By Liz Turcotte
Vinnie Amico, the drummer of moe., chatted with us recently about his daughters, Jerry Garcia and how much he loves The Tabernacle. moe. begins their three-night run in Atlanta on Thursday at Terminal West, followed by two nights at the Tabernacle with opening sets from Earphunk and Dumpstaphunk.
What type of music did your parents listen to growing up?
My father, Sal Amico, was a Jazz musician who played the trumpet and well-known in the Syracuse area so when I was real small there was a lot of Jazz around. My parents divorced and my mom remarried and she used to listen to the worst music. Gordon Lightfoot isn’t that bad now that I look back at it, but Neil diamond, Roger Whittaker, ABBA. It’s all stuff that is stuck in my brain because now when an ABBA tune comes on the radio I can sing every single word.
You have two daughters, are they both pretty big into music as well?
My oldest daughter goes to Drew University. She doesn’t study music but takes vocal classes and is in the choral union. She plays saxophone, she’s actually played with moe. a couple of times. Both of our kids are in musical theater. My youngest daughter is very musical, although she quit playing violin a couple of years ago. She sings all of the time and just loves music.
Is it true you have never taken drum lessons?
That is correct. When I was really young, when I was first introduced to instruments in school, I played drums but it didn’t last very long. I wasn’t in the school band or anything.
How did you learn to play without YouTube?
My parents bought me a drum set my first six months of classes at school. I went home from school every day and put on whatever music I was listening to and memorized all of the songs. I played drums all day every day for about five or six years before I started hanging out with my friends who were playing instruments, and we all started putting music together.
Would you be able to teach someone how to play the drums?
Oh yeah, I had two lessons today actually. I have a guy that I teach FaceTime lessons to down in Florida and I had a guy show up at the house today who I gave a lesson to. I’m trying to do a couple of clinics because I have a whole thing that I teach, it’s very simple but I think it’s very helpful for any drummer. I figured I had to teach myself so I should be able to teach others, right?
You perform in a variety of one off Grateful Dead sets, what makes those performances so special?
The music itself because I used to be a big Dead fan and the songs are just great songs. I played in that kind of style of band in college so I got really good at playing that particular style of music. You could say I studied that style. Also, there’s a couple of really good players. Jerry Garcia was such a great guitar player and there’s some guys who emulate him very well. When I get to play with them it’s like I’m playing with Jerry. Those kind of things really make it fun. When you get close to what the Dead was playing when you’re doing it, it’s just awesome.
What guitar player do you feel like emulates Jerry the most?
There’s a friend of mine who used to play in a band around Albany called Slipknot, and then he was in Buffalo and played in a band with me his name is Adam Czolowski. He’s just about as close to Jerry as I’ve ever heard anybody play. His sound isn’t 100% but its pretty close. It’s his playing, he’s just such a great guitar player. I play with another guy named Zach Nugent who is also really good, a real good Jerry guy. The ones that really studied the music and know the songs the way the way the Dead played them, the different styles and stuff it’s just a blast. If you’re all in tune with the style, the year or whatever kind of jam you’re doing it can be a lot of fun. And the songs, it’s all about the songs.
Do you have a favorite venue or city that you like to play in?
Actually the Tabernacle is definitely one of my favorites. It’s just an amazing, amazing venue. I mean we’ve played all over. We’ve played Red Rocks, Radio City., too many to say but I definitely love the Tab. As far as the energy goes for our performances, it’s one of the best venues we play.
The band is playing a three-night run in Atlanta but with one night at Terminal West and two nights at the Tabernacle, how did that happen?
We’ve been touring in that model for the last year where we’ll play one smaller venue to give people a more intimate setting and then we’ll play two nights at the bigger place in town. It’s kind of cool because it gives the fans a destination to go to where they’re not traveling all over the place. They can just travel to one place, get hotels, roll up and party to have a great time and don’t have to do a whole lot of moving around and what not. It definitely seems to work. I think the fans like it, we definitely like it a lot. I think we’re going to continue doing it for a while into this year. We’ve never played Terminal West so we’re looking forward to that.
When you’re playing and make a mistake how do you handle it?
It happens all of the time. Sometimes I make a face, sometimes I yell. Pretty much when I screw up the whole bands turns around, because it’s very apparent when it happens and I don’t do it that often. So when it happens it’s a big freaking to-do and everyone looks at me. I’m thinking guys, you could cover it up by not turning around and making me look like an idiot, but it’s not the way we roll. We did at one point have a jar and anytime anybody made mistakes they had to pay-in. Whoever made the least would win the jar but it got to be pretty expensive. Some people made lots of mistakes so they were always having to put money in the jar.
Last year was the 25th anniversary for the band, what were some highlights from the year?
Summer Camp was a highlight, I mean it always is it’s such a great festival. We got to do a set with Bruce Hornsby which was a lot of fun. Playing in Chicago when the Dead was there was a lot of fun. They played and then we did some after-show sets there. That was great because we got to see the Fare Thee Well shows and then perform afterwards. At a show like that the energy level is pretty high so you go into it really ready to rock.
Our first Jamaica trip was last winter and have since been back, we just got back a couple of days ago. Hopefully we started a yearly excursion. It’s like we were vacationing with our fans because for the most part people who come to those things are our friends. We have a community of people who are on vacation together and all a bunch of like-minded people. It’s a cool place to be on a beach hanging out with good entertainment.
We did a lot of cool stuff last year and the fact that we were able to celebrate 25 years being a band, most people don’t get to do that. So the fact that we’ve been able to make a career of playing music is awesome.
Random question, what do you think about when you’re alone in the car?
Getting to the next place, listening to Howard Stern on the radio and usually I’m late. Picking up my daughter at school and thinking, “Crap, get out of my way.” It’s not very deep at all.
How long have you been listening to Howard Stern?
I started listening to him in ’92 so I’ve been listening to him a long time. I lived in DC, I guess about 23 years now. Long-time listener.
You’ve probably done a million interviews and have been asked a million questions. What’s something you always hope someone will ask you?
That’s a great question, too bad I can’t remember. I think that might be the question. You know what I don’t have an answer, what a great question that I can’t answer. Maybe if you come backstage at the show next week I’ll have one for you.
Upcoming projects? Plans for 2016?
We’re doing the west coast tour that was just announced. Doing a bunch of shows out west where we haven’t been in a while which will be awesome. My side band Floodwood is doing a bunch of shows coming up in February.
Grab your tickets for the upcoming shows in Atlanta here.