Indie band wins award for Edison-themed song

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — When Steve and Dianne Moore of the band The Cranberry Merchants finished writing and recording their song “The Black Maria,” they knew the only place it made sense to film the music video was at the site of Thomas Edison’s lab and production studio in West Orange. So the Atlanta-based couple took a trip up north to visit the Main Street national historic park and shot black and white footage imitating the style of the storied inventor’s kinetoscope moving pictures, mixing in real footage of Edison and his Black Maria film studio. The excursion paid off, because The Cranberry Merchants won a Silver Award for Band Single of the Year from the International Singer Songwriters Association, a prestigious award for independent artists.

“We were watching a documentary that mentioned it, and at the time we had never heard of it,” Dianne Moore said of Edison’s Black Maria in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Aug. 22. “We thought it was interesting, and we were writing a piece of music that was pretty industrial sounding, so we combined them. When we were talking about where movies were made, we knew the video should be there.”

Neither of the two band members had ever been to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, a stalwart part of West Orange’s downtown. Directed and edited by Dianne Moore and starring Steve Moore singing the song and dancing around the grounds of the park, the video also includes real footage of Edison at the Black Maria, which was taken from the Library of Congress public domain collection. The video that the Moores shot was edited with effects to match the grainy, black and white style of late 1800s film production.

“It was surreal, being there to see where it was,” Steve Moore said in an interview with the Chronicle on Aug. 22. “Being in that building was great; we toured the whole thing. It was a happy experiment in minimalism that worked.”

Joking that they’re interested in history like the rest of the world is interested in sports, he said the subject matter and location were perfect material for The Cranberry Merchants.

In this case the music was already in the works before the lyrics were written, but it doesn’t always work that way. The Moores have been making music together for more than 25 years, first in a rock band in the 1990s. The Cranberry Merchants is a new project, having only been in existence for a little over a year. Unsigned to a label, they write, record and produce all of their music themselves, each specializing in a different part of assembling a song.

“Steve is better with hooks and melodies, and I tend to be better with lyrics,” Dianne Moore said. “We find we do a lot better as a duo. Our writing style has been all over the place, but most of what we’re doing now is alternative rock.”

Because they’re independent, the ISSA award is a big help to The Cranberry Merchants as they start releasing more music. They are also using the organization to talk to other artists, in addition to radio stations who might play their music, promoters and anyone else who is looking to work with independent artists. In the Moores’ hometown of Atlanta, Dianne Moore said the versatile market that features everything from rap to country to rock makes it harder for bands to get signed. But that doesn’t matter so much anymore.

“The industry has changed so much,” Dianne Moore said. “Back then when we started, you had to be signed. Now, we can record ourselves and shoot and edit a video.”

Steve Moore agreed that the industry has changed dramatically in the last two decades, allowing independent artists more freedom to make music. The internet has created a space for all different genres to thrive, rather than just what’s on Top 40 radio.

“In the ’90s, it was the grunge era,” he said. “It was grunge or nothing. If you weren’t signed or weren’t a touring band, it was hard to get anywhere. Internet radio has made a huge difference in reaching an audience.”

The Cranberry Merchants’ music can be found on their website at Steve Moore joked that “The Black Maria” is the kind of song people either love or hate, because a lot of people don’t know the reference. But listeners in West Orange will definitely be familiar with the subject matter.

“Having the visual reference helps tremendously, knowing the place and what it’s about,” Dianne Moore said.