by Adam McGrath
“I’m a blues man; all I got are stories.” ~ Pierre Moore
For Pierre Moore, songwriter and vocalist of Philly-based band John the Conqueror, making music is about telling his own story. Pulling from his experiences growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, Moore tells it like it is, avoiding metaphor in favor of personal truth. Considering the band’s name is borrowed from an African-American folk hero, it’s interesting that he seeks out a person instead of a legend. As John the Conqueror gets ready to release their second album (The Good Life, Alive Naturalsound Records) Moore speaks to That Mag about his approach to songwriting, learning to play guitar on the fly, and how he has evolved since the first self-titled album.
John the Conqueror came into being when Moore and fellow Ole Miss dropout Michael Gardner moved to Philadelphia following a stint playing music in Atlanta. They met and became fast friends with Ryan Lynn, and were rehearsing together within weeks. All were fans of classic southern rock and blues, but were still learning their instruments.
Moore explains, “The first album, we were all very new with our instruments. When we made that album, I had been in front of the microphone singing for less than a year and a half, Mike had been playing drums and Ryan had been playing bass for about the same amount of time, so we weren’t as adept at our instruments as we are now. For this new album we tried to step it up and craft better songs.”
Regardless of experience, the songs on John the Conqueror’s debut album have an immediacy and passion that pulls the listeners into Moore’s fast, loud, and sometimes troubled world. Songs like “Southern Boy” and “Say What You Want” combine guitar rock with blues inflections, and paint a picture of a man barreling his way through life towards we know not what.
Speaking of his songwriting process, Moore says, “It all starts with a drumbeat from Mike. That’s how every song starts. As for lyrics, though, I kind of have this ethos where every song we write has to be a personal story of ours. A lot of the verses are straightforward storytelling, like country music of the ’40s, so I’m just trying to tell a linear, succinct story.
“This album has pretty much the same instrumentation, though Ryan’s cousin Steve, who introduced us in the first place, plays keys on a couple of songs. There are a few more counter melodies with the guitar lines, but really it’s just better songs.”
Fans of the band will be able to hear some of the new songs live for the first time on Friday, December 20, at Boot and Saddle on South Broad Street. John the Conqueror headlines with support from Thee, Idea Men and La Capitana.
Getting back to the idea of storytelling, myth, and truth, Moore says that his philosophy on writing crystallized when reviews of the first album came in. “We were reading a review of the first album,” he explains, “and the author seemed to think we were making up a bunch of stuff, and that made us think more about the myth of John the Conqueror, like maybe it was based on a real person, and some of the things that happened just seemed larger than life.
“A song on this album, ‘She Said,’ is me talking about [getting high] with a 19-year-old girl that I just met that night. It’s something that happened, and people take it as I’m trying to sound badass, but I’m just writing shit that I know. I’m a blues man; all I got are stories.”
The songs on The Good Life include reflections on Moore’s life in Philly, a city he has come to consider his home. “We love Philly,” he says. “Me and Mike always wanted to leave the south and see a different part of the country. We’ve been in Philly close to five years, and don’t have any plans to leave.”
On his first steps into the city’s music scene, Moore reminisces, “We loved playing Dobbs. We didn’t have very much experience, so we were kind of making up for lost time. It really helped us. At first, I didn’t want to be the singer of this band. I used to have severe stage fright. In our band back in college, I had to get so drunk to get on stage that I would fall off it. Now, though, it’s fun. I actually like it.”
As for fellow musicians in the city, Moore proclaims, “I can pretty much speak for the whole band when I say our favorite Philly band is Levee Drivers. They were the first band we saw live when we moved here. August [John Lutz II] has that real deep, masculine voice that I love.”
The U.S. release date for John the Conqueror’s new album The Good Life is in March, but it will be released in Europe in January as the band embarks on a month-long continental tour. As to why the differing release dates, Moore says, “Honestly, it’s a function of me being slow as hell. I missed pretty much every deadline that possibly could have existed. Patrick [Boiselle] at Alive Records has been really, really nice and understanding working with me time-wise.”
John the Conqueror is bringing a much-needed dose of southern blues-rock to the Philadelphia music scene, and fans of bands like The Black Keys and The White Stripes should make it a point to come out to Boot and Saddle Friday night for a taste of what’s to come from this fiery trio.