Jesse Hale Moore | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

For the past ten years, New England native Jesse Hale Moore has been in Philly, turning from film to music, performing at small venues in Philly and New York City, and collaborating with a number of Philly-based musicians in various capacities on diverse projects.

In this interview, in advance of his first full-length album expected later this year, Moore speaks thoughtfully, with poise and deliberation and tones of reverie regarding his evolution as an artist in the city, and returns multiple times throughout the interview to what became a central motif — the importance of the collaborative spirit in the art community, and the accessibility of that spirit in this city in particular. To hear Moore describe it, it takes a Philly village to raise an artist.

Most recently, a collaboration with bassist Dave Hartley (War On Drugs, Nightlands) proved to be a turning point for Moore. To that end, he offers an intimate and profoundly insightful picture of a young artist’s considerations during a sensitive period of creative and professional transition.

The Key: Are you a Philly native or transplant?

Jesse Hale Moore: Transplant. I grew up in Rhode Island, on Aquidneck Island, Portsmouth. I moved here in I think 2006. I was living in New York before, I was going to school in New York, and New York was fun and I was making good friends, but creatively I wasn’t quite doing what I wanted to be doing, and I was still figuring things out, and also it was just too expensive. I had this feeling that it wasn’t the right city for me. A friend of mine was living here and they were kinda like, come check out Philly, and so I’d taken some time off of school and was traveling around anyway, and so I came to Philadelphia and stayed with them for a couple weeks, and I think it was like two days here and I knew immediately that I wanted to move to this city. I ended up transferring to Temple — I went to Temple for film and media arts, but was always working on music projects during that time as well, so music was always kind of my passion and what I worked on the most with any free time that I’ve had. But when I went to school I wanted to try something different, so I focused on film and media.

TK: Are you still involved in film?

JHM: Not really. I was here and there for a little bit after school, but when I finished school school and I had more free time to devote to projects, I took that opportunity to get more involved in music endeavors. I knew that that was something that i really wanted to do. So sometimes in music projects I would bring my photography or film work to the table, and we would do things for the bands, but most of the work that I did seemed to kind of revolve around doing music.

TK: How did you first get connected to the music scene in Philadelphia?

JHM: You know, it’s funny, the first time I became aware of music coming out of Philadelphia was a friend of mine living here shared an album by The Teeth with me, and it became like my favorite band. When I was still living in New York I was listening to them all the time and it was just like, this is amazing. And when I came to visit Philadelphia knowing that they had come out of here it just kind of made it sweeter. And the funny thing is that a couple years later I ended up living with Jonas, who was the drummer for The Teeth, the drummer now for Purples, which is another favorite Philly band of mine. So, that helped, but

I think my introduction to kind of the music scene really in Philadelphia came when I moved to Fishtown like seven years ago. Before that I had been really trying to do solo music — and very different solo music from what I’m doing now, it was folkier, I was playing guitar — and I moved to Fishtown, started working at the Rocket Cat [Cafe], and really met a lot people. I met my friend Colin Pate, I ended up working on a project with him called Ladies Auxiliary, and then eventually became good friends with my friend Craig [Hendrix] who I worked in Auctioneer with. And from that point forward, eventually I worked with Dave Hartley in Nightlands, and it was just funny how meeting and collaborating with one person kind of like opened the door to meeting and collaborating with a whole lot of different other people. Which is one of the things that I love about Philadelphia, is that this was kind of exactly what I had been missing, and once I had it I realized that it’s so awesome in Philly how musicians and artists I’ve found to be very open to collaboration and working with people and working on lots of different projects, and really getting involved. I think there’s a community, it creates this really supportive network of musicians and artists. And I think at that point, too, when I started playing with these different people, I sort of put my own solo project aside for awhile, I had this moment where I realized it was more important for me to sort of become more involved in this community of musicians, and I felt like the best way for me to do that at that time was to focus on collaboration and focus on other people’s work and playing playing as a musician in other people’s projects, which really helped me learn.

Jesse Hale Moore | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

Jesse Hale Moore | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

TK: So you’re drawing a contrast with New York, in that sense — how long did you spend there?

JHM: I was only there for two years. I wouldn’t draw a contrast between the two, just because you know I was so young when I was there and had I given it more time maybe things would’ve been different. Some of my closest friends are still living there and doing awesome work, and I think that they would echo a lot of what I’m saying about their community. So I would never draw that kind of comparison. But for myself, at the time, I think when I lived in New York I was really young, and kind of didn’t know what I wanted to do. If anything I think that they comparison I would draw was that New York was so big, and I was so kind of in-between lots of different things that I wanted to be doing that I just sort of got swallowed up. With Philadelphia, I found that the music and arts scene to be much more accessible here. There was kind of this world that opened up just through meeting one person.

TK: And do you think that was a result of being a little older when you got here?

JHM: You know, I was still really young when I moved here — but I think it was a result of knowing more about what I wanted to be doing. When I came to Philadelphia, I really had this feeling that music is what you wanna do, you’re in a new city, you have this opportunity to like dig into something that’s happening here, and so I really focused on trying to find that. So I think yeah, I was a little bit more focused, and there was something about Philadelphia that felt very comfortable and welcoming and accessible in that way, where that wasn’t my personal experience in New York.

TK: You mentioned The Teeth — who would you say your favorite Philly artist is, or which Philly artist influenced you most?

JHM: So many musicians definitely come to mind. There are two in particular whose music not only blows me away, but they’ve also had an impact as friends and collaborators and mentors. One is Eliza Hardy Jones. I’m trying to remember in what capacity I first saw her perform — she might have been still playing with her project Buried Beds, but I saw her perform kind of early on before I knew her, and just thought that she was such a powerhouse. You see her play and hear her music and she’s just so talented, I mean I was just blown away. With time, eventually when I started working with Dave Hartley in his band Nightlands, I toured with them a little bit, and Eliza was also playing in Nightlands, so I had that opportunity to kind of work with her. She and I have kind of been on a similar path recently of kind of refocusing our energies towards solo music and solo works, and the music that she’s been coming out with now is just really, really inspiring to me. She’s also a pianist — I play piano — so I just admire her so much, I always have, and I love seeing how she grows and how she continues to push herself with her songwriting and the sounds that she uses.

And the other artist is Dave Hartley. Dave and I met just kind of through the neighborhood, when I was working at the Rocket Cat, he actually worked there too for like a brief moment. And we had talked about music a lot, and I heard Nightlands’ first album Forget The Mantra and just became like an instant fan, I just thought his music was amazing. I thought it was really unique, I hadn’t heard anything like it in a long time. And so when he asked me a couple years later to play with them and do some touring with them, it was super awesome. Beyond that, when I started working on the music that I’m starting to put out now, he was somebody who was one of the first people I shared the music with, when I was working on these really basic demos, and he was the one who really encouraged me and pushed me to start putting it out there. So yeah, I feel like both Dave and Eliza have been incredible friends, collaborators, motivators, but also mentors of mine, which is just something really special to have in one person, it’s really cool.

TK: Where was your first show in Philadelphia, and what do you remember it feeling like to be up there on stage?

JHM: It’s funny, I feel like there are these chapters. When I first moved to Philadelphia and was kind of doing solo, kind of more folky stuff I was playing these basement house shows, DIY underground house shows and things. You know, this wasn’t my first Philadelphia show, but it was my first show at Johnny Brenda’s, which was something I’d always from the moment I’d moved to Philadelphia and saw my first show at Johnny Brenda’s to that day felt like this milestone. I was like, I wanna perform at Johnny Brenda’s, that place is amazing.

TK: Who did you see?

JHM: I saw The Teeth. [laughs] Kind of like immediately saw them as soon as I could when I came to Philly. I thought the venue was so cool and the sound was so great and it was just such an energetic night, and energetic people, and for me that was this moment of like, I wanna play on that stage. And years later I started playing with my friend Audrey, she and I for a really short amount of time had a project called Hunter Gatherer, it was kind of a psychedelic-folk duo — two guitars, two vocals, lots of harmonies — it was really fun. With her I ended up being able to play my first time on Johnny Brenda’s stage, and it felt like this awesome rush, and that’s something that I’ll always remember. I mean it’s one of those moments where you accomplish something that you want, no matter how big or small it is, being able to kind of have that moment. And since then I’ve been able to play at Johnny Brenda’s many times with different bands, and now with my solo project and the band that’s playing with me, and I feel like every time I’m so happy to be up there because I remember that feeling of wanting it so badly and then being able to do it.

TK: That probably answers my next question, but what’s your favorite Philly venue to play?

JHM: Yeah, I think Johnny Brenda’s so far is my favorite, but there are a lot of great ones and a lot that I still want to have the experience of playing, like I wanna play Union Transfer. I think Johnny Brenda’s for me, I’ve played in Johnny Brenda’s to 10 people and I’ve played in there to almost 200 people, and both times felt really special. It’s the kind of venue that just has an incredible positive energy already working in its favor, you know? And I just think about, too, I imagine being a traveling band showing up at Johnny Brenda’s, I just imagine that you’d show up at a venue like that and you instantly feel just excited and warm and good.

TK: What’s your favorite aspect of the Philly arts scene?

JHM: You know, I talked before about accessibility, I think it’s really amazing when you can have a world class art and music scene that still has this awesome kind of level of accessibility. I think sometimes it can be intimidating to kind of enter into a scene of art and music. I think that the collaboration between Dr. Dog and Pig Iron Theater Company, with their show Swamp Is On, is this like kind of large-scale but very awesome representation of this kind of collaborative overlap between these two different art projects, and two really great kind of top-notch world class groups in Philadelphia, working together and collaborating on this one mega-piece. And I think that’s a representation on a larger scale of something that happens in smaller scales all the time in Philadelphia, where print-makers are working with bands on posters and merchdise and t-shirts, and filmmakers and photographers working with artists, I see that collaboration happening all the time. I think Philadelphia is a city that, as an artist, there’s space. There’s space to create.

Jesse Hale Moore | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

Jesse Hale Moore | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

TK: In contrast, what do you find most frustrating about being an artist in Philadelphia?

JHM: I think one of the frustrating things that can kind of create challenges, is that because Philadelphia in my opinion is a city where artists can afford to live in and afford to create, I think that you can become really comfortable as an artist here. And I think with art, and industry and music, most cities that aren’t, like, New York, have a ceiling. There’s a ceiling at some point. Depending on what your ambition looks like, you know, Philadelphia is an incredible city to be a working artist, and you can be a working artist in Philadelphia for your whole life, and that’s amazing, that’s really incredible. I think that if your ambitions are to grow beyond the city, I think that you have to work especially hard to do that.

TK: Do you think that it’s possible to do that here?

JHM: I think that it’s absolutely possible. I think it’s becoming more and more possible in Philadelphia. I think actually the ceiling is constantly getting higher and higher. I just think that there was a moment for me where I was working really hard in Philadelphia and having a great time, and at some point I remember thinking like, nothing has changed, in several years of work. Like I don’t feel like I’ve taken the next step. And I started wondering if that was going to happen, and when that was gonna happen, and how I could make it happen. And I started asking myself, like, have you gotten too comfortable here? Are you working hard enough? And ultimately things progressed, I’d gotten past that point and things started progressing forward again.

TK: Did you contemplate moving as a result?

JHM: I’ve thought about it. I contemplated moving but I just didn’t know where I would even want to go. And I thought about like, well should I go back to New York, because I had this idea, like oh, maybe you need the hustle more, maybe you’ve lost that thing. And I’m so glad that didn’t end up being what I did. You know ultimately what ended up happening was Dave asked me to play in Nightlands.

TK: That was the next step.

JHM: Yeah. It’s normal to get to one point and that’s kind of where you work for a year or two, you know, and then you try to push onto the next thing. And that was this moment of realizing like, you have invested so much of your time and energy into working here as a musician and there are still relationships to be had and to be made and to be developed, and it would be insane to leave, to think that you should just start over from scratch or something. I think that it’s really possible to stay in a city if you want to, you know, I think that there is a point where maybe it becomes easier of makes more sense to move to LA or move to New York or something, and a lot of people do. From where I’m sitting it seems like it’s possible to stay, if that’s what you want to do, and I think that it is possible to break through that ceiling. But again, it’s harder, it’s a lot harder, when you’re outside of these cultural centers [in LA and New York]. But I really believe Philadelphia is kind of growing and changing in that respect.

TK: Which Philly neighborhoods have you lived in, and which made you want to stick around, and which made you want to bail?

JHM: I’ve actually never lived in a neighborhood that made me want to bail. I’ve lived here for I guess over nine years now. When I first moved to Philadelphia I was in the Graduate Hospital area, at 21st and Webster. Graduate Hospital was a pretty different neighborhood then. And I loved it, it was great. I was only really there for a year, and then I moved to Fishtown, and I’ve been in Fishtown ever since. And I’ve lived in a lot of different corners of Fishtown and Kensington. I think when I first moved to Philadelphia, I really loved it immediately, I was still in college then so, in my mind I was like oh, this is where I’ll go to school and then after that we’ll see what’s next. There were other cities I wanted to live in, I always liked Chicago, or I wanted to go to San Francisco, or LA. But then by the time I finished school, I had no desire to leave, I just felt like I was here, I was in it, I had a group of friends that I loved, that were active, and doing things that I was interested in, and yeah I just felt like, this is what I want from wherever I’m living, whatever city it is. Philadelphia seemed like a great place to be. I think Fishtown was the neighborhood where I made my closest friends, I made my closest connections, and I would say being in this neighborhood was sort of what kept me [in Philly].

TK: What’s your preferred means for getting around town — bike, walk, SEPTA?

JHM: I bike. Yeah that’s one of my favorite things about the city too, is that, the first month that I lived here, I’d felt like that was step one, to get a bicycle, and it totally changed my life. I’d never had that experience of having a bicycle be my primary source of transportation. Suddenly the city just opened up in this way that was so cool. And I still have a level of awe when I bike around, and bike out to the Schuylkill, bike down Kelly Drive, bike out of the city. I’ve done a bike ride from here to a friend’s house in Northeast New Jersey, it was like a long bike ride. It was a hell of a ride! Riding my bicycle has definitely become a serious part of my life. And that’s another thing too, is that Philadelphia is such a bike-able friendly — I don’t know if I’m gonna say bike-friendly city, it’s working on it.

TK: You’re just stuck in the middle there, because you shouldn’t be on the sidewalk, but in the street you’re still in danger.

JHM: Totally. And I’ve been really lucky, knock on wood, that I’ve never been doored, I’ve never been hit by a car. I’ve had trolley-track incidents that are pretty terrifying. I avoid them at all costs now, because I’ve had some nasty falls on them. I think as I get older, I’ve only recently started realizing that when I’m riding my bike, mortality suddenly sets in and I’m just like what are you doing, this is crazy. You know, when I was 21 and biking in the city I’d just zip around and I didn’t think about it very much. Now I’m a much more cautious biker, but it’s still such an incredible way to get around the city.

TK: How have you seen the city change in your almost ten years living here?

JHM: I’ve seen coffee shops pop up all over the place, I’ve seen whole blocks get sort of torn down and rebuilt, new construction. But I’ve also seen friends and musicians who I’ve known start to grow and really have their moment, which is really exciting to see. I think that Philadelphia is becoming more and more a city where craft is appreciated and cultivated. I see a lot of people — musicians, artists, designers, people in art and industry — really developing their craft here, and I think from what I can see more and more people outside of the city are starting to recognize that coming out of Philly.

TK: Do you think overall it’s been for the better or worse?

JHM: For me it’s only been for better, and I think Philadelphia is a city that’s growing really fast, and it’s a complicated growth. For me it’s been mostly positive, but for friends of mine who work in the public sector, they would probably answer that question differently. I think it’s complicated, but I’m really proud to be in a city that’s growing and changing and evolving.

TK: OK, last question, PBC or Yards?

JHM: [laughs] Oh man. You know I gotta say that I don’t drink that much beer! Can I say scotch? Can I say Bluecoat gin? [laughs] Yeah, that’s my answer, I don’t even drink that much beer. I think they’re both great!