Jimmy Vallance and Tom Howie were born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, but the two — who form the electronic duo known to fans as Bob Moses — cut their teeth in Miami.
“It was one of the first places we ever played, sleeping on floors and shit,” Howie remembers of his and Vallance's initial Miami outing. “We were staying in some weird neighborhood, and the corner of the block was just an empty lot with a police tower.”
“I had the worst flu I ever had,” Vallance recalls. “We were supposed to go to Ultra, and I just remember sleeping on a couch watching American Ninja Warrior. Tom went and saw Swedish House Mafia and brought me back Gatorade.”
That was in 2013, and Bob Moses was scheduled to headline Treehouse in Miami Beach four days later.
“That was a huge deal for us,” Vallance says, “but the week before was just so rugged.”
“[The guy who rented us his place] wanted a hundred bucks cash,” Howie adds, while Vallance chortles in the background. “We were like, 'Fuck, he's going to rip us off.' We got the keys, and then we took the bus like an hour and ten minutes down to South Beach. We got these huge margaritas on that strip.”
“With the beers in them!” Vallance exclaims.
“Then we played a show,” Howie says. “We went to some crazy afterparty at this mansion on one of the baller islands; I don't know what area that is. I just remember it being 9 a.m., supertweaked-out [and] taking the bus up an hour and a half so I could get two hours' sleep before we had to fly.”
The fun-loving group has come a long way from its early Craigslist Magic City misadventures. Bob Moses later returned to Miami to perform at Ultra Music Festival's live stage in 2016. The year afterward saw Vallance and Howie headline Club Space, and in December, the two DJ'ed alongside the likes of Tiga and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs at the Delano Beach Club during Art Basel.
In addition to sorting out their accommodations and enjoying smoother trips down south, Bob Moses has also spent the past few years refining its sonic offerings. The 2018 LP Battle Lines expanded on the band's dreamy house sound by inserting alt-rock hooks and socially conscious lyrics probing emotional inspirations and the world at large. The record was recently nominated by the Juno Awards for Electronic Album of the Year, and in March, Howie and Vallance will be joined by a full band to share the album's songs with a Florida audience. On Saturday, March 7, Bob Moses will join Blood Orange, Clairo, and others as one of the headlining acts at this year's Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival.
Howie and Vallance hope the Okeechobee show will have a few less hiccups than their performance at Coachella last year.
“The first weekend, we almost didn't have a show,” Howie says. “Our tour manager still jokes, 'I'm not going back to Coachella because you ruined it.'”
Bob Moses had been gifted the coveted sunset slot at Indio Valley. As the palm trees and mountains lit up in vibrant reds and oranges, the two treated the crowd to a pitch-perfect live band presentation. The online broadcast streamed the duo into living rooms around the world, preceded by an intimate glimpse of the pair in the studio.
“If it doesn't have the potential to all fall apart and completely turn into a disaster,” Vallance says in the clip, “then it's probably not that good.”
“I cursed us,” Vallance laughs. “[The clip] was filmed two months before we went and played Coachella, and then ten minutes before we got onstage, our tour manager came up and said half of our equipment fell through the stage deck.
"We spent a boatload of money and the boat sank," he continues. "I normally play with two keyboards and a bunch of stuff, and we had to strip it down to one. Imagine getting up in front of 20,000 people and everything is different.”
Howie and Vallance come from a punk-rock background, and they've had the odds against them before. So they put on their games faces and let rip a dynamic set, complete with a cover of the Prodigy's “Breathe,” the stunned California crowd none the wiser.
“We just had to go out there and fight, and it ended up being so much fun,” Vallance says. “Our crew and tour manager will say that was a horrible experience, but for us, when life hands you lemons, let's make awesome lemonade.”
Bob Moses' artistic integrity and skilled musicianship ultimately saved the day. Later in the year, the group showcased its artistic bona fides once again with the release of the EP Unplugged. Shared in December 2019, Unplugged features emotive, stripped-down versions of Battle Lines tracks “Heaven Only Knows,” “Back Down,” and “Nothing But You." The EP stands out from the larger Bob Moses discography, with Howie's stirring vocals building beautiful tension and resolve as moody piano keys stand juxtaposed next to rhythmic acoustic guitar.
“Releasing the acoustic stuff is a reveal of what we do a lot in our studio,” Howie says. “I've always loved Nirvana's Unplugged and Metallica doing they're acoustic stuff with the orchestra. When we're creating music, I might pick up a guitar, sing something, and be like, 'But imagine a beat under this.' We might start a song on piano with a vocal and then make a beat for it. We come up with a rough arrangement, throw it on turntables, and DJ it into some other tracks that we know work in DJ sets like, 'Oh, actually, that doesn't work' or 'It just needs to be longer.'”
“You can't really write songs on turntables. You have to make them somewhere else,” Vallance adds. “I've often found it interesting that there's a huge disconnect between the way you perform and the way that you create the music... You can push the boundaries of what you do in the studio, take that live, see how it interacts immediately with an audience, [and] then you may be able to take risks.”
The EP finishes with a captivating cover of Duran Duran's 1982 hit “Save a Prayer,” a song Bob Moses first performed live during a stop at the SiriusXM studio and couldn't stop mulling over.
“First of all, we love that Duran Duran song,” Vallance says. "It's maybe collectively our favorite Duran Duran song. We have a friend who is mutual friends and sent it to them. I think they've probably heard it, but we haven't heard back.”
“Maybe they think it sucks,” Howie says.
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“Maybe one day,” Vallance says, “we're gonna get Simon Le Bon to give us a call [and] be like, 'Nice cover, boys.'”
Until the aforementioned call comes, Bob Moses does have its performance at Okeechobee to look forward to. The Sunshine Grove show will be one of the pair's only live sets with full band accompaniment in 2020. Although Howie and Vallance have also stayed busy in the studio — cooking up more club tracks for release in the coming months, as well as a third studio album — there's no telling yet if the new tunes will be ready for the Okeechobee stage. Nevertheless, barring any illnesses or American Ninja Warrior binges, the duo is ready to return to Florida.
“We're stoked to come hang with the gators,” Howie says, “and the great people.”
Bob Moses at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival 2020. With Vampire Weekend, Bassnectar, Mumford & Sons, and others. Thursday, March 5, through Sunday, March 8, at Sunshine Grove, 12517 NE 91st Ave., Okeechobee; okeechobeefest.com. Tickets cost $279 to $599.99 via okeechobeefest.com.