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Moberlys Still Seeking Own Niche

December 17, 1986|RICHARD CROMELIN

"In the late '70s, new wave or punk could mean anything from Talking Heads to the Split Enz to D.O.A.," observes singer-guitarist Jim Basnight, leader of the Moberlys. "That was a really great time for music, when everything was new, and 'What's gonna happen next?' and anybody could get up there and do something. To me that's what we really stand for. I still think we have that vibe."

"It's funny," adds Moberlys drummer Dave Drewry, Basnight's longtime cohort. "We got lumped in with the pop thing when the pop thing was happening. Now it's like we're thrown in with the company of people like the Bodeans and R.E.M, the roots trip. And we didn't have a lot of kinship with the pop bands when that was happening, and we don't think we have a lot of kinship with the R.E.M. bands and that whole thing. . . . It's tough to find a niche."

Basnight and Drewry met while standing in line for a T. Rex concert in their hometown of Seattle in 1974, and they still talk about music--their own and everyone else's--with the tireless enthusiasm of serious rock 'n' roll fans.

Back in the old days they mainly listened, talked and wrote about it--Basnight even started a fanzine called Chatterbox in high school. Since Basnight formed the Moberlys seven years ago after moving from Seattle to New York, they've been trying to make their own mark.

The band (named--arbitrarily, says the founder--after a Seattle school superintendent) has led a strange, sort of "Twilight Zone" existence, surviving without developing an audience through hard national touring, and with just a few independent record releases.

But in the rock fringes and in the heart of the pop underground, Basnight has managed to maintain his reputation as a proud purveyor of pure pop, with roots in the glam-rock era and traces of other hook-conscious '60s and '70s styles. The authoritative "Trouser Press Record Guide" enthuses in its Moberlys entry, "Clearly in the same class as (the dBs') Chris Stamey and (the Bongos') Richard Barone, Basnight is a startlingly talented power-pop titan. . . . "

After a couple of residencies in New York and returns to Seattle, the Moberlys have settled in Los Angeles, and they're tired of laying the groundwork. Their show at Club Lingerie tonight is intended to inaugurate a new period of higher visibility on the local club circuit, and Basnight says talks with record companies are nearing the payoff point.

Notes Drewry: "We've done the independent thing and we've had lots of offers from independent labels to do records. But I think almost all musicians at one time or another want to sign with a major label. . . . It may sound really cliched or old, but we just want to prove ourselves and who we are. We just want that shot, and we just haven't had the chance.

"I think a key word to describe this band is resilient . I mean, we've been kicked in the teeth and ripped off or screwed over or jacked around. . . . Other bands or club owners or booking agents or management--whoever along the route of a musician's life may have a chance to do something to you, they've done it to us."

Drewry is referring to things like management problems, personnel conflicts in the bands, and one disheartening case of alleged plagiarism by a performer they thought was a true fan. But with the current group that Basnight and Drewry assembled after returning to Seattle from New York in 1983 (guitarist Glenn Oyabe and bassist Toby Keil complete the lineup), they think they have the right combination.

"Since we moved down here our goal has been to do it right," says Basnight, whose Ian Hunter curls betray his early glam-era grounding. "What we want to do right now is make a new record that's really representative of what we're doing. We've been working hard in the studio to get to the point we want.

"We've kind of gotten caught in the middle a lot. A lot of the in-crowd people thought we were too pop, and a lot of the straight ahead major-label types would tell us that you guys should be on an independent.

"We've done all these demos and we know what we want to do on it. It's just a matter of making some decisions as far as who we're going to do it with. . . . I'm glad we're maybe getting our shot now rather than a few years ago like some other bands that didn't really pan out. I'd rather do it now and have it really work than have three albums out on a major with failure written all over them."

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