For multitalented, multidisciplinary musicians Zach Moses and Freddy Avis, their Jan. 27 performance at Stanford University's Bing Studio will be a special homecoming of sorts. The two first met years ago in a music class on campus, at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).
After college, both went on to successful music careers (writing, recording, producing and scoring films and other projects) and are now both based in Los Angeles. Their enduring friendship has led to a collaborative project — Diving Dame — as well as their upcoming concert, which will emphasize something else they have in common: a deep interest in environmental issues, especially climate change. Their setlist for the evening, drawn from their respective solo careers as well as their collaboration, will reflect that shared passion.
"We write music that in many cases addresses different feelings we have about climate change or specific environmental challenges," Moses said.
Perhaps best known as a bassist, Moses grew up immersed in the jazz world alongside classical, garage rock and pop influences, whereas Avis is especially interested in electronic and more experimental work. Audiences at their Stanford concert can expect to hear this diversity reflected in the set, with the artists juxtaposing acoustic and electronic elements to create a sound of their own.
"The show should go to so many different places. Freddy and I have been making music together for so many years, we'll cover the entire emotional spectrum," Moses said. "There are songs that are just me singing solo with acoustic guitar and others that are the most maximalist productions ... The music itself is very unique but, I think, very approachable."
And while the songwriting emphasizes the relationship between humans and the earth, the music varies not only in style but also in tone.
"In addition to the stylistic variety people will hear —everything from jazz to pop to ambient electronic, dance music —I think a lot of Zach's music comes from a place of beauty, whereas mine comes more from a place of, 'The world's a pretty scary place right now. How do I emotionally make sense of it?' It's a little darker," Avis said.
He releases original electronic music under the name Arswain, which he called an experimental counterbalance to his more commercial work. His 2020 record, "Partitioning," is a concept album in part about reckoning with climate change.
"The Arswain project sort of deals in climate anxiety and human exceptionalism. It's more pessimistic," he said.
Diving Dame is their mutual "COVID baby," and the pair plan to release a full-length album under that name sometime in the near future. A single and accompanying video for "Good Life" are already available.
"A goal of that music has always been to make it genre-pushing but still pop music, in the sense of populist music that anyone can get into," Moses said.
Both Moses and Avis have local ties that go back even further than their undergraduate days. Avis was raised in Palo Alto and attended Menlo School. Longtime Palo Alto Weekly readers and sports fans may remember his name from his athletic successes, dating back to his champion Little League days. "I peaked early," he joked.
That talent led to a scholarship to Stanford, where he earned a double bachelor's degree in music and political science and pitched for the varsity baseball team. He considered a major league career until an injury derailed those plans.
Palo Alto was "an extremely pleasant and comfortable place to grow up," Avis said, adding that he was very fortunate for the opportunity to go to college "across the street" at Stanford. However, he said he's always felt a sense of unease and disillusionment with the tech-centric culture Palo Alto and Stanford is steeped in.
"I never had an interest in working in Silicon Valley. It never occurred to me," he said. "I always wanted to be either a baseball player or a musician." At Stanford he felt alienated at first, until he found his niche at CCRMA and as part of the "small but really potent community on campus, Zach being included, that sort of transformed my experience there. Finding that crowd really catapulted me into a career in LA."
Performing for an ex-hometown crowd, including many of his parents' friends, "is going to be weird ... and fun," Avis said, laughing, while Moses chimed in, "For me it will just be fun!"
From age 12 onward, Moses, who grew up in Marin County, traveled to Palo Alto every summer to participate in the Stanford Jazz Workshop.
"It was just the most intense, deep musical thing," he recalled. "Stanford Jazz Workshop, I don't know that I would be the musician I am today without that," he said, professing gratitude for the many mentors that continue to shape his career. He maintains his association with the workshop, now as a faculty member.
He earned his undergraduate degree in earth systems (Stanford's interdisciplinary environmental-science major) and then a master's degree in environmental communication. Projects have included a sustainability fellowship with Warner Music Group for which he led a web series featuring well-known musicians discussing the impacts of climate change, the development of the "Dolphin Board of Awesome" (a 3D printed, compostable, recyclable surfboard) and the Green American Lexicon, a project to develop a common vocabulary around climate change.
"I was always trying to find ways to merge these two things that just matter so tremendously to me," he said of his dual passions for music and the environment.
Moses and Avis will be joined at the Bing performance by drummer (and University of Southern California neuroscience doctoral student) Colin McDaniel and multi-instrumentalist Sam Ostroff, Moses' younger brother.
They hope audiences will not only enjoy the music but also perhaps be inspired to further engage with the issues explored in the songs.
"Instead of just being a doom-and-gloom thing," Moses said, "I hope the show will inspire a sense of community and a feeling that we're all in this together, and we can get through this together."
Zach Moses and Arswain will perform Friday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. at Bing Studio, 327 Lasuen St., Stanford. Tickets are $30-$35. More information is available at live.stanford.edu.
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