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Bob Moses Discusses Debut Album 'Days Gone By' & the Intersection of Dance Music and Songwriting
The duo has the authenticity to appease genre purists, yet the lyrical depth to attract non-electronic fans.
Bob Moses is proof that underground dance music and pop-savvy songwriting don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
The two-man live act, consisting of Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance, have the authenticity to appease genre purists, yet the lyrical depth to attract non-electronic fans. They’ve quickly become a hot commodity in the dance community, bringing their live show to SXSW, Lightning in a Bottle, Buku and even landing on Resident Advisor’s Top 20 Live Acts of 2014.
Now they’ve announced their debut album, Days Gone By, set for release on Domino Records on Sept. 18. For a band with only two EPs to their name, it’s a big step. Yet if their first singles “Talk” and “Too Much Is Never Enough” are anything to go by, the response thus far has been phenomenal.
The story of Bob Moses begins in New York in early 2011 when Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance first reconnected after going to high school together years earlier in Vancouver. Both immersed in their own versions of New York nightlife, they bonded over a shared disillusionment with their respective scenes. Upon venturing into the studio together, they formed a natural partnership: “We were instantly liking what we were doing from the beginning. It was way far from what we ended up making as Bob Moses but it was just more about that initial spark.”
Soon linking up with crew behind Brooklyn-based label, Scissor and Thread, Tom and Howie began doing vocal features for various friends of the label. Eventually, co-founder Francis Harris asked the duo to deliver their own EP for the imprint, prompting them to officially adopt their name, Bob Moses.
Two EPs later, the duo received a timely call from Domino Records -- the home to artists such as Hot Chip, Jon Hopkins, Caribou and more -- asking for an LP. Days Go By was thus born, setting the stage for what may easily be the breaking point for their young career.
Featuring 10 tracks in total (12 on the bonus edition), the album picks up thematically where their previous work left off, blending smoky vocals with catchy guitar hooks and sedative deep house rhythms. It’s an entrancing combination, and one that translates exceedingly well into the live performance realm.
When Billboard reached Bob Moses to discuss their debut album, they’re in Berlin, where they’re living for the summer.
How did you guys meet and begin making music together?
Jimmy: We went to high school together in Vancouver. We were friends, we had the same art class for a few years, but we really never hung out outside of school for some reason.
Tom: We both kind of respected each other as the other music guy. Jimmy was showing up to art class all hung-over from playing crazy trance raves. I had a band of older people and a fake ID and I was playing rock clubs two nights a week. So we’d both show up and be like "you’re the other music guy," but I was like, "you play trance."
Jimmy: I thought Tom was really cool. He had a great singer/songwriter career going, and he was released EPs, and he was killing it, and he was 17. And I was like man this guy is really doing it and I’m stuck here doing trance.
Tom: We were both doing our thing, and then we both moved to New York separately. I was living there for about a year before we met up. We ran into each other one day because we found out we both had studio spaces just across a parking lot from each other and we never knew. When you see someone you grew up with in a foreign city and you don’t really know anybody, you go out to dinner and get talking. We were both kinda bored with what we were doing musically and wanted to try something fresh so we booked some studio time together.
Jimmy: It was pretty magic... it felt really good. We weren’t over thinking anything. It can be a bit awkward, a bit like a first date when two people get together in the studio. But it was just so natural.
Tom: I was kind of sick of New York and felt like I was stuck in a rut, so I was planning on going back to Vancouver and regrouping. Jimmy was like, "Just stay here, move into my place, and let’s just do this all the time."
Jimmy: Right around the time before I met Tom, I was kind of getting sick of making techno-y records. I remember there was a moment, I was working in the studio with some guys and I was listening to some Led Zeppelin and they walked in with a weird look on their face like "what’s that?" They didn’t know what Led Zeppelin was, and at that point, I was like, I just need to do something else man. At that time, Tom showed up on a shiny white horse to save me.
At what point in the process did you decide, "We’re going to be Bob Moses"?
Jimmy: That wasn’t until a year after. Tommy moved into my place and we started working every day, just writing a whole bunch of stuff. Like everything. We made pop music, we made dance music, we made dubstep… you name it, we tried it. We were both really into pushing sound -- whatever that means -- and writing the best songs we could. It wasn’t until a year or so into that we ran into the crew from Scissor and Thread. They would come into our studio and we would play them what we were working on. Through that, people started asking us to do vocal features. After a few vocal features with friends of Harris, they were like, we’ve done enough with you guys now, we want to put them out. We think you guys should have a name. He was the one that suggested, "how about Bob Moses?"
Tom: We started going down to the Caribbean and doing a few shows. We were doing covers of James Blake tracks and Thom Yorke records. Trying to do shit with cool sounds, but with songs. We had to do two sets. An hour each sort of thing. It was sort of a club restaurant on the beach. It would start chill, then we would amp it up. One of the first covers we did was a cover of “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele over an edit that we did of a Nicolas Jaar track -- really like deep subby drums, slow groove. At the same time, back in New York, we’re going to all these ReSolute parties and working with Francis, and by the time we got asked to play a show with them, we’d already done about five tracks with friends. So they played at the Marcy hotel, and when it was time for them to play our tracks in a DJ set, I sang one track and then another track and the crowd went fucking crazy!
Jimmy: It was like a sweaty punk show, low cut ceilings, maybe held a hundred people. It was like, you’re singing in the booth, and people basically faced right up against you and standing right beside you. Super intimate, and the crowd went crazy. We didn’t expect it.
Tom: At the end of that, me and Jimmy were walking home early in the morning and the sun is coming up, and we’re like, "dude, that was crazy, let’s just do that." Soon after, Francis called us and wanted us to make our own EP for the label as Bob Moses. We decided to focus all our energy on that name.
When did the idea for Days Gone By come about? Did you always know you wanted to write an album?
Jimmy: We always knew we wanted to make an album, but with the EPs, we felt like we needed to find some sort of stepping-stone to get there. We were never really comfortable with just releasing singles. We always felt like we needed some sort of context to release our music. We didn’t just want to have a dance track, just an acoustic track, etc. We always wanted to do the record -- it was just a matter of getting these EPs out of the way before we did it.
How many tracks did you write for the album?
Jimmy: We wrote a lot. We were like, "let’s just write and write and write." Making an album is such a cool process in that sense. Sometimes you write and it’s like putting puzzle pieces together. Being able to have the experience of making two EPs, which is almost an album worth of material, plus being able to play a lot and getting a sense of how our music flows with itself, gave us a lot of direction on how to make the album
Tom: The thing with an album too is that it’s a bigger body of work. You can say more. In the sound palette you’re going for, you can venture off a little further into the woods then maybe you could otherwise from just releasing singles or EPs. If you go kind of left-field on a track, you can bring it back home on the next track. It was really nice to be able to explore the outer reaches of what we wanted to say and do. It’s been a challenging experience writing and producing it, but a very rewarding one in the end.
Is there a certain idea or theme that links the tracks together?
Tom: I wouldn’t say there’s an overarching theme per se, but the album is quite dark. There’s sort of a lot of melancholy in it, but melancholy with a sense of hope. The chorus of the title track is all about learning lessons. There’s a bunch of remorse, and a bunch of nostalgia. It’s sort of a snapshot of what we were both going through at the time, in our personal lives, together and separately. We wanted to write about topics that were meaningful to us but also overarching subjects of life that could happen to anybody.
Jimmy: We toured a lot over the making of the record. There’s a lot of this feeling where you’re surrounded by a lot of people and you feel connected, but there’s also a sense of loneliness at the same time. A lot of that stuff, lyrically and vibe-wise, made it onto the record. Tom and I come from Vancouver, which is kind of like the edge of the world, and we’ve always kinda felt like we’ve been the black sheep in the scene we’ve been in. There’s a lot of this kind of isolation, us-against-the-world sort of thing. That’s why there may be some sadder tones, but there’s always a bit of hope at the end.
As far as the production goes, what are some unique features that help form the Bob Moses sound?
Jimmy: Our energy comes from the low-end, which is kind of unusual. You usually get things like the high frequencies driving the tracks, like whether it’s tambourines or cymbals. Our energy comes from a less-is-more kind of thing.
Tom: You notice that live. A few people have commented that you listen to our records at home, and they seem chill, and then live they kind of bang more than you expect them to. And that comes from the depth of the low end. I’d say the signatures of our sound are the deep sub, and all the tugging-and-pulling going on, and then we like the top end to be very organic and the sounds to be unique noises... like the hi-hat could be a pan, or the snare doesn’t just sound like a drum, but a bunch of things layered together. We like these crunch top noise and effects that we like to put in.
Jimmy: And then instead of using typical synthesizers, we might go for a Rhodes, like a Mark II kind of sound. There’s something about a guitar and a Rhodes that give an old-school, familiar sound. There’s something really cozy about those instruments. A lot of the basis of it is stuff that is very familiar that we’ve just found a different way of working it. It took a while, but we also know our go to for how we would get the vocal sound for how we want... the layering, the harmonies… there’s a few tricks. We write a verse, a chorus, we know immediately to try things like an octave up, an octave low, put these things together, try different harmonies. We spend a lot of time on that.
Tom: It’s funny because our production and our writing process is basically the same process because it’s so involved. We find sounds that typically would be called production but then influence the way we write, and then maybe influence the lyrical content and the way we sing it or mix stuff in. Those are kind of the corner stones of our sound so to speak. It’s quite lush, it’s really deep, but it’s also quite moody. we like everything to work together, not like one thing way out in front all the time. They sort of talk to each other in the track.
How do you perform these songs live? Can you tell me about the new live show you’re planning?
Tom: At the moment, Jimmy is running clips in the controller, into the computer, and making the bass work, and I sing and play guitar and have pedals and fuck with our vocals and shit. Basically the next step for us is sort of like adding production and visuals for our fall tour and pulling more instruments out of the box.
Jimmy: We’ve been in an interesting position where we’ve been playing clubs and festivals, so we have this rig that looks great on both things and in the DJ booth, but now we want to do more of the indie venues, and playing keys and stuff like that. We both come from a band mentality, and that’s how we see this. We see ourselves as a band who just happens to make electronic music.
Bob Moses recently teamed up with Absolut Reality to provide a live 360 degrees virtual reality experience of their sold-out show at Output in Williamsburg, NY on July 31. Watch the official recap to see the duo in action: