Anyone can move to New York with dreams of being king of the hill or top of the heap—folks have been doing that since steamships started arriving at Ellis Island in the 1800s. To actually make it in the City That Never Sleeps, however, is an entirely different matter.
Epic respect, then, to former Vancouverites Jimmy Vallance and Tom Howie, who, after some early rough times in NYC, now seem poised for something great.
The partners in the downtempo EDM duo Bob Moses are on their tour bus parked by the side of the road in Washington, D.C., when the Georgia Straight reaches them on a cell. Speaking via conference call, they’re excited enough about what they’ve accomplished in 2015 to compensate for the fact they’ve woken up exhausted.
But being tired can be a good thing if you’ve earned it.
“We played the first show of the tour last night in New York,” Howie relays. “It was at the Bowery Ballroom and it was sold-out, which was super awesome. Then we drove all night to D.C. and slept on the bus. This is our first bus tour, and the first time we’ve slept on a bus, so that’s pretty fun.”
That’s right: Bob Moses is hitting the road by bus instead of piling into a battered 1993 panel van pulling a rented trailer. Consider that a great sign that the group’s rise in the EDM ranks hasn’t started and ended with packing one of New York’s iconic venues. And the accomplishments don’t stop there. A just-released debut full-length, Days Gone By, hit record stores last month on indie heavyweight Domino Records, the songs earning ravishing praise for their mix of subterranean house and mellow-gold pop. Major players have come calling, leading to profiles in publications ranging from the undeniably mainstream (Billboard) to the historically forward-thinking (DJ Magazine).
All the adulation has been doubly gratifying, considering how long it took for Howie and Vallance to get Bob Moses off the ground. After attending the same West Side school while growing up in Vancouver, the two moved to New York independently of each other.
Howie, who did time in local rock bands during his teen years, hoped to make inroads as a singer and songwriter. Vallance—whose famous producer-songwriter father, Jim Vallance, copenned some of Bryan Adams’s biggest hits—was forging a career in the EDM underground.
“My dad had a studio,” Vallance says. “He taught me my first drumbeat, but he never really taught me the ways of the studio. I think that he figured out if I was going to be passionate about music, and figure it out, then I was going to have to do it on my own.”
Even though they never hung out in high school, the two would make a connection after running into each other by chance in NYC. Still, Bob Moses didn’t come together overnight.
Step one was realizing that they shared common musical ground.
“We grew up in the whole postgrunge era in Vancouver, so we were listening to Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, and all the stuff that came after that,” Howie says. “Then the Chemical Brothers came along, and it wasn’t too far of a jump. It was still really aggressive. Nine Inch Nails had a bit of an electronic twinge to it as well. A lot of what we try to do is in the spirit of Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age and all those bands. They all had attitude and their own distinct sound. It was aggressive and abrasive but it had a real heaviness to it. What they had in common was that their sounds weren’t super accessible on the first listen.”
Vallance would eventually gravitate to dance music, perhaps because it had become far more punk than punk rock.
“It was the only way that I could rebel,” he remembers. “My dad would listen to what I was doing and go, ‘Great drum part.’ And I’d go, ‘Nooooo—you’re not supposed to like this. You’re supposed to think it’s garbage.’ ”
That love of live music affected what Howie and Vallance wanted to do with Bob Moses. As easy as it would be to hunch over a MacBook Pro, guitars and synth banks are very much part of the show when the band plays live.
That Days Gone By translates to the stage isn’t a surprise. As much as Bob Moses sounds tailor-made for modern chill-out rooms, there’s also a decidedly analogue undercurrent to its sound. Thanks largely to Howie’s ’70s-vintage vocals, the only things missing from “Tearing Me Up” are flared jeans and more cowbell, while the delectably cool “Writing on the Wall” suggest the group might hold its own at finer jazz festivals.
“We’ve made an effort to be a live band,” Howie says. “One of the greatest things about a DJ set is the way that creates energy by transitioning from track to track. You can get a lot of energy from the moments, but we also wanted to make sure that things were very song-based, like a live band.”
Vallance adds: “When Moby’s Play came out, I was completely fascinated—I didn’t understand how one guy could do all that himself. I thought you set up a drummer, bass player, and guitar player, and that’s the music. I was always interested in writing songs. But I was also totally into the idea of production. Now things have come full circle.”
Days Gone By isn’t necessarily geared to those whose weekends are spent ripping up dance floors to Skrillex. Forget massive bass drops and filling-rattling percussion; Vallance and Howie are working a strain of EDM that they suggest captures the vibe of modern New York.
“Vancouver’s catching up, but New York is definitely on the cutting edge in North America,” Howie says. “As we’ve toured over the past couple of years, we’ve even noticed that L.A. is a little behind New York. I think New York has its own thing happening where there’s this really cool scene. It’s almost like things hopped over from Berlin, and then got its own New York vibe.”
And as much as Bob Moses is down with that vibe, that doesn’t mean they don’t miss Vancouver.
“I was just back, and I was like, ‘I really don’t want to leave,’ ” Vallance says. “It’s a beautiful place, and yeah, it feels like home. But right now we’re having fun.”
Bob Moses plays the Imperial on Wednesday (October 14).