Singer/Songwriter Daniel Martin Moore on Appalachian Influences, Coal Mining, and Much More

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Singer and songwriter Daniel Martin Moore blends the Appalachian influences of his native Kentucky with a smooth mid-twentieth century era crooner voice for a distinct sound.  He’s released three albums including Dear Companion on which he teamed up with fellow Kentucky natives Ben Sollee and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James to raise awareness about Mountain Top Removal coal mining.  His latest release is In The Cool Of The Day , a very spiritual Gospel/Folk album recorded with friend Daniel Joseph Dorff which began spontaneously after an interview at WVXU’s studio in Cincinnati.

I believe you’re starting your tour today, right?

Actually, we played a show last night in Milwaukee with My Morning Jacket and we have one tonight in Chicago and then pick up with Haley Bonar on Sunday and Holcombe Waller on Monday

I had a chance to catch you last year with Jim James and Ben Sollee in Brooklyn and at the Newport Folk Festival which was great. How close are you with those guys?  You’re all from Kentucky I believe, right?  Have you known them for awhile?

We’re really good pals, I haven’t known Ben and Jim for many years but since 2008 when we sort of came together around Dear Companion I’m kind of among some really, really close friends.

I know a big part of Dear Companion was raising awareness for the mountain top removal coal mining which to be honest with you I had never heard of before you guys put out the album. How big of a problem is that in Kentucky?

Well, you’re not alone, a lot of people have never heard of it and it’s on a scale that’s just alarming, we’re talking about a million acres of central Appalachia which has been strip mined and detonated, over 500 individual mountains.  The situation there is almost so vast that you just can’t believe it’s real; it almost doesn’t even look real.  About a month ago I went on a fly over of portions of eastern Kentucky right around Hazard and Viper with Jim and Patrick and Tom from My Morning Jacket.  I’d seen aerial photographs and I’d been on the ground and seen the massive scale of these operations but as soon as you get up above the trees you just see that there aren’t just 2 or 3 of these sites, you’re in a  plane and you’re looking at a 360 degree view all around the horizon in every direction and there are these huge scars on the earth, sometimes for a couple of square miles as far as the eye can see. It’s a really big issue, a really big issue, it’s very well hidden.

That’s crazy. It’s amazing that I haven’t heard of it before you guys.  I know you were born in Kentucky but I don’t think you were born in the Appalachian area but you managed to have parts of that sound in your music with the instrumentation. How did that seep in?  Did you grow up with some of that music or did you learn it later on in life?

Oh yeah, we all grew up around those instruments and those songs. Kentucky from east to west has got one of the most rich and diverse musical traditions, I mean just as a geographical location, we have the Ohio River, right there at the corner of the Mississippi River, the border of Tennessee, so we get influences from all over the place.  Bill Monroe, the father of Bluegrass is actually from western Kentucky so that music and those instruments and those traditions and those songs are indeed from edge to edge.

I also had a chance to see you perform with the Preservation Jazz Band at Newport and I believe you recorded a song with them too. What was that experience like? 

You know, I’ve never recorded with them and I would love to of course, they’re amazing guys and just some of the sweetest best musicians around. It was an honor, an absolute honor, I’ve listened to old dusty records from the Preservation Hall stretching all the way back to the 60’s and to actually be standing with them it was, you know it was overwhelming and almost too much to think about, I just tried to enjoy it and I did and had a blast with those guys.

That’s great! That’s the thing about Newport, they always have a strong, diverse group of artists playing, which makes it a great show. What was the experience like as a performer?

I think Newport is the pinnacle, I mean for our style of music and if you want to see that style of music, I mean it’s the Newport folk festival, you know.  We were just beside ourselves to even be there because it’s such a storied tradition and they treat you wonderfully there, the crowds are great, I mean no one comes to the Newport Folk Festival to party, you know what I mean, people come to listen, to have great musical experiences.

I see in September you’re playing another festival, The End of the Road Festival, which I had never heard of until I saw you were playing it, it seems fantastic.

Yeah, I had not heard of it until we got invited over there and then I started reading about it and talking to the people and apparently it’s just a jam of a festival in the UK.  Everyone I’ve talked to about it has just said oh, End of the Road, that’s the one- it’s small you know, they only release a certain number of tickets and it’s just kind of like this beautiful little weekend of music you know, I think in a way it’s kind of like their Newport maybe.

I read you got your start by sending an unsolicited demo to Sub Pop Records.  How rare is that today?  It seems like a one in a million type of story. Does that happen often?

You know, I honestly don’t know.  I’m 1 for 1 (laughs).  I do realize how fortunate that was and how unusual but I’m not sure how often it happens.  I know it was a huge gift and it set me on a path I would have otherwise never been on. It’s something I’m very, very thankful for, for sure.

It’s funny that it was Sub Pop records because it’s often associated with Nirvana and the early grunge stuff but it’s been sort of turning into a more diverse record label with The Shins and Fleet Foxes and artists such as yourself.

Oh yeah, I mean they still have some incredibly hard hitting bands like Piss Jeans.  What makes Sub Pop so strong and so interesting and so viable is that they put out anything that they like, you know.  They’re more into working with an artist that strikes them as good or unique. They’re not really interested in “will this fill a niche in the market” or whatever, they never ask that question, they’re just like “we like this, we think this is great so we are gonna put it out” and that’s why they’re thriving while other labels are dying, basically.  I think the difference is in the business philosophy there.

I’ve been listening to your new album, In The Cool of the Day, and there is a really distinct spiritual energy in the music.  I heard it came about after doing an interview at WVXU’s studio in Cincinnati, what was the process like in making the album?

Well making that record was a labor of love. It started out I was just going to make some recordings for my family and you know there were really no plans to release it and it seemed like the perfect place to do that.  You know when I decided to actually try and do it in a studio I was like well maybe I can bring in some friends, so I called Dan Dorff who played drums and piano with me for a long time and he’s a really good friend so he and I decided we would do this project together and then it turned into an album somehow along the way.  It was a very nice experience and I got to work with people that I love and doing songs that are really important to me from my childhood that are really important to my family and that’s why they where chosen, they were  chosen to present to my family as a gift.

For more information on Daniel Martin Moore, visit his Myspace page.

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