A few years ago, I interviewed Providence, RI’s sax-fronted postrock band A Troop of Echoes for The Huffington Post (read it here!). We discussed their 2015 release “The Longest Year on Record,” a delightful DIY symphony featuring dozens of friend and neighbors supplementing the core quartet with a choir of strings, horns, voices, and drums. I wanted to catch up with the Troop, so I’ve invited drummer Dan Moriarty to write a guest blog about his five favorite songs from his musical career. Dan is currently a lunar geologist working at NASA, and his new band Public Policy (also featuring Nick Cooper from A Troop of Echoes) has recently released their second EP, “Human Resource,” a relentlessly churning post-punk offering.
Dan Moriarty plays with A Troop of Echoes at the release show for “The Longest Year on Record.” Photo credit: Freddie Ross
A Troop of Echoes – “Kerosene”
As a drummer, it’s fitting that the first song I’ve picked doesn’t have any drums whatsoever. In a lot of bands, drummers aren’t expected to contribute much to the songwriting process. Sit back, keep time, and keep out of the way. Fortunately, my experience with A Troop of Echoes isn’t like that at all. Even though my bandmates are extremely well-educated musicians and composers, they’re really open-minded and actually encouraged me (the uneducated drummer) to bring little nuggets and song parts to the table. “Kerosene” emerged from one of these nuggets.
Back in the early 2010’s, I was doing an ill-advised project where I was trying to write a song about each of my 700+ Facebook friends. Yeah, even the ones I met at a bus stop once and never heard from again. Most of these “songs” were completely terrible MIDI-keyboard odysseys, but a few actually turned out kind of promising. “Kerosene” started off as a vibraphone and bass duet that I recorded late one night in the warehouse we were living in. I think it was about a friend that had suffered a horrible keg-related injury and then went to live on a houseboat or something. The exact reason for this might be lost to time, but the title of the original recording was “Kerosene: Theme from ‘Dude, Where’s My Face.’”
Anyway, I shared the original recording with the other guys in Troop, and they really dug it! Nick got to work composing the incredibly beautiful and moving string and horn parts that completed the song. It was like an alley-oop in basketball: I tossed up a pass and Nick slammed it home, spectacularly. Everything came together perfectly, and I’m so proud of what we accomplished. In fact, my (now) wife suggested that I walk down the aisle to “Kerosene” at our recent wedding! That was definitely a proud moment for me, if not somewhat self-indulgent…but I have no regrets about it!
As a final note, this is the most nervous I’ve ever been about recording a song. I’m pretty comfortable behind a drumset, but had never recorded vibraphone professionally before – especially not using the 4-mallet technique! I ended up drilling my parts for hours and hours, and ended up nailing it on the first or second take. Thanks, practice!
A Troop of Echoes – “Small Fires”
“Small Fires” is another song that started as a nugget I brought in that was then fleshed out by the rest of the band. As we were writing the collection of songs that would become “The Longest Year on Record,” we were really happy with the cinematic, melodic, spacious, and atmospheric nature of the songs we were writing. However, we felt that the album was lacking something punchy and catchy – a “single,” if such a thing can exist for a sax-fronted postrock band.
Around this time, I took a trip to my uncle’s lake house in Maine with my family. Since everyone went to bed at like 9:45 every night, I would go down to the lake with my baritone guitar and mess around on my uncle’s dock for a few hours. It was pretty peaceful, and the fish (and mosquitos) were a great audience. One of these nights, I came up with the guitar and bass parts that would eventually morph into “Small Fires.” They sounded catchy and nostalgic, and definitely hit the sweet spot for what we were looking for to cap off the album. Nick, Pete, and Harry ingested, re-interpreted, and built upon the parts I brought in, and “Small Fires” was born.
Public Policy – “Alluvial Cuts”
My experience in Public Policy was a little different from Troop, in that I didn’t bring in many parts to write songs around. However, our songwriting process was still really collaborative – we’d bounce ideas around collectively for pacing, transitions, song flow, etcetera. The way things fit together was a little different as well. If Troop songs come together as gears expertly meshing in your transmission, Public Policy songs are more like barreling through the tundra in your 18-wheeler, crushing everything in your path.
“Alluvial Cuts” is one of the catchier Public Policy songs, and I think it captures everything we’re going for. The guitars are complex and melodic, the vocals are introspective and anthemic, and the bass and drums pummel, grind, and syncopate. Everyone is bringing the heat. Gotta give a huge shoutout to Daryl Rabidoux and Mike Viele for the production on this EP – everything sounds ridiculous, raw, and huge.
A Troop of Echoes – “Golden Gears”
This is the oldest song on the list. We started writing it my second or third year of college, when I was still living in dorms at UMass. The other guys would come up to Amherst to practice once in a while, and we’d have to migrate from dorm room to lounge to basement to stairwell as we kept getting kicked out of different practice spots for making too much of a racket. We wrote “Golden Gears” on one these scattershot weekends, and I think the sonics of it really reflect that. The rim clicks, guitar harmonics, and “bass-played-with-a-drumstick” give the song a really plucky, frenetic vibe.
I was a little hesitant to include this song, for a few reasons. Our songwriting chops weren’t quite developed yet, our performance is a little sloppy in places, and the production on this record didn’t turn out the way we had envisioned (even though this was by far the most money we’ve ever spent on a recording). However, I think “Golden Gears” is one of our most singular, unique songs. It’s a really different sound from a lot of other stuff out there, and it’s one of the more creative and unusual songs we’ve written, while still being super catchy. It has blemishes, but I think belongs on Troop’s Mt. Rushmore.
Public Policy – “Insulin”
I’m gonna round out the list with “Insulin,” another recent track from Public Policy. This song is a wild ride through a bunch of tight, sinewy passages, until the end explodes into some soaring, lush guitar harmonies. That end section always pumped me up so much that I started wordlessly yelling along with the guitar parts at our shows. It became “a thing,” to the point that the other guys decided I should try recording that vocal part when we went into the studio. It ended up sounding pretty good, so I guess I can add “backing vocals” to my resume of professionally-recorded parts. Nice.
When we were recording the demo for this song, I ended up in the hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis. Turns out I had developed type-1 diabetes at 29 years old, and nearly died. Whoops. We named the song “Insulin,” partially inspired by that sequence of events.
A Spotify playlist featuring these songs is available here.