A number of our most significant cultural figures have been named Bob. Bob Dylan became the warbly voice of a generation when he threaded political protest into grassroots folk, while Bob Marley amassed a cult legion of peaceful fans through the unity of music. Following this tradition, Bob Moses — better known as Robert Moses — was a master builder largely responsible for restructuring New York City into the architectural wonder it is today. Without waxing too poetically on city planning, the point is this: Bobs are builders.
The band Bob Moses is a hard-working production duo comprised of two natural tinkerers and curious thinkers, Jimmy Vallance and Tom Howie, who have known each other since attending high school together in Vancouver. "When I was fourteen, I got summer jobs in construction, building houses," explains Jimmy, his eyes trailing with the memory. "I was working ten hour days, really hard work, and not making that much money. I wondered if I could work this hard at music, and there was no other answer but Yes, I'm just going to do that and make it work."
"It sounds kind of lame, but it was love at first sound," Tom explains, swilling his glass of water with a long straw. "We grew up together, so we knew we liked a lot of the same music. There's a familiarity there." Designed from a mutual love of California punk (especially Rancid and Green Day), Northwest grunge and minimalist electronic, the now Brooklyn-based Bob Moses is dismantling the contemporary trend of static, laptop-driven EDM music. Bob Moses' formulation of electronica amplifies the possibility for the analog to coexist with the human - think heavily reverb-ed blues riffs alongside deep house cuts, ethereal shoegaze sensibilities against the crisp focus of drum machines.
The three of us are chatting in the long back room at Kinfolk, a café and bar in north Williamsburg that — like many locales along this particular waterfront — is a refurbished industrial space. Jimmy arrives with a poofy white dog, grinning as he mentions he's dog-sitting while his girlfriend is out of town. We sit down and the pup's leash soon becomes unhooked. So Jimmy runs the dog back to the guys' nearby home. In the meantime, I ask Tom how two twenty-something dudes don't get sick of each other, working all the time, traveling, performing and living together.
He laughs. "The only time we get into squabbles is if we've been up for like, three days," he says. "The end goal is more important than any little thing."
Jimmy returns unusually fast from dog duty. Amidst the mid-June heat, both halves of Bob Moses look refreshed in the sweltering sun, clad in black jeans and black t-shirts hugging their frames. The talkative Jimmy radiates both health and restlessness, always gesturing with his hands when he speaks. Tom's mannerisms are more languid, and he is selective with his responses.
Where the two converge is in their deep fascination with making music, a curiosity that has been a prevalent force in both men's lives since childhood. But it's not just with sound, but rather the details: minutia, the gravity of basslines and the tiniest elements of production that can amplify a sound from great to gargantuan proportions.
"Around age 10, I got really fascinated with how records were made. I didn't understand it. I'd listen to Moby and be like, how did he do that? That's not a drum sound. I wanted to know how people made records, so I got Logic and never looked back again," explains Jimmy.
Tom says he was always singing, utilizing his voice as an instrument before picking up the piano, which he quickly left behind for electric guitar. Jimmy's initial exposure to performance also came from piano, but he liked it — "I'm pretty chaotic, but it made me focus," he says of the instrument.
Bob Moses arose out of necessity. A mere two years ago, the pair found themselves standing at a decisive crossroads, unfulfilled by their current endeavors in Brooklyn and thinking of throwing in the towel completely with music.
"I was making instrumental techno music, going to Berlin, and there were so many people doing what I was doing. He was going down the singer songwriter path. He was listening to a lot of Radiohead and I was doing the same thing, we both wanted to do something different," recalls Jimmy.
Back then, Tom was considering moving back to Vancouver. So Jimmy coaxed Tom to move in with him and the two then hunkered down to work on material. "We basically wrote every day for a year before releasing anything. We were really trying to get it right, and finishing each others' sentences musically," shares Tom.
Bob Moses' deep dedication to musical engagement is palpable when speaking to them. "Respect the chemistry" is a phrase that arises several times during our conversation, over several cups of coffee and a sweating bottle of champagne, spoken in reference to their meticulous approach to refining the creative process. "I can't sing for shit and he can't do programming," adds Jimmy, "We got together and both realized very quickly we could fill the slots of what the other couldn't do."
Their drive and focused sound quickly caught the attention of Francis Harris, head of electronic label Scissor & Thread. The producer asked them to sing on one of his tracks and the band — well, at that point not technically a band — spiraled from there. "We started doing vocal features on these tracks he'd produced. It kind of turned into that. We played our first show with them and everybody went nuts," remembers Tom.
Songs soon began to blossom from beats into fully realized tracks, taking definite shapes with lyrics, guitarlines and original beats. Take the band's bouncy Domino single 'Grace.' It swoons with the human ache for a connection but maintains the command of a deep house rhythm as Tom croons: "How could you say I'm not the one you want / How could you say I'm not the one you need?" The second track from the 12-inch bundle, 'I Ain't Gonna Be the First to Cry,' gets downright bluesy with the alluring pull of early '90s trip-hop rippling in the background.
The next few months are blocked off with a handful of North American tour dates, but Bob Moses will mostly be focusing on writing and recording new music, namely their first full-length LP. Currently untitled, the debut album will hopefully be out in early 2015 through Domino Records.
Later that night, I am standing at Output, a two-story dance club where Bob Moses is performing. I'm easily the most underdressed person at the show, where bodies sway together underneath gyrating pastel bulbs on the ceiling. From the second floor landing, the air is thick with anticipation. The band leaps onto the stage around 2:30 a.m., and dives into a dizzying two-hour set that is equal parts vibe-out and high-energy.
The usually mellow 'Grace' is thrilling live, helmed by Jimmy's skilled manipulation of Ableton and Tom's acrobatics casting a far-reaching spell. Fans mouth the words and shake their limbs, some almost supine and lost in a trance. In between cues, Jimmy and Tom hug each other and muss each others' hair, like brothers bound by the blood oath of groove.
Near the end of the set, Tom spots me watching from below. He waves and flashes a wide, humbling grin. He closes his eyes, turning back toward the audience. Opening his eyes again, he looks out into the crowd. Then, there it is: the elusive dream, alive, captured, manifested before the two builders of wonders and sonic other worlds.