Soul to soul
"I'd like society to have an open mind about music and not believe everything you hear on the radio and television. Investigate different ideas."
The man who says this sits in a nearly empty Deep Ellum restaurant between the breakfast and lunchtime rushes, preaching to an audience of one. Dressed entirely in black from his head (which is covered in a black bandana) to his hands (encased in gloves that are missing their fingers), Randy Moore sits across a Cafe Brazil table eager to talk about his creation, the just-released CD Symptom of Society, which he wrote and recorded and released almost entirely by himself from his DeSoto home under the monicker "Randy1."
But he does so in an almost roundabout way: As Moore begins to talk about his album--a wildly ambitious if often schizophrenic R&B amalgam that's equal parts radio-slick pop and Prince-influenced experimentation--he does so casually, articulating his thoughts with unusual flair. He's given to extreme generalizations about such subjects as "life" and "society," a man who likes to philosophize almost as much as he likes to write and perform his music.
"Life is like a play," he says, "and sometimes we're unwilling participants. We're here on earth, and nobody gets out alive." He says this forcefully, but with an ever-present smile; even when he makes the occasional boastful claim about his music, he does so with the slightest twinge of self-deprecation. After all, Moore is a 35-year-old journeyman musician only now releasing his debut album, and he understands he must temper ambition with reality and balance his quest for fame with his desire just to get people to hear his CD.
Moore's career, such as it has been to this point, began the moment he started his first band 24 years ago in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. "It was a vocal band," he recalls now, "like the old-time doo-wop bands like the Chi-Lites. We didn't know how to play instruments." When he was 15, Moore moved to San Antonio, where his bass instructor introduced him to heavy metal via Deep Purple and Ozzy Osbourne. Two years after that, Moore moved to Chicago and began playing in R&B bands before he joined a rock and roll trio ("classic rock, actually," Moore says) and signed a recording contract that "never happened."
In 1988, almost six years after he moved to Dallas, Moore recorded and released a rap single called "I'm Grown" on his own Bebopkat label. It was more an act of vanity than an outburst of inspiration, he admits.
"I wanted to do something to hear myself on the radio," he says, laughing. "I did a rap song because the radio would play all rap back then. I guess you can say I wanted my 15 minutes of fame before I turned 30. I could say, 'See, I'm on the radio.'"
Since then, Moore has been content writing and recording demos for himself and other local artists, including the Wooten Brothers, once on A&M Records. He has also been raising and supporting a daughter alone, working at various jobs. "It's all been directed to support my music, for the most part, and my daughter," Moore says.
In November 1994, he finally began working on his own full-length album, and the result is Symptom of Society. It's a sort of concept album split into two "sides": The first part recounts the war of the sexes told from the female perspective, and the second deals with a guy just trying to find himself and the Right Woman. As such, the first six songs on the CD are sung by local vocalist-pianist Regina Lee, with Moore tackling the final half-dozen songs.
"Females are able to express a lot of emotion on a whole different level than men can," Moore explains. "Being the type of artist I am, I can write something from their point of view. For example, a lot of women are single parents, and I'm a single parent, too, so I can relate to that. There was no way of expressing those things without having a woman sing."
The first side is slick and pop, loaded with the sort of lite-jazz sax that made Kenny G an inexplicable star. Even so, Lee's lines are biting, caustic, unforgiving: "See ya, U got to learn to do without my love," she sings on "U Must Learn," a song typical of her "side" of the debate. This is what Moore likes to call his "normal side," showcasing his ability to stick to the R&B formula like a man working the assembly line. But he also has his "wilder side," he insists, pointing toward the avant-R&B songs that constitute Symptom's second half--the songs Lee refused to sing because, as Moore says, she found them too "eccentric" for her more traditional tastes.
He assumes a pensive pose when explaining their tense relationship: "Life is all about the back and forth between people. Then something comes out."
Listening to the second part of the album, one can spot the psychedelic rock and R&B influences, especially those of the symbol formerly known as Prince (whose influence is obvious, right down to Moore's nom de funk and the purple cover art that bears the symbols for male and female). Moore, though, shrugs at the comparison and insists the influences are on a subconscious level. If nothing else, much of his music--like Prince's--seems to exist a bit out of synch with the rest of the R&B world; it sounds as though it were recorded in a vacuum, the grooves hard to find among the swirling, off-tempo rhythms and dense synth-created music.
"In a way, Prince and I have similar Midwestern backgrounds--playing a lot of rock with musicians from different ethnic backgrounds, breaking down boundaries," Moore says.
Moore's experiments with rhythm, tempo, and atmosphere make for a wistful, subtle listen, constituting one half of a good funk album: Almost hypnotic in parts ("Recent Survey," "Minor Riot") it creates a mood that ranges from melancholy to claustrophobic ("Stalk the Madman," "Lonely"). This is when the artist resides in his own narrow, isolated place: He's the "pitiful, lonely man living in misery," he sings on "Lonely," as the music thumps out its sorrowful beat.
"The first side is the comic side, and the second is the tragic," Moore says. "If you notice, the initials of the album title spell 'S.O.S.'--a signal for 'Help me, please!'"
In a genre obsessed with slick romance and laughable exhibitions of machismo, Moore's music sounds daring in its stubbornness to defy marketing considerations and the standard fare perpetuated in R&B radio; his aren't love songs, per se, but the wordy lamentations of a man who's so hopefully romantic he's fairly hopeless and almost cruel ("Learning to burn you is feeding my hate every day," he sings on "Feel," which also contains references to "ghastly demons" and "voodoo"). The first half of the album could be played on radio; the second half, not a chance.
"Innovation and the music industry are not two things that go together," Moore insists. "You get a bunch of guys in suits, and they say 'This type of band is selling, we need to make 10 more.' A lot of young artists are interested in what they see on TV, stuff like TLC. They're not interested in creating something new."
Since its release several weeks ago, Symptom of Society has been ignored by local radio, and only 250 copies have been sold--most of them in Birmingham, where the local radio station, WENN-FM, doesn't shun homegrown talent even if it lives in a different city.
"We're getting ready to get some airplay in Virginia, also," Moore says. "I like to go where I'm welcome because I don't believe in forcing myself into a situation. But I haven't given up on Dallas."
Then, with a sly smile, he adds: "I plan to be around for a while.
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