We started talking about Ireland…we both realized we have Irish and Scottish ancestry…so that music and the melodies of those places had already been influencing our music, and we didn’t quite realize it yet.
We chatted with James Moors and Kort McCumber of Moors and McCumber. We talk about music origins of the duo, COVID, and playing live one of their latest records, Survival, and what people can expect that their upcoming shows. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events at our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.
Brent Hanifl 00:24
Amy Gabay 00:25
And this is La Crosse Local.
Kort McCumber 00:52
Kort McCumber, the McCumber half of Moors and McCumber. I was born in a little town called Middleburg, Florida, outside Jacksonville, Northeast Florida. I then was forced into music. My mom was a classical pianist. So I had to play piano. And then eight years old, I had to play cello. But at 16, I had a massive authority complex. So I didn’t want the structure of classical music to dictate my life. So I actually stopped playing music altogether. And I didn’t do anything else with it until early, you know, when I was in my early 20s, in college started playing guitar basically just wanted to be good enough to play around a campfire. And obviously, I got to that point. So I feel like I’ve achieved all of my goals, really. And so now, I moved from Florida to Nashville. I lived in Nashville for a couple years and realized that, you know, the competition there was great for me to keep working hard at it. But I was also traveling to Colorado a bunch, met my wife out there and met a lot of great musicians. And I love the camaraderie of Colorado and how everybody was pretty open to blending different styles of music, and people didn’t have to pigeonhole you as much as Nashville where they wanted to know if you were either a half act, or were you all you know, the new country, or were you Bluegrass or were you just a singer, songwriter. And at that point, I’d learned a bunch of instruments. I really love blending a lot of genres. And I think that’s where Americana music comes in perfectly for what James and I do with a little bit of Celtic influence as well. So I’ve been in Colorado, almost 20 years. So that’s my journey.
James Moors 02:16
And this is James Moors. And I grew up in Burnsville, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis. And my journey into music probably started with singing in the church choir when I was like maybe seven or eight. And I think I just always enjoyed singing. And then growing up, my brother was a drummer, and I thought it would be pretty fun to join his band. So then I started to learn how to play guitar and got good enough at that to make it into that band. And then I was learning how to sing and play at the same time. And I figured I wanted to write a song. And once I started doing that singing my own stuff just kind of took off with that. So I’ve been singing in songwriting since about 92, Kort and I met in 2005. We started playing shows together in like 2010, and we’ve been recording and touring ever since then. It’s been a great journey.
Brent Hanifl 03:10
You knew each other for about five years before you actually came together. What was that process like?
James Moors 03:16
Well, you know, we were each singer songwriters in our own right, traveling around the country trying to make a go of it. And I think we each had a lot of pride in what we had done up to that point. But we also really enjoyed each other’s friendship, we helped each other finish songs, we would show up at each other’s gigs from time to time and sing and play with one another. And we started to realize that there was some real chemistry that was both exciting for us, but then we noticed that fans were really appreciating it and asking for more of our collaboration. So we kind of took a turn there and recorded something together. And that soon became the one thing we could sell at any given show. So we listened to the universe and got wise.
Brent Hanifl 03:56
As like, you know, interviewing I guess, duos or, you know, kind of a combo folks in the past, is there a clear like, do you have similar musical influences? Or is there is there some drastic differences in your approach in terms of writing or even just stuff you like?
Kort McCumber 04:11
When we first met, that’s one of the connections we made was, we both love Sting and U2 when we grew up, you know. When we first started playing guitar and writing songs and listen to James Taylor and Paul Simon. So we had, you know, kind of a lot of those overlap things that I think a lot of singer songwriters do. So that wasn’t shocking, really. But then we had some even some of our contemporaries that we really liked that we’re currently doing it on a smaller scale. And we really respected and looked up to them that would be like Ellis Paul and Martin Sexton and we got to meet a relatively local guy to La Crosse lives outside there, John Smith, and that’s kind of how we got hooked up with kind of the Ireland trips that we do. And then once we started talking about Ireland, we both realized we had Irish and Scottish ancestry and so that music and the melodies of of those places really had already been influencing our music. And we didn’t quite realize it yet. So we had those commonality there. And like James said earlier, the camaraderie we had to get in the friendship, but also how we sang together. And that was also going back to, you know, having listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash. And in both of us realizing that we loved harmonies and melodies, and how those interpolate and we were able to pretty much do that together seamlessly. So that was kind of a real, real big connection there that we had.
Brent Hanifl 05:29
Just kind of digging into the last couple of days, you know, listening to the, I think one of the latest albums Survival. What was that process like? Did you have a lot of it recorded before COVID struck? How was that whole experience?
James Moors 05:42
I would say we had a good chunk of that stuff written as far as like the words, the melodies, the ideas of the songs. But then, during COVID, you know, we thought it was just going to be a couple of weeks off at first. And then when it became evident that it was going to be months, we got together in Colorado, and we hung out at a friend’s mountain cabin, and we started digging into the songs. And what was different about this record than any of the other records is we took songs that had some current structure, and we took them all apart, and we kind of rebuilt them using mostly the same lyrics or maybe tweaking them here and there, and probably a lot of the same melodies and stuff, but the arrangements and the whole structure of the songs were able to change. And they did change in drastic ways. And so we got together two other times, once in Minnesota, and then once down in Texas to do the same thing writing for like a week. And then we went into the studio with those ideas and some tracks that we had recorded in our own home studios. We went down to Blue Rock in Wimberley, Texas, the studio there and.
Kort McCumber 06:50
Holed up for 10 days with a good friend and producer named Patrick Conway. And he really helped shape them as well, to take it to a different sound. I think one of the major silver linings for us for the pandemic was it took us about three months to kind of realize we didn’t have control over when it was going to end and when we could play again. So the one thing we knew we could control as well, let’s work on this material and hopefully still stay inspired. Because I you know, you hear it from a lot of people during the pandemic or you know, when now that it’s kind of waning. In a lot of areas, people are like, oh, I wish I would have done more yoga or read more learn how to play guitar. And my our whole thing was, you know, that’s why it wasn’t a sabbatical for anybody. It was survival. And I don’t mean that, because that’s what the records called. But, you know, like, we kind of approached it as if we can wake up every day and cope, we’re winning. And we were able to stay inspired. Luckily, because we had the songs that were kind of already started. And then we were able to, like James said, rework them into something where we were then able to record them. And then we could have something to show for what was happening over the last two years. So that was definitely a silver lining for us.
Brent Hanifl 07:57
So you kind of touched on before we jumped on here, you know, you guys kind of got back into it last summer, you said you’re pretty busy. What was it like getting back on stage, or anything different or?
James Moors 08:07
What was pretty funny, the very first gig that we went to play was we have a lot of we have a great community of fans. And so what happened last summer is we just put it out to our fans, if you want to do like a backyard concert, we would love to come and we had a surprisingly large number of people reach out and say they wanted to do that. So it was great. And so a lot of it was outdoor stuff, not the traditional theater stuff that didn’t really start till the fall. But the first gig we set up, you know, we had all changed our minds about how we wanted to set up our gear and what gear we wanted to use. Now we’re introducing keyboards and electric guitar.
Kort McCumber 08:40
At that point, we had 14 months to tweak our pedal boards in reach.
James Moors 08:44
We shouldn’t have more than four days.
Kort McCumber 08:45
We read, you know, we like oh, we can reinvent ourselves completely. It’s like, yeah, you still got to go set up and sing and play.
James Moors 08:51
So we started setting up for the gig and we about half hour into it both looked at each other and we said what are we doing? This isn’t who we are. So we had-
Kort McCumber 09:00
And we had a friend that was watching us and he was like, I wish I would have videotaped this because this is like you really have never done this before.
James Moors 09:07
That was really fun. But we had a great summer. Like I said it was a lot of fun to see a lot of fans, you know, it’s been a while and.
Kort McCumber 09:14
I think a lot of people were wondering with that of musicians like what it will be like performing again and will it feel awkward, you know, interacting with people now. The thing I love about humans and human nature is you really go right back into at least we did, I felt very comfortable seeing people getting back to shaking hands and hugging and interacting and singing and playing. But the one major thing for me and I think for both of us is I think it definitely shifted our focus to realizing not to take any of that thing for granted whether you’re playing for 50 people or 5000. It’s like this might be our last gig. I mean it really does change your focus on what matters.
James Moors 09:53
People need people and that was evident last summer for sure.
Brent Hanifl 09:57
I don’t know if it’s just something that the absence of it but going to shows recently even the last year or so it’s just been fun you know, it’s just like seems like there’s some different in the air going to those live shows. So the Pump House coming up, here you guys are gonna be there. What can people expect from your live shows?
James Moors 10:16
I think it’s fairly unique. We usually bring about a dozen instruments and Kort works his way through about eight of them. I handle the another four and you know, we’re playing songs from we’ve got actually two new records, Survival, which is a song based record, and then there’s an instrumental record called Companion Volume One. We’re playing selections off of that and then you know all the fan favorites from the previous record so that’s what to expect.
Kort McCumber 10:40
Yeah, acoustic guitars, mandolin, fiddle, cello, electric guitar keyboards, quite a wide variety of stuff, but it’s kind of it’s all anchored by the songs the lyrics in the harmony singing. So that’s the one thing that you know our strength is definitely the singing and the songs and then we color it with the different instruments. It’s not you know, we try to make it as seamless as possible for sure when we’re switching instruments just because the idea of the all the instruments is not just you know, flash and smoke and mirrors. Hopefully it’s actually its what colors the songs, you know, if for playing the Irish song, it definitely sounds great when James is playing the Irish bouzouki which is an eight string, big mandolin and when I’m playing fiddle. So it’s like we kind of try to color the songs to fit the lyrics and also the singing.
Brent Hanifl 11:29
So is there anything interesting coming down the road you’re excited about? I know you just got off the road, but you’re going on tour again.
James Moors 11:35
So well Kory and I are, we’re considering joining the circus. We have wanted to be trapeze artists for a long time and I like chainsaws that are on fire.
Kort McCumber 11:44
That James for you guys. I think that age limits about 21 for that stuff. And he already gave away that he’s been playing since 92.
James Moors 11:52
So well let’s see what’s coming up. Our show, our Pump House Show.
Kort McCumber 11:57
Naturally we’re excited about that. I love that space. I love that town. It’s got a very Irish feel to it. To me its a lot of pubs, which is why I feel very at home in Wisconsin as I do in Ireland. Pubs per capita is an impressive thing in your state and then we are looking forward to Ireland again in May because we’ve missed out on taking our fans over there. We usually do four trips a year, where we take fans and friends and sightsee and listen, and learn about Irish traditional music and dance and the history of people. So we’re looking forward to that May.
Brent Hanifl 12:30
So if people want to check, you know stuff like that. What’s the best avenue for them to follow along your website or social media site?
James Moors 12:36
Amy Gabay 12:42
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