MOETAR "Lords of Entropy"

By Dark Starr

MoeTar is one of the most promising of the newest wave of progressive rock acts. Their sound is firmly rooted in the classic prog of the 1970s, but they bring a freshness and newness to it. Hailing from California, MoeTar recently released their second album "Entropy of the Century". I got the chance to pose a number of questions to the band.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

TARIK RAGAB: I have always loved music, it makes me feel alive more than anything else. I knew at an early age I wanted to be a musician and have pursued it ever since. I have played in many cherished projects over the years and now I have the real honor of playing with some of the finest musicians I have ever known in our MoeTar.

MOOREA DICKSON: I grew up studying jazz with an emphasis on a cappella music. I still keep a foot in that door by being a board member and the Development Director for the Women’s A Cappella Association and sing in and arrange for The Riveters.  I do a ton of session work and a little claim to fame of mine is the dozens of songs that I recorded for the Guitar Hero, Garage Band and Karaoke Revolution video games. I teach private voice lessons and work with high school aged singers. However, my musical baby is MoeTar. I’ve done a lot of singing in bands, and other original projects, but this is the most prized musical project of my life so far.

MATT LEBOFSKY: The short story is that I've been making music since birth - it's pretty much just part of my DNA. Band wise, I met Tarik in 1995 and we kept bumping into each other as fans or creators in the curious music scene over the years. When the stars aligned and he called me saying he needed a keyboardist during the formative months of MoeTar it took about 1.5 seconds of thinking about before I said yes.

MATTHEW CHARLES HEULITT: My mother is a classically-trained pianist/organist/choir director.  I studied classical guitar, jazz, and rock and had a formal music education at the Interlochen Arts Academy, and University of Miami.  I met Tarik on a jazz gig. 

JONATHAN HERRERA: I started on piano at age five, and picked up the bass at eleven. I’m 35 now. I studied music at USC and at the Los Angeles Music Academy. I’ve played with famous people, and many not so famous people, primarily on bass, although as of late I’ve focused a lot on integrating analog synthesizers into my work. I became involved in MoeTar out of my close friendships with the people in the band, and frequent musical collaborations. I was around at the recording sessions, and contributed synth to several tracks. Subsequently, I became a full-time band member.

WC: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

TR:  Painting, I’m also a visual artist.

MD:  I will always be involved in music, but I do already work part time at the amazing non-profit organization, One Circle Foundation, which promotes small support group work with teens. I am passionate about teenagers feeling supported and getting through that crazy time. I get to work with a lot of young people through music and through OCF.

ML: I'd work on the world's biggest volunteer supercomputing project and world's largest scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Which is actually what I do when not playing music.

MCH: Providing therapy, working for environmental conservation, or living as a monk in some distant mountain range.

JH: Writing, begrudgingly. It’s a skill I have, that I actually don’t enjoy all that much ... at least the process. Being finished writing, though; that’s a lovely feeling.

WC: How did the name of the group originate?

JH: It’s a portmanteau of Moorea and Tarik.

MD: Yup. So Tarik and I have been together for a long time, and MoeTar became the nickname that our friends gave us as a couple.  When we had the idea to start this band, we used MoeTar as the name in the beginning as kind of a place-holder, but it stuck. It just felt right. Now it’s not just about the two of us anymore, it’s about all of us in the band. We are MoeTar.

WC: Who would you see as your musical influences? 

TR:  Frank Zappa, Duke Ellington, Hermeto Pascoal, Elliot Smith, The Beatles, XTC, Jaco Pastorius, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Mahavishnu Orchestra.

ML: I admit it's hard to shake my prog rock roots, but there are specific artists I'll auto-buy anything they touch: Robert Wyatt, Cheer-Accident, Motorpsycho, to name a few...

MD: My biggest musical influences in my formative years were a mix of rock and jazz. So Nirvana, Miles Davis, Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald, Queens of the Stone Age, Carmen McRae, Jonnie Mitchell, to name a few. Now I listen to a lot of different things, but I’m currently listening to a lot of St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors, Tame Impala, Shovels and Rope, and a thousand other things.

MCH: Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Sergei Prokofiev, Jeff Buckley, Led Zeppelin, Donny Hathaway, Wayne Krantz

JH: Bach, Jaco, Anthony Jackson, Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Stravinsky, Joni Mitchell, D’Angelo

WC: What's ahead for you?

MD:  We’re writing for our third album, we don’t want so much time between "Entropy of the Century" and our next album as we had between the first two albums. We’re booking shows, a lot here in the Bay Area and greater California, and we’re going to be heading out to the Eastern US in the Summer of 2015. We’re hoping to tour and to get some booking support. Right now we do it all on our own. We also are working on new music videos – there is a lot going on and a lot to do!

WC: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

JH: Brainy pop.

MCH: Original rock music designed to challenge and inspire.

WC: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

MCH: Always…anyone who’s soulfully and intelligently reaching for something new or just interested in having a musical conversation.

TR: I am happy with the ones I am playing with now.

WC: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

TR: Well it’s both, isn’t it? Some of my best friends are illegal downloaders.

MCH: Yes, both.  Regardless, we must create our music because we have to…and because life is short.

ML: I agree it’s both… but like 0.5% a help, and 99.5% a hindrance. I could rant about this for days, but I won't because nobody cares to admit the obvious in our gluttonous entitlist culture slowly rotting away at its core.

JH: I think it’s a help for musicians in terms of their low-cost access to the source material for learning. It also hurts their bottom line. In the end, it’s an inexorable fact of modern life. Better to adapt than endlessly rail against it, in my opinion.

WC: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them? 

ML: Personally I'm fine with this as long as (a) the recordings are of sufficient quality (there are way too many blown out and dark iPhone videos out there) and (b) we get veto power. Usually people are cool about taking videos down if you ask nicely. Others are real jerks about it. I think it's totally fair if somebody took an unflattering picture of you and posted it online that you get to ask to take it down without getting any attitude about it.

MCH: I think this is fine…free promotion. 

JH: Doesn’t bother me at all, so long as they make those recordings free and available to the band.

WC: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

TR:  I’d be Beethovenman with my struggles for perfection and my nemesis would be Mozartman, with his effortless divine creations.  

MCH: Yngvie Malmsteen because he seems like a worthy adversary to battle, and I don’t like that type of music… 

JH: Tarik Ragab, simply because we’re both good bass players that approach the instrument in an entirely different way. I love learning from him.

MD: When I was a little kid I loved Jem and the Holograms, and their arch nemesis band was The Misfits. So…

WC: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

TR: Not to sound vain, but I think I already have.

MCH: Paul Motian - drums, Beethoven - piano, Eric Dolphy - bass clarinet, Bill Frisell – guitar

JH: Steve Gadd, drums (the best). Richard Tee or Herbie Hancock, keyboards. Wayne Krantz or John Scofield, guitar. Moorea Dickason, vocals..

WC: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

TR: Gentle Giant, Proclamation. Of Montreal, too. I know I’m late in the game but I’m into it.

ML: The last CD I bought was Dead Rider "Chills on Glass". Two albums I've been playing a lot lately are The Knells (self-titled) and OM "Advaitic Songs"…great travel music.

MCH: Brian Blade Fellowship: Landmarks, Abraham Salman: Saltana

MD: The last one I bought was "Summertime" by Shovels and Rope. I’m a huge Cary Ann Hearst fan.

JH: Kendrick Lamar, good kid, M.A.A.d city

WC: Have you read any good books lately?

TR: "Grapes of Wrath" and "Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck. Both blew my mind.

MCH: Into my second book of Cormac McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy”.

JH: The last really great book I read was Fitzgerald’s "Tender is the Night"

WC: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

TR: I went with Moorea and her Dad to see Paul McCartney at Candlestick Park in San Francisco for the last concert there ever. It was epic.

ML: Faun Fables/Dead Rider/Free Salamander Exhibit.

MCH: Michael Landau Trio - one of the greatest living guitarists.
MD: The last show I went to was to see our synth player, Jonathan Herrera play at Treasure Island Music Festival with Cathedrals. I also got to watch New Pornographers from the side stage, which was a show of a lifetime for me. I’m a big fan.

JH: I saw Lorde because another band I’m in is signed to her label. It was not as good as I would have hoped.

WC: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

TR: Madonna’s Material Girl. I could say more but I won’t.

MD: I feel no guilt for anyone I listen to and I listen to a ton of music.  It’s all good in my world.

ML: What Moorea said. I have no guilt. Despite being in a bunch of crazy bands, most of the music I actually listen to is fairly "normal."

MCH: I love so many things…but in my refined tastes I still love coming back to Van Halen and Black Sabbath.

JH: Similar to Moorea, I don’t feel guilt for listening to and learning from music, no matter its street cred.

WC:What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

ML: Our very first public gig was playing near the finish line at the Bay to Breakers race (an annual public 12k footrace in San Francisco). When we started playing the ominous "Screed" some older man collapsed from exhaustion right in front of our performance area. We awkwardly had to stop mid song as he was tended to. He was eventually alright, but it took 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive and carry him off, during which most of the race participants jogged past us as we stood there in silence waiting to start up again.

MD:  Yes – that’s the story. It was crazy. If you’re not familiar with Bay to Breakers, it’s like Burning Man meets a race in San Francisco. Another story is when we played the Burning Man Decompression party in SF. A DJ was playing on the stage and it was packed with people, we then got up and played our set and the audience completely cleared away. We played for one guy in a demon costume. A DJ started up right after us and it was packed again within seconds. Awkward! At least we got free drinks out of it.

WC: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

TR:  Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius and my Dad.

ML: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Ralph Nader

MCH: Joseph Campbell, Robin Williams, and yeah, Jimi.  Maybe Miles too…

JH: Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein, John Coltrane

MD: Whatever three people could help MoeTar book a world tour that sells out. Let me know if you know who they are. 

WC: What would be on the menu?

TR: Kick ass Mexican food. It goes well with any occasion.

ML: What Tarik said.

MCH: Red wine, flowers, birds, and leafy greens.

JH: Dim sum.

MD: Whatever they want. I’m easy.

WC: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

TR: I feel very fortunate for all of the ups and downs that I have gone through that have led me to this place, all of the support we have gotten over the years, and for this enormous opportunity to continue to create such amazing music with my friends.

MCH: Just that I have a ton of gratitude for working with these fine musicians in MoeTar, Magna Carta, Jim Reitzel (mix engineer), and Scott Solter (recording engineer) for making an album we are all so proud of! And also a big thanks to all of our fans for supporting us and keeping original music alive.

MD: I hope that people who listen to MoeTar go to our website and read the lyrics. Also, I hope people connect with us. Reach out and say, “hey” through our website or on social media. I personally love connecting with new people.

JH: Playing music is one of humanity’s greatest, most divine gifts. If you are so blessed, take it seriously. Work hard, and reap enormous benefit.