Tearing it up with Bob Moses

Arts Coverage

A pair of Canadian producers are making their mark on the club scene and beyond.

Known collectively as Bob Moses, songwriters Jimmy Vallance and Tom Howie have been making waves in the electronic dance scene for years, with their distinctive brand of indie-infused deep house.  Walking the line between electronic and alternative, their latest record Days Gone By marked an evolution in their sound and saw the group break into the mainstream.

“We’re in the phase where we’re having our first big single,” Vallance explains. That track, “Tearing Me Up,” received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2016 (its remix, produced by Portuguese DJ RAC, took home the award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical). It cracked the rock charts as well, hitting number 40 on the Billboard “Hot Rock Songs” ranking this past March.

The album’s crossover success was part of a deliberate shift beyond the world of clubs and into what Vallance terms the “band/alternative scene.”

“Some people just stay in the clubs, but we made a conscious decision to get a band and play theatres and stuff,” Vallance explains. Days Gone By leans more on indie rock influences than their earlier work, mixing electronic beats and ambient production with organic, almost bluesy guitar licks.

Bob Moses’ collaborative approach to song writing, which sees Howie and Vallance both creating beats and melodies, allows them to experiment and bounce ideas off each other. “We both kind of do everything – I think that’s the beauty of it,” Vallance says. “If we get stuck, we know that the other guy will hopefully dig us out of the trench that we’re in. But we really do everything 50/50.”

“We just sit in the room…sort of play tennis, hit it back and forth,” Howie elaborates.

“That’s a good way to put it!” Vallance agrees, adding, “The most beautiful thing about it is [when] you hear something in your head and then you pitch it to your partner, and they look at it in a way that you never saw it before.”

Writing together has worked as insurance against songwriter’s block, Howie says. “We were stuck on this song,” he recounts; “I was trying to sing a verse-thing, and we just couldn’t get it.” It was Vallance who broke through the wall, chiming in with a “totally different” interpretation of the verse.

“All the windows in the studio broke,” Vallance jokes.

“Actually, we have no windows in the studio,” Howie admits.

It’s been a rewarding partnership. “I’ve written with a few other people but it’s never been as good as writing with Jimmy,” Howie says.

In the future, they’d love to work with some of their other Canadian peers. “The cool thing is, a lot of the top artists in the world right now are actually Canadian,” Vallance notes.

Bob Moses visited Ottawa last April for the 2017 Juno Awards, for which they were nominated for Breakthrough Group and Electronic Album of the Year. Asked prior to the broadcast which of their fellow nominees they’d like to collaborate with on a song, Howie cited KAYTRANADA, who’d claimed the Electronic Album award the previous evening. They’d also love to write a song with folk singer William Prince, whose performance of “Breathless” at the pre-broadcast In Memoriam segment blew them away. “He’s got a really good voice,” Vallance gushes.

After a moment’s consideration, they add Grimes, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber to the list. “The deep cuts don’t keep the mansion running, as they say,” Jimmy quips.

This up-for-anything attitude and willingness to blur genre boundaries serves them well in the ever-evolving dance music scene. Vallance notes that EDM fans are always on the lookout for exciting new acts: “People like this kind of music and [want to] discover new stuff.”

He adds that the worldwide popularity of the genre was instrumental in catapulting their career internationally. “There’s underground electronic music venues everywhere in the world, which is why it was such a good vein to tap into because it automatically sends you everywhere.” The scene is especially active in large international cities like Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Lisben. “Montreal goes pretty nuts,” Vallance notes.

One of their best-received gigs so far was Coachella in 2016. “Right act, right time, right place. Calvin Harris was on the main stage and we were the counter-act to him – everyone who came to see us just loved it, and it was amazing,” Vallance recounts.

The group notes that dance crowds can sometimes be hard to read, especially at the tail end of a festival when audience members are exhausted. “It’s a bit trippy sometimes,” Howie says. “Depending on the time you play, everyone [may be] really into it but you can’t tell.”

“You’ll read online and people [will be saying], ‘That was the highlight of the whole festival,’ and you’ll be like, ‘Really?’” Vallance laughs.

“I thought we were sucking,” Howie adds, completing the sentiment.

The acclaim of “Tearing Me Up” has alleviated that somewhat; Vallance notes that audiences freak out “as soon as that first note hits.”

A more recent addition to their setlist is “Keeping Me Alive,” which Howie and Vallance were initially unsure if they would ever perform. “It was the last song we finished, and we had to rush it,” Vallance explains. “It was a real battle, and we never played it.” He recalls being caught off guard when fans and band members started requesting the song. “A couple people came up to us and were like, ‘Why don’t you ever play this one?’” he recounts. “Finally, our drummer convinced us to do it.”

Initially their “least favourite song on the record,” according to Howie, it’s now become a personal favourite and live show staple. “It’s a highlight of the set now,” he says.

As they broaden their musical horizons, the Howie and Vallance are grateful to have the continued acceptance from the EDM fanbase. “It’s a very nice community that we came up in,” says Howie. “They supported us at the beginning, and as we’ve crossed over they’ve been very supportive.”

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