Love ballads, boyish harmonies, and a single acoustic guitar — four albums along, with numerous side projects such as Sandycoates bringing up the rear, the Moore Brothers obviously have a sweet streak that’s miles wide and filled with melodies as creamy as custard pie and as dreamy as those steamy, leisurely days of teenage summer.
But even dark thoughts dog nice guys, diligent students, and upstanding Joes like Greg and Thom Moore, holding court on a sunny day at a corner table, next to a picture of Jack London, in Mama Buzz’s concrete backyard. Behold the smiling, prone girl lying in the snow on the cover of their beautiful new album, Murdered by the Moore Brothers (Plain). Cock an ear toward the dulcet numbers within, eerie narratives populated with drowned pals ("Old Friend of Mine"), spiteful lovers ("Fresh Thoughts of You"), cemetery lovers ("Bury Me under the Kissing Teens"), and "good deaths" ("Pham"). Even idle bird-watching has a soft veneer of creepy claustrophobia ("The Auditorium Birds"), counterpointing the Moores’ delectable vocals.
What did we do to deserve this? "Lyrically, it is probably the darkest Moore Brothers record," Thom, 32, confesses. "But it also seemed like a nice idea coming out after Now Is the Time for Love, a more holding-hands record. This could be too, but it’s a little more sinister."
"Like holding a severed hand," Greg, 35, chuckles.
Additionally, Thom says, "We’ve got gothic roots." He goes on to describe his first concert as a 12-year-old, accompanying Greg to the Cure’s 1986 Standing on the Beach stop at the LA Forum. The young brothers watched, horrified, as a man in a cowboy hat, standing on a chair, committed suicide by stabbing himself with a huge dagger as an enormous crowd encircled him. "It really scarred me for life!" Thom says. "I thought, I’m never gong to see another concert again unless it’s the Dream Academy!"
So when Thom found himself thumbing through a book of folk songs, looking for numbers for his next side project, Chicken on a Raft, and he came across one titled "Murdered by a Brother," he knew it would be perfect for the Moore Brothers’ next release. "It’s so mean! It’s awful," he says, smiling. They decided to go with it, although their mother — and Girl George, their "punk rock mother," in charge of the Starry Plough open mic — hated it. The former "is afraid someone will murder us," Thom explains. "She said, ‘What if someone sees the album and wants to murder you or wants to implicate you in a murder?!’"
What if? Family bands — and particularly brother bands like the Moore Brothers’ faves the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees, and the Everly Brothers — have always hit a powerful, resonant chord in our pop imaginations, touching off daydreams of thick-as-thieves musical togetherness and nightmares of creepy, smothering … togetherness. After all, the pair does at times finish each other’s sentences, and as Thom offers, their mother can’t tell the two apart on the phone. No wonder rumor in local music circles has it that not only do the Moore Brothers share a house (where, in fact, until recently, songwriting legend Biff Rose couch-surfed), but also a room, an idea that strikes them as natural and practical, although the siblings really haven’t shared a bedroom since they were kids. Back then, though, that closeness played as important a role in their musical development as the obligatory piano lessons. Greg says: "I’d hear all his records, and he’d hear all my records."
"Even back then, we were forced to take turns," Thom continues. "So nowadays we take turns with the set list and album song order — pretty much everything." That sense of fair play extends to their track on the largely acoustic new Kill Rock Stars comp, The Sound the Hare Heard, which was decided with a flip of a coin.
Still, the close living arrangements eases the Moore Brothers’ existence in more ways than one: Songwriters since youth (Thom started writing songs at 10 with Jon B, who later collaborated with Babyface), the pair never needs to rehearse, and they dispense with chitchat during long drives on tour, instead sharing a friendly silence as a CD plays.
And, of course, they’ll always be there for each other. "Things come and go in cycles," Thom says. "The good thing about us is that we’re planning to do it forever.
"We still have hopes for being hip in our 50s." SFBG>
With Rose Melberg, the Harbours, and the Lonelyhearts
Tues/16, 9 p.m.
155 Fell, SF