced by Chris Mazur.
Mazur's playing, infinitely looser than Strazza's, opened the band up to wider improvisation, though it was a step back in terms of musical maturity. In the spring of 1996, moe. signed to Sony/550 Music, for whom they recorded No Doy in the summer. For their first single release, they chose a 46-minute cut of "Meat," recorded in the studio over the summer. In November, Mazur was fired, replaced by Vinnie Amico of Buffalo's Sonic Garden.
Following an opening slot on the Furthur Tour in the summer of 1997, moe. recorded Tin Cans and Car Tires as they began to place increasing importance on the traditional song form. Loughlin rejoined as an auxiliary percussionist in 1999, and the band was dropped from Sony's roster. That fall, the expanded lineup recorded and released the double-live album L on the band's own Fatboy Records, showcasing the new textures of the quintet. This was followed in early 2000 with Dither, an experimental effort that was co-produced with John Siket. Three years later, moe. highlighted their studio and live brilliance with the release of Wormwood. A parade of concert albums followed during the 2000s, including volumes in the Instant Live and Warts and All series.
Moe. have been a staple for years at music festivals nationwide — especially at Bonnaroo in the Southeast. In addition to headlining festivals, moe. host two of their own: moe.down and snoe.down, both held in upstate New York in the late summer and late winter, respectively. Amid all this live activity, the band released a compilation of two earlier releases, No Doy/Tin Cans and Car Tires, in 2006. They followed it up with their first studio effort in four years, 2007's The Conch, and returned in 2008 with Sticks and Stones and Dr. Stan's Prescription, Vol. 1. For 2012's What Happened to the La Las, the band refined and shaped its trademark jam sound into more compact, structured melodies, many of which were developed at live shows. Two years later, the group delivered their eleventh studio album, No Guts, No Glory!, which was helmed by Dave Aron, primarily known for his work with hip-hop acts. ~ Jesse Jarnow & Steve Leggett