Anteaters, Pancakes, and Ricky Skaggs: A Chat With Unconventional Nashville Folk Songwriter Riley Moore & Look At His New Single ‘Mansion’

Have you ever stumbled upon a song with lyrics that made you ache with their raw, baring sincerity? Well, that’s basically what you get with Nashville folk songwriter Riley Moore’s entire discography.  

As a raised Nashvillian and established singer-songwriter, Moore is known for his refreshingly authentic take on life’s candid affairs. His 2018 debut album Vagrant, that compared him to the likes of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, received wide commendation from a multitude of outlets including Billboard, Wide Open Country, Atwood Magazine, and Folk Radio UK. Moore has played festivals and venues across the country, including Philadelphia Folk Fest, Providence Fringe, New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall, and Music City Roots; he has shared the stage with everyone from Charlie Parr to Shakey Graves. His following continues to grow, and there seems to be no sign of it stopping any time soon- and we aren’t complaining.

With lyrics soaked in charm and a sharp wit that might as well sweep you off your feet, it’s almost too easy for Moore to leave you transfixed by his plain as day transparency. He is quite the storyteller, reflecting on nostalgic memories and unfeigned confessions that emphasize just how okay it is not to take yourself, or life, so seriously all the time. Playful and buoyant. Tender and organic. Moore expertly melts your heart until it’s a puddle on the floor; a marvelous mess left right beneath your feet. 

After two years, Moore has finally released a new single for a new era. “Mansion,” which was released on Oct. 2nd, is what Moore has described to be his favorite song he’s ever written. It also features the soothing drawl of fellow Nashville-based songwriter Molly Pardon. The song is your classic and widely relatable take on what it feels like to have a massive crush on someone that you are fairly certain will amount to an unrequited resolution. This might seem a bit melancholic, but Moore manages to flavor in a dash of youthful humor brought out in lines like, “You hit me like a dead end street” that make you swoon without restraint.

We took it upon ourselves to learn more about Moore (*ba dum tss*), what music means to him, and… something about an anteater?

Let’s rewind to the beginning. How did you first get into writing and playing music?

When I was well in my youth, there were two guys a bit older than me who I remember being influences on my interest in learning to play guitar and write songs. One of them was the son of a woman who worked with my father. I don’t remember his name but we became friends. This is when I was very young–6 or 7. He told me about this Christian rock band called Bleach that I grew obsessed with, and then he gave me my first acoustic guitar which came from… the Christian Rock Band Bleach! I guess they had given it to him and he re-gifted it–pretty funny and cool for me.

The other fellow was named Jed Bulla. Jed and I went to church together and I thought he was the coolest kid ever. He was a good bit older than me but was always so nice to me and made feel much cooler than I was. Jed came from a very musical family and I believe he actually played fiddle some with Ricky Skaggs as a teen. He was my first guitar teacher. Sadly Jed died when he was still young, so now I try to be nice to people and get better at music in his honor. 

So those are sort of my first tastes and what kind of got me onto being an acoustic guitar strummer, ha, but I was lazy and put it down ’till high school. At that time I took a few more lessons and started writing songs. I never really had interest in learning to play the songs of other people, as soon as I knew enough chords–when I was about 14 or 15, I just wanted to write my own songs and started to do that. The first song I wrote was a worship song called “How Wonderful.” It was very simple and bad but as anyone who has turned on a Christian radio station in the past decade would understand–it actually would have held its own in the genre! 

What is it about your music that excites you most?

Few things excite me more than writing a song. I love the act of creating–filling empty spaces with new, fresh things. Every line of every verse I am writing is a blank canvas. The idea that I can create an entire song of word patterns and messages and rhymes and innuendos and imagery and emotion that no one ever knew was going to exist is wildly exciting to me. It goes from my shower or interstate drive or neighborhood stroll into my phone and onto my guitar and then into a studio and who knows where it may go from there and who it may reach and how it may make them feel? Wow! That’s exciting! What’s more exciting than that?! Tell me! 

There’s something about your songwriting that is very charming. Can you give us a run down on your songwriting process? Does writing come easy for you?

Wow, thank you! I sometimes feel strange putting it that way, but yes, I would say that it does come very easily for me. The majority of the songs that end up feeling good and meaningful to me–and therefore the ones I choose to perform and record–begin with little thoughts and ideas that just sort of float into my head. Sometimes some strange phrase will just start showing itself to me on a drive or in the shower and I’ll just hear it melodically over and over so I’ll start to sing it, and if I like it, I’ll just tack another part onto it, and if I still like that I’ll give it a voice memo. At that point, it’s either forgotten for many months or forever, or if I’m in the right state of mind, and really, really liked it, I’ll typically knock that song out in several quick solo writing sessions over the next day or so. It’s not typical for me to spend more than an hour working on songwriting at one time. It starts to feel unenjoyable and the magical words tend to stop falling into place. I like to devote just enough time at the right times to catch those words and I usually don’t question them or edit them very much. If I like them, I like them, if I don’t, I leave them and move on. Melodically my songwriting is limited by my limited skill as a guitar player, but that doesn’t slow me down too much and I’ll change that if and when I need to, I’m sure. 

During quarantine, people were able to buy custom songs from you to post on your Instagram (that’s so sick!). Do you find that you write more stories about yourself or stories of other people? A mix of both maybe?

That was incredibly fun and enriching as an opportunity to stretch myself as a songwriter and also to connect with people in ways I don’t normally get to! I’m so grateful to everyone who bought a custom song and also everyone who listened to any of them!

Outside of that particular endeavor, I write significantly more songs that are largely autobiographical. I spend a good deal of time pondering and feeling things about my own life (often far more than I would desire) so it just stands to reason that most of the thoughts I channel into song are thoughts about my own adventures in love, life and the pursuit of Spotify streams. I have also found that people tend to connect a good deal with songs that are intensely autobiographical and specific to my life. It seems strange but I think people can feel authenticity or emotion or both and when they see it in someone else, like when someone else is being honest and vulnerable with them, it unlocks a thing in their head or heart that allows them to connect, and that feels good. I guess it is the same sort of concept that builds connection in friendship and relationship as well. People want you–they don’t want fake you or you being them, or you being 20th century cowboy (lol, East Nashville). I mean I guess some people do like that stuff too, but I generally don’t.

My song “Pancakes and M&Ms” is an example of this. It is truly just a list of very specific things about my childhood that really only relate to me and my close kin. The lyrics are about having green pancakes with M&Ms, shaking hands with Robert Redford, the names and ages of my three brothers, the name of our dog and the specific day he died, catching crawdads and our father wearing a lab coat–incredibly specific and seemingly non-relatable–but everyone likes that song the most and tells me it makes them cry and makes them feel nostalgic–nostalgic because of MY boyhood–how funny and nice! Pretty cool! 

In what ways do you think this time has challenged (or not challenged) you creatively, and how did you deal (or not deal) with it?

Well, I think that the custom song project I did was a challenge at times because I had to write within the parameters someone else gave me. A bit less freedom. It’s certainly more challenging for me to write a song if I don’t feel connection or have much knowledge about the subject. I had to write two songs to help this person study for their wine exam so I had to study the specific notes for that portion of their wine course so that I would be able to write an accurate song. That one was extremely challenging. 

Beyond that, it has been challenging to not be able to travel as much, or to see as many people. As an extrovert that just makes me feel gloomy at times which makes it hard to find the joy and motivation to create. I’ve been able to go on a few trips to see different scenery and am actually spending some time in New York City now. This is a really hard time for everyone. At this point I think one of the best things to do is remind oneself that it is temporary and life will be bright and unmasked once again, just grip the rails and hang on! Then sanitize! 

So your new single “Mansion”… a girl you like, a t-shirt, an anteater. Care to explain?

Sure! I met a girl by playing a house show at her house and developed a very significant crush on her pretty much that night. She was lovely to see and to speak with and we connected on a great deal of things. She showed me her Instagram page of weird children’s type scribblings and illustrations she had done and I just loved all of them and connected very deeply with them. Some are so profound that they encouraged me on an emotional and spiritual level. Anyway, I looked at all of them that night and really felt things for her. Despite at least a bit of returned interest, circumstances guided us to a “just friends” type friendship that has grown from afar over a couple of years.

Very early on in that time, I was killing some time in Boulder, Colorado while my mates we’re at a wedding I had not been invited to. I found, in a Salvation Army store, a very cool and funny t-shirt with a strange drawing of an anteater slurping up some ants on the front of the shirt. The ants, terrified, are running away and yelling “Yikes!” There is a little non-smoking sign with an ant inside the circle instead of a cigarette and it says “UGS Bug Bash 2006.” I knew the girl would love this strange shirt so I bought it for her. Then I walked to a park nearby and sat down with some bums in the grass and wrote Mansion! I gave the shirt to the girl recently and she liked it! 

“Few things excite me more than writing a song…What’s more exciting than that?! Tell me!”

You’ve actually been singing it live for a couple years now. Was there something that kept you from releasing a produced version sooner?

Yes! All of the shows during which I was singing it live! That’s truly why–I was having so much fun touring, and it felt like the right thing for me to do as much as I could to help sharpen my chops and meet some new folks around the country, I just wasn’t in any rush to record new things. 

Other than this song, is there anything else your listeners can expect to come out soon?

Yes! I am releasing heaps of songs over the coming months. I actually have a weird and funny song that I wrote recently about The Travis Scott Burger meal at McDonald’s. I’m using that song to debut my second artist account which I am calling “song boy.” That song will come out sometime before October is done! Then on November 6th, “Stones”–the second single of my upcoming EP will arrive! That is a song I wrote a few years ago but didn’t have a recorded version I was pleased with until now. I am very pleased with this version and I admit I think it is a beautiful song–it’s about treating other people the right way and also taking down walls. 

What has been your proudest moment so far in your career? 

I am probably picking the wrong one considering I walked an entire 1600 mile tour on foot and played to a sold out Nashville crowd after walking back into town, but the proudest moment of my career was when I got an email from Spotify for Artists telling me they loved my song “Pancakes and M&Ms” and added it to Kaffeehausmusik, an German coffee house playlist. I just had learned from other artists that that email moment existed and had sort of day dreamed of the moment I may receive one. I never expected my first album to land me on an official playlist, but it did and I yelled alone in my car driving to a show in Alabama. I’m so proud of that and grateful for that. It really gave me the confidence and a bit of momentum to throw all my chips in to trying to make a career of this. 

What do you hope to accomplish as an artist in the next three or four years?

That feels like a lot of years to me so I will be disappointed if I have not accomplished a great deal in that time. I feel that I was a little late to start really having a go at this so I’ve been trying to work really hard to catch up for lost time and put myself in a secure position as soon as I can. What I mean by this is I want to have hundreds of thousands of online listeners and I want to be able to pack out small venues around the world, then I want to grow the listeners and grow the venues. The reason I want this–apart from just the thrill–is to be able to provide for myself and also be in a comfortable position to become someone else’s partner in life and love. Would love to be married! And I don’t want to be the bane of some father-in-law because I can’t pay my own rent and don’t have insurance. I think I have a different attitude toward music than a lot of people and maybe than how people want it to be, ha. But I don’t mind that. Maybe the reason I write songs is because I love it and no other potential work seems else seems as enjoyable to me, but since it has become my job–I treat it like that. I treat it like a business and I want to find ways to grow my business and increase my income because I must! 

What that ought to look like in practice is writing many new songs each year. I don’t really have a writing schedule or anything, but I’ve found that life sends me waves when many new songs come in and I usually like a lot of them. I’m happy to be in one of those waves right now. Those seasons are followed by piecing together an album and starting work on being able to bring that into the world. I like the idea of continuing to toss a few singles and EPs in between albums. I would say in the next three to four years, I’ll aim to release two albums and at least one more EP (after sweet boy) in between. I’m extremely excited for what will be my next album. There are a number of songs I know will go on it that I really believe in and really enjoy, I’m very excited to figure out a producer and a band and bring them to life! 

I am also excited to tour again as soon as we part ways with Covid-19. I’m happy to take a break from it now, but would like to return to a heavy schedule of touring the U.S. but also beginning to make some moves towards Europe. I have a lot of German listeners and recently joined up with a booking agency there so I have a German tour to look forward to at least! Sorry this answer feels long, but like I said I wish to do a great deal in 4 years. The short answer is I feel like I’ve signed a minor league contract with a ball club and I think I’m doing well enough to slowly move up from single A to double A etc, and in the next three to four, I hope to get the call up to the big leagues–if we can pretend that being a folk musician is being a ball player. I love baseball. 

And lastly, what do you hope your listeners will take away from your music?

I guess I hope different things for different songs. I’m trying to think of an overarching impact I’d hope may come from my songs in general. I think that is being present and honest with themselves and with others. When people feel sad, I hope they tell someone they feel sad. When they are happy, I hope they let themselves feel happy and share it with those around them. I hope my love songs may help them feel more in love, when they are in love, or hopefully long to be when they are not–that’s how they make me feel. I have felt loneliness a lot in my life–I think the most once I started touring full time. I know that is going to make its way into some of my songs and I’m sure it has already. I hope those songs help people feel a sense of unity, and perhaps less alone. But I also hope those types of songs may help people to come to grips with how they feel and begin to process and try to figure out ways to change whatever situations may be contributing to such a challenging feeling. I suppose I hope my music makes people feel hope!

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