The bass guitar grace notes on Jordan Moser’s single “The Devil” have an unmistakable and classic country ethos. The song is flecked with unusual details that make it singular: a guitar lick that delightfully lingers right at the edge of keeping time, for instance. It’s just one standout from the longtime Wimberley artist’s debut album, Long Night, which the Austin-based label Keeled Scales released earlier this year. What might be one of the Texas albums of the year quickly found critical resonance, getting love from outlets like Paste magazine and earning invites from public radio stations across the country (Austin’s KUTX included).
Moser has been a fixture of the Central Texas arts and music scene for nearly a decade, but you may be more familiar with his work behind the camera. He’s been a frequent collaborator with artists like Austin’s Molly Burch, Will Johnson, and Julia Lucille to shoot, edit, and direct music videos (Johnson’s video for “Cornelius,” released this month, is another Moser production).
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But on Long Night, Moser came into focus as a musician. He combines minimalist compositions, hushed vocals, and introspective lyrics that at times wade into folk and Americana. The totality of the album’s eight tracks is never small, though. Instead, something like harmonized hums midway through “Down With Me” or the entrance of a Wurlitzer or tambourine on “Love Is Gonna Test You” reverberates, in part, because Moser’s songs offer so much space.
There’s a unique economy to Long Night, too, which may be an ethos Moser subconsciously picked up from his former day job performing as a professional ballet dancer. “I’ve learned a lot about collaboration from dancing,” he says of the ten seasons he performed with Ballet Austin. “I’ve been in pieces where the process is hell, and I think it does read to the audience. On the other side, I’ve been part of choreographic processes that are life-changing because there was such synergy. I wanted that in a musical form, to get some people together who I really love and trust their innate abilities, create a nice atmosphere, and set it up and let it go.”
That ethos comes through in all Long Night’s songs: it’s the kind of rare, high-wire act that requires a deep level of trust and synchronicity with bandmates. Burch tells Texas Monthly that Moser has an ability to create a joyful and collaborative atmosphere—something that’s an extension of his personality. “I love working with him in any capacity because he has the best heart and is so talented in every way—his positive energy is very contagious,” Burch says. “Plus, we both love RuPaul’s Drag Race and Judy Garland.”
While Moser pursued dance professionally after high school, he always tinkered with songwriting in his spare time. He watched his brothers play in punk bands when growing up in Santa Ana, California, and later, while auditioning at dance studios in New York City, Moser would busk on the side. He even pressed two CDs that he says are “still out in the world somewhere,” but neither ever became available digitally. (Long Night’s “Love Is Gonna Test You” appears on the second album for any would-be collectors out there.)
Moser wrote the bulk of Long Night’s tracks back in 2015, following a period of relationship turmoil and an unexpected health scare. While Moser was still dancing full time, he visited a chiropractor to have his neck adjusted—but that experience left him with a tear in his vertebral artery. This is the major artery that sends blood to the brain, and a tear is something that more often happens because of blunt trauma, like a car accident or a major sports collision. It can feel like something sharp is stuck in the base of your skull and potentially lead to a stroke, vision issues, or worse. “I almost died,” Moser says plainly, quickly noting that beloved folk singer Robbie Basho died from complications after this injury back in the eighties.
Moser had to undergo emergency surgery followed by ample prescribed rest. He eventually recovered, but the experience changed his life. He couldn’t dance while he was healing, which led to him dabbling more in videography—primarily for Ballet Austin at first, but soon for fellow Texans in need of music videos.
As a filmmaker, Moser has a knack for capturing the singular beauty of Central Texas, and he continually finds ways to make the natural seem a bit mystical: in past videos, he’s used ripples in a small watering hole as a visual motif for Lucille, and has framed Burch as though she lives with a man among skeletal trees. Moser has officially hung up his ballet shoes, but continues to produce videos for Ballet Austin. And his ballet background can still make it into his musical work these days, too: Moser’s video for “The Devil” features choreography that he conceptualized and filmed at his home in Wimberley.
While recovering from his injury, Moser also had more time to delve into music, particularly the blend of classic country, folk, and Americana that he currently unfurls with his own tunes. And he found himself navigating toward a community that is also dabbling in such music: from 2015 to 2017, Moser hung around a lot at the now defunct East Austin creative spot Studium. At the time, the place had morphed into a hub for a new wave of classic country and folk music—there, Moser met soon-to-be friends and future collaborators such as Burch, RF Shannon, and guitarist Dailey Toliver. Like Moser, they all had sonic interests that felt out of time.
In 2017, Moser finally took his songs and his friends to a Fayetteville, Arkansas, recording studio and laid down the tracks that would become Long Night direct to tape. On the recordings, Burch sings and Toliver strums. (And Jeff Crozier drums, Bob Hoffnar plays pedal steel, and Dan Duszynski does a bit of everything, including organ.) The dancer found that ideal, collaborative atmosphere he’d felt in the ballet world. Suddenly, his challenging years transformed into something beautiful, even hopeful. “The album now has taken all that shit, all that stuff that happened, and transformed it into a good memory,” he says.
The energy surrounding Long Night‘s release eventually gave Moser the chance to embark on his first real tour, hitting ten cities everywhere from Athens, Georgia, to New York City across three weeks. Days after Long Night came out, he had an official release show at Austin’s famed Cactus Cafe. “It was one of the first shows in Austin where I didn’t know everyone,” he jokes. “Sometimes you play a show and look out at the crowd and think, ‘I’m playing a recital. I’m playing for my friends and my family,’ which is no less great. But that show was one where I was like, ‘Whoa, who are these people?’”
If Long Night’s reception is any indication, Moser has more of those concerts-that-aren’t-recitals in his future. And for any fans discovering him now, there may soon be new music, too. Since Moser can finally let this be his primary focus for a moment, he’s already started writing his next batch of songs and wants to record it as soon as possible. “At my shows, I often apologize to the audience for being such a bummer—I’m ‘bummer folk,’ that’s what I call my music,” Moser says. “Not seriously, but in the next group of songs I’m going to bring some more positivity, and they’ll maybe feel more fun.”