It’s easy to offend people, especially online. Doubly so if you’re trying to be funny. Just ask electronic duo Bob Moses, who posted the line “Music that will make you want to build a highway through a low-income neighborhood” under their Facebook bio.
“It’s a joke,” says Tom Howie, one half of the duo. “A sarcastic nod to where the name really comes from.” (Spoiler: Robert “Bob” Moses was a legendary and controversial city planner in New York City who campaigned for highways over public transit and who was accused of displacing African-American communities in his zeal to remake America’s idea of “urban.”)
One of the reasons why the pair like the Facebook quip and the name Bob Moses is because it ties them to New York. Howie and his other half, Jimmy Vallance, grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and knew each other peripherally from shared classes in high school, but it wasn’t until October 2010 that they reconnected — in a Brooklyn parking lot outside of a Lowe’s home improvement store.
“It was just kind of serendipitous,” says Howie, who, like Vallance, was renting a studio across the street at the time. Even though they’d both moved to New York City to pursue careers in music, they were each in a rut. Howie was sick of the city and planned to move back to Vancouver, while Vallance was tired of making the same ol’ techno records. Once they got into the studio and learned that they worked well together, teaming up was a no-brainer.
They moved in together and spent 2011 and 2012 experimenting with different styles and genres to find their own unique sound. They crafted everything from pop and dance songs, to dubstep jams and glam rock tracks in the Bon Jovi mold. “We always knew we wanted to combine electronic music and traditional songwriting,” says Vallance, “we just needed to find the way to do it.”
Shared musical aspirations aside, the pair had another thing going for them. Although they shared roots in Vancouver, they were still just acquaintances who didn’t know much about each other. That unfamiliarity was a “saving grace,” says Vallance, who believes their cursory knowledge of one another helped sustain their long hours in the studio. “You spend a lot more time writing shitty ideas than good ones,” he says. “So it’s totally about the hang.”
Fast-forward to today, and Bob Moses is an internationally known deep house duo that has performed at Burning Man and South By Southwest, as well as Lightning In A Bottle and Buku Music + Art Project. They’ve released two EPs and dropped their debut album, Days Gone By, last September.
Listeners are drawn to the band’s sonic polarities, which range from dark, melancholy melodies to lush, tropical beats. The duo’s songs are the type you play after going to the club, regardless of whether you want to wind down or keep the party going.
Even their live shows sound different than their recorded material. Because their songs are driven by the low-end, the drums and bass come across as louder and more energetic in a live setting. “If you put it on at home when you’re making dinner, it’s kind of moody and trippy,” Howie says. “But when it’s live, it’s this big triumphant and powerful thing. It’s the same music, there’s just more oomph.”
Their dualities also extend to how they view themselves as a musical act. “We have always kind of felt like the black sheep wherever we’ve been,” Vallance says. Growing up in Vancouver is one reason for their outsider mentality. “It’s like you’re in the middle of nowhere,” says Howie. “As a kid, you feel so far away from the rest of the world.”
Their shared love for post-punk bands, such as Green Day and Rancid, and their past experiences playing in rock bands are other reasons why they feel at odds. Though they’re an electronic duo, they have an alternative streak to them, which makes their sound appropriate for both “indie concerts at like 9 p.m.,” Vallance says, “and electronic concerts that go until 2 a.m.” Also, the fact that they add multiple verses to their deep house tracks is also out of the norm.
“Our aesthetic might seem completely at odds with what that’s about,” Vallance says, “but for some reason, people really seem to like it.”