Bob Moses Is Way More Emo Than Your Typical EDM Group
The band Bob Moses, comprised of Jimmy Vallance and Tom Howie, is named after famed city planner Robert Moses, who is largely responsible for New York’s infrastructure and development after the Great Depression. Although both musicians are originally from Vancouver, they only began working together in New York. And clearly, the city had a huge influence—it’s not every day that a band is named after a historically divisive urban planner.
But the band isn’t all about city structure. Bob Moses got started by playing at underground loft and warehouse parties in the city a couple years ago, and are now getting booked at this year’s most highly attended music festivals. Their haunting lyrics and beautiful, atmospheric melodies break the mold of today’s frenetic EDM hits, making electronic music both accessible and memorable. Songs like Talk reveal emotional pain and depth—a far cry from just letting the bass drop in the club.
We caught Bob Moses during the busy week where they played numerous back-to-back shows in Miami for WMC and then Austin for SXSW. Though the overall sound of their music is moody, sexy, and a bit dark, Vallance and Howie are lively and lovely, constantly cracking jokes and poking fun at each other. Despite their hectic touring schedule, they’re full of energy, showing a genuine appreciation for every performance opportunity afforded to them. Howie even spent his birthday playing SXSW, but it felt far from work. It’s more like a birthday wish from his younger years that’s finally come to fruition, and he can barely imagine a better way to celebrate.
This year has been insane for you guys. You’ve been playing everywhere and you were just on Ellen! How was that?
Vallance: That was crazy, it happened so randomly—we just did a show in Brazil and we were in a cab and our manager texted us: “Ellen is having a birthday show and she wants to have you guys on it.” I basically thought it was a prank until I was backstage. But it was real and it was super fun. I just kept thinking—”it’s Dory from Finding Nemo!”
Vallance: Jack Black was in the dressing room across the hall and he kind of put me at ease. He kept telling us we were going to crush it.
I think one of the reasons you’re so popular is because of how honest and relatable your lyrics are. What’s your songwriting process like?
Howie: I went to Berklee College of Music and I took this class called Lyric Writing with Henry Gaffney. He always put forth this idea of writing to figure out what you’re writing about. When you make music, you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s kind of subconscious and it’s quite meditative. Once we get an idea that comes from one of us or both of us, we flesh it out and maybe there’s a phrase—I’ll maybe say something and Jimmy will say, “Did you just say this?” Or I’ll be like, “It sounds like you said this.” Our song “Hands to Hold” came from me just saying, “Time, time, time, is a poison.” Jimmy was like, “What does that mean? That’s cool.” And I’m like, “I don’t know.”
“Lots of my favorite songs are written as though it’s a love song… but it could be a relationship to God or drugs or society or anything like that.”
Vallance: Some guy at a gig recently came up to me and was like, “Man that’s so true, time is the only poison that kills us all!” and I was like, “Yeah! I knew it meant something!”
Howie: And who knows where that comes from? You keep writing to figure out what you’re writing about and then eventually you hone in on it more, maybe we’ll be writing the lyrics and we’ll be going down one path and one of us will say, “What if it’s about this?” Lots of my favorite songs are written as though it’s a love song because we say “me” and “you” and it talks about two people, but it could be a relationship to God or drugs or society or anything like that.
What was it like coming up in the underground scene in New York?
Vallance: New York was a great place for us to come up; the warehouse scene was super involved and lots of people were coming and doing awesome stuff. And that’s how we met Nektarios at ReSolute, one of the top underground parties in New York, before we were even called Bob Moses. He was really supportive—everyone was open. It was the perfect environment for us to experiment. I get passionate when I reminisce. You read about scenes that pop up and it’s cool to feel like [you’re] a part of it. It’s changed a lot now, but those things aren’t meant to last forever. Artists that are killing it today, like Jamie XX, used to play for 100 people in a little tiny room with no air conditioning, and [they] would get shut down and end up back at someone’s apartment. We’ve done that a bunch of times. One of the first gigs in New York was in our friend’s loft and it got fucking trashed. It was great.
What’s been your most memorable gig thus far?
Howie: We recently sold out a place called Paradiso in Amsterdam, which was like 1,500 people on a Wednesday night. It was a beautiful, old, legendary venue, super high ceilings, two balconies—beautiful ornate church. Stage was good, sound was amazing, crowd was crazy. That was an amazing show for us—it was in this beautiful place, but it was also the first time we sold out quite a big venue on a weekday and just for us. I went to bed that night being like, I accomplished something I’ve been dreaming about since I [was] a little kid.
Vallance: The one that I remember the most was the night when Hurricane Sandy happened in New York—we played a warehouse, we got booked to play at eight or nine in the morning after Halloween. The other big Halloween party got shut down which was the Robot Heart party, so everyone from there, like 5,000 people, tried to come, and the warehouse we were at could only hold 1,000. We weren’t big at all yet, but we played for 1,000 people that night, and that gig actually changed our careers in New York—1,000 people got to see us and were like, what the hell is this? Everyone that got there was really bummed out that their Halloween was about to be ruined, then they got into this party and it was just awesome. The storm was already starting—we were actually getting texts from our roommates being like, “Yo, you have to come home cause we have to board up the hatches!”
I know both of you were making music separately before you became Bob Moses. What made you decide to start working together?
Vallance: We went to high school together, and that’s how we met, but we weren’t super close buds. And then Tom moved to Berklee, and I moved to New York. Tom eventually ended up in New York and we had a studio space two blocks away from each other for a year and we never knew. Then we finally ran into each other. We were both kind of bored of where we were at, like, “Hey why don’t you just come over to the studio for the day?” And then we’ve been in the studio every day since.
Howie: We went out for dinner—we were both in New York we didn’t really have any friends or know anybody. We had a studio session and it was like love at first sound. I was actually going to go back to Vancouver and work for a bit, I was paying rent in New York but I was a bit lost and didn’t love what I was doing. I’d already given up my apartment, and I remember after our first day in the studio we went to this little bar. We’d been working for two to three hours, playing music and starting one idea, and I’m like, “Alright man, I’m going to cancel all my plans and we’re going to do this full time.” And he’s like, “Yup, that’s what we’re going to do. Just move into my apartment and we’ll just live and work.” So I went back to Vancouver, saved up a little money for a month, month and a half. After Christmas I moved back to Jimmy’s and we just worked…forever. And we’re still working.
All photos shot exclusively for Milk by Koury Angelo