“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest is someone who is what esteemed photographer Glenn E. Friedman might dub a “Fuck You Hero”. His music with Washington DC’s Dischord Records band Artificial Peace had massively resonated with me at the time I first started writing VS as a paper zine back in the early 90s. I’d gone backwards via Fugazi’s “In On The Killtaker” to find the truly seminal “Flex Your Head” sampler on which they contributed three killer tracks. The stand out was “Outside Looking In” which made reference to the fact that rather than being from Georgetown they were from Bethesda, a city just across the D.C. line in Maryland. I loved “Flex Your Head” and its multiple songs and sleeves so much I bought the t-shirt.
Rob Moss went onto play in another legendary 80s DC band that had starred on “Flex Your Head”, Government Issue before leaving music altogether to take up writing, including the novel “Descending Memphis”.
Like The Saints, Moss has always been someone who knows his product, and he couldn’t stay away from it. It’s been a while, but with a new band – Rob Moss and The Skin-Tight Skin. It features a notable credit list, worthy of liner note poring, including musicians from Generation X, Government Issue, Wilco, Velvet Monkeys, Dinosaur Jr, Scream, Foo Fighters, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, Fear, The Four Horsemen, Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band (more of which below), Smash Fashion, and The Slickee Boys. There’s an album fittingly called “We’ve Come Back To Rock & Roll” it’s the first music he’s made since the halcyon “Salad Days” in DC. And I’m pleased to report it’s an absolute riot. Welcome back to R&R and welcome to VS, Rob Moss!
check out the latest video – for the track “33 1/3 RPM” ( a song that features the virtuouso Nels Cline on lead guitar) – it also serves as a handy checklist of Rob’s influences ranging from Lou Reed to T-Rex via The Stooges, Mott The Hoople, Peter Frampton and reading CREEM magazine…
Here’s some more background info:
The taut velocity of Artificial Peace had built a loyal following in the early 80s and they were one of the first Dischord bands to play outside of DC. The songs that wound up on “Flex Your Head” had come from a demo recorded with Ian MacKaye at Inner Ear in 1981 and although the only other release at the time was a split 7” with a band called The Exiled on the Fountain of Youth label, it transpired that Ian had been a massive fan all along, wearing out the cassette of the demo in his tourbus – and later coming back to release the entire session in 2010. The band were long gone of course, and today’s guest Rob Moss had left to join the rotating line up of fellow Dischord vanguards Government Issue, led by John Stabb, and played on their 1983 tour.
Post-GI and DC, Moss had dropped out of punk rock, and signed into college and a more regular job. More recently, he’s been writing about AI, machine learning, IoT and other technology but the lure of rock & roll has always been strong though, and Rob wrote a Raymond Chandler-esque coming of age novel called “Descending Memphis” that imagined a Johnny Cash style character as a private sleuth.
With his first new music since the 80s on “We’ve Come Back To Rock & Roll” Rob’s cherry-picked not only some top musicians but also some influences with teeth.
Opening song “Babble Tower” has riffing redolent of “Spaghetti Incident” Guns N’ Roses, on “There’s My Ride” Rob’s nonchalant vocals channels “Brick By Brick” Iggy. The title song has some proper foot-stomping glam, with grit in the oyster. The aforementioned “33 1/3” is a list of subterranean pop meets “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or a punk “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. My favourite track both in title and in its Undertones style exuberance is “Tony Alva’s Pictures” – a reference to the most rock & roll of all the Z-Boys. There’s a Jonathan Richman style simplicity and rawness to the whole set that is truly timeless. It’s a crying shame there’s no live music right now due to calamitous Covid-19, but if anyone was to step back on stage and blow a Marie Celeste venue’s cobwebs away, you’d want it to be Rob Moss and Skin-Tight Skin.
But enough hot air from me, what has Rob chosen as his tune? It’s truly one with a tale, so without further ado, here’s Rob Moss’ redemptive “song for ewe”…
“Rock & Roll ’78 by Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band
I was living in NYC in the mid ’80s to early ’90s, and this guy in my building worked in the music industry. Nearly every week he’d toss out records in the basement next to the trash. Many, but not all, were promo copies. I’d scavenge through them, trade in the crap and keep the best.
That’s how I discovered the self-titled Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band album, which came out in 1978. Side 1, song 1 is a solid cover of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” But the second song, “Rock & Roll ’78,” blew me away. It’s a song I continue to go back to and share with friends. And even now, the lead guitar intro – played by Billy Loosigian over Willie’s piano – makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
So nearly 30 years later, I wrote Billy’s name on my wish list of lead guitarists to play on my album. Many of the guys on my list were old friends or friends of friends. But I didn’t know Billy. So I contacted him on Facebook and he replied, “Love to give it a go.”
Billy did more than give it a go. He brought the sound and spirit I’d heard in his playing to my song, “No 48 Crash” (yes, it’s a reply song to Suzi Quatro). Which goes to show that it can be better to mine the past for gold than to be satisfied with dross just because it’s new.”
As a neat post script, here’s a further note from Rob: “Btw, at 0:59 in on the video for “Life at 33 1/3 RPM” I’m holding the Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band album that “Rock & Roll ‘78” appears on. I had to get it in there.”
(the still from the vid below)
Here’s all the requisite album info —
“We’ve Come Back to Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Rob Moss and Skin-Tight Skin is on Rock On Records.
You can find it here:
More info at:
THANKS SO MUCH TO ROB MOSS, YOU RULE.
And if you love Dischord Records as much as I do, check out the first in our “song for ewe” series when Velvet Sheep became a blog in 2015 – from Minor Threat and Dischord – Jeff Nelson…