Moonalice’s Roger McNamee has found success for his band on the Internet by looking to rock ’n’ roll’s past.
For the past three years the jam band supergroup, which formed in 2007, has broadcast every one of its live shows through its website, www.moonalice.com. Through the same website, the band has garnered more than 3 million downloads of its single “It’s 4:20 Somewhere.”
It’s the first time an artist has gone gold or platinum through downloads from its own servers rather than an online distribution source like iTunes — an achievement recognized last year by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
There’s also the band’s Facebook page, which has more than 240,000 fans, not an extraordinary number for a nationally touring band. The level of fan engagement is more extraordinary — one recent post received 340,000 views, according to McNamee, which means the post has been viewed by more people than are fans of the band’s page.
“On a page, if you can get 5 percent of your fans to view a story, that’s a really good number; 10 percent is off-the-charts epic,” McNamee said recently from his home near San Francisco.
“One hundred and fifty percent — you can count on one hand the number of times that happens in a year, but what’s interesting is that we have sustained, on a weekly basis, almost 100 percent engagement.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 465-5233 ext. 4, www.wamcarts.org
Granted, getting to those numbers has been a trial-and-error process for guitarist and vocalist McNamee, former member of the Flying Other Brothers, who is also a businessman, investor and a Loudonville native. He admits that he stumbled upon much of this success by accident in recent years.
Art and music
However, he has also realized that the integration of music with performance art, visual art and humor — something that was more commonplace in the ’60s — has been a big part of the interest as well. For each of the band’s shows, which at this point number more than 100 a year, an artist designs a unique poster that is given out to all audience members. The band often has live painters at its gigs, and each show opens up with Big Steve Parrish, Jerry Garcia’s roadie for 25 years, telling stories from the road.
“You don’t go to rock ’n’ roll shows today and have a guy telling funny stories for five minutes before the band goes on, but that is how things were 30, 40 years ago,” McNamee said.
“The art, the fact that we have an original poster for every show — in the old days, art and music went hand in hand. What’s really fun is, next week I’m playing my first solo gig in this century — in at least probably 20 years. What’s really funny about it, and really sweet, is that three different fans have submitted original posters to the show, without asking, to promote it. Why? Because we’ve created a vibe where creating art is part of the shtick.”
All this artistic integration will be on display when the band returns to The Linda on Friday night, after selling out the venue last October. While Moonalice usually sticks close to its California home base, with three of its four members hailing from the East Coast, the band will tour in the area once a year.
Great place to play
“It was really, really unbelievably fun [playing The Linda last year] — what a great room,” McNamee said. “We have a really nice light show, kind of an old-fashioned light show. We’re a San Francisco band, that style of music — very ’60s, very accessible and melodic, and we have this really cool light show with it. The Linda — because the space has a tall ceiling, it lets us use the largest version of the screen, so the shows look epic.”
Moonalice — which today consists of McNamee; drummer John Molo (who has played with Bruce Hornsby & The Range, John Fogerty, The Dead, Phil Lesh & Friends); guitarist and keyboardist Pete Sears (Rod Stewart, co-founder of Jefferson Starship, Hot Tuna); and lead guitarist Barry Sless (Cowboy Jazz, Phil Lesh & Friends) — started out as a seven-piece in 2007 under the guidance of producer T Bone Burnett, who produced the band’s self-titled debut album.
“He was doing a series of Americana, roots music albums — think of the series as having started with the ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ soundtrack, and including the Johnny Cash movie soundtrack [‘Walk the Line’],” McNamee said.
“He was doing ‘Raising Sand’ with Alison Krauss and Robert Plant at the same time he was doing our album. What he did was pick all these genres of Americana music, and make definitive albums of them. And he said, ‘I want to do that with you guys, but the San Francisco version, for hippy music.’ ”
Initially the band also featured guitarist G.E. Smith, McNamee’s wife Ann on vocals and percussion and bassist Jack Casady. Casady left the group because of his wife’s cancer; “Saturday Night Live” band member Smith joined Roger Waters’ touring band for “The Wall” tour; and Ann is writing for Broadway. The personnel shifts have only helped to strengthen the band creatively.
“Our goal is to be a band playing new stuff all the time, and so essentially it has reinforced that strategy — each time there’s a personnel change we have to alter our approach to the songs,” McNamee said. “Often the easiest way to do that is to pick new material, and so 60 percent of the set list material we started playing this year.”
The band’s emphasis on new material, with a throwback ’60s feel, is another key to its success. Currently, it is releasing new studio recordings five songs at a time on EPs in a series called “Dave’s Way,” named after producer Dave Way; so far eight volumes have been released, with plans to record volumes nine and 10 later in the year.
“Most people our age are playing the same songs they were playing 30 years ago — they’re probably not playing anything but the songs they were playing 30 years ago,” McNamee said.
“We were playing in New York City one time and one of the founders of Twisted Sister came up to me and said, ‘I am so envious of you guys.’ [I said], ‘What are you talking about? You’re in Twisted Sister.’ He said, ‘It’s a great gig; I work two months out of the year. But during those two months I’m playing the same 17 songs in the same order. . . . What you guys are doing is just music for the love of it, and that’s a cool thing.’”