Rob Mosher is one of those musicians that make you ask yourself, "Where did he come from?" Born in Canada and trained on reed instruments such as the saxophone, and later on oboe and English horn, Mosher began writing music in 2003 after studying jazz performance at the University of Toronto. He recalls, "I've always had to figure things out for myself, so I guess I've learned to compose and play by just doing it. We're our own best teachers."
He has recorded and performed with a number of artists and was a member of pianist Marianne Trudel’s group when he played on her album Sands Of Time. Mosher has received numerous grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, which enabled him to relocate to New York City where he put together his 10-piece ensemble called Storytime. Storytime has become one of Mosher’s vehicles to transport his compositions into a physical music form, which is now their debut album The Tortoise. His other vehicles include his jazz quartet, his duo with opera singer Kristin Mueller-Heaslip, and a solo project that mixes guitar work with chamber music. He notes about these projects, "I have a ton of material for my jazz quartet, but the market is flooded with that approach. My duo with Operatic soprano Kristin Mueller-Heaslip features my more Contemporary Classical approach to composing, but it might be too niche to put out there just yet. My violin-soprano sax-viola-cello quartet is coming along well, but its radically different from my initial The Tortoise release. I have a solo singer/songwriter on guitar project and several chamber works that I'm continually working on also, but I think those will come later. I'm always hearing new music in my head, I'm just trying to keep up as a composer and bandleader."
As the bandleader, chief composer, and reed instrumentalist for Storytime and his other projects, he proposes, "Eventually I'd like to have each of my projects active and on the road with Storytime as the backbone. If I had it my way, Storytime would be playing every night! I'm continually composing for this and my other ensembles, while at the same time honing my business chops to further support these ventures. I've begun writing for a more orchestral version of the ensemble, also adding 12-strings, percussion and tuba. I'll need lots of pencils and paper for that one."
Remembering how many pencils and sheets of paper he used to write the scores for Storytime’s debut album The Tortoise, he is fully aware of the time and energy it takes to complete a single composition. Although, like Beethoven, when he begins writing, he is not thinking that he is doing it for an album. He admits, "I didn't set out to make a recording initially. Composing for Storytime began while attending the Banff International Jazz and Creative Music Program in 2004 with ‘Jupiter,’ the fourth track on the album."
He recollects, "I moved to New York shortly after that and continued my work, booking reading sessions every few months to keep on track. Most pieces are a result of working through a challenge or experience I'm integrating into my life. Some pieces were composed in days, some months. ‘Twilight’ took a year-and-a-half! The shorter pieces like ‘The Tall Tales of Todd Toven’ and ‘What Snowflakes Are Plotting’ were overnight creations that were the product of 'sonic showers' I'd take to lighten my mood after composing some of the more dense material." He recounts, "During one of our weekly sessions at the Brooklyn Lyceum, I joked and said 'what if we released these on the album?' and the band was very supportive and surprised that I was thinking of not doing so. I wasn't sure if I'd include the short tracks on the album because I thought I may not be taken seriously, but I think they're dryly quirky and twisted which is part of who I am, so I did. "
He reveals that though the Canada Council for the Arts is given credit for The Tortoise, it was Mosher who provided the funds to record it. "The Tortoise is 100% my own funds. The Canada Council for the Arts is listed in the credits because I wanted to acknowledge the support they've provided me throughout my career; moving to New York; attending the Banff International Jazz and Creative Music Program, composing music for my next Storytime album featuring soloists on violin, cello, banjo, tuba, Classical piano, and Operatic baritone."
The Tortoise was recorded on May 12, 2008 at Systems Two Studios in Brooklyn, New York, except for the track "On A Clear Day" which was recorded on April 16, 2007 with Josh Sinton replacing Storytime’s baritone/bass clarinet player Brian Landrus. Mosher remembers, "Booking the recording was unbelievably difficult as an administrator! With ten ultra-busy-in-demand New York musicians recording in a top-shelf highly-booked studio we had to continually reschedule recording The Tortoise for 13 months. I'm faithful to the members of Storytime and knew that having this group would give me the most organic recording possible. As for live performance, I try to have the same band as much as possible, but if you can imagine it taking 13 months to find a single day to record, imagine the odds of having everyone available for a gig."
Storytime’s lineup consists of Mosher on horns, Landrus on clarinet, Sam Sadigursky on flute, clarinet, and alto sax, Peter Hess on clarinet and tenor sax, Micah Killion on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rachel Drehmann on French horn, Michael Fahie on trombone, Nir Felder on guitar, Garth Stevenson on acoustic bass, and Ziv Ravitz on drums. Mosher explains about how Storytime came together, "We had the opportunity to play weekly shows at the Brooklyn Lyceum for a few months in 2006. I had several people in mind that are currently in the ensemble, though I wanted to try the material with as many musicians as possible, so I initially had a different band each week. That's a lot of phone calls," he intones. "I got to know over 100 new people through talking and playing with them, which provided valuable insight into the what kind of vibe best fit the band. Each piece is so different that I've discovered it takes a musician who is open to trying new things, has a strong and personal sound, reads music well, is available, and shows up on time. The ensemble has been the same membership since our first recording April 2007, though for logistical reasons we made only one change between then and the May 2008 session. I'm dedicated to my band and vice versa. Given Storytime's size, it's going to take some time to iron out the finances, but the people, music and vibe feels solid so we're pumped to work through it all."
He shares, "Ideally, I would have preferred The Tortoise to have been recorded over several consecutive days, but economics dictated that we record everything on a single day, except for ‘On A Clear Day’ which had been recorded during a demo recording 13 months earlier. Knowing recording this much material in one day could be taxing on the band, I took as many steps as possible to make it easier for them, so I ordered catering, took frequent breaks and had a long lunch. To ensure everything could get recorded I prepared a balanced running order for recording the tracks, with flexibilities in place of course."
He reflects about the recording, "Ironically, we started with ‘Farewell, Goodbye’ which is the closer on the album. The idea, which ended up working, was to ease into the day by recording 2-3 less demanding tracks, than dig into the more challenging material, blended with less demanding tracks in between."
Each track of The Tortoise has its own short story behind it making the album relatable to The Norton Reader anthologies. For the song "Silhouette Of The Man In The Fog," Mosher plays the English horn and tells how the instrument illustrated the storyline of the piece, "I'm drawn to the English horn because I relate to the melodic, earthy, romantic and tragic elements of its sound. It finds its way on the several tracks on The Tortoise, including ‘Silhouette Of The Man In The Fog.’ While composing this piece, Dennis Stock's famous 1955 photo of James Dean walking through a rainy Times Square with a cigarette in his mouth was locked in my head."
He discusses about the inspiration for his compositions, "In general, I don't plan any particular concept at the outset of anything I do. Though once the motifs are established I commit to unraveling them as naturally, organically and simply as possible. Each piece I write begins with me being comfortable with the amount of form and structure taking place, then I challenge myself to push further than I think I can go, and then I return to being comfortable, much like exercising. The listener probably won't notice this and there's no need to. The net effect is that I organically grow as a person and composer. ‘Sleepless Lullaby’ arose from an argument with my father, and rather than get angry or destructive about it I decided to compose a piece about how I was feeling. Near the end there's a choral section in a faux-Latin language that appeared to me; maybe I'll understand what it means someday, if anything. Most of my compositions arise from working out experiences in my life." For instance, he remarks, "‘Sand of Maundune’ came from wanting to explore," and provides, "‘Joy’ from integrating a more roughened, realistic optimism."
One track, in particular, feels like it came straight out of a Bonnie and Clyde movie, which he titled "1920’s Car Crash." He expresses, "’1920's Car Chase’ kinda just exploded onto the page. I see streets of buggies, Model T Ford's and Bobbies on foot and horseback zipping through a vast downtown area as seen by a black & white, high-speed, old-timey film camera. I think there's a big crash at the end too -- well, we did on the record anyways! I'm drawn to the simplicity of the piece, a 'less is more' kind of thing. It was the first short theme-piece I brought into the ensemble and I remember just cracking up during its debut performance, I was laughing so hard I couldn't even play my own part. Certainly a perk of being a bandleader is that I didn't have to fire myself! Anyways, titles of pieces are very important to me, and usually the name and piece develop hand-in-hand. There's only been one piece I've ever performed that didn't have it's name yet. I believe a piece isn't complete until its accurately named."
He tells that tracks like "1920’s Car Crash" were important to play in order to release the weight of playing more intense tracks like "Farewell, Goodbye" and balance the pressure put on the band. "We took lots of breaks too, and before each break we'd do a take on one of the energetic short pieces like ‘1920's Car Chase’ as a sort of palette cleanser for the mind. Some tracks were recorded start-to-finish, but to fit everything into a single day some pieces we're broken down into major sections. I'd prefer not to record this way as it can sacrifice the organic nature of music, but to get the end product how I wanted it with the resources I had this was the only way I saw we could do it. ‘Twilight,’ ‘Joy,’ and ‘Silhouette of the Man in the Fog’ had solid performances from our April 2007 demo recording session, though fortunately we got to re-record them as we got through the new material with time to spare. Planning the 11-hour session paid off as we ended up getting everything we wanted and needed without collapsing on the floor."
Balancing the album between intense pieces like "Farewell, Goodbye" and jovial exhibitions like "The Tall Tale Of Todd Toven" make the album enjoyable for the listener. He deduces, "I suppose it's a glimpse into who i am; jovial and out-there and in another situation quite serious. I never lose hold of who I am and always feel connected to what I'm doing at all times. For me, the tracks and their order from The Tortoise flow naturally."
Another piece which practices Mosher’s ability to balance the scales is the track "What Snowflakes Are Plotting" which he describes takes a look at the reverse side of what people think of snowflakes. He comments about the little intricacies in the tune, "For me the sleigh bells deepen the atmosphere of the piece, and the contrast of underlying darkness as represented by the guitar opens up the dimensionality of the piece. And it's totally hilarious. ‘What Snowflakes Are Plotting’ represents how evil, deceiving and sinister snowflakes can appear through paranoid eyes. Think about it, they look all pretty and festive-like, people make angels and snow-folk, create inspiring landscapes, a tasty treat with maple syrup -- but at the same time people slip and break their bones, it blankets entire cities in gridlocking traffic, causes back injuries from shoveling, attracts dirt and nasties that reek during thawing. And that's just it, after it has done its assault on humanity, it vanishes into water and disappears. Snowflakes: The White Ninja," he highlights.
Mosher encourages, "Everyone is welcome to feel and act on what they perceive and believe, and thus, I have no interest in forcing an impression on anybody."
He cites, "I'm always writing music, much of which is for Storytime. If we recorded every piece I've written for the ensemble, as of today we could release 4-5 albums. As The Tortoise was my debut album, I thought it wiser to put out a balanced program rather than cram what I thought were my most substantial musical architectures onto a single disc, and I stand by that choice. This is an issue that that no doubt appears in all aspects of life. As a musical example, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones apparently wrote over 300 songs for their smash album Thriller, only to include 9 on the final album. And no doubt each track that didn't make the cut was incredible."
He has experienced that becoming a bandleader requires him to be as supportive of his band as they are to him. "I've learned that being a bandleader is no small undertaking. I've always felt natural in composing for Storytime in that I can easily evoke the natural tendencies of the people and instruments I'm writing for. But I've been continually learning what it means to support the band from an administrative, booking, conducting and public-speaking standpoint. My bandmates are exquisite professionals and incredible human beings, all of which aids when administrative issues ultimately arise and need to be discussed and resolved; it's proving critical to the survival of the band. As a conductor, and without realizing, I initially tried to force the music into the direction that was in my head, but since then I've been evolving to get out of the way of what occurs beautifully and naturally anyways. Given the varied nature of each piece there's some initial vibe/direction that is needed before before we give it an initial run-through, but once it's under the fingers it morphs on its own into something organic and musical - and that's where the magic happens. Being a composer is 50% creating music; the rest is letting go."
Some bandleaders that Rob Mosher looks up to today have also influenced his own style. "Of my own generation, I'm inspired by the music and leadership style of Jayme Stone [www.jaymestone.com] and Peter Cancura [www.petrcancura.com]. Both are non-abrasively determined, endlessly positive, and have a natural way of bringing out the best in the people and music around them."
He addresses about Storytime, "Initially we planned on touring Central through Eastern Canada as part of the CD release, but the budgeting did not work out as we were not awarded a tour grant from the Canada Council, and I couldn't afford to foot the bill having just created the album. My publicist Ann Braithwaite and I recently mailed over 500 copies of the The Tortoise to press, festivals, venues and radio and we've had great responses so far, and this is only the beginning. We used to play weekly at the Brooklyn Lyceum back in 2006, but it was saturating the market too much. Eventually we'll be playing in New York City four to six times a year and tours between that. Having this album in my utility belt is immensely beneficial in moving towards this goal."
He shares, "The Canada Council recently awarded me a sizable grant to compose a follow up album for Storytime featuring soloists on violin, cello, tuba, banjo, Classical piano and Operative baritone. While I'll record this album in the near future, I'm determining which CD to record and release next will best benefit my career. With Storytime there's plenty more pieces for the same instrumentation as The Tortoise, compositions involving the use of electronics, and a wealth of arrangements, some of them radical, I've made from my favorite Classical composers."
It’s hard to believe that Rob Mosher has any room in a day to do anything other than working on his music, but he manages to find a balance between work and play that suits him. He relays, "New York is a busy town; there always a ton of work and play. I run, swim and lift weights to keep myself as balanced as possible."
Somehow even after learning about Rob Mosher, you still have to ask yourself, "Where did he come from?" His skills at balancing and transposing emotions into music is inexplicable, not to mention the easy way he handles being a bandleader and lacks any arrogance when it comes to considering his band’s feelings about a piece. He is so comfortable in his own skin and mind that any flaws in his compositions radiate of a genius at the helm. We may never discover where Rob Mosher’s ability to compose his music comes from, but we can enjoy the final pieces when they come our way.