May 16, 2013
On August 24, 2001, a music review by Tony Hicks in The Contra Costa Times reported on the overnight success of the Moss brothers: Reuben, 12, and Evan, 15. The night before they’d been the opening act at the Fillmore in San Francisco for a four-day rock music festival called Nadine’s Wild Weekend.
As the reviewer exclaimed, “Opening a big club showcase at the storied Fillmore, girls screaming and peeling off their unmentionables to fire at Reuben, an endorsement from a major guitar manufacturer by the time he was 10 — do these kids from Piedmont even get how big this is?”
The short answer is, for Reuben at least, he did and he didn’t.
“The ‘Moss Brothers era’ lasted from about 1999 to 2003; I was about 9 to 13. It ended when I started high school; my brother the drummer was getting serious about college applications and our bass player moved to Italy. Nothing bitter, dramatic, or rockstar-esque about the ending, unfortunately. I went on to play in various bands throughout high school and focus on classical composition.”
In the Moss Brothers era, Reuben reminded people of Harry Potter. He wore round glasses and came across as nerdy and perhaps haughty. He went to the Crowden School (1998-2003), and by day played the violin, but with no particular passion for classical music, save the likes of Shostakovich. Still, he remembers the school fondly, particularly his violin teacher, Erika Miranda, and of course, Ann Crowden herself.
“She had an intimidating presence, and I remember one day I was in sixth grade in a string quartet. It may have been a Haydn piece and on the surface it seemed very simple. I was at a stage in my life when I figured that my biggest obligation and goal, was to get the notes right and play rhythmically and on time, and so I completely missed out on what was going under the music. But I looked around and I saw these other kids were struggling just to get the notes right. So I ripped on that and she chewed me out.”
“She’s the one that taught me to compare myself to my potential, not to other people.”
Reuben went on to Piedmont High and Stanford where he majored in music composition. When we reached him the other day, he had recently moved back to Piedmont from Los Angeles, where he’d been teaching music and briefly played in a band. “It didn’t work out,” he said. “One of the dudes bailed.”
These days he’s got a full time job with an SAT tutoring service, and is gradually trying to work his way back to writing music. He’s also been working with his mother on a soundtrack to accompany a book project.
If he could do anything, “in a perfect world”, as he puts it, he would write music for soundtracks, and do some commercial scoring. But it’s difficult. His time is mostly spent and his creative batteries have curiously run down.
In his days as a rockstar, Reuben found it easy to write lyrics. He wrote about a guy who watched so much TV his brain rotted; or about cheating on a test. He got ideas from passing ironies and things overheard. He didn’t write about women because he didn’t know them and he thought that was trite.
And what would he write about now? He’s caught in a thicket; there’s nothing from the heart to express. “I don’t want to sound trite on the one hand or pretentious on the other.”
And there’s another obstacle. He feels the need for more technical expertise. “I need more knowledge of how to record myself,” he said. “The art of recording feels like a foreign language. In the past, people were always helping me, but now it’s time to do this myself.”
A need for independence perhaps? He agreed that was true. And the need for a venue, for a reason to get rolling again. He agreed that was true, too.
“It’s a matter of taking myself seriously as an adult,” he said, not a little wistfully, at the thought of how much success he had at 12 and the notion that somehow he should have converted that into something more than he did or could.
And how might he advise kids at Crowden who are interested in going on with music and not necessarily classical music?
“I would stick with classical training. It doesn’t obligate you and if you’re interested in some other music form, like rock ‘n roll, it guarantees that what you produce will have more breadth and depth. Of course, middle school is middle school and it can be horrible; people know every detail about you and they judge you relentlessly. But finally it’s just a crazy good experience. I’m happy I did it and I never regretted it.”