Tradition and music are everywhere you look but in Kentucky it certainly runs strong in the bloodline and fabric of life. For singer/songwriter Daniel Martin Moore, who grew up in Cold Spring, Ky., this definitely rings true.
Growing up in the moderately sized city, there were two things important to Moore and his family: music and faith. There rarely was a moment that passed where he wasn't around music. Some days his mother or grandmother would sing beautiful hymns to him as a child or he'd spend hours in awe of his brother's playing on piano.
"Everyone in my family loved music," Moore says in a phone interview. "My dad played lots of great classic records and my mom sang a lot. My grandma was always singing in church choir. My brother (Earl D. Moore) is a pianist. So that was pretty much the soundtrack to my childhood. It was beautiful having music soaring through the house, it was nice."
Building on Traditions
That constant exposure to music ingrained a strong desire to make his own music, as he set off to be a professional musician. Quickly getting the attention of Sub Pop thanks to an unsolicited demo in 2007, Moore built on the many moments with family and music with a subtle but powerful debut.
Several years later, he found himself paired with singer/songwriter Ben Sollee, a great writer in his own right, on 2010's "Dear Companion." Not only that, but Jim James from My Morning Jacket produced the album, a start to a powerful friend (illustrated by their playing together during My Morning Jacket's recent Milwaukee show).
Over the past year or two Moore's trekked around country with Sollee and James, opening for Iron & Wine and My Morning Jacket and appearing on media outlets like NPR's World Café. In addition to his family's constant influence, the countless musicians he's become friends with have helped shaped Moore's path.
"I've been really lucky to have all those great musicians around," says Moore.
"I actually just had coffee with Daniel Joseph Dorff who I've been lucky to have in my touring band for a couple of years and produced my last record with me. Dan is a constant inspiration and a brilliant drummer and pianist."
When he's not writing or recording he's also gotten invested in giving something back to the music industry, including starting up a small label.
"I just created a small record label, a little record releasing company to help some of my friends release some projects I feel are very beautiful," Moore says.
While it might be easy to lose track of where he came from with all the attention, Moore remains steadfast in keeping true to his roots and staying humble and grateful.
In fact, there was always a desire to record something for his family, a way to sort of say "Thanks for inspiring me so much." It just was a question of how to approach it.
On a seemingly regular day of work, during an interview and in-studio performance at Cincinnati's WVXU Studios, lightning struck. The source of it was an old 9-foot Steinway piano, once used as the main instrument by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
"I didn't play the piano for the interview; it was just in the room. And when the interview session was over I was like, 'Do you mind if I play this beautiful piano?' And they were like, 'Sure.' I sat down and it occurred to me at that moment that I should make this record and recordings for my family," says Moore.
"It was a culmination of a lot of thought. I've wanted to make recordings like these for my family for a really long time and it occurred to me that this would be the place to do it, a beautiful place to do it. Over the next few months we made the record and just fortunate how it all came together like that."
The result was "In the Cool of the Day," a collection of quietly beautiful folk gospel tunes. Moore called upon longtime friend Dorff to help him make his dream of making "a modern but time-tested, family-friendly, spiritual recording a reality," a series of events perfectly described by Jim James on Moore's site:
"Moore and Dorff sat down at the old concert grand and started working through the songs of Moore's past; taking those memories and melding them with his present feelings on spirituality, Daniel made something new and modern, a fresh take on "gospel" music all his own. They set out to keep things simple, to let the beauty inherent in the songs shine through, and most importantly to have fun and not feel bound to the classic interpretations of the songs. They changed a lot of them in small ways, leaving out a verse here and there and even adding some new ones.
"Rather than make a paint-by-numbers 'gospel' album, they have tried to present these songs as Moore remembered them, as a reflection of, and meditation on, growing up with this musical tradition. And that is the beauty that can be found when listening to 'In the Cool of the Day.' It's a spiritual record that may have come from growing up in one particular tradition, but is built to speak to the heart of any soul, from any tradition or walk of life, to say that god, while sometimes called by one particular name, is anywhere and everywhere one could ever want 'god' to be, present always in the love we give to and receive from those around us. As the great Marvin Gaye once sang, 'god is love/love is god'."
Originally the plan was just to release something just for his family but Moore soon found that the songs took a life of their own.
"The fact that is an album is sort of indicative of the content of it or the way I grew up," says Moore. "It was envisioned as a Christmas present. So literary at least by definition it is based on my upbringing and sharing things with my family as a kid."
"Those are the tunes I grew up with and initially the idea was to make it for my family," continues Moore. "In fact quite a few of my family came and said 'Why don't you record this song next time you're in the studio?' My intention with it wasn't to proselytize or necessarily make a contemporary gospel record or something; it's not really where I'm coming with it. But some of the songs are my favorite old hymns and beautiful religious songs."
On the album Moore sings and provides simple yet effective guitar playing that lets his voice in the forefront of the song. He was joined by numerous musicians including his brother Earl, Dorff on drums/piano/organ, James on banjo on "Dark Road" and Sollee on cello.
Moments like this keep Moore coming back to music – a constant force since childhood. Moore doesn't place weight on any one moment from his life but is grateful for everything that he's experienced as a musician and off the stage.
"I think very rarely do we have a moment where lightning strikes where everything changes in a matter of minutes. I don't think that happens or at least that's never happened to me," says Moore a bit modestly. "It's all the things pulled together that shape our lives and what we see as our destinies; a culmination of growing up with music and family that loved it and whatever sets us on that path who is to say exactly."
Playing solo vs. with others: "It's very different when you're alone with your thoughts and feelings. I think it's a really different process. I don't know if self-conscious is the right word but when I'm writing alone I feel I can throw anything out and see what happens and sort of whittle it down from there. I think that's probably the best attitude to take when working with someone as well. But it's a lot harder to say anything that pops in your head or write something that pops in your head when there's someone there that you obviously respect as a songwriter. It's difficult to be completely open but that's something to keep in the forefront of your mind. When you're collaborating you have to be open to what you're thinking and also open to what they're thinking and see how it all works.
"If you're working with someone you automatically have another perspective that isn't yours or you haven't thought of otherwise. I think writing with a songwriting partner or producer – or even with a band when you're playing with other musicians – they're going to coax things out of you that probably wouldn't have appeared without their influence or guidance."
On working with Ben Sollee and Jim James: "I love working with Ben. I've never actually written a song with Jim but we've worked really closely in the studio and it shows at live shows and stuff like that. Those two guys are so creative and the way they come to songwriting is as natural as breathing. It's hard to describe it in a way that doesn't make it sound cliche. They're both just naturals. That's not to say they don't' work hard. I think that's the difference between a great songwriter and everyone else. I think a lot of people have the talent but you have to couple that with really working hard at it. And those two guys do, they take it very seriously and make something beautiful. It's pretty inspiring to work with them in particular."
On playing Milwaukee: "I've loved all the time I've spent in Wisconsin over the years. My brother lives in Minnesota so I actually go through Wisconsin quite a bit to visit him and it's such a beautiful place and looking forward to being up there a couple of days."