There’s one surefire way to identify a New Yorker in Los Angeles: put him behind the wheel. ‘I drive like an old man,’ Fab Moretti admits. As a member of The Strokes, Moretti is about as NYC rock ’n’ roll as you can get, yet the drummer has spent the past couple of years adjusting to Californian life. ‘It was such a culture shock,’ he says by phone from Brazil, where he’s visiting family. ‘But then I started to find these nooks and crannies in the city where there were very intelligent, artistic people.’
Thanks to the tabloids, everybody knows Moretti originally transplanted to be close to his then-girlfriend Drew Barrymore. But since the beginning of 2007, when the couple announced the end of their five-year relationship (according to the rags, he couldn’t take the Hollywood lifestyle), he’s joined a whole different LA crowd.
The Strokes are due to start up again next year, but in the meantime, Moretti has two other bands to keep him busy. Along with his new, decidedly un-Hollywood girlfriend, Binki Shapiro, and Los Hermanos singer Rodrigo Amarante, Moretti is making mellow pop with Little Joy. He’s also associating with musicians who hang out in Topanga Canyon and grow beards that would impress Moses – namely New Weird America standard-bearer Devendra Banhart and Priestbird’s Greg Rogove, who invited Moretti to be a part of their new side project, Megapuss.
The band’s recent debut, Surfing, includes bizarre pop songs the hirsute pair wrote while on the road together with their regular groups. Moretti is Megapuss’s touring drummer, and he sings the verses on ‘Theme From Hollywood,’ a contagious, upbeat number about the pitfalls of excessive partying. As well as being a commentary on where Moretti’s at in life, it’s probably the most straight-ahead track on the album, which includes nontraditional romance ditties like ‘Chicken Titz,’ a doo-wop-style love song about a hen and rooster doomed to the slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, the CD package features nude photos of Banhart and Rogove in a mock knife fight, hair and all.
So exactly how did a Stroke end up involved in a freak-folk supergroup? The roundabout story began thousands of miles from California, in Portugal, where The Strokes played the same festival as Los Hermanos, a Brazilian band Moretti had learned about through his Rio de Janeiro-based family. Amarante found Moretti backstage. ‘We ended up hanging out the whole night by the side of the river in Lisbon,’ Moretti recalls. Fast-forward to the summer of 2007: Amarante is summoned to LA to play sessions for Banhart’s album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. He calls Moretti and they start hanging out, jamming at Banhart’s place and, eventually, writing songs together. Around this time, they were introduced to the honey-voiced Shapiro, an unknown artist whom Moretti dreamily calls ‘a hidden gem, a beautiful diamond’.
After Moretti rented a house in Echo Park, LA, Amarante and Shapiro moved in, and Moretti’s other California band, Little Joy, began to take shape. ‘It was like being a teenager,’ says Amarante. ‘We just wanted to stay in this house all day and hang out with each other and write songs.’ Moretti agrees that the music was born of intense kinship, an arrangement that allowed him to break free of the confinements of his regular gig. ‘This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to feeling like music is a social, communal thing and not just about being in a particular band and playing your particular instrument,’ he says. ‘It’s a form of expression, but it’s a form of intimacy, too.’
The resulting self-titled album, produced by shaggy Banhart associate Noah Georgeson, is a gentle set of pop songs that range from slow-going ballads of love and longing (‘Play The Part’) to tropicalia-influenced tunes with wispy harmonies (‘The Next Time Around’). Moretti sings backup sweetly under Amarante’s eerily Julian Casablancas-like lead. There’s a certain ease in their voices that evokes time spent in the throes of California chilling, hanging out with new friends, having fun and falling in love.
The name Little Joy could describe the simple pleasures involved with making this music, but the threesome and their hippie friends actually named it after an Echo Park bar. ‘It was basically the only place we could go without getting in a car,’ says Moretti. To a New Yorker, that means a lot.
Surfing and Little Joy are both available at www.7digital.com