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Archie Moore doesn’t expect Heartworms’ latest album, During, to get him back on the cover of Alternative Press or CMJ. He doesn’t even expect to make a video, let alone have one premiere at the top of MTV’s 120 Minutes. And he’s not waiting by the phone for Volkswagen to call and open its vaults to use a Heartworms song as part of its “Drivers Wanted” campaign.

The sparkling During might be Moore’s most inspired creative effort yet—high praise for the heart and soul behind Velocity Girl’s sublime swirl of ’60s psychedelia, ’80s Britpop, Jesus and Mary Chain-style barbed-wire kisses, and My Bloody Valentine-ish dream-pop. That still didn’t stop SubPop from rejecting it in the days after Velocity Girl’s 1996 breakup—even though Velocity Girl had the best-selling albums in the vaunted Seattle label’s history before Nirvana’s Unplugged catapulted Bleach onto the Billboard charts.

In the end, however, the Nirvana revolution that seemed momentarily poised to make the members of Velocity Girl stars became defined instead by grungy Seattle sound-alikes. The Volkswagen campaign turned Trio’s insipid “Da Da Da” into an American sensation. (In another example of how random alterna-stardom can be, a Levi’s jeans ad has cascaded the Lilys of Kurt Heasley—Moore’s old friend from the halcyon days of D.C. Slumberland pop—into a Top 5 chart success in England.) Now the songwriter savant and studio whiz works at a local recording studio and gets excited about helping engineer a new song by current faceless MTV faves Smashmouth.

Still, Moore’s not sorry. Indeed, he can’t stop smiling. He has no regrets from the Velocity Girl days and harbors no secret hopes for Heartworms to become the subject of the next Sassy “Cute Band Alert.” And there’s no reason not to believe him. Moore likes life out of the buzz bin. Simply having a chance to make the albums he wants, at his own pace and free from pressure, is more than copacetic with him. “My ambitions have changed, and now they’re probably the same as everybody else’s. I just want to make records that I like,” says Moore over calamari at Polly’s Cafe with co-bandleader Trish Roy. “I’m definitely not expecting to make money or a big name for the Heartworms. I don’t think any of us really think in those terms. I would certainly welcome it if there was a freak success and a song ended up in a jeans ad and became No. 1 in England, but I don’t expect that to happen. I enjoy touring and seeing a video on MTV or seeing myself on the cover of a magazine, but that’s ultimately not why I do anything—otherwise we probably would be pretty sad about the whole thing.

“It’s all about making music that satisfies me. It’s a purely creative outlet—there’s no commercial value to it at all. It’s not going to make my life better in any way that’s not emotional,” he says.

Despite the creative satisfaction Moore and Roy derive from During, making the album involved two years fraught with frustration. They thought the album was finished by fall 1996 and that Heartworms would move seamlessly from side project to main focus after Velocity Girl split. Only both SubPop and Darla—which released both the Heartworms’ fuzz-pop debut Space Escapade and their atmospheric bliss-out EP Enemies—rejected the album. The rejection devastated Moore.

“That was pretty depressing. I had a big inferiority complex and just sort of sat on the album for a year,” he says. Eventually, the band—Moore, Roy, Moore’s younger brother bassist Kevin, and drummer Scott Kelly—went back to Moore’s basement studio, Mulberry Lane, and got to work. “I think [SubPop and Darla] thought we could do it better, which definitely turned out to be the case. We basically went back to the drawing board. We used some of the raw tracks but overdubbed all the vocals and most of the guitars. We started a few of the songs again from scratch.”

Whatever they did worked. During (on the Brooklyn indie Pop Factory) is certainly the most complete Heartworms album yet, an obvious labor of love that gives nods to Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds and neatly brings together the band’s blissful melodic side with its love of ambient soundscapes, nifty instrumentation, and studio experimentation. “The Candle, the Radio, and the Television Snow” conjures up the best ’60s pop, as Moore imagines a sequel to “Norwegian Wood,” after John Lennon sets the house ablaze. “Popfactory on Strike” is an instrumental Beach Boys pastiche Brian Wilson would be proud to call his own. Bridget Cross (ex-Unrest and Air Miami) adds gorgeous cornet to the lilting “There You Go.” Moore and Co. have remixed and revved up an early single, “If Everything Goes as Planned,” and recast another B-side, “A Heartworm Reflects,” as the dreamy title track, determined to give lite-rock a good reputation.

“I saw this record as our pure pop record,” says Moore. “But it does have a few songs that are really not pop in any way. There are songs with pop elements in them, but taken out of context of a pop song: a pop hook repeated for four minutes with no words.”

The freedom to tweak pop convention comes from having the studio downstairs. Mulberry Lane has slowly grown into a studio with 32-track recording capacity and the latest computer technology. No longer do pop savants writing teenage symphonies need to splice mountains of tape, as in the days of Brian Wilson. Now they need merely cut and paste on the hard drive, adding things like Cross’ cornet right over the top.

Of course, recording at home can also lead to laziness that delays records, adds Roy.

“I think it also lends itself to a lot of procrastination,” she says. “It’s not like, ‘OK, we have three weeks to finish this and get it out.’ It’s more like, ‘OK, we’ve got a year or two.’”

“But we also got to work on it for so long that we could listen to it for six months and say, ‘Well, this part doesn’t really go anywhere. We need to add another instrument,’” adds Moore. “We were able to fill out the parts that were boring us.”

As befits a Heartworms record, During contains plenty of pretty songs about broken hearts: Moore’s picture-perfect “Amnesia,” Roy’s unbearably sad lament “Wish.” “That’s what the Heartworms are all about: the downside of love,” says Roy, herself a veteran of gorgeous D.C. pop combos Belmondo and the Shapiros.

“The original title for the record was World Without Pets, which we thought was the saddest, most melancholy title possible,” says Moore, smiling. “Some of it is tongue-in-cheek. I’m the kind of person who really loves sad songs. There are a lot of goofy, upbeat songs on this record. But even some of those have bummed-out lyrics.”

The album’s title is a reaction against reviews of the first Heartworms albums, especially Enemies, where Moore’s drift from the pure pop of Velocity Girl to more ambient, subtle drones and melodies caused some people to lump the band in with how-slow-can-you-go bands like Windy and Carl.

“Our first two records, people made comments about us lamely trying to become part of some space-rock or post-rock scene. A lot of people thought we were trying to be a Michigan space-rock band. That was not what we were going for at all,” says Moore. “We definitely do pop songs, rock songs. We’re not post-rock or anything like that. We’re during-rock.”

Then again, the title might also refer to the slow and painful breakup of Roy and Moore’s longtime relationship during the making of the record. The album doesn’t chronicle love’s decay, but the two readily admit that the deterioration of their relationship contributes to During’s downcast tone.

“That’s the real reason all these songs are so damn sad,” says Roy, managing a smile.

“Most of them were written well before that, but it probably does contribute to the mood of the record,” admits Moore. “We wrote the record over two years, and it was just the last five or six months really when things were falling apart.”

It’s not a post-breakup finger-pointing album in any way. Neither Moore nor Roy followed the uncomfortable model of Superchunk’s Foolish, where singer Mac McCaughan wrote an entire album about the painful collapse of his relationship with bassist Laura Ballance.

“That will be the next record,” quips Roy.

“No, that will be my solo record,” cracks Moore.

After all, Heartworms songs have always been downbeat on love, even when Moore and Roy were together. Still, listening to these songs knowing about the breakup puts them in a new, bittersweet context. That’s especially the case with “Wish,” a heart-stilling weeper sung tenderly by Roy, with the chorus, “Impossible to forget/What hasn’t happened yet/And harder still to dismiss/What never will exist.”

“Some of our personal life does make it onto songs,” admits Moore. “We’re mature about it. We’re not going to write ‘You done me wrong’ songs. It’s not a country album.”

“Actually, that would be a lot of fun,” says Roy. “‘My Lover Took Me Out With the Trash.’”

Moore counters with a could-be George-and-Tammy song title of his own, “I Threw My Baby Out With the Bathwater.”

Indeed, they seem totally playful about the breakup, even though this is the first dinner they’ve shared in two months. Roy even pokes fun at Moore for talking about their split so openly, wondering whether he just wants to let indie women know he’s available.

“If the next question is, ‘Whose fault was it?’ I’d like to go on record as saying everything was Archie’s fault. I’m an angel,” chimes Trish.

“That’s right,” agrees Archie. “She was perfect, and I was a bastard.”

They could probably take this act into vaudeville clubs. They will take it into rock clubs—despite their split, Roy and Moore have no plans to break up the band.

“As long as no one’s obligations come to a point where we can’t ever play, I love the Heartworms,” says Moore. “Trish and I are the only people on all of the Heartworms records. If we weren’t playing together, it would be a different group. We wouldn’t call it the Heartworms.”

There’s also no dirty linen left from the Velocity Girl breakup, insists Moore.

“Now’s your chance to let all the dirty secrets out,” prompts Roy.

“Guys, if you’re out there…” he pleads, in a mocking call for help. “No. People always ask, ‘What’s the real story?’ It’s the most pat and amicable parting in rock. I imagine Starry Eyes were more bummed out about breaking up than Velocity Girl.” (Starry Eyes, the Velocity Girl splinter group with Sarah Shannon, Kelly Riles, and Jim Spellman, recently split after one painfully awful EP, without attracting significant major-label interest, and with Shannon’s move to Seattle complicating logistics. She recently returned to D.C. to demo songs for a solo project with Geoff Turner.)

“It was just the right time for Velocity Girl to break up,” Moore reasons. “Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts was the record we spent the most time writing and recording. It was the record that meant the most to us personally. But when I listen to it now, it sounds just a little too mainstream. It reeks of the zeitgeist. It sounds like alternative rock. That’s not a horrible thing, but that’s not what I wanted to be about at all.”

So now Moore’s simply doing the things that he wants to. He’s perfectly happy working on other people’s records during the day and on his own in his basement after hours. Meanwhile, Roy’s busy studying for the MCAT this spring and hopes to attend medical school next fall.

“There are definitely things I miss about the rock life. But I don’t regret any of the decisions I made,” says Moore. “The Heartworms are at an age where I feel pretty content playing backstage at the Black Cat to 40 friends or at a party in somebody’s basement. Our goals are set very low—maybe to play a show once a month instead of every two months.

“I guess that goes back to the question, ‘Have our ambitions changed?’” Moore offers with a wry, sly smile. “We have no ambition.”

Still, with the growing studio downstairs and a pile of new songs already developing, it couldn’t be another two years before another Heartworms record. Right?

Moore just grins. “I bet it will be,” he says. “In fact, I’m counting on it.” CP