Vinnie Amico (Drummer)
By: Jeff Lockwood
The New York band moe. is starting to turn a lot of industry heads and spin the bodies of a lot of young fans with their funky style of improvisational rock.It was a sunny October day when Jeff Lockwood interviewed moe.'s drummer Vinnie Amico. Jeff was in a hotel room in Ebensburg, Pennslyvania preparing for his wedding and Vinnie was between tours at home in Albany, New York spending time with his family. They spoke about touring, live shows, computers, marrige, improvisation and moe.'s new album Tin Cans and Car Tires.
Jeff: Where you guys at now?
Jeff: You are back in Buffalo?
Vinnie: Actually I live in Albany. We're only home for a couple of more days. We usually take a week break in between our tours because we'd all go crazy if we didn't.
Jeff: I don't Blame you. I know you were just out West. When do you head back out?
Vinnie: Monday we do a couple of things...I always forget the name of the show that we're doing for NPR...
Jeff: Oh, World Cafe.
Vinnie: Yeah, we're gonna do that on Monday down in Philly. And then we're doing an in-store in Philly. Then Tuesday we're playing at Trax in Charlottesville.
Jeff: You're the drummer right?
Jeff: We're gonna get started and these questions are kinda jumpy so I'll just send you through them.
Vinnie: I'll do the best I can.
Jeff: That's all I can ask.
Jeff: Do you think you have more of an east coast following or is it starting to spread out to the west coast?
Vinnie: It's definitely starting to spread. Our largest numbers probably still happen on the east coast. But we have sold out the Filmore in San Francisco and the House of Blues in LA and stuff like that. In select markets we are growing. In Chicago, we do really well. Atlanta we do real well. You know, these are all places we get over 1000 people at a show. But we are hitting around the 2000 mark in New York City and Philly and stuff like that.
Jeff: Actually when you guys came out to Pittsburgh about a year ago this time, I was blown away by how many people were at the...
Vinnie: Metropol...Yeah. We're going to be back there in a few weeks.
Jeff: You say you are from Albany, but have you played in Buffalo?
Vinnie: Actually, yeah. That's where I did all my music. I went to school at UB (University of Buffalo) and got into a band when I was freshman in college and that's actually how I got the gig with moe. because I was in three or four bands that were all doing really well and those guys had known me. That's pretty much how it happened.
Jeff: Do you want to tell me something about the Buffalo music scene and how you met up with moe. or how moe. formed in the first place?
Vinnie: There's a Buffalo music scene and then there is a UB music scene and I was pretty much part of the UB music scene. I played in a band called Sonic Garden which was a Grateful Dead tribute band. And I played in Acoustic Forum which was a bluegrass band and then I was the second drummer, or the filler drummer, for the Outer Circle Orchestra, which was a ten piece world beat band. moe. started out in UB, but they were hitting the Buffalo scene and doing Nitchze's and places other than just Broadway Joe's. I was getting my name around Buffalo just due to the fact that I was doing so many gigs with so many different people. So moe. got started and they were doing Buffalo and they started to branch out playing the east coast. They just started to travel and do their thing. That was probably 1994 that they branched out. At that time I had a real job and just bought a house in the suburbs of Buffalo. They went on and did their thing. Their drummer at the time, Jim Loughlin, who recorded Headseed...
Jeff: Wasn't he with Yolk?
Vinnie: Yes...He had had quit the band to join Yolk. So, they were looking for a drummer and called me. I said, "How much can you pay me?" And they told me and I said, "I can't do it. I just bought a house. It's not feasible." So they got another drummer and continued to tour, started really getting a vibe about them...selling out the Wetlands and doing some really cool gigs. Six months after that, their drummer quit again and Topper, their manager who was my roommate in college, that's pretty much how I had a tie to moe. in the first place. Topper and I hung out together. But, he and I talked again and he said moe.'s gonna be looking for a drummer again. I asked him the same questions and he told me the same answers and I said seeing that I have this house and this wife, I can't do it. So then, I figured my chances were up and they got Chris Mazur and he recorded No Doy with them. My life went on as normal and this is now going on into 1996, I guess, and I figured my chances were over that I'd ever become a rock star or anything. Topper and I kept in touch all of the time because I was always keeping tabs on moe. because it is always something that I would have loved to do if the opportunity ever arose and he knew that all along because we'd keep in touch and I'd always tell him that. So he calls me one day and asks me if my wife was pregnant yet and I said I'll find out at the end of the week. He knew we were trying to have a baby. I said, "Why do you ask?" He said, "Well moe.'s looking for a drummer." And I was like, "No way!" I kinda had a feeling that because they just did the record and had a record contract that this was going to be an opportunity that was going to present itself that I was actually going to be able to do. So, he told me what the deal was and I said I'm really going to have to discuss this with my wife. I discussed it with her a bit and she said I'd be crazy if I didn't do it. And I'd hate her forever if I didn't do it, which wasn't really the case, but that's what she said. I decided to take the job and found out that my wife was pregnant all in the same day.
Jeff: Oh, my god...that's wild!
Vinnie: Then we sold our house and moved to Albany and the rest is history. We've be playing gigs ever since and we recorded the record.
Jeff: That's fantastic. Now I know I have a question on here somewhere, but I don't know where it is. I know what it is so I'm going to ask it: That is where you are now, but where do you see the band in five years?
Vinnie: I hope we're about where Phish is. That's what I'm hoping. I mean, we're not trying to follow in Phish's footsteps or any of that stuff. But as far as the size of a band and in the same realm and genre of what's going on...that's probably where I'd like to see us. Or even Dave Matthews. They're a little bit more commercially successful. Anywhere in between those two would be great.
Jeff: Obviously the live show is a big part of the band. Why is it so special to you as a band?
Vinnie: Well...that's a good question. These guys have always done it. It was something that we pretty much owed the success to this point because we toured so much. Being out there in the public eye and playing in towns all the time and always constantly being on the road and people come to see you and it builds up a following if you keep doing it. And everybody loves to play, as well. We all enjoy playing and we play these long shows and people like that too. Basically just the fact that we all love to play and we all like to experiment on stage with what we're doing and we kind of have to do it because it keeps the finances coming in so that we can pay everybody. It also just keeps us out in the public eye. A lot of bands, after they have a successful record, will take a couple years off. If we'd did that who knows if anyone would even remember who we were. We just try to keep out in front of people all the time and change up the shows and try to keep fresh material coming in.
Jeff: The live show pretty much showcases extended jams. Are they pretty much improvised or are the rehearsed?
Vinnie: They're completely improvised. We never rehearse. When we actually do go in to rehearse it's mostly just writing new material. We never really go and rehearse the old stuff. It is mostly all improvised so it gets a little sloppy, but the Grateful Dead was sloppy and they were one of the greatest live bands of all time. That's the way I look at it. I mean we'd like to be a little tighter, but it's tough. We have our nights where we really crank and we have other nights where it's so-so.
Jeff: I've seen you a couple of times where my girlfriend says, "They must rehearse that." because she thought, and I thought too, it was too tight to be improvised like that.
Vinnie: No, it's completely improvised. We have certain queues that we know are coming. There could be ten minutes of just complete morphized jamming and then you'll hear a queue to go into a tune. We've experimented with different ways of jamming where we'll write a set list out to a certain point and then put the rest as question marks and just know who is queuing up the next song and then just start jamming and start listening for queues. You start hearing the tune and then start morphing that tune into another tune. We change it up a lot. We go from doing that to not doing that to just constantly changing up the way we do the set.
Jeff: What makes a show good for you, what makes it successful?
Vinnie: It's pretty much all about the vibe. If the vibe in the room is really good, usually it is a lot easier for us to play. We don't have as much work. It tends to be easier. You're getting that feed from the crowd because they're really into it. It usually makes our jobs funner and easier to play. All of a sudden everything is clicking because people out there are really into it, we're really into it and it's just a whole. It's just kind of a whole. The better the vibe in the room, the better we play and the better all around show it ends up being.
Jeff: What was the best show you have ever played with moe.?
Vinnie: Uhhh. I couldn't even tell you. I can't even remember the last show. But we've had some really good ones. All the firsts we did in San Francisco. The Great American was really good, the Filmore was really good. The Warfield this time wasn't all that great, but the vibe wasn't quite there. Chicago we've had some really good shows. New York we've had some really good shows. Irving Plaza.
Jeff: I saw you guys at the record release party at Irving Plaza.
Vinnie: That was probably before...Yeah, that was still with Chris, I think. Oh, it might have been with me. Was it in April?
Jeff: Yeah. It was April of 97
Vinnie: Yeah that was me. And I think that was our first gig at Irving, or maybe it wasn't. I can't remember, but that was really good. Atlanta we always, almost every time we go to The Variety it's a good gig. DC always tends to be good gigs. We have certain places we go in...I can't really say what was the best gig. I thought the other night, we played at the 9:30 club in DC, was a really good gig.
Jeff: So of course now, do you have a worst show?
Vinnie: Yeah. The one I think is the worst show...we got hired to do something at Boston College and it was supposed to be a Springfest type of thing. But it was crappy outside so they moved it inside and it also wasn't open to the public and wasn't under 21, so there was like fifty people there. The sound system was shit and it was an all around horrible gig. That or we played a gig in San Antonio. I think it was the first and only time we played there and there was only like ten people there. It wasn't really that great of a gig, either. Other than that, those are the two worst that I can remember. The other guys might have a different opinion on that.
Jeff: What don't you like about touring so much? Are there any drawbacks to it?
Vinnie: Yeah. Just being away from my family pretty much because I have a daughter that is 16 months old, a wife that I've been married to for over five years. We've been together for like 12 years or something like that. To be away from them for five weeks or six weeks is tough, especially my daughter is growing up fast...lickety-split and for me to leave for five weeks -- I miss a lot of stuff. That is pretty much the only drawback. Other than that...I'm making a living playing music and it's an amazing thing.
Jeff: That's great! Do you guys have a bus or are you still in a camper?
Vinnie: Yeah, we're in the RV still. We're working on it, but we're gonna pretty much drive that thing into the ground and then when we need the change, we'll change it up.
Jeff: How do you guys keep yourselves entertained while on the road?
Vinnie: There's a TV with VCR, stereo, magazines -- porn magazines. (laughing) The whole bit. We find many ways. And a lot of sleep. You tend to sleep on the road a lot when your driving, because there's nothing else to do to pass the time and you don't get a lot of sleep at night either.
Jeff: What CD's are you listening to in the RV?
Vinnie: Well, I don't get my choice too much. I still like a lot of classic rock and older stuff. We tend to listen to a lot of newer stuff. Al's big into Son Volt and Wilco so that gets played a lot. Some of the country-esque rock and roll stuff, Elvis Costello -- things like that. Now me, I prefer to listen to Santana, the Grateful Dead, well we still listen to some Dead, too. Steely Dan and stuff like that. It does vary...some Little Feat...Cracker...a lot of different stuff. We're on the road so long, we really don't repeat CD's too often.
Jeff: Do you guys plan to release a live CD?
Vinnie: That's a good question. I would assume that eventually we will. They did do a live CD before I joined the band called Loaf. Which they sold like 5000 copies and discontinued it. So we may eventually do a real live CD. I don't know when that would be. It probably wouldn't be for a another couple of CD's I'm assuming.
Jeff: Since I'm jumping over to CD's...the new album has more of a live or relaxed feeling than No Doy. Do you want comment on that.
Vinnie: Yeah. There's a couple of reasons. One, not to toot my own horn, but I Think the drumming is a little more solid on this one that the last one. They didn't have to make so many drum tracks. Some of the tracks came out on one take. So that, in itself, has more of a live vibe to it. The production which John Alagia and John Siket, I think was better on this record. They kinda were a little bit more in tune in what we wanted. With the last record, the producer was gotten by the record company because they had never dealt with a producer before. He had produced, John Porter, he had produced Keb Mo and all these things, so he was kind of slicking it up for radio and stuff. Sony never put it to radio anyway. So that's kind of the deal with that. With this one, we were really not going for anything for radio. We just wanted to have a real nice live sounding CD, but also put in the extras that we actually wanted to have on this CD's.
Jeff: Like with the strings and horns and stuff.
Vinnie: Yes and John Alagia was amazing. He is a friggin' great...not only a wonderful person, but a wonderful producer. He really came pretty close to the mark on it. And John Siket, you know, has worked with some really great bands and knew how to get the sounds that we were looking for. I think the parties involved made it work better than the first time through. Plus a little more experience in the studio...everybody kinda knew a little bit more of what was going on. Except for me, I had never done it before.
Jeff: Why the decision to put the explanation of the songs in the liner notes instead of the lyrics? I think it was pretty cool.
Vinnie: That's a question that I have no idea about. Those guys do most of the writing and I think that was an idea that they were into. They must of seen it in a CD somewhere before or just were into that. That's how it came about.
Jeff: Basically that's all the questions I have. Do you have anything else you want to say?
Vinnie: Nope-Where you at?
Jeff: I'm actually at, I'm getting married on Saturday --
Vinnie: Oh congratulations!
Jeff: Thanks. But I'm at a hotel in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.
(Somehow from that, Vinnie and I then went on to talk about computers. He just got a new computer a few days earlier and we were trying to figure out how to download some Sesame Street video from a CD so he could show his daughter. But since I use a Mac and he has a PC, I was not much help.)
Then we continue a bit more:
Jeff: Well other than that, I'll probably catch you guys somewhere on the road...maybe New Year's Eve in Philly. We haven't decided if we're going to be around for that.
Vinnie: Cool. That should be a good one.
Jeff: I hope so. Actually I just went to see Medeski, Martin and Wood there (Electric Factory) the other night. It was a pretty good show.
Vinnie: I have never seen them.
Jeff: They were good. They were a little noisier that I thought they would be. I thought they would be doing some funkier jams and stuff, but they were a little more free. It was still good, though.
Vinnie: It's tough to grasp on to some of the free jamming, though. There's no melodies and stuff. It gets kind of hard after listening to it for a couple of hours. We get that way too, sometimes. I shouldn't talk all that much.
Jeff: Some people appreciate it and some people don't.
Vinnie: Musicians usually are a little more appreciative of that stuff.
Jeff: Other than that...I think that's it.
Vinnie: Alright man.
Jeff: I appreciate your time, greatly.
Vinnie: No problem.
Jeff: And have fun with the computer if you can get it figured out.
Vinnie: Well, I've got some stuff happening. But everyday I have to sit down and finagle with it a little bit more.
(Then we talked about computers a little bit more and said good-bye.)