“Did my honesty scare you?” asks singer, guitarist and songwriter Chuck Moore on recent single “Las Manos” from debut album Pass Like Pollen. It’s a typically blunt, gloriously forthright moment from an artist priding themself on raw, often painful but certainly therapeutic honesty within the lyrics. It’s kinda always been that way. Back in high school, Moore wasn’t afraid to put themself out there.
“I picked up the guitar and started singing very young,” they say. “I was the kid in high school who brought their guitar to school and played in the halls, playing Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel. Being a little late to class even. Then charming the teachers. Then it came time to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, my heart was set on going to Berklee College of Music in Boston.”
Moore studied music and specifically songwriting, also writing in their room in their spare time. After school, Moore moved to Minneapolis and worked on music licensing there. They returned to Los Angeles in the fall of 2015, and that’s when things started to pick up.
“I started to be really serious about my writing and tried to make it a daily practice,” Moore says. “Like, to wait for that creative streak to hit but to also realize that’s not going to come every time. You need to have some discipline behind your craft. I wanted to get a band together to play these songs. I had a bass player – Dean Kiner – we went to Berklee together. I was in his band when I moved back out here and then I was like, ‘Hey, I want to perform these songs, do you want to play bass in my band?’ Now the lineup is myself, Dean, Chris Geller on drums and Mori Einsidler on guitar.”
Pass Like Pollen is the debut album – nine songs that cover the lyrical gamut of life, love and Los Angeles.
“I went through a breakup like we all do at some point in our lives,” Moore says. “I took the writing as time to reflect and ask myself what I want to hold onto and think that was a good time. More importantly, what are the moments that really shaped me to help me find what I deserve and what I hope for in something new? How you can lose yourself in the swirl of something, and then you’re out of it.”
Moore wrote the songs in 2017 and 2018, bouncing ideas off of close friend Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties. Cartalk simultaneously started playing shows in hip local hotspots such as the Hi-Hat and Harvard & Stone.
“It’s interesting how I’ve been writing forever but these songs were written a few years ago, how it’s new to the world and how it’s going to become a completely different animal than it was when I was sitting in my room,” Moore says. “We did our first tour in January before COVID happened. We did a west coast tour and got hit up by KEXP randomly – that was really fun. We got to play a studio session at KEXP which was one of the coolest things I’ve done in my life and definitely a dream come true. Such kind people who work there. We got home and did the residency at the Satellite in February. We were the last band to do that before the venue had to shut their doors. That was wild. And here we are today.”
Quite. And putting the COVID lockdown to one side, the band is in a great place. The album is gorgeous – really beautiful, vulnerable lyrics and lush, infectious melodies. On Instagram, Moore detailed how they laid the album out on post-it notes to get it just right, while retaining all of the organic honesty. There’s a slight ‘90s alt edge, bringing to mind the likes of the Replacements, Elastica, even the Pixies. Everything is in place, including a strange band name.
“It is not based on the NPR show – I get that a lot,” Moore says. “I walked into the Hi-Hat in Highland Park and didn’t know who was playing, then this band starts and it’s a wall of distortion. One of those shows where you get into the swell of the moment and nothing can break that focus. So I had found my favorite Los Angeles band and they are called Goon. The next week I saw them on the street at Cafe de Leche and I went right up to him and said, ‘Oh my god, my name’s Chuck, I just saw your band at the Hi-Hat, you’re so cool, I would really love to hang out with you. Here’s my number.’”
Moore and Goon frontman Kenny Becker struck up a friendship and would talk for hours in the car.
“I knew this person was going to be a lifelong friend,” Moore says. “Those conversations in your car or those moments alone in your car can be the ones that you never forget. Kind of carry you when you feel lost. They don’t necessarily have to be in the car, but that’s how the name came to be.”
It works; the name is mysterious enough to get new fans guessing but it’s also not particularly obtrusive. The lyrics on the album are where the focus needs to be.
“It’s about picking yourself up after you thought you were finding yourself with somebody else,” Moore says. “To come home to yourself again. Looking at and zeroing in on some of the moments that happened in that relationship. Shining a light on it in my own way, and finding growth. I’m the kind of person where I would rather sit with something and dig through it, and try to find a lesson in there. I’m not gonna cover it with anger or shame. Try to figure out how I can move forward. It’s your choice. Do you want to feel better or not? I can be a melancholy human being, being an artist, and sit with that sadness longer than most, but there’s a lot to be discovered in there.”
That can all be therapeutic to the listener, as it is for Moore. And, while live shows aren’t an option right now, they are finding ways to take that therapy to the people.
“I’m planning on doing livestreams,” Moore says. “Trying to connect with fans. Also I’d love to go live and talk to people. This is my morning cup of coffee. Just try to relate to the folks on the other side. But for the band, I’m currently writing record number two if you can believe it. I’ll be doing some demoing of that and sending it off to the band, and hopefully we can all get in the same room together and try to hash that out.”
Cartalk’s Pass the Pollen is out now.