In the middle of a scene that was starting to get a bit spooky for even the people that started it, Moe Tucker was a walking talking oxymoron. She did fit — she was and is a hell of a drummer and bass player, looked just as aloof and cool as the rest of the guys with her dark glasses and ambisexual attire (a lot of people still don’t know that the Velvet Underground had a chick drummer), and can front a band just as easily as she can be part of the unassuming working mechanisms of one. But at the same time, she didn’t fit — when she took the dark glasses off, she was suddenly one of the sweetest, most unassuming smiles in rock and roll. She left the Velvet Underground to become a full-time mother of five, worked anonymously at Wal-Mart for years, and is probably the only person in the world who refers to Lou Reed as “Honeybun” in passing.
“I played clarinet from 4th grade through 8th, and started trying to play guitar when I was about eighteen,” says Moe. “I turned to drums after hearing the Stones’ “Not Fade Away” on the car radio — -had never heard them before and was THRILLED!! I wanted to do something other than just listen, and since I couldn’t play guitar well enough to play along, I bought a snare drum. My mother was very supportive — even though I was playing just for fun and not at all thinking of being a musician — she never complained about the noise and in fact came home one night with a $50 drum set, bass drum, tom, horrible cymbal, she had bought for me!
“I was never told that I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl. When I started playing with the Velvet Underground, my mother was completely supportive — she’d let me use her car to go to the city because mine wasn’t really reliable, she never complained that I wasn’t paying rent or board, she listened to my fumblings when I’d learn to do something new on drums or bass.”
Almost 27 years after leaving the Velvet Underground, Moe’s solo work, particularly her albums Dogs Under Stress and I Spent a Week There the Other Night, definitely retain traces of the characteristically edgy Velvet sound. Her arrangements are near-perfect in their punk rock simplicity — not to say her music is simple, but that the overall sound doesn’t shoot for some bullshit pseudo-intellectual angle — it’s just good old rock’n’roll.
She’s been backed by John Cale and the Violent Femmes as well as Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth.
“I felt like I was having a great time with friends when I was in the Velvet Underground. Period,” she says. “It never occurred to me that I was doing anything ‘strange’ or ‘making a statement’ by being a female musician in a band. I loved the music and loved playing, but even during the years we were together I never had it in mind that I was a ‘musician’ or that I would try to make music a career. When the Velvets broke up, I just got a job and never tried to find someone else to play with, because I had no interest in playing with anyone else.”
Her most recent project is a children’s album titled Not Dogs… Too Simple, a collaborative project with Ian Dury (Blockheads), Cindy Wilson (B-52s), and Clay Harper (owner of that famous pizza place in Georgia where everyone who’s anyone in Atlanta’s music scene has either bussed tables, scraped grease from the deep fryer, or just hung out and played gigs for tips), to name just a few. On the album, she plays an innocent housecat that decides to leave the comfort of home to hang out with a group of bad cats. Clay Harper wrote the script, and the entire presentation is just pure genius — the next project planned, with most of the original cast from Not Dogs, is tentatively titled The Slippery Ballerina — Moe plays the title character ballerina, and Ian Dury plays a cat that lives down the street from her.
Some memories of the Velvet Underground/Andy Warhol period are obviously less fond than others for Moe. “I’m all for hanging drug dealers!” she says. “I think it’s astounding that we’ve let the drug problem get soooooo out of hand, and if I were the President, I’d get the damned army out there. When I was younger, I thought that taking drugs was rather a stupid thing to do, but it seems that in those days the whole ‘scene’ was much more personal — you know, people just did their thing and didn’t interfere with society very much. Of course, there were some crimes committed due to drugs (burglary, etc), and there were plenty of lives ruined because of drugs, but the whole thing has become outrageous. Damn, when I was in school I never even heard of drugs, let alone knew where to get some! Now any 8 year old can — what the hell’s going on? Thank God none of my kids have gotten into drugs. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of them has tried pot, but that’s all.
“And no, I don’t think it’s okay to try pot — if for no other reason than it’s against the law!”