Hanalei's Brian Moss, the hopeful cynic
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When Brian Moss moved to Chicago from the Bay Area in 2002, he was part of a noisy post-punk band called The Ghost. Four years later, The Ghost is no more, and Moss’ new project, Hanalei, is set to release its second full-length, Parts And Accessories. As if infected by the same compulsion that drives Chicago’s indie roots-rock scene, Parts And Accessories completely abandons the electro-acoustic sound of its predecessor, We Are All Natural Disasters. Electronic elements complemented that album’s compositions; this batch has pedal steel. Where the old Hanalei was a one- or two-man affair, this incarnation has four members. Regardless of the shifting accompaniment, Moss’ songwriting remains the same: It’s subversively catchy, lyrically incisive, and imbued with a cynic’s hopefulness. Moss recently spoke to The A.V. Club about confusing fans, living in Chicago, and how everything’s fucked.
The A.V. Club: We Are All Natural Disasters had an electro-acoustic sound, but Parts And Accessories shifts toward Americana. What happened?
Brian Moss: I think the electronic stuff works really well in the context of a recording studio—and sometimes live, depending on the sound system. But sitting on stage and pressing “play” on a laptop wore itself out rapidly. It almost felt like cheating.
AVC: Do you think the change will confuse Hanalei fans?
BM: I’m kind of expecting that. Honestly, at this point in my life, I’m not seeking praise or success, as it’s viewed commonly. I’m doing it to have fun and experiment and see what works. When the first record came out, I was asked about the shift compared to my previous bands, and I’m up for whatever. We might write a punk record next time. As long as we can make music, and as long as people can make it accessible, I really don’t care.
AVC: Is it weird mixing the two styles when you perform?
BM: No. We’re playing a few songs off the first record that we rewrote for the full band. I don’t think it’s weird at all. I think criticism or throwing people off is definitely warranted and expected. I know that a few people have been kind of taken aback by this shit, but it seems to make sense.
AVC: Has living here affected the way you write?
BM: I’m sure it’s influenced me in one way or another, but it’s really hard to put a finger on. I’ve learned a lot about music here and had my horizons broadened, working at so many venues and being around people that are so immersed in music. I’ve come across a lot of new bands and a lot of new genres that I’ve gotten into. But I’ve always listened to quiet music. I just never really tried to play it until this project formed. I had one band that was really loud and aggressive, and I wanted to counterbalance that and explore this other realm.
AVC: Your lyrics tend to have a lot of social commentary, but aren’t necessarily holier-than-thou, like on “Cynic’s Anthem For A New Tomorrow.” Do you feel your lyrics are ultimately cynical?
BM: I think there’s a mix of hope and cynicism in the lyrics. I definitely tend to use “we” as an operative, instead of “I” or “you,” just to broaden it, and definitely to include myself. The thing with this record that I feel is important to mention lyrically is that, with the exception of three songs, it was a reflection of a friendship I had with someone that rose and fell a million times and eventually just kind of destroyed itself. Most of that record was written last year when I was going through this thing, and it was a really cathartic process. I don’t know if it’s uplifting or cynical; I’d like to think it’s both.
AVC: There’s still an underlying hope in it.
BM: Yeah, I think it’s comforting in the sense that fellow cynics can be like, “Yeah, I really hate a lot of people, too.” [Laughs.] I think a lot of [“Cynic’s Anthem”] was just about certain moments when you’re out and about observing life, particularly in this country, and things happen that just utterly disgust you. People exemplify the idea that everything’s fucked.
AVC: Then there’s “Duct Taped Tapes,” which looks lovingly at the music that changed your life.
BM: When you’re a teenager, when you first get exposed to punk rock or whatever it is that really shakes you, that kind of hope or saving grace is just such a great gift and a blessing, and I honestly feel obligated to try my best and return the favor. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve come close to a lot of the bands that influenced me. Actually evoking an emotional response or some sort of meaning in someone outside of the commonplace, la-di-dah bullshit, falsified love song is priority number one for me. When you do get a response, you realize that you have affected someone—this sounds really cheesy—and that’s definitely what keeps me going, or even seeing that happen with other bands and other people. There’s piles of shit to swim through in order to get to that point, but it seems worth it. —Kyle Ryan