Q & A

Making life better via music is goal of Moonalice

Roots-rock psychedelic quartet Moonalice is composed of music veterans, most with connections to members of the Grateful Dead -- not the least of which is band manager Big Steve Parish, longtime Dead road associate/ family member and best friend of Jerry Garcia. Guitarist/singer/songwriter Roger McNamee (you know, the tech investor/venture capitalist/TV expert who also happens to be a rocker?) was kind enough to share some thoughts with The Beat.

The Beat: Have you always played music? It seems like a dream "second career."

McNamee: I have always played music. I have performed in serious bands since college, and have performed continuously throughout my day job career. My wife and I have been married 31 years with no kids and no golf -- we have lots of free time! Music was key to my success as a tech investor. Whenever tech people got together in the '80s, they had a jam session. As a veteran of happy-hour gigs, I knew hundreds of songs, way more than anyone else. That is how I met Paul Allen, Philippe Kahn and dozens of other key players in the PC business.

TB: Tell me about Moonalice.

RM: In 2006, I was working on a music industry project with Bono and the legendary producer T Bone Burnett. The project was killed at the last second and T Bone insisted that I form a new band and demonstrate how technology could be used to make a band successful. T Bone produced our first CD.

Moonalice is not a business. Our goal is to make the world a better place with music and art, so we do things to help people -- 10 to 20 free concerts per year in town parks, free concerts in halfway houses and VA hospitals, poster shows, benefits, etc. By leveraging the Internet, a small number of artists and musicians can improve the lives of a larger number of people.

TB: Talk a little about the show-specific posters -- how you came up with the idea and how you get the artists involved.

RM: I have loved poster art since I was first exposed to it in the '60s. Every band I have been in has had posters whenever it was possible. I even made a few.

I met our art director, Chris Shaw, when he did a poster for the Flying Other Bros. (an earlier McNamee band). I asked Chris if he wanted to help us create a poster for every show. He agreed. Neither of us knew that meant 100 posters a year for more than seven years. We have gotten really good at producing great art -- and never missed a show.

Twenty-four artists have produced posters for Moonalice, including Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, David Singer and Gary Grimshaw. We also have succeeded in attracting great young artists and as many women artists as possible -- Alexandra Fischer, Carolyn Ferris and Darrin Brenner are among our most prolific artists. We have created a co-op to provide the artists with better distribution and other resources. Next year, we will open the Haight Street Art Center, a print shop and gallery that will give the artists a much better economic footing.

TB: You've been successful with song downloads. Do you anticipate this as an ongoing model for the band? Do you have plans for a traditional hard-copy release?

RM: The 4.6 million downloads of It's 4:20 Somewhere are so far beyond what we were expecting that a repeat performance seems unlikely. Even so, we stream video and audio of every show for free. Streaming has been the best tool imaginable for creating an audience from nothing.

We have put out one traditional album (the T Bone album, Moonalice) and eight EPs (Dave's Way 1-8). The EPs each have five songs (for $5).

TB: Big names in tech and finance or big names in music -- who, in your experience, is more interesting?

RM: No matter what field, creative people are always compelling. There are so many creative people in both music and tech, but there are also those who only want money/fame or are just going through the motions. Other than Jackie Robinson and Bill Clinton, the most compelling people I have met are generally not famous. I learned early on that every person knows something valuable and everyone has a dream. Listening to the former and helping with the latter are secrets to a happy life.