Almost nothing about Roger McNamee’s band, Moonalice, is conventional.
For starters, McNamee isn’t your typical rock star—by any means. The guy is a massively successful businessman, holding degrees from Yale and Dartmouth and founding a private equity group, Elevation Partners, that includes a team of high-flying names like, for example, Bono. Also, the fledgling act really isn’t a fledgling act. Moonalice is essentially the Traveling Wilburys of the jam and blues rock world combined with a dude (and his wife) who really wants to be (and can be) in a killer band. With an album produced by roots rock heavyweight T-Bone Burnett and a lineup including people like G.E. Smith (as in G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band) and Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Rod Stewart), Moonalice is playing clubs and bars throughout the country as McNamee attempts to reinvent rock and roll protocol.
The band is in California halfway through a Friday when McNamee, who calls himself Chubby Wombat Moonalice on stage (they all have Wilbury-esque familial nicknames like that), and G.E. Smith call in for an interview. While one of the greatest blues guitarists and band leaders is on the line in Smith, it’s McNamee who does almost all the talking – speaking quickly, loudly and ending damn near every sentence with “right?” We talk a little about music, but a lot about the business of music, which perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise, and how Moonalice holds a unique standing in that business.
“The corporate nature of the music is not interested in a new band of people our age. We have a very interesting opportunity,” says McNamee.
McNamee built Moonalice out of his previous act, the Flying Other Brothers and has proceeded with a methodical, measured and technologically innovative approach to exposing Moonalice to the masses. Chubby Wombat and his assembled army of talent are enjoying themselves, but McNamee is keeping his eyes down the road a bit, aiming to build a band that can hold down a theater tour in the coming years. The “interesting opportunity” McNamee mentions is something he’s taking advantage of, pumping Moonalice up on Facebook as well as Twitter, where the band has 80,000 some followers to whom it gives out free Twitter-casts of each show. McNamee is a disciple, like many of his younger colleagues, in the notion that social networking is changing the music business. In fact, it was a Twitter connection that brought the band to Bend.
“If Facebook and Twitter will work for a band of people in their 50s and 60s, you gotta think it will work for other bands,” he says.
Moonalice, in addition to having an all-star lineup, has some ancillary bells and whistles you wouldn’t find in other emerging rock groups without someone like McNamee overseeing the day-to-day operations. They’ve commissioned poster artists to create artistic works for each show and have cultivated an extensive “legend” outlining the band’s somewhat dorky mythological backstory. It seems, upon first inspection, that Moonalice is merely McNamee’s “I’m so effing rich I can make myself a band” vanity project, and who knows, maybe it is, but there seems to be deep dedication at hand here and I learn this when the conversation finally meanders toward Moonalice’s actual music.
The band’s self-titled debut disc, an album dipped deeply into the Grateful Dead’s cup of influence and rounded out with a blues-rock base. One of the highlights of the record is a cover of Steve Earle’s “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” that the Moonalice tribe interprets with its own slightly mystic vibe. Still, the live show is what will make or break Moonalice, and McNamee knows that, but thankfully he has one of the best bandleaders in the business on his team.
“GE doesn’t just play guitar, he plays the band. He often talks about the fact that the band is his instrument,” says McNamee.
The Moonalice show is somewhat gimmicky, but in a good way. They recently gave cupcakes to all concertgoers who happened to be left handed, in celebration of Left-Handers Day. The band, which also includes McNamee’s wife, Ann, often on vocals, takes turns—all of them—on the bass. Yes, it’s a band of bass players. Although acutely aware of the business of music, it seems, in all their bass-trading, cupcake-giving, Twitter-casting glory, that McNamee is having fun. And this is something Smith can, finally, chime in on.
“You gotta have fun or else why bother? They call it ‘playing music’ because it’s supposed to be fun, and this has been incredibly fun, it really has,” says Smith.
It looks fun, even on Twitter.
8pm doors, 9pm show. Friday, August 21. Silver Moon Brewing Co. 24 NW Greenwood Ave. $10. 21 and up.