If the number of people who play air guitar against their knee while they drive is any indicator, gazillions of us wish we could recreate the incredible music of our favorite artists. To stand on a stage and be *that* cool — even for five minutes — is the stuff of fantasies for most, but these guys make it their reality.
“We’re not a look-alike band and probably never will be. We’re not 20 anymore and we don’t think that wigs will work for us, so we’re focusing more on getting the sound right,” keyboard player Lars Altvater says. “We want to deliver an authentic experience that recreates the sound of The Cars as close as possible.”
And that’s exactly what local tribute band Moving In Stereo did on March 10, 2017, when they headlined the House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. With a set list that included “Just What I Needed,” “Since I Held You,” and “You Might Think,” these five guys had the crowd dancing in the palm of their collective hand. The stage crew was tight, the energy in the audience was crazy, and the band was on their game. From beginning to end, the place was rocking.
Matt Fuller, the bass player, describes their encore: “Opening that show was a great local tribute to Tom Petty called Shadow of Doubt. We’d never played with them before… they were really great guys and put on a great show. We asked them to come out and sing “Good Times Roll” with us and they were absolutely in to it!” They brought the house down.
Playing such an historic venue was a dream come true for all five members of this tribute band. Drummer Noah Patera says, “Having seen many of my favorite bands playing there, I was completely humbled to have an opportunity to play on that stage. It was an experience I will never forget.”
A little over three years in the making, the members of Moving In Stereo have combined their passion and talent to put them on the map. In addition to Lars on keyboards, Matt on bass and lead vocals, and Noah on drums, the group is rounded out with Bob Heazlit on lead guitar, and Danny Ayala on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. They all agree that their meeting was serendipitous… and a little unusual.
The Craigslist ad was titled: “Something/Anything” – a plea sent out by Matt for a musical connection. Having played in various original and cover bands through the years, by 2013 he was looking for a new project, something “musically fun, something I grew up with.” Matt and his childhood friend (and guitar player) Bob, had been kicking around a variety of ideas with little success.
Meanwhile, in the same town but unknown to either Matt or Bob, keyboard player Lars was having his own rock and roll issues. “Noah and I played in an 80s band together that started to fall apart. We were trying to get another band started, but we didn’t find the right people and we couldn’t get anything going.” He, too, employed Craigslist as a means of finding what he wanted: he posted an ad looking for musicians to form a tribute band for The Cars. The response? “Noah answered. He had no idea it was me,” Lars laughs.
Lars did see Matt’s ad, however, and called him up. The two met for beers and felt a compatibility, so Matt called Bob and invited him to join them at the bar. Bob explains, “We’re talking and I’m going on and on about my dark vision for this original project. So Lars says, ‘Well, my neighbor Noah is a drummer and we’re trying to put together a Cars tribute band.’ Matt and I look at each other, pause for a moment, and say, ‘Well, that’s kind of genius.’”
So right then and there the three musicians agreed on some Cars’ songs to learn to play (“Just What I Needed,” “Bye Bye Love,” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”), and then set a date for a run through.
The guys met at Noah’s house and started jamming, and the verdict was immediate and unanimous. “As the first strains of “Just What I Needed” rang out, it was apparent that musically this was going to be very good. It was The Cars. Bonus? These were really good guys,” Bob observed.
Because all of them were big fans of The Cars, the four fell easily into the roles they filled: Matt covering Benjamin, Noah as David on the drums, Lars playing out Greg, and Bob as a right-handed Elliot. Now all they needed was someone to represent Ric. Though none of the guys tried to imitate the physical look of the Cars’ members, they knew that talent as well as stage presence would be important in finding this last piece of the puzzle.
Bob reflects, “Spoiled with how easily the four of us came together, none of us knew how difficult it was going to be to find Ric. I don’t know why we were so surprised. Ric really is the icon in The Cars. Taking nothing away from Ben (whom I prefer vocally), when people think of The Cars, the vision of Ric’s gaunt face, wispy black hair and shades to match is the face you see in your mind. Finding a guy to play that character should have been hard, and it was.”
Initially Pat Grieshammer took the spot. An easy going guy with tons of experience and talent, Moving In Stereo was able to polish their set list and start playing gigs. Unfortunately, Pat moved on to another band and it looked like this Cars tribute band was going to stall… until Danny Ayala came on the scene. “I’ve always been a huge fan of The Cars’ music. Lars tried a few times to bring me into the project in the early going, but it was just bad timing for me because of other projects I was involved in,” Danny explains.
Matt says of the change, “It was a perfect fit: he was a huge Cars fan, he wanted to put in the work necessary to make the project successful, and he’s a GREAT guy. As soon as we walked on stage with him we knew it was right… so did the audience!”
Once their lineup was complete, growth came quickly, and their like-minded attitude toward honoring The Cars has contributed to their success. “One thing that we wanted to establish early on is that we are not a traditional ‘bar band.’ We love playing everything from The Cars, but your typical bar crowd wants variety. We’re playing The Cars, like it or leave it!” Matt laughs.
Bob adds, “These songs demand focus, and playing them as note-perfect as you can while preserving the feel and spirit of the music: that is and will continue to be the first priority. The next step is to really develop the stage show, the lighting, the props; to deliver the experience of what it was like to be a at Cars’ show in the 80s. In that sense we’ve really only scratched the surface.”
Along those lines, the guys try to recreate the look of the band in clothing and instrumentation… but that can be pretty expensive. Matt says, “We get as close as we can without having to sell our houses!”
The five guys in the band are united in their vision for Moving In Stereo. Bob lays it out this way: “The goal of the band is fun. Plain and simple. Fun for the audience. Fun for us. The way you achieve that is to honor these great songs and performances, and replicate them to the best of your ability and never settle for ‘well, it’s close.’ When we learn these songs we research sheet music, isolated guitar tracks, live footage… info on the gear they used, the effects they used, the samples they used. Ultimately, I would hope that we do a good enough job that if [the original Cars members] ever became aware of us they would appreciate what we are doing and say, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’”
The band is already working on their concert calendar for this summer – but you won’t just see them in any old place. “We carefully consider the shows we book. We want to make sure we’re playing the type of shows that can deliver that concert experience, more than background music for someone playing pool and having a couple beers,” Bob explains.
Matt agrees. “We partner up with other similar tribute acts and make it an event. We give folks a night of great music! All of the Cars’ fans come out and they sing along and they cheer when we play things like “Since I Held You”… it’s a pretty great experience.”
If you’re in Ohio, don’t miss the opportunity to experience Moving In Stereo live. Check out their website for their current show schedule. Also follow Moving In Stereo on Facebook here, and on Twitter here.
(All photos by Mat Luschek Photography; used with permission)