It's not easy to catalog the latest addition to the moe. canon, the just-released Smash Hits Volume 1. Since the band has never actually had a hit, the title is more than a little misleading. "We put it to a vote for songs that we think encapsulate a first-time listener's grab to moe.," explains drummer Vinnie Amico. "Like if we wanted to give a first-time listener an idea of what we sound like and songs that they would like. We don't really have any hits."
Like the group — a jam band that plays a mix of blues, rock, and alt-country — Smash Hits is somewhat unclassifiable. To celebrate their 20th anniversary, moe. are offering fans this interim release, a look back at their seminal work from the early '90s. For the record, the early revolving lineup stabilized with the 1996 arrival of Amico and the 1999 return of percussionist Jim Loughlin, who joined original singer-guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey and bassist Rob Derhak.
The hitch in the compilation plan is the band's old record company Sony, which owned the rights to moe.'s early recordings and wouldn't license them for inclusion on Smash Hits. Undaunted, moe. skirted legalities by rerecording the songs they wanted to include in the collection (Sony owns the recordings, not the actual songs). And because Amico wasn't the group's drummer on its earliest recordings, it made sense for the band to update the songs' arrangements.
"They're tweaked," says Amico. "Basically, this is the way we play them live today, so the arrangements are different. But the style is different, a little more mature. I didn't drum on some of that stuff, and my style is a little different from what [the other drummers were] playing at the time."
Not everything on Smash Hits is a remake. Three songs — "Captain America," "Okayalright," and "Tailspin" — date from Amico's tenure. The album's final track, "Seat of My Pants," makes its album debut (even though it's been a live favorite for years). "[After] 20 years, we have almost 100 tunes of our own," says Amico. "I think it's time that we put some of our best ones together on an album."
Moe. are hoping Smash Hits will attract longtime fans with these new versions of old faves. But at the same time, they see the album as a sampler platter for new listeners. "That's why we keep writing new music," says Amico. "I do believe we get new fans coming in — high-school kids that hear us for the first time and then hip their friends. Once kids get to college, they get exposed to us."
Song collections — whether or not they're actually greatest-hits sets — are typically used as stopgaps when a band doesn't have any new music on the horizon. It's been a couple of years since the last moe. album (2008's Sticks and Stones), but Amico says a new one is on the way soon. But not too soon. "We're in the works to get something new out there," he says. "But there's not an actual timeline at this point. Sooner than later."
You'd think with the 20th anniversary celebration under way, moe. would have some sort of special stage show or set list prepared for fans. But in typical moe. — and jam band — fashion, there's not much pre-planned for the current tour. But there is a snazzy new wardrobe onstage.
"We're wearing suits — we're trying to be more professional," Amico laughs. "It comes together last minute, so there's bound to be more stuff that I don't even know because it hasn't been conceptualized yet. Right before the first set, it'll be like, Let's do this, and do it all tour. And then it's, Uhhh, OK, sure. We work like that a lot."
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