Retro, Active

The music of yesteryear isn't just a stack of records for country-rock's Mover -- it's a way of life

"How many bands do you go see that have a song called 'Supermodel' or 'Porn Star'?" Mover bassist and singer Michael Therieau asks, pondering the state of modern music.

"Or 'Supermodel Porn Star,'" quips drummer Paul Burkhart.

Mover -- filled out by singer/ rhythm guitarist Eric Shea and lead guitarist Paul Tyler -- has been considering such musical questions lately, as the band has retreated from its frequent local shows to write new material for an album and drop a refreshed set list on fans live in the meantime. It's also a time to rethink the band lineup -- guitarist Matt Murdock recently departed to pursue his own projects. "We're looking for a keyboard player," says the soft-spoken Shea with a serene smile that reveals either an inner happiness or a stoner's Zen. But that might not happen right away, he says. After all, what keyboardist isn't playing Devo or Duran Duran covers four nights a week these days?

They're About a Mover: Michael Therieau, Eric Shea, Paul Burkhart, Paul Tyler.
Carol Irvine
They're About a Mover: Michael Therieau, Eric Shea, Paul Burkhart, Paul Tyler.
They're About a Mover: Michael Therieau, Eric Shea, Paul Burkhart, Paul Tyler.
Carol Irvine
They're About a Mover: Michael Therieau, Eric Shea, Paul Burkhart, Paul Tyler.

In its four years of its existence, Mover has been called a number of things: a Rolling Stones knockoff, a lost chapter from California's early days of emerging country rock, and (slightly to the annoyance of its members) the demeaningly succinct label "retro." "That's just such a tired pan," says Tyler. "If you wanna pan us, pan us in some in new and different way. That's retro-panning." His bandmates nod, but such pigeonholes are far less worrisome than what they're reflective of. As major labels churn out manicured acts whose message is little more than the pop personality itself, good songwriting is no longer even a consideration in what makes a successful band.

With traditional songwriting as its backbone, Mover does recall a bygone era, both in sound and in a commitment to the idea that music should come from the soul. Dipping into the record stacks of three decades back, Mover reins in everything from Big Star, the Byrds, and Gram Parsons' offshoot from that group, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The band members simply call their chosen element "old-fashioned rock 'n' roll," but that modesty sells the complexity of their songwriting short. With all four members writing songs, their catalog ranges from hard-knock rock tunes that could come from a lost Stones album to sublimely textured country-rock love songs that would make Parsons weep. It's these slower tunes that show the band at its best. Wrapping layers of canyon-drenched sound in the moody harmonies of Therieau, Shea, and Tyler, the band members are fluent enough in the music of the last 50 years -- particularly their beloved '60s and '70s -- that it seems any one of them could write a history of rock. And with their record-store-clerk haircuts and thrift-store throwback clothes, Mover's members uphold their ideal in word and deed.

The band's evolution has consistently moved toward more complex songwriting -- in fact, it's moved toward a more fully realized idea of songwriting itself. Its 1996 debut, Original Recipe (on Frank Kozik's Man's Ruin label), reveals a heavy debt to early '70s Stones. (The band even performed as the Rolling Clones from a flatbed truck in the parking lot of the Stones' Bridges to Babylon tour.) "When we first started as a band, just playing rock 'n' roll like that, it was an easy thing to do," says Tyler of Mover's early incarnation. "Easy music -- get four guys together and play. It's a reference point that everyone knows. I wouldn't say that our influences have gotten any broader since the day we started. We're just more confident as songwriters now and more comfortable with each other and each other's abilities that we're able to bring a broader range of influences into our music."

Mover's sophomore effort, The Only One, released on Berkeley's Mod Lang label, was a light-year advancement in songwriting and musicianship, showing a progression toward lucid vocal harmonizing and a focus on more acoustic-oriented songs. Therieau also assumed more singing responsibilities. But The Only One was also closer to how the band conceived of itself. Tyler likens it to a leap in artistic intent. "Frank Kozik told our manager that he wanted something sort of bratty-sounding, so we kind of had to manicure it around that. With the Mod Lang release, we kind of had the freedom to be ourselves more." The band also spent six months recording it, compared to the two weeks spent on Original Recipe.

The new album might take a year, and the band's not quite sure who'll release it, but Mover's members relish the prospect of having enough time to create the album they want. Being able to experiment -- Shea confesses an obsession with microphone placement that can consume hours -- is crucial in both coming up with the best material and making sure the band's music comes across fully. The band also has a lot more material to work with; many of its recent songs focus even more on lyrical harmonies, while balancing Tyler's blues-drenched riffing against Shea on acoustic guitar. In fact, one of the band's primary goals in getting off the stage for a while is to hone a body of acoustic work for live shows, because many of its slower, soul-steeped songs haven't translated as well to bars and clubs.

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