As I watched The Moxies grace the main stage of the Cleveland Agora on Nov. 20, I realized that nothing else in that moment mattered. I was watching one of the most genuine rock ‘n’ roll bands of our generation captivate an audience and hold them under a spell for the duration of their fleeting set. For the 40-some minutes that The Moxies took over the Agora, I was entranced by the way Marco Ciofani managed to make his guitar growl, releasing a thunderstorm of beautifully belted lyrics, all while dancing on stage and galvanizing the crowd. And I was struck by the way Tyler Adams played the bass like it’s just second nature. The way Adams and Ciofani relate on stage is an entirely different phenomenon that is fascinating to watch.
“Marco brings the energy to the rest of us. He’s dangerous on stage. Watch your back,” Adams said.
I can attest to Ciofani’s ferociousness on stage, but I don’t think Adams needs to watch his back. He and Ciofani play together like they’re brothers, like they’re yin and yang. I’ve been to several of their shows and each time it’s the exact same scenario. They’ll walk on stage, start playing and Ciofani will get worked up. Once Ciofani starts moving around, Adams will follow in pursuit. With the two of them electrifying the stage, it’s only a matter of time before their contagious energy takes over the crowd.
“All it takes is one person,” Ciofani said. “All it takes is one spark — people just don’t want to be the first one.”
With that mentality, Ciofani dances until the crowd gives in. The crowd will dance all night until Ciofani sacrifices himself to them. At their last show, the set ended when Ciofani played the guitar atop the mass of people pushing against the barrier to the stage; other shows have ended with Ciofani simply snapping the strings on his guitar.
The Moxies are such a cohesive unit that calling them by their instrumental designations seems odd. Most bands are known by their vocalist, their guitarist, their bassist and their drummer, but for this trio it doesn’t seem to matter who plays what. They all jam together on stage just as loudly and just as hard as the other. There’s no instrument that overpowers and there’s no person that shines the brightest.
To break the trio down for you, let’s start with the most essential member of any band: the drummer. When Ciofani formed The Moxies in 2011, he asked his friend Kevin Werfield to learn how to play the drums — because a band isn’t a band without a drummer. In 2014, Werfield quit the band, leaving The Moxies drummer-less. When things didn’t work out with Landon Hall, A.J. Wilder stepped in as the third and current drummer for The Moxies. Wilder, other than having an ideal stage name, hails from Iowa and played in another band down in Nashville before lending his hands to The Moxies. Judging from his performance at the Agora on Nov. 20, I would say Wilder knows exactly what he’s doing. Though he hasn’t been with the band for long, it feels like he grew up with Ciofani and Adams. The vibe on stage seemed completely natural; Wilder’s ability to slay his drum kit doesn’t hurt either.
The second member of this power trio is Tyler Adams. When Ciofani wanted to start a band, he promptly recruited Adams and told him to learn the bass. Within a matter of months, Adams learned the bass, dropped out of Kent State University and joined The Moxies full time. Five years and a move to Nashville later, and I would say it was worth it. Like Wilder with his drums, Adams has complete control over the bass. Not many people appreciate the power of the bass guitar, but it’s hard not to appreciate it in The Moxies’s case. First of all, Adams counters Ciofani’s actions on stage so it’s literally impossible not to notice his dirty blond hair moving along with the music. Musically, Adams is hard to ignore as well. With each strum of his bass guitar, Adams lays the foundation for Ciofani while simultaneously adding a layer of complexity to each song. With a standout bassist and drummer commanding both the stage and the recording studio, it becomes easy for Ciofani’s sound to pop.
I asked the guys what they are listening to now, and Ciofani responded to the question enthusiastically.
“I love that question. Did I tell you to ask that question? I tell interviewers to always ask an artist what they’re listening to lately. As a fan of other bands, that’s what I want to know. What is Jerry Lee Lewis listening to in his car? I’ve been listening to a lot of Queens of the Stone Age. They’re just an awesome rock band. No one ever showed me them when I lived up here (in Cleveland). No one was like check these guys out. I heard the name but never investigated it. I couldn’t find out that they were one of the flag leaders of modern day rock ‘n’ roll. They’re a guitar band.”
In addition to appreciating bands with a larger reach, The Moxies are avid supporters of local bands and urge others to support their local bands as well.
“We listen to a lot of Jeff the Brotherhood — get that.” (Marco then proceeds to lean forward and shout into my phone, “Jeff the Brotherhood!”) “They’re a two-piece brother band from Nashville. They’re like hillbilly Black Sabbath, it’s so fucking sweet. We saw them on Halloween night and they came out in these dark wizard outfits. He’s like standing there with his guitar and this wizard hat and cloak. That was my favorite live show in Nashville.”
As for other great shows they went to, Dick Dale and Cage the Elephant were high up on their lists. Worst shows? The band remains nameless, but anything pop-punk is usually not on their list of favorites.
Marco Ciofani’s appreciation for great guitar music is partly what makes him not only the creator and lead vocalist of The Moxies, but above all else, the band’s guitarist. I love Ciofani’s gritty, raw voice; it’s fantastic and it can undeniably carry the complex lyrics that he pens, but when he plays the guitar, he does so much more than just play it.
“When I was 13 years old I said fuck sitting down playing the guitar. I love to dance. I was just in my little basement in my mom’s fiancé’s house and I quit sitting down. It brings energy to what you do,” Ciofani said.
Clearly Ciofani was a genius at the ripe old age of 13, because at this point, he has mastered the art of not sitting down. The amount of passion and energy Ciofani pours into his guitar when he rips it to shreds on stage is enough to bring this inanimate object to life. This intensity became all the more obvious at their most recent show at the Agora. Aside from a few songs, the remainder of their set was comprised of new songs that they’ve been working on in Nashville for the past year. These songs, the songs The Moxies played on Nov. 20, the same songs that will appear on their debut album, are songs unlike anything released this past year, arguably this past decade.
It’s been almost three years since The Moxies released their last EP, so when they previewed some of their new music at the Agora, it only made me hungrier for what’s to come this spring. This album will no doubt be a catalyst for The Moxies; made in Nashville, this album has been touched by tenured pros. Jared Champion, drummer for Cage the Elephant, played drums on three tracks while long-time guitarist for Cage the Elephant, Lincoln Parish, produced and collaborated on the album as a whole. Ciofani and Parish did most of the songwriting, usually with Lightnin’ Hopkins playing in the background (though when I asked if Hopkins’s sound translated onto the album, they said it didn’t).
Unlike a lot of music produced today, this album wasn’t made in a hurry. Parish aptly called the songwriting process “an organic experience — that’s usually when the best stuff comes out.”
When I asked Ciofani what influenced him this time around, his response was very fitting to who he is as a musician: His influence is “Just guitar … Literally just playing the guitar. If there’s one thing I really want to do it’s to bring back guitar. Because I think there’s a space for it. It’s not that cool anymore. You don’t hear shit like Santana anymore, whether you like him or not … I think this generation and the next can really dig it because there’s been a gap in guitar music.”
As far as major differences in this album versus their last EP, both Adams and Ciofani chimed “the groove” in unison. Part of the groove they might be referring to comes by way of the songwriting process.
“Whenever I’m writing a song, if I can’t see some, like, 22-year-old college chick dancing her ass off to it then I’m not doing it right,” Ciofani said. “We want to write a record that is a dance record, you put it on at a party, when you’re driving or when you’re with your friends.” If their performance at the Agora is any indicator of their album, which of course it is, then I would say they nailed it. With the crowd vivaciously dancing to songs about vampire love and their famed “Black Shadow,” I can only imagine what will happen when people get their hands on their entire album.