After a cancer-forced hiatus, the group is rejuvenated for the next chapter in their storied, nearly 30-year career

Red Rocks Amphitheatre | July 12

moe. feature marquee magazine

By Sarah Baranauskas

“When I was going through treatment, I just started writing,” said Rob Derhak, whose meaty, melodic bass lines form the thunderous heart of moe. “I realized that time is kind of short so, whenever you have an idea, get it down. A lot of times you get caught up in everyday life and you have an idea for a song but it’s not convenient so you don’t put it down. The way I look at things now is, I try to get the most out of every day and if I have an idea, I just jot it down.”

Last July, Derhak was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer. The band made an announcement that they were going on an indefinite hiatus while Derhak went through treatment.

“It turned out, while the band had downtime, I wasn’t the only one writing,” Derhak said during a recent interview with The Marquee. “The rest of the band was writing too. So we have turned out a bunch of new songs. When we got together and worked on them, we weren’t even able to get through half the new material that we have.” Not surprisingly, they’re hoping to get into the studio “sometime this winter” to record an album with all of this new output.

Although his cancer diagnosis was a heavy dose of the human realities that exist beyond music, it also demonstrated the close-knit relationship of the band — and for that matter, its fans. Derhak has since rallied back, and the band and community around them has rallied along with him. This uncertain period in the band’s history has now turned into the fuel that is firing them into the next chapter of their nearly 30-year career.

moe.’s comeback shows at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York in February set the tone for this return. Derhak recalls those shows with deep gratitude.

“It’s impossible to describe,” he recalled. “The amount of support I got from so many people made that night hugely emotional. Pete Shapiro, the owner [of the Capitol]had this giant banner made up for us, and everyone working at the theater had ‘Welcome Back Rob’ t-shirts. My thirteen-year-old daughter was bawling when we came on stage. I wasn’t crying because it was just the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. There was so much love directed all in one spot. Every show has just been this continuation of that energy. It hasn’t really faded.”

The band will carry that energy to their first ever Red Rocks headlining on July 12. While moe. has often played the opening slot for other headliners, this time they will be owning the stage.
“This is one of the biggest things in our career so we’re really, really pumped for this. To be able to play a full moe. show in that environment — we’re just so psyched about it,” Derhak says with infectious excitement. “We’re going to take every opportunity to capitalize on this. We’re going to try and come up with the best show we can. We just did a show with our lighting crew at Summer Camp, and between the moving lights and projection, visually it’s just insane, and we’re bringing the same set up for that. There’s going to be projection on the rocks. It’s going to be really cool.”

Whether it’s a festival stage, sweaty theater or the hallowed Red Rocks, moe. taps into a collective connection when they step on stage.

“When we’re playing, its almost automatic,” Derhak said. “There’s some brain somewhere on stage and we’re just like synapses firing to it. I think the music is just the brain. You know, a lot of people use that term ‘channeling’ but for me it seems more like a connectivity between us, making it happen. Like a lot of jambands say ‘We’re channeling the groove from the crowd.’I don’t see it exactly like that. If there’s energy from people there that’s great and very helpful, but there’s definitely something else happening where we’re creating an energy that’s simultaneously manifesting itself.”

This manifests in fierce rock and roll and deep explorations that travel from grimy darkness to ethereal light. But what marks moe.’s music is that it never sacrifices a genuinely warm character for the sake of mere technical prowess. The brain and heart work in tandem in this band. And, to create that on-stage environment, open communication off-stage is essential.

“One of the things we’ve been able to do is deal with constructive criticism, which comes from being open in how we communicate with each other,” Derhak explained. “We’re all very close. At this point, we’ve been through so much together that it’s pretty hard to break us apart. When we were younger we’d sometimes argue about stuff, whether it was important or not. But now we’re so close it doesn’t matter. We can say what we want, being respectful of each other and our feelings, but also being open to criticism. No one is perfect and everyone has a valid point.”

The band has an ethos of complete presence every time they step on stage. This seems even more deeply felt in light of the band’s journey over the last year.

“I say to the guys before we go on stage, everything we do, embrace every single thing, every note, every movement we have on stage,” Derhak said. “Because it’s not just important to us, it’s important to a couple that got a babysitter that night, who haven’t seen a live show in a year because somebody has been out of work. Don’t cheat them. Always be focused on the moment. It doesn’t matter what happened early in the day, it doesn’t matter what will happen later in the day. All that matters is what happens while we’re playing. Even if we’ve done a song 5,000 times, we can be in that moment and try and create something new.”

Red Rocks Amphitheatre | July 12

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