Moose comes with strings attached-The Province

Musician's laid-back style belies on-field persona of a midfield pit bull

Marc Weber
The Province

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The cords never stood a chance against the chords.

"I brought my guitar and a bag here instead of two bags," says Justin Moose, the former D.C. United midfielder signed by the Vancouver Whitecaps in April. "So, it's real important to me to play my music every day."

For Moose, the risk of looking threadbare is far outweighed by the risk of hearing dead air.

The Statesville, N.C., native has rarely been apart from his strings since teaching himself how to play by listening to the radio as an 11-year-old.

At Wake Forest -- where he was a semifinalist for the NCAA's national soccer player of the year award -- he brought his act on road trips, once jamming with a former Marshall Tucker Band guitarist turned bus driver.

In D.C., he played a regular Tuesday night gig at a local joint called The Judge's Chambers, and a smattering of folks -- often United teammates -- would watch him perform.

"He's extremely talented," says Whitecaps forward Nick Addlery, who was Moose's teammate in D.C. "He writes his own material and it takes a lot of talent to do that, if you ask me."

There was no question, then, as to what qualified as priority packing for his West Coast adventure: the Taylor acoustic his parents bought him as a graduation present.

"My prized possession," he calls it.

Moose is an unassuming guy. Five-foot-eight, 150 pounds. He has a laid-back vibe and scruffy look.

But with that Taylor in hand, the Moose lets loose. Much like he did as a late substitute against Rochester last Saturday, promptly flying 100 miles per hour into a reckless tackle that started a shoving match and earned him a yellow card.

"He starts singing and playing, and you're like, 'OK, who is this guy?'" says teammate Nick Webb, who is lined up for lessons along with twin brother Mason and veterans Eddy Sebrango and Geordie Lyall -- all of whom live in the same apartment building as Moose.

They first discovered his talent when Sebrango had the guys over for his birthday and now they're using him to score points with the women in their lives.

Mason wants help working on a song for his girlfriend, and Sebrango has longed to surprise his mom with "Guantanamera" the next time he returns to Sancti Spiritus, Cuba.

"I was trying to learn before but then I stopped," says Sebrango. "My fingers were so slow. Playing for my mom would be cool, and for my girlfriend -- maybe I can do, what do you call it? A seranada?"

Impromptu concerts and free lessons have helped Moose endear himself to teammates quickly, although the latter could dry up a bit if the paying customer base grows. Moose posted his services on craigslist and has already attracted a couple of students.

"Just trying to pay the bills a little bit," he says.

For the 24-year-old, playing guitar has never been about being the centre of attention, although he would like to set up a modest local gig. Rather, it's about staying centred.

"It's a big stress reliever," he says, "and it's addicting. You sit down in the afternoon and a couple of hours go by without noticing."

Moose was raised on Southern rock, bluegrass and folk -- The Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic, Grateful Dead, and Bruce Hornsby among his favourites.

And while he regretfully shunned his mother's piano and voice lessons as a kid, he has music in his makeup. His grandfather played guitar and his brother is a professional musician.

Moose also plays the mandolin, banjo and djembe -- a hand drum -- and you better believe they'll be arriving way before the wardrobe.

"I think they're going to be in the mail soon," he says. "I'm going through withdrawal."

© The Vancouver Province 2008