A promotional blurb for pop duo Moes Haven calls them “the greatest songwriters of the 21st Century.” Whatever the veracity of that claim, their collaboration is certainly prolific. Matt Farley and Tom Scalzo have written countless songs and released more than 25 albums together — and that doesn’t even count the 24-disc album with a runtime of a full day they made in college. In 2006, they wrote and recorded a 30-minute record for every day of the year, later distilling their massive output into a best-of collection for each month.
Most bands toil in the trenches, playing out and trying to earn enough money to record their music. Moes Haven, on the other hand, has done all of three live shows — they don’t have enough time to leave the studio. The reason is sheer volume, says Farley.
“The theory is if you write 100 songs, one or two will be good,” said Farley recently by telephone. Farley’s solo recordings take the idea to another level entirely. He’s put out more than 100 one-off collections dedicated to sports, celebrities and other buzzworthy topics. Typically clocking in at under two minutes, these songs are the musical equivalent of amusement park caricature portraits — not masterpieces, but clever nonetheless. He claims online sales of more than 50,000 tracks.
As the star-obsessed Papa Razzi and the Photogs, Farley’s penned tributes to everyone from Scarlett Johansson to J.D. Salinger, while a Boston Baseball Band song praises Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury for “hitting homers, staying out of trouble and stretching singles into doubles.” He’s not all about the home team, either — most any city with a halfway successful franchise gets the treatment. For example, “Scott Rolen and The Reds are Rollin’” greeted the Cincinnati ball club’s sudden success last year.
Everyone is potential Farley song fodder. He once wrote about a television reporter who had him as a guest on a newsmagazine show — during the interview.
An album of first-name-specific birthday songs, organized like a novelty store license plate rack, was ready-made for iTunes, says Farley: “I’ve done 1,650 of them since June. It’s very monotonous; it’s the same song with a different name. I’ve gotten to the point where I can do 100 in a day.” To extend the joke, he’s about to create a competing band, singing a different birthday song. “So if they don’t like the Family Party Song Singers, they can buy the other one — it will still be me,” he says, laughing.
But for all Farley’s comical commerce instincts — he’s a regular denizen of the weekly Shaskeen open-mike standup night — the latest Moes Haven release, Stromboli’s Alarm Clock, is a serious work, full of well-crafted, offbeat pop tunes.
“For the Moes Haven albums, we consider ourselves artists; everything else is complete hack. We write songs based solely on how much money they’ll earn,” Farley says. “This is the first time we consciously decided we would spend three years writing songs and recording them and then spend another year going back and finding which songs are the best ones, fixing them up and re-recording them, putting a little more care into the production and getting everything just right.”
Farley and Scalzco met at Providence College in the mid-’90s; both were English majors with a love of cranking out songs.
“At college we’d do an album over the weekend,” says Farley. But Moes Haven (a misspelled mashup tribute to Mose Allison and Richie Havens) is a more careful endeavor drawn from the their appreciation of songwriters like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Tom Waits.
“Tom and I discovered that music in college, we saw Dylan in concert, got all his albums,” says Farley. “The images he conjures up are kind of comical, but he says it with a straight face.” Moes Haven achieves that balance on “I Am Leaving Town in 90 Days,” blending a David Byrne literalism into a melancholy love song. It’s both goofy and plaintive, as is the Billy Joel-esque “Sometimes Stars Just Cross.” On “Tin Roof Tap Dance,” an infectious hook and smart lyrics combine for a two-minute gem, led by a tinkling piano hook lifted from the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park.”
It’s not all serious. “My Goldfish Dead” sounds pretty much the way a song with a title like that should sound, while “Daylight Savings” will bring a laugh from anyone who’s wondered what to do with the extra hour when the clocks fall back. “I think you can be unusual and slightly quirky, yet beautiful at the same time,” Farley says.
Though radio airplay or blog reviews would be great, they realize it’s an uphill battle. “We’re still living the dream from college,” says Farley. “It’s a losing battle when you’re just two guys making music in a basement, trying to share it with the world. It’s either pathetic or inspiring — one of those two.”