After years of writing, touring, and establishing a loyal following in the Midwest and beyond, Minnesota Americana songwriter MoeDeLL has been basking in the recent release of his fourth album, Ain’t That Something, which dropped last Friday, May 21st.
This 11-track storyteller’s record was written solely by MoeDeLL, and co-produced with percussionist and background vocalist Mike Lardy. His singles, “Hummin’ Along” and “Cold Side of the Pillow,” preceded the album, and were met with much acclaim and eagerness from his fans to hear the rest of the album- and that wait has since been over.
MoeDeLL’s guitar picking style, poetic lyrics, and seasoned voice are the foundation, and his foot stompin’, down-home melodies tell tales from light to dark. When he first started making music for a living, he received a sage piece of advice from an unknown source: “Play the same quality show in front of 5 people as you would in front of 5,000.” He performs both as a solo artist with his trusty acoustic guitar, as well as with his trio consisting of Tim Sunde on upright bass, and Chris O’Brien on dobro.
A southern Virginia native, MoeDeLL has since relocated to the Minneapolis area, where he’s been sharing his southern roots in Midwest towns through his songwriting. He is widely respected as a hard-grinding artist, as in pre-pandemic years, he trudged his way through roughly 250 shows a year, establishing his chops and showmanship. His hard work has paid off, though, as it earned him nominations for Songwriter of the Year and Americana Artist of the Year at the 2020 Midwest Country Music Association Awards.
As a testament to just how impactful MoeDeLL’s music is within his area, both release shows last weekend (which featured other local fan favorites Barbaro) at The Listening Room in Braham, Minnesota, were sold out not long after it was announced. And with things opening up more and more as we get into summer, you can expect to see him strumming his way through shows far and wide, likely in a town near you.
I had the chance to hop on a phone call with MoeDeLL to discuss his new album, what’s next, and much more.
I was curious as to who or what influenced you to pick up a guitar and start writing songs?
Well there’s nobody musically inclined in my family. I was raised by my mom and my grandparents, who listened to John Haggerty and Johnny Cash. My uncle worked for a guy named Wayne Willis who played bluegrass. I was probably 7 or 8, and Wayne would take me to farmers’ markets and bluegrass festivals; I got very interested in bluegrass and old country. At 9 or 10 I took two weeks of lessons and hated it – I picked up my guitar again a few years later, and just never put it back down.
I was hoping you could talk about your songwriting process. Is it more structured, or more sporadic and whenever and wherever inspiration strikes?
It’s a little random, but I will say, I usually do best in the morning. I wake up and make coffee, grab my guitar, and start noodling. Topics-wise, I’m still influenced by my grandmother who has all these great old Southern sayings, but really, I could be at a grocery store and see the way a mother looks at her son, and something about it resonates with me. I’m very old school- I use pencil and paper, and maybe that’s why my music sounds old school sometimes? (laughs)
What’s the inspiration and influence behind your new album, Ain’t That Something?
I’m from Virginia, living in Minnesota now, and I miss my family a lot. My first two albums, I wrote a lot about home and family. I wrote a good chunk of the album before the pandemic, and when everything closed up I stopped because I almost didn’t want to associate with the pandemic. This album doesn’t have a specific topic, it’s just about situations; it’s the most randomly I’ve written, and it’s the album I’m most pleased with.
How do you know when you have a quality song ready to be cut and distributed?
For the last while, I’ve been really big on lyrics. I’m infatuated with words and phrases, and the puzzle that puts a song together. Lyrically, if I’m proud of it, it’s going to be released, even if the music is so-so. If I’m not sure I might run it by my band, or play it at a show. I love criticism because it helps me grow.
Where did you record the album, and who was involved in the overall project?
I have an upright bassist I’ve worked with for a few years, and a while back, a friend of mine turned me on to Chris O’Brien, who plays the slide guitar. We got along so well, I had to keep him around. We recorded at my producer Mike Lardy’s place in a small town in Minnesota. He is a phenomenal drummer and great producer. I write everything but the guys’ parts; I show them what I have and tell them to play what they feel.
What would you say was the most challenging aspect of writing and recording this album?
This is probably a lame answer, but time management. We didn’t go into the studio as a full unit and start recording, since it was hard to get everyone in the same place at the same time.
What do you most look forward to about getting back to live shows?
At the end of the day, I just love playing. I think we can all get a bit worn out, but I love going somewhere I’ve never been and trying to win over a crowd. It’s a bit scary, but it’s always fun. I also like getting the reaction when I try out new music.
What are one or two pinnacle moments of your career so far?
This is an older thing, but I’ll always be proud of this: I’ve always liked Blind Melon, and I got this weird email inviting me to record a song for a Blind Melon tribute album. It ended up being legit, and for a while there was a vigil for Shannon Hoon with his family. I went to one, and a lady recognized me, and told me Shannon’s mom was looking for me. It was very cool. There are little things too, but that will always stick out to me.
What’s on your agenda in the latter half of the year, post-album release?
My summer, until September is pretty full, playing anywhere from bars, to farmers’ markets, to county fairs.
If you weren’t playing music, what could you see yourself doing?
I might be a cook. I’m an okay cook – I might put myself through school first, but I think that might be kind of fun. (laughs)
What’s a good Minnesota cuisine or Minnesota staple food?
It’s funny, when I first moved here, everyone talked about “hot-dish.” It’s just a casserole. The big one here is tater-tot hot-dish. It’s actually really good.