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The Musical Road Is Lovely, Dark And Deep For Charlotte Band Moa

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Courtesy of the band.
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Charlotte-based band Moa (comprised of Claudio Ortiz, David Driscoll, Chris Walldorf and Lindsey Ryan) contributed music to Netflix documentary series "Night Stalker."

Without a doubt, Charlotte-based band Moa made the most out of 2020. From contributing an original song to the Netflix true crime documentary "Night Stalker" to hosting an eye-catching virtual performance at Charlotte's Neighborhood Theatre and releasing a hauntingly beautiful debut album, the four-piece ambient music group created sparks in a year of such darkness.

"Obviously, what a bizarre world we're living in. All the things that you may have taken for granted, you hopefully won't take for granted anymore: being able to get together with friends, being able to make music and being able to see music."
– Chris Walldorf, drummer for Moa

Interview Highlights:

On transitioning from teaching classical to making contemporary music:

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Daniel Coston
Moa's lead singer and keyboardist Lindsey Ryan performs for the virtual Queen City Streams series at the Neighborhood Theater in 2020.

Lindsey Ryan (lead singer/keyboardist): I loved teaching music. I was trained classically in piano, and I taught classical piano. And as a creative teacher, I also taught a lot of kids with special needs. I wanted every student I met to want to come to the piano and want to have a relationship with the piano, whether it’s by learning classical pieces, songs that they’ve written or even a pop song. I’d always been writing music and trying to learn as much as I could from the musicians in Charlotte.

On the origin of the band Moa:

Ryan: I think that the music that I make and play with Moa has to do with the backstory of how we became a band. Before it was Moa, it was Sam the Lion. And before that, it was called the Sea of Cortez which was an instrumental band that was together ...

Chris Walldorf (drummer): ... for 10 years, I think.

Ryan: And I got to be the keyboardist in the last year that the band was together. Sadly, we lost the founding member, Rodney Lanier. He passed away suddenly.

Walldorf: We took some time off before we jumped back into music as Rodney’s death was pretty traumatic for everyone. We didn’t want to do anything like Sea of Cortez, so the inception [of our new band] was to make quiet music that demanded your attention. I loved the idea of making music that was so quiet, you get everyone’s attention and can hear a pin drop in the crowd.

On producing music for other bands in the region:

Walldorf: I built Sioux Sioux Studio around 2000. I had just gotten out of film school and had moved to Charlotte. It was built out of necessity as there were a lot of studios that looked like spaceships: clean, white and looking immaculate. I always think about the Bob Dylan quote that the best music is made in a house with a dog sitting on the front porch. I always wanted it to feel comfortable, like an old ‘80s basement or cabin.

Ryan: And it’s actually how Chris met me. I was recording solo stuff here, and he invited me to participate with Sea of Cortez. And that’s also how we found Claudio Ortiz (guitarist), who was recording in the studio with CHÓCALA.

On working on (and Moa contributing music to) the January 2020 Netflix documentary series "Night Stalker":

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Daniel Coston
Moa's Chris Walldorf on the drums at the virtual Queen City Streams performance at the Neighborhood Theater in 2020.

Walldorf: I went to film school at North Carolina School for the Arts, and several of us started a production company. One of my good friends Adam Stone had great success as a cinematographer; he shot "Wild Wild Country," "Mud," "Take Shelter" and a bunch of stuff. He was working with a director on an edit, and Adam thought it could be better, so he came to me and asked if I could do it better. I cut it together, Adam sent it along to the director [Tiller Russell] and he loved it. Two or three months later, I got a call from the director and asked me if I could be in Los Angeles in two weeks to do this television show "Night Stalker."

Being an editor, you work with other editors, as well. Someone had started a scene in "Night Stalker" with a song from Vashti Bunyan. I had never really listened to her very much, but her music is beautiful, and one of my favorite shows ("The Patriot" on Amazon) has an intro with her music. So we tried [to get the rights to the song] and went to Vashti Bunyan, and said she would absolutely not have her song -- that she had written about her first love -- be in a show about a serial killer. There was a magic in that song that I wanted to recreate, so that led to us doing it. I knew someone with a sweet and haunting voice, so I called Lindsey.

Ryan: I remember Chris described the song as happy, sort of bouncy, a love song with a slightly creepy edge. And that’s all I really went with when I sat down and tried to come up with the feel. It’s a love song that’s a little bit bizarre, and I got the green light to write a vocal melody to it. I think we did it all within 24 to 48 hours. And Chris called not long after and said they liked it! I was shocked because, in this business, you try things and never know if it will get a bite or not. I was happy. It was such a shining light in a dark period of time, right when the pandemic was doing its thing. So we’re grateful for the opportunity.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Moa - “Birds Awake at Dawn”
Moa - “Hardest Part”
Moa - “Gamelan”
Moa - “American Life”
Moa - “Under Your Skin” from Netflix's Night Stalker (with production help from Buckingham Television Inc.)
Moa - “Moth Man”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).