Flying into the Limelight

Share on Nextdoor

Admit it, you've been listening to the radio a little more often lately. When you're in traffic, and you just can't handle letting the one CD in your car roll over to the beginning, again, it's just a wee bit easier to yank it out of the dash and see what's on the dial than it has been in recent years. Because right now, three out of every 15 songs in regular rotation are actually worth hearing, and it doesn't matter that you've had them in your collection for eight months — there's just something inherently hopeful about hearing a good rock 'n' roll song on the airwaves.

If you happen to be just that kind of closet optimist, then chances are you've heard the offbeat, insanely catchy little single called "I See Sound." It's a pretty good 'un, a track that manages to sit nicely among the Buzz Bin's nouveau emo-pop while simultaneously recalling a quirky, early '90s post-Pixies vibe. And it's the modern-rock radio audience's first exposure to Moth, the Cincinnati overnight sensation that took more than 10 years to happen.

"My favorite songs on the album switch from one day to the next, but I think "I See Sound' best encapsulates what we're all about, as far as the dynamic changes, the different parts," says vocalist/guitarist Brad Stenz. "Overall, it's the one that best represents us, in the three and a half minutes that we've got."

Stenz, who as a bored teen laid Moth's foundation back in 1989, may be oversimplifying things a bit. "I See Sound" does contain most of the quartet's calling cards — energy, melody, hooks and a refreshingly idiosyncratic way of weaving them together — but a listen to their Virgin Records debut, Provisions, Fiction & Gear quickly reveals that no one song is up to the challenge of pinning Moth down. Always ambitious, airtight and focused, the disc's tracks nonetheless cover a great deal of stylistic ground. From straightforward power-pop through lush, climactic mid-tempo anthems to meandering, off-kilter grooves, Provisions offers a bit of everything under catchy rock's sun, all of it held together by Stenz's versatile voice and knack for always bringing just the right weirdness in from left field.

Taken as a whole, the album affords a much broader picture of Moth. It's obviously the work of a songwriter who's had years to find a voice and hone his craft (Moth released two independent full-lengths before signing with Virgin) and has moved beyond three-chord musings to express himself with a larger musical vocabulary. Stenz acknowledges that Provisions is indeed the result of a lot of work and experiences but is by no means the end of the journey.

"I don't think there's an ultimate goal that we want to get to, as far as the sound is concerned. The songwriting is constantly evolving; it's learning, growing," he says. "We're constantly going through changes. It's a cool thing, and it's represented in the name of the band — obviously we'll always be going through some sort of metamorphosis."

Moth's mix of pre-Lollapalooza alternative, reverent pop and wigged-out space-rock often belies various and seriously disparate influences. Pablo Honey-era Radiohead, classic Bowie, Queen, Bauhaus and even the atmosphere of skewed '90s one-hitters like Deadeye Dick are all called to mind at various points on Provisions. When asked about his favorite bands and how they inspire his particular creative bent, however, Stenz bristles.

"We make a very strong effort not to be influenced by any other artists. We're fans of other bands, definitely, but when it comes to Moth, I think that's strictly, legitimately Moth. We try to keep it as original as possible," says the songwriter.

Moth goes a long way toward proving that a band's tuneage can be ambitious, textured and polished, and still connect on that simple, infectious pop-music level. The record may be fairly eclectic, but the songs aren't tough to digest.

"I think that there are still hooks there. It's catchy, it's melodic, there's stuff that people can get into," Stenz says. "It's almost as instantly accessible as some of that other stuff."

As hook-laden and interesting as Stenz's tunes are, a great song without a solid rhythm section is about as fun to listen to as NPR, and as he and longtime Moth guitarist Bob Gayol prepared to record Provisions, they found themselves without one. The disc's stellar bass and drum tracks were contributed by the dream team of former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson and legendary punk/alt drum mercenary Josh Freese. Their appearance was the result of a lucky coincidence stemming from Moth's selecting Sean Beavan to produce.

"When we decided that we were going to work together, he immediately suggested Tommy and Josh because he was also producing Guns N' Roses at the time," says Stenz. "So it was kind of a no-brainer."

A huge Replacements fan, the singer admits to being somewhat intimidated at the outset, but he settled in as the sessions quickly proceeded. Stinson also lent Moth a further hand by suggesting four-stringer Ted Liscinski, an old friend, as a full-time member. Former Rocket From The Crypt basher Atom Willard met Stenz and Gayol simply because he was always hanging around the studio where Provisions was recorded; as the album neared completion, the duo asked Willard if he'd be interested in jamming with them.

"It was one of those things that I always heard bands talk about in interviews — "I knew from the first note he was right' — but I never could understand what the hell we were talking about until it happened," marvels Stenz.

With a fiercely energetic rhythm section in place and a marvelous new album to pimp, Moth is hitting the road this spring — in an actual tour bus this time, rather than the beat-up short yellow school bus that carried Stenz and Gayol through so many miles as an unknown indie band. And they're finally scoring some nationwide radio-play to boot, something Stenz doubtless fantasized about during a decade of anonymity and destitution. But throughout those years, Stenz insists he had a blast and never once thought of giving up Moth.

"It's something that I've always wanted to do, and I found that out early on. I dropped out of high school to pursue this, so it was always in the back of my mind that it had better work," he says with a laugh, "because there was nothing else I could do."

Scott Harrell can be reached at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or at [email protected]

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.