In various interviews you have talked about how you were initially introduced to hard rock in your sheltered upbringing. But what I'm most curious about is what was it was about hard rock and metal that made you gravitate toward it?
I don't know what it was, but I just know that, after I started listening to it, it was like, I really like this. I like all kinds of music, but that's what I most closely identify with. When I write music. That's typically how it comes out.
What is your songwriting process?
Typically I write all the lyrics and I have an idea about what I want the song to sound like. Then I talk with my collaborator, Norman Matthew. He will come up with a riff and I'll go, “Yeah, that's kind of it.” We go through a process.
When you convey kind of what you're going for, how do you do that? Do just describe it in general? Do you reference other songs? Do you hum a few bars?
All of that. I try to describe it to them. If they're not quite getting it, I might have them listen to a couple of songs that I'm kind of thinking about. But sometimes people get too literal about that. It's the vibe that the song is giving off (that I am going for). I don't want it to be identical to that song.
I've done this before with other people. I'd give them like two or three different songs. And they are like, “But they're completely different songs.”
“Yeah, but they all have the same vibe to me.”
Other than “vibe,” I don't know how to describe it. There is just something about the songs that are common to me.
Yes. And you've worked with some heavyweight musicians. I'm curious also about how often they kind of run with an idea and even take it to a new level that you didn't initially think of.
I definitely did with Joe Vitale. We kind of just let him run with it.
And regarding this self-titled EP, what was the most challenging song to bring to fruition?
I'm not sure that any of them were any more challenging than the others. You know, it's a creative process. Sometimes things take longer than you really want them to take. But that's just the nature of how things go.
With your vocals, you have a kind of a calm confidence. Some people, when they get into the hard rock space, the vocals get kind of impatient. They are desperately trying to grab people's attention. But it's like you kind of strut into the room rather than run into the room so to speak. How long did it take to develop that?
That's another good question. I think I've always sung like that. It's just my personality or something that's different.
So your onstage persona and offstage persona are pretty much the same?
I think they are. Also, I know it is kind of a weird thing, but I don't get stage fright. I'm more nervous about the performance after it's over than I am before or gearing up for it. I don't know why. I guess because at that point there's nothing I can do about it.
You've worked with some heavyweights, Paul Stanley (KISS), Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, Mr. Big), etc. What have you learned from those experiences?
I've played with Cheap Trick a couple of times and Nancy Wilson (Heart) as well. Most of the “rock stars” that I've worked with have been very down to earth. Cheap Trick was one of the first ones that I performed with. And Robin Zander is one of my idols because he has such an amazing voice and I had already told the people that were with me that I was going to be a total fan girl. I really thought that I would just lose it over getting to meet one of my idols. And he was such a nice person and just so down to earth that that didn't happen at all. We had a nice conversation. I wasn't screaming or any of the things I had envisioned. They are so “normal” that you forget about that. You just think of them as a person. Suddenly Rob Halford from Judas Priest is just Rob. He was really a sweetheart.
In terms of working with these people who have influenced you, you said in another interview, “It's about taking what influences you and turning it into something that represents you,” which I thought was a great summary of it all. What I'm wondering is how much of that process is natural and unconscious and how much of it is a conscious effort?
I think a lot of it is unconscious. I think Leon Russell was one of the greatest songwriters and especially lyricists. He could take something very complex and make it at least seem very simple. His lyrics are not real flowery. There are not tons of metaphoric sayings, at least not obviously metaphoric. So I myself try not to overdo things when I write. And it's not like I sit down and go, “Oh, I want to write a song that sounds like a KISS song or a Cheap Trick song.” Some of them may end up being that way, but it's not something I consciously start out to do.
A lot has been made of the fact that you are launching your career later in life than the average musician, especially the average hard rock musician. What advantages have there been to launching your music career in your 60s as opposed to your 20s?
Well, I kind of started in my 50s, but I'm still working on it in my 60s. I think that I don't take things personally. If somebody doesn't like what I do, I don't care about that. I'm happy with what I do. There are other people out there that like what I do. I've learned that I can't control other people's opinions. I just have to do what I do. And if other people don't like it, then that's their issue. That's not my issue.
I interviewed Peter Holsapple (The dB's). We discussed:
- Being a multi-instrumentalist
- His extensive work with bands like REM and Hootie and the Blowfish
- His solo album "Game Day"
- And more
Recorded February 20, 2020 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Film production by Jean-Paul Damé and Fire Horse Films, Inc.
I interviewed Mike Vanderhule, drummer for Y&T. We discussed:
- The key to playing under a guitar solo
- Singing harmony while playing the drums
- His studies with Steve Smith
- And more
Recorded February 16, 2020 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I interviewed Kenny Aronoff via Facebook Live. Rolling Stone named Kenny Aronoff one of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. Recorded March 26, 2020. We discussed:
- Kenny's autobiography, "Sex, Drums, Rock 'N' Roll"
- Getting the most value out of life
- Finding the ability to persevere through negative experiences
- His work with John Mellencamp, BB King, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, etc.
I interviewed Michael Staertow, guitarist for Lou Gramm. This was done via Facebook Live. We discussed:
I interviewed drummer Chris Fryar of Zac Brown Band. We discussed:
- The new Zac Brown Band album "The Owl"
- Working with Dave Grohl
- Defining what success means to you
- And more
Download a free PDF ebook of the interview
I interviewed Matt Frenette of Loverboy. We discussed:
- When he started climbing his drum kit during drum solos
- The extra color he gives to songs in concert
- Communicating ideas with lead singer Mike Reno, who started in the music business as a drummer
- And more
Film production by Jean-Paul Dame and Fire Horse Films, Inc.
I interviewed ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. We discussed:
- His new album, "Trio"
- His cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You were Here"
- The album of duets he is working on
- And more
Recorded January 23, 2020 at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, North Carolina.
Film production by Fire Horse Films
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I interviewed John McFee of The Doobie Brothers. We discussed:
- Being a multi-instrumentalist
- The upcoming 50th anniversary tour with Michael McDonald
- What he learned from his work with Elvis Costello
- His intense work ethic
- And more
Recorded November 20, 2019 at the Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham, North Carolina
Film production by Jean-Paul Dame and Fire Horse Films
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I interviewed Kryz Reid, guitarist for Third Eye Blind. We discussed:
- How being in the band has influenced his guitar playing
- The impact Prince continues to have on him
- Making the album "Screamer" and how they worked to "keep it weird"
- And more
Here is a partial transcript of the interview. For the full transcript, download the free ebook.
Cris Cohen: You've been part of this band for almost a decade now. I'm curious, how has being part of this band influenced your guitar playing?
Kryz Reid: It's an interesting question. I don't think I've ever been asked that before. Let me think.
I think that Stephan has a producer's ear. So, as soon as we started to record together, the way Stephan talks about tone and talks about the style of guitar players…
Like when Tom Morello hits a chord. We were rehearsing next door to the Chris Cornell tribute thing that was on a while ago. So, Tom Morello and all the Audioslave guys, they were all right next door. We could hear (guitar sounds). And it's just completely on. There's no way you could be like, "Who's that?" Even his tech checking his shit doesn't sound like Tom.
So, Stephan kind of emboldened me with that idea. He was like, "When you play the guitar, I want people to know that it's you."
So, the thing is, all of that is in your fingers. It's all very expressive. So, unbeknownst to me, I'm doing that. You know what I mean? But he definitely got me to think more about tone. Because I was always very kind of punk rock. I get a fucking Marshall 800 and... Am I allowed to curse on this?
Cris Cohen: Yeah.
Kryz Reid: I would just crank it and would be like, "Yeah, it sounds good."
But we used to shoot out different amps, different guitars, different combinations of vintage amplifiers. We have all these photos of nine vintage amplifiers lined up with different microphones on them all. Playing the Strat and playing a '68 Strat and playing a fucking Jazzmaster. And then just going through all these different combinations.
Because anything less than what we think is ideal compromises the tonality of the entire product. So, yeah, he's definitely made me a more disciplined guitar player.
Cris Cohen: And as a result, do you notice minor changes now, more?
Kryz Reid: Oh, yeah. I'll listen and I'll go, "We can hear the Stratocaster." You can hear the tonality difference between all those instruments, and the different tones that you'll get off like an AC30 versus a Marshall sound and stuff like that. So, I've learned on the gig, in that respect. Because before that, I was just always plugging in a fucking rocket.
Cris Cohen: Right. And speaking of your setup, just because I was watching just now in soundcheck, that guitar is slung really low on you. I mean, it's like at knee level.
Kryz Reid: Yeah, I've been hearing that more and more recently now than before. I've always slung my guitar pretty low. I'm from the Jimmy Page school of guitar playing. Greasy, as we say.
It just looked cool to me. I mean, Tom Morello is the only guitar player I can think of who does what our bass player, Cavy, calls a studio set up, where you wear your guitar really high, because you're in the studio. You don't want to look cool. You want to play well.
And I've just always slung it low. So one of my guitars is a Fano JM6. It's kind of like a Jazzmaster sort of thing, that Dennis Fano made. And I noticed that is particularly low-slung because of where the hoist points are on the body of the guitar. So, when I play it out, I'm going like, "Fucking hell, man. This is way low."
Cris Cohen: But not enough so you'd want to just bring it up a notch on the strap?
Kryz Reid: No, it's not uncomfortable. That's the way I've always played the guitar.
Cris Cohen: I think Dave Matthews, he's another one where the guitar is really up here. And supposedly that's ergonomically better in terms of how your arm is positioned, how your wrist is positioned, and things like that. But…
Kryz Reid: Man, if you go down that rabbit hole, you'll find, this is the optimum pose for playing the guitar. (Mimes having the guitar almost at his neck with his legs crossed.) No one's getting laid sitting like that. At all.
So, it's not an issue. I play Les Pauls mostly as well. It's kind of Jimmy Page's kind of thing. When I see a picture of me on stage, I go, "Yeah. Fuck, yeah." I don't go, "Goddamn, that thing is low." It just looks cool.
Cris Cohen: So for you, it's got to look right, not just sound right.
Kryz Reid: Well, it's just how it feels. I mean, that's the thing, isn't it? I started playing guitar when I was like 15. I would just sit on the edge of my bed and just strum chords and just be going, "My God… it works… like they said it would."
When I started playing in bands, that's just where I put it. I was like, "How low can we put the thing?" And yeah, it's not -- I could talk about it for hours, but -- it's not uncomfortable. It feels natural to me. And all the most natural guitar players are, for me, the best guitar players. People like John Frusciante. He just doesn't look weird with a guitar.
I'm not going to name any names, but there's some people that, when you see them play a guitar, you're going like, "No." Those guys who are always looking at their right hand. They're doing that shit. It's the telltale. It's the giveaway. Because your right hand is all natural, your left hand as well. Technique is mainly the thing.
Cris Cohen: And then, speaking of influences, you've talked a lot about how the top of the heap for you was Prince.
Kryz Reid: Is Prince.
Cris Cohen: Is Prince still. What drew you to his guitar playing?
Kryz Reid: Well, I came across Prince when I was like nine years old. So, I didn't go, "Oh, he's such a good guitar player." I just thought he was sexy and cool and androgynous and all the stuff that I love. I was just in, immediately. The whole package, I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world. As soon as I had money to buy myself any of my own clothes that my parents weren't buying for me, when I was like 15, I went into town. I bought a pair of fucking Docs (Dr. Martens) -- I'm wearing a pair of Docs right now -- and a black trench coat.
I was back in Dublin recently and I was wearing a nice trench coat. My mom was like, "You've been wearing a trench coat your whole life."
I was like, "Yeah, and a pair of Docs." And Prince famously… the purple trench coat. That's when I came across…
Cris Cohen: Right. But his was all paisleyed out and everything.
Kryz Reid: Well, it was more kind of like he had studs and stuff.
Cris Cohen: You're right. Yeah.
Kryz Reid: So, I was always just drawn to his entire package. And everything about Prince I thought was fucking cool. I still try to style my hair like the cover of “Controversy.” I just think that he's just the coolest motherfucker. He just really is. Was. Whatever.
It wasn't until I got into playing the guitar that I really realized what a phenomenal talent he was. But I thought, to be able to play the guitar, to be able to get an electric guitar, you need to be somebody as rich as Prince. We weren't rich growing up. So I just assumed that that was just something that would never happen. And then a mate of mine called Ian Smith... We went over to his house once and he pulled out this fucking electric guitar. And I was like, "What did... How... Where did... How did that happen?"
So, straight away after that, I was like, "You can buy these things. You can go to a shop and get them?"
I was just blown away. Then I was on to my ma, "Can we get one? Can we get one?"
She said, "There's an old piece of shit acoustic up in the attic that your father bought years ago. If you learn to play that, we'll get you an electric guitar."
So, we got that acoustic… there were two strings on it. And me and my brother used to just play. He had drumsticks but he didn't have a drum kit. I bought strings for the fucking acoustic and I got a book out of the school library. School library, kids.
And I just learned the chords. I didn't even know how to tune the fucking thing. I went down to the local music shop to get a package of guitar strings. That's a 15-minute walk, right? I came back home and put them on. I just assumed that you would just twist it until it didn't (turn anymore). I got to the high E string. And of course, as I went up, it just flew off.
Cris Cohen: Oh, God.
Kryz Reid: Hit me in the face. I was going, "Fuck." And I was trying to work out if I had enough pocket money to get…
Cris Cohen: More strings, yeah.
Kryz Reid: And then of course, I didn't know if I could go down and ask, "Can I just get that one?" It was like six pounds or something for the packet. I went down with 50 pence or something. It was before Ireland was on the Euro system. (I'm showing my age.) I went in and the bird was really nice. I would go down there and talk to her about music. She was like, " Yeah, I can get that for you, Kryztopher." She gave me the one string. I came home and, stupid as fuck, did the same thing.
Cris Cohen: Oh, my God.
Kryz Reid: Because I had no idea.
You had to tune the guitar from each string. The first month that I started learning to play the guitar, I had no high E string. So my G chord sounded funny. But I took to it like a fish to water or whatever. I was completely and utterly obsessed with the guitar, from then on.
Cris Cohen: And it's fascinating actually, because Keith Richards, in addition to writing his autobiography, he wrote a children's book about how he learned to play the guitar. I read it to my son. It's funny, because it's kind of a similar story. His grandfather had this old, unused acoustic thing sitting on top of the piano and he just had to try it. Then he sat with that constantly, even though he didn't exactly know what he was doing.
Kryz Reid: Yeah. He'd just play with it.
Cris Cohen: Did you ever have actual lessons or was it all...
Kryz Reid: No. All self-taught. No, it was just watching Jimi Hendrix on (video tape), rewinding the fucking thing, and going, "How is he doing it?" That kind of stuff. But the thing is, when I started learning to play the guitar, I had already had a few girlfriends. I had been deeply in love. I had my heart completely smashed and all of that. And I'm an arty little fucker. I was always drawing and sketching and stuff like that as a kid. So, for me, (music was) the perfect conduit for all of that.
Brad, our drummer, has a little wee boy. He's just turned four, and he's fucking obsessed with the band. He has a little acoustic guitar that he walks around (with) and he (watches) the guys playing on TV. He's playing it left-handed because he doesn't understand that he's watching it…
Cris Cohen: Oh. It's backwards.
Kryz Reid: As he goes around, he throws all of these poses and all the rest of it. And then Brad was like, "What am I going to get him for Christmas?" I'm like, "Get him a baby electric." He's like, "I don't want to get him a baby Strat. I want to get him a baby Les Paul."
And I was going like, "Dude, he's just going to break it."
Now, four years old isn't when kids migrate towards something like that. I think you need to be 13 to 17, something like that. Because around that bracket is where you've got all of that puberty, crazy mad shit where you're playing with Lego and Star Wars one day and then suddenly there are girls everywhere. And you're going, "What?" So, yeah, it's the perfect time to have that conduit for all that crazy shit that's going on. Some kids do sports and all that kind of stuff. I was never that guy. I was always the little punk in the corner, writing songs about how he hated everybody.
Cris Cohen: Well, one thing I’m always curious about with musicians who did not have formal training is, what advantages do you think there were to not going down that route?
Kryz Reid: It never becomes a job then. Do you know what I mean? It's never a job.
If you start to teach a kid -- like you send them to piano lessons when they're fucking six or whatever -- that's a pain in the arse for a kid. All that shit. Right? And then it's like, every Tuesday after school, fucking piano.
So, I think (with) a lot of kids who do that, the dropout rate is very high. There are some who become virtuosos. But by and large, in my experience of what I've come across, that becomes a job then.
Whereas, when you just go, "That fucking guy is cool. I want to do that." That to me is all the training you need. Then you go meet other fuckers. You know what I mean? I met my best mate in school going to the school locker. I was singing a Prince song and he started to fill in the bits with me.
We became best mates, and we made a band a week later. You learn from your mates and then you learn who's in the hierarchy. I'm sure you know Damien Rice, the musician from Dublin as well.
Cris Cohen: Name sounds familiar.
Kryz Reid: We played in a band together and we worked out very quickly that I was going to be the lead guitar player, and he would be the rhythm guitar player.
It's so funny. Kids fall into their brackets. We did a festival with The School of Rock. And we were shooting a video for our song, “The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down).” We had this stream of little punk kids, little rock kids, walking past the tour bus. I said, "Get the cameras! Everything we need is right here!”
So, we had all the kids do all the stuff for the video. After, we're just hanging out and talking to them and I was going, "That's me. I can see the little lead guitar player right there. There's the singer and he's a little bit of a fucking piece of shit. There was a little wee bird who was like “I'm going to be the manager.” That kind of thing. And they got the cute, little groupie kind of thing going on. The nerdy photography kid is there. He's got his fucking camera that his dad gave him and it is way too big.
Kids just sort themselves out into all those brackets. I think the same thing kind of applies when you get into a band. We're all such typical embodiments of the lead guitar player, the singer, the bass player. It's hilarious. And we go on tour and you meet other bands, and you start to see everybody segregate off into their own groups.
Cris Cohen: It's interesting because a friend of mine, Rich Redmond, who plays drums for Jason Aldean, talks about, when they go on tour, the drummers are always the most gregarious. It's the drummers that are always the first ones to introduce themselves to the other bands on the bill.
He said, "If you get five drummers in a room, we will close down the bar talking about music, philosophy, life, everything. If you get five guitarists in a room, they will beat the shit out of each other."
Kryz Reid: Oh, really? Wow. I don't know. In our band, our bass player, Cavy, is usually the first to meet the support band and be like, "Hey, guys." We were out last night for pints, and the support band was in the same bar. We didn't even know. We were in the front section of the bar and they were in the back section. Towards the end of the night, they came out and we're like, "Whoa!"
But it's funny. I hadn't met them at that point. But I was (looking at them) just going like, "That's the fucking singer. I'll bet you any money. That one there, he plays bass.”
For the full transcript, download the free ebook.
I interviewed Robbie Wulfsohn, lead singer for Ripe. We discussed:
- Ripe's album "Joy in the Wild Unknown"
- How the band evolved from their formation at Berklee to the present
- Robbie's concept of "weighted joy"
- And more
I interviewed Dave Wilson, singer and guitarist for Chatham County Line. We discussed:
- Performing live with only one microphone
- Their album "Sharing The Covers"
- Recording and performing with Judy Collins
- And more
I interviewed Joey Dandeneau, drummer for Theory of a Deadman. We discussed:
- Their upcoming album, "Say Nothing"
- The song "History of Violence"
- The new direction they have taken with their music in recent years
- Drum solos
- And more
Recorded October 5, 2019 at The Ritz in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I interviewed Troy Luccketta, drummer for Tesla. We discussed:
- Tesla's new album, "Shock"
- Working with Phil Collen of Def Leppard
- His re-commitment to studying drumming fundamentals
- And more
I interviewed Joey Secchiaroli, lead singer and guitarist with Kindo. We discussed:
- What the band learned from their goal of creating one new song every month
- Melody is king
- Having faith in the process
- The double-edged sword of the internet for musicians
- And more
I interviewed New Orleans musician John "Papa" Gros. We discussed:
- Being a sideman versus being a frontman
- New Orleans musicians and versatility
- His work and education with Papa Grows Funk, George Porter, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, and Art Neville
- And more
Recorded August 20, 2019 in High Point, North Carolina
Film production by Fire Horse Films
I interviewed Brian Nevin, drummer with Big Head Todd and the Monsters. We discussed:
- The different ways he has set up his drum kit
- The advantages of playing with the same guys since high school
- What he has learned from the band's work with Steve Jordan
- And more
I interviewed Fred LeBlanc, lead singer and drummer of Cowboy Mouth. We discussed:
- Uplifting an audience
- It's not about the influences. It's about the journey.
- One of the most dangerous things he has ever done during a concert
- And more
Production by Jean-Paul Damé and Fire Horse Films, Inc..
I interviewed Michael McDermott, drummer with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. We discussed:
- Playing with Joan Jett
- The importance of consistency
- Ringo Starr
- Todd Sucherman
- Playing attitude
- And more
Episode 1 of the Bands To Fans video interview series is now available! I spoke with Chris Kimmerer and Travis Vance, drummer and bassist with Thomas Rhett. They discuss:
- How they have grown and evolved as musicians with Thomas Rhett
- How they balance the need to put on an entertaining show with the need to also make sure they stay in the pocket
- The performances they do with the lasers and pyrotechnics versus their stripped down performances on small stages or in radio studios
- What they wish had been taught in music school that they did not learn until they were working
- And more
Cris: You could argue that, as a drummer, you have the most demanding shoes to fill of anyone. How do you deal with that pressure and those expectations?
Gregg: This was never approached in a way that “you're replacing Buddy Rich, you're the next Buddy Rich.” I never came into this with an inkling of, “I'm going to fill up what's missing here.” Buddy had asked Cathy, “(After I am gone) would you please keep the band out, keep the band working? Keep my music alive. Keep playing for young people.”
In the beginning Cathy started doing the Buddy Rich memorial concerts. Basically it was one concert and you got maybe seven or eight of the best drummers in the world. I've got one of the posters here in the office from the Buddy Richard Memorial Concert at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. (It featured) Louie Bellson, Gregg Bissonette, Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colliauta, Steve Gadd, and Dave Weckl. So that's what she originally did. She'd have this one show maybe once every two or three years and you got the best drummers in the world to sit in with the Buddy Rich Band and play through Buddy's charts. That was cool. That was great. She basically single-handedly invented the drum festival.
She did many of those over the years, but that really wasn't putting the band out on the road, you know what I mean?
My first time playing with the Buddy Rich big band was the 25th anniversary memorial concert in London at the Palladium. You want to talk about a daunting task? Let me read you the line up. Dave Weckl, Ian Pace, Ginger Baker, John Blackwell from Prince's band, Elliot Henshaw, and then Potter.
I played the show in 2012 and basically from there we took it (on the road).
We play with an alumni band and you get Cathy upfront, because Cathy toured with her father since she was 10 years old. She toured with him and sang on a couple of his records. And so I'm saying you get everything but Buddy.
We play his charts. We play it in his style, This isn't a Buddy Rich tribute. It's Cathy's dad's band.
Cris: What elements are you when it comes to playing this music?
Gregg: I would have to say I'm trying to be as authentic as I can with Buddy's playing, but in no way imitating or duplicating.
Cris: Everyone always focuses on things like the solos. But you said in an interview that you have to remember that you are keeping time for 16 guys. Admittedly I never really thought of the number of musicians factoring in. Are you really keeping each guy in mind as you're playing?
Gregg: I could be in a rock group with four guys that is basically a bass player, a guitar player and a lead singer. And that's it.
When you're playing in a big band, that's a five piece sax section, three guys in the bone section, four trumpet players, and a rhythm section. The rhythm section being a bass player, piano, a guitar player. So really, there are four separate bands up there. It is like those guys that used to drive stage coaches being pulled by eight horses.
You're keeping time for four different groups or sixteen people. You really have to multitask.
Cris: Like you're holding multiple perspectives in your head at the same time.
Gregg: Yes, exactly.
Cris: You also teach master classes. What do you find most students that attend these need to work on?
Gregg: What I see with just players all around, when they come to take a masterclass from say a guy like me, it's kind of like shopping for a Ferrari. When you go into that dealer you're not going, "I need something for everyday (driving)."
Usually when they come to me, we're talking about technique. When you see something fast and it sounds like there's a lot of things going on there, usually people want that. Like the magic trick explained.
But the most important thing for any drummers, anywhere, anytime, is just that you really do need to be a timekeeper. When you listen to Buddy play, when you take the drumming pyrotechnics away from that man, his concept of time, he was able to lay that foundation for people to play over. Keeping time, being solid, is the backbone for any group, whether it's a jazz group, a rock group, a funk band, a country band.
With every great Beatles song, at some point you go, "That Ringo guy really just made it move." That's kind of my masterclass format: technique and keeping time are pretty much my focus.
Cris: And then, on the flip side, what do you gain from teaching these classes?
Gregg: I'm not saying I'm a great teacher, but I'm saying I do like communicating, just like answering these questions that you're asking here. I do like passing along the information.
Cris: You've described yourself as having a showy personality but also an attention to detail. I found that kind of fascinating because they seem like two opposite ends of the spectrum. I mean, normally you don't find those qualities in the same person. How do you balance those within yourself?
Gregg: I believe that's called schizophrenia.
Well, no, realistically, I have a showy personality in that I'll basically talk to a statue as long as it stands there.
But I have an attention to detail with the band. For instance the stage is basically a replica of what Buddy's stage set up was in 1980 with the white music stands, the "BR" on the shield, the band dressed in black.
To me that kind of detail in that kind of playing or in that kind of planning... yeah, maybe you wouldn't think that. "Oh yeah. Gregg not only learned all 14 songs, but he's also responsible for the logo printing on the t-shirts"... along with Cathy.
I'm very detailed and I'm anxious, which are all things that people that are perfectionists have in them.
Cris: You did do a lot of acting work at one point, specifically in movies. And there was a point where you had to decide between that and drumming. What would you advise others who face a similar fork in the road?
Gregg: I had a major label record deal on Mercury / Polygram Records with a group called Siren. The album's coming out in February of '89 and we're shooting the video in January of '89. At that point I'm also in "Uncle Buck" which John Hughes was filming here in Chicago. (There were conflicts.) So I had to make the ultimatum choice. Nowadays it is a bit different. It seems that you could be an actor, a musician, a political activist, and a diet guru and all those careers work together. For some reason, back in the day you had to make choices.
"Uncle Buck" went on to become the highest grossing comedy of 1989. My album stalled at about number 30 on the charts.
But I really was a drummer. And fast forward thirty years and my first gig with the Buddy Rich Band was at the London Palladium. That's pretty heavy. I remember doing my sound check and Ian Pace (Deep Purple) walked in and goes, "Who's this guy?" I had the "Machine Head" album. I listened to the snare drum roll at the end of "Space Trucking." Now, he lets me sit on stage with him when he plays. If we go to one of his shows, he lets me sit on a drum throne right behind the bass player's amps and I get to sit and watch him play.
Did I ever think (that would happen) when I was fifteen years old listening to the "Made In Japan" album? It's a dream come true.
In this interview with Greg Hanna, formerly of The Dickies, we discussed:
Cris: What drew you to the bass guitar?
Greg: A couple of things. When I was a kid -- fifth or sixth grade -- my dad was a drummer. He was a jazz drummer in the Detroit area playing seven nights a week all through the '60s putting food on the table like that. So the first thing I wanted to play was drums.
I learned how to play drums in middle school band and did that for a couple of years. I was playing drums in my first rock band when I was in eighth grade. We had two guitar players and a drummer. We needed a bass player, but nobody at our school played bass. My uncle had an old Harmony hollow body bass guitar, this old, funky thing that I wish I still had. He gave that to me. My junior high band teacher was a bass player. He gave me two lessons. Just like the old bass player joke, I had two lessons and a gig.
My first paid gig was when I was 14, sitting in with some of my dad's bands. My dad would talk to the venue owner and say, "Look, he's under drinking age, but I'm his dad. He's just playing bass." Somebody would tell me what key and I would just play something. I'm sure most of them were clunkers, but it was an incredible learning experience.
Cris: Although, you had been playing drums, so you must have had a decent sense of time.
Greg: Yeah, that's definitely something I had going for me. Really, at that early stage it was learning the mechanics of playing bass, which I fell into pretty quickly.
Cris: So you transitioned to bass, but you could've easily gone back to the drums. What made you fall in love with the bass enough to stick with it?
Greg: When I first started learning how to play bass, I would sit for hours on end in my bedroom playing along to records. I would play along with the albums of Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, early Van Halen, Motown stuff.
As, I started listening to more bass, I started falling in love with more bass. I'm not the lead singer guy. I'm not the lead guitar player guy. I'm not the drum solo guy. My whole thing is playing what I call "dead man bass." If you're seeing a band live and they're chugging along and then the sound man just drops the bass out, you're like, "What happened?" You're not drawing attention to yourself.
Cris: So then to skip forward a little bit, how did you become a member of The Dickies?
Greg: In the late '90s, early 2000s, I was in a band with D. H. Peligro from the Dead Kennedys. I did a bunch of recordings with him and a bunch of touring. We were doing tours where we were making $70 a week and honestly living in a van. I look back now, I'm like, "That was great. We were making $70 a week and had the biggest smiles on our faces."
But anyways, we played a few gigs opening for The Dickies. I had been a Dickies fan for ages, so it was cool getting to meet them and talk to them. I found out they needed a bass player and asked for an audition. Stan Lee had me come over to his house. He's a very interesting character. He's a great guy. He'd give you the shirt off his back, but he is hard to describe. If you know him, you're just like, "Yeah, that's Stan."
After I got the gig, Stan called me up and said, "Well, the other guy had really good stage moves, but you knew the entire set, so you got the job."
I was with them for a good 10 years.
Cris: I'm curious how you describe The Dickies to people who are not familiar with them. The quick answer is they were a punk band, started in the late '70s, etc. But that doesn't seem to encapsulate them.
Greg: It's a great question, Cris. I always say either The Dickies were your favorite band ever or you never heard of us. There's no in between. I would describe them as the Godfathers of what I would call pop punk, because 1) they're not screaming. The vocals are not screaming. We're singing, and Leonard (Graves Phillips) is huge on Beach Boys harmonies, vocal harmonies. If you're going to be in that band, you better be able to sing backup vocals. So they're singing instead of screaming.
2) They stayed away from politics, so they didn't put a date on themselves. I don't know if you remember that punk band from Canada, DOA. Every other song -- or the Dead Kennedys even -- every other song was about Ronald Reagan. Boom, you're kind of like timestamped into the 1980s.
Which is fine. Reagan inspired a lot of great punk rock lyrics. A lot.
The Dickies have never done that.
Also, their songs are hilarious. It's a punk rock band that doesn't take themselves too seriously and they don't take punk rock too seriously.
Cris: I can't think of any other punk rock band that necessarily could've done the theme song for a children's television show.
Greg: That's right. Who's going to do the “Banana Splits”? There were some other punk rock bands that had senses of humor but some of it was maybe rather crass too.
Meat Men were a great hardcore punk band. No political lyrics. Hilarious lyrics, but rated X. So there's that angle too.
Leonard… and I've said it many times before… songwriting and lyric writing, the guy is a genius and he's good at poking fun at himself as well as everyone else. And he does it in such a way where you're not being hit over the head with a hammer with it.
The Appeal of Punk
Cris: What drew you personally to punk?
Greg: I was born in '66. When I was 10, sometimes you'd be watching Don Kirshner's “Rock Concert.” There were a couple other shows similar to that late at night. If you were lucky enough to tune the rabbit ears to get it in, you might see a Ramones video... Well, I say video. This was way before MTV. But some sort of film of them playing.
I remember seeing the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, bands like that. Then around '81 or '82 a friend of mine gave me a copy of the very first Dead Kennedys record, “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables,” which is an amazing hardcore record for anybody that hasn't heard it. And it's before they started getting very political. A lot of stuff on that record is a lot of fun. And it was the speed of the music that attracted me and as a kid, honestly, some of the course language.
So that's just being honest. That's really what attracted me to punk rock. Then as you know there are all the little sub-genres of punk rock. Some things you like, some things you don't. For me, it was mostly the more aggressive, higher energy stuff because I had been skateboarding since '74, so a lot of that music was the soundtrack to skateboarding for me.
The Ramones Documentary
Cris: You mention the Ramones. You're in that 2004 Ramones documentary and I'm curious, what's something you learned from the Ramones?
Greg: Probably the biggest lesson I learned from the Ramones is the show must go on. These guys hated each other and had all sorts of drama and strife personally. But they would play the entire set backstage and then they would go out on stage and play the set for the audience. I've seen the Ramones play a bunch of times. They'll go out there and hammer a two-hour set with no set list and no break in between songs. The song ends. One, two, three, four,” boom, onto the next one. Let's see you do that.
Cris: Why would they perform the entire show backstage first?
Greg: From what I've read and heard from other people, Johnny Ramone was the taskmaster of that band and he was all about preparation and readiness. He kind of ran it like a military unit.
Cris: So in your mind they were one of the ones that really set the bar as far as just giving your all for every performance.
Greg: Oh, yeah, no doubt about it. I saw one of their tour itineraries from the '70s or '80s and they were playing 250 shows in a year. I think the most we played in a year was probably close to the 200 mark. Let me tell you, that turns your brain into mush. So I can't even imagine 250. That's practically the entire year. You think about travel days and stuff like that, it's pretty much a year. So my hat's off to them and doing it for as long as they did.
Cris: So, what stands out in your mind when you think back on your time in The Dickies?
Greg: A few things. One, definitely being in that documentary, “Too Tough to Die.” That's definitely a standout point.
I would say it's a lot of little things and some of the amazing people that I got to meet. I mean, you can name any punk rock band that was active in those 10 years I was in the band. They either opened for us, we opened for them, or we were on a festival bill with them somewhere. Every single punk rock band you can think of, period.
There were lots of little, amazing things that happened. We were doing some shows with The Damned. Patricia Morrison, who's Dave Vanian's wife, was playing in the band at the time, but she was also pregnant. They were going to do a soundcheck, but she was having some morning sickness. So they asked me, "Hey Greg, can you do soundcheck with us?"
I'm like, "Yeah! Let's play ‘Neat Neat Neat’ right now." I could've died right then and my life would've been complete.
Being able to meet guys that you read about and listened to those albums and looked at the covers, guys like The Damned, who are some of the nicest gentlemen you could ever want to meet. Klaus (Flouride) from the Dead Kennedys, one of the sweetest people ever. I never thought that some of these people would become friends. And that I would sit down and talk to them as friends and not just like a fan to a band.
Some people have asked, "Don't you miss it?" Well, yeah, you take 24 hours out of a day and you've got that one hour you're on stage. That's incredible. That's why we do it. That adrenaline shot.
But what nobody talks about is the missed flights, the stolen guitars, the in fights with the band, dealing with adult children. It doesn't matter if you're Metallica or a band of 16-year-olds, somebody's ripping you off. And it doesn't matter how big a band you are, it's just a bigger ripoff.
That kind of stuff can grind you down after a while.
But all in all, I could not be more grateful for those experiences I had with those guys.
Cris: I'm curious... you were doing that and then you played with Pete Anderson and you're doing blues work, which seems like a huge jump in the sense that punk and blues seem like distant relatives at best. So I'm curious though, from the perspective of a bassist, what do they have in common?
Greg: Well, first of all with blues, as we know, a 12 bar blues chord progression is one chord, four chord, five chord, and that's in also like 99.9% of all rock songs, and also a lot of jazz. I've always loved the blues. My dad would take me to go see blues acts. Some of my favorites like Koko Taylor. I was very fortunate to see Koko before she passed away.
Mose Allison. My dad and I just stumbled on it at a bar called the Soup Kitchen in Detroit. My dad was like, "Let's go see some music." We go to the Soup Kitchen. The doorman's like, "Get in there. Mose Allison is playing."
As far as blues and punk rock being related, that's where I start talking about what I would call street music. So, blues is a street music. It's a music for the people. I don't think punk rock is anything more than just blues for suburban kids. Whether you're singing about your wife leaving you or you're singing about how Reagan is messing you up financially, it's the blues.
How that parlayed into playing with Pete is Dusty Wakeman, who was the engineer for a lot of the Dwight Yoakam stuff but also an amazing bass player, said, "Hey, Pete Anderson's looking for a bass player. He's doing just straight up blues." I love straight up blues. So I met with Pete at his house in Glendale and played a little bit. He's like, "Well, the gig's yours if you want it."
Pete's got a great setup at his house. He has a full studio in the garage behind his house. It's a working studio so he's got bands in there 24/7 as well as his own projects and stuff, so it's nice for him because he can just go back there and whenever he's ready to record, he can hit the button.
We would rehearse there and everything. It was headquarters for Pete. I really loved what Pete was doing. I got to play some tracks on “Even Things Up,” which is a great blues record. And Pete, besides being an amazing guitar player and songwriter, is also a blues historian. He'll pick up the guitar and he'll play any obscure blues song for you.
I had always used the "less is more" approach. I even learned the "more less is more" approach with Pete. So that was a period when I went to flat wound strings on my bass and not slapping with my thumb but picking with my thumb and more on the fret board. It just turns into this dead, flat, straight line if you were to look at it in Pro Tools.
I learned a lot about music with Pete. I did a few recordings with Pete and a few tours.
By that point I had been married for a little while. We had a baby on the way. Bought a house in Van Nuys. The road and this really wasn't working anymore. That's when we decided about the next chapter.
Music for TV Shows
Cris: I also read that you've done music for TV shows like “Burn Notice” and “The Shield.” What was the most challenging aspect of making music for television?
Greg: Luckily there wasn't anything too extremely challenging because my two partners, my two buddies, Johnathan Merkel and Danny Osuna, we all went to music college together. We all got our bachelor's degrees in theory together. We all knew each other's playing inside and out. Johnathan and I were playing jazz casuals for 40 bucks a night, four sets a night, playing “Autumn Leaves” and “Blue Bossa.” So we were very in tune with each other's playing.
In order to play any kind of style, you need to respect it. If you don't respect the style, you're certainly not going to get the gig and you're certainly not going to capture that feel for like a TV or film song.
Probably the biggest stretch, we did a song for season four of “Sons of Anarchy.” It was like a modern rap rock song with Spanish rap vocals over it. So for me it was different because it was drop tuning super low. But again, respecting the style. So I think that's key. I've had some people ask me about studio work. I tell them, "You've got to respect the body of work." You have to.
About the Bear Suit
Cris: On the silly side, how did you get the nickname "Plushie"?
Greg: There's definitely a story on that.
When I first got in The Dickies, things like MySpace, actual band web pages with message forums, that was still a thing. I remember going on tour and Leonard and I would be looking for the nearest Kinkos just so we could check our emails.
I was doing the first tour with them. We were at a Kinkos and Leonard's on The Dickies message board. Under "subject" it said "Your new bass player." He goes, "We have to read this." He clicked on it and it said, "I love your new bass player. I want to have sex with him while he wears a bear costume and I wear a puppy costume." That's all it said. Leonard goes, "Oh my God, Greg, who do you know that knows how to sew?" My sister's amazing ... She has worked in museums and such. Her woman cave is a sight to behold. She's got like 17 sewing machines.
So she made this polka dot, Wonder bread, bear suit for me. After getting it, we were playing somewhere in Northern Los Angeles. There was this guy in the crowd and he was staring at me right from the downbeat. He had to be 350, maybe even 400 pounds. He was super tall. He was looking at me with these googly eyes. If he was a cartoon, you would see hearts floating.
Midway through the set, he climbs on stage, grabs me, knocks me into my amp, knocks my bass out of tune, and starts hugging and kissing on me.
Cris: Oh my God.
Greg: I'm yelling for security. They're standing up front just watching the kids mosh or whatever. Finally stop the show. They're dragging the guy out. As they're dragging him out, Cris, they're literally dragging him out backwards. He's on his heels and his arms are outstretched reaching for me. I was just like, "Huh?"
Little Dave, our other guitar player, goes, "Your bass is out of tune. Dude, your bass." I'm just like, "Dude, did you not see ..."
Then the rest of the story...
My wife, before I met her, had just moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles. One of her girlfriends was seeing Stan in the band and they came down to see us at a benefit show in downtown Los Angeles. I saw her before the show. She didn't know I was in the band. I was like, "This is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my life."
So we play the show. You can see the suit has a broken heart on it. She comes up to me after the show. There's a tap on my shoulder. I turn around. She goes, "Mr. Bear, who broke your heart?"
That was it.
After we started dating, we had a show at the House of Blues and she said, "Hey, check out your bear suit." She put the two little safety pins in there, fixing the broken heart.
We've been married for over 10 years now and have a four-year-old son.
Cris Cohen: What stands out in your mind when you think back to your time in Huey Lewis & The News?
Chris Hayes: We had a lot of good times together. It is kind of like being in a family, an extended family kind of situation. When we started out, I didn't really think we were going to be super huge and famous. It was more like, okay, we got a band. But looking back on it... like that "We Are the World" session for example. That was really an incredible moment in time.
If you had told me when I was graduating from high school that eventually I would do a recording with those people, I would have laughed in your face. I would have said, "There is no way that is going to happen." Those really were some incredible moments.
Getting nominated for an Oscar was a big deal for me. I had no idea that was ever going to happen.
Cris Cohen: From a music perspective, what was one of the more challenging Huey Lewis and The News songs to record?
Chris Hayes: I remember going over one of the a cappellas that we did. I think it was "Naturally." I remember that as being difficult. That wasn't one that just went right down on the tape. It took a while to get that right. I remember "Do You Believe in Love" being a little tough, because it was in B.
But then other ones like "Workin' for a Livin'" and "Couple Days Off," those were a lot of fun. "Small World" too.
But mostly the singing was the hardest part. Because it is hard to make background vocals sound great. In those days, we had to sing all of them. Nowadays, you do it once on your computer and you copy it.
Cris Cohen: And there was no Auto-Tune back then.
Chris Hayes: No. There was no Auto-Tune. We were Auto-Tune. And you have to get every guy's singing on pitch and in rhythm at the same time on tape without laughing or something. It's a challenge.
Cris Cohen: What makes for a good guitar solo?
Chris Hayes: I think having some sort of theme is always good, and being able to have something in there that is easily whistled or hummed. Something kind of catchy. Not too complicated. Not super technical. Try to be a little bit more melodic. Try to have a hook of some kind.
I'm not the greatest technical player in the world, but I tried to do something melodic in there so that people would recognize it. Something recognizable is probably the most important thing.
Cris Cohen: Johnny Colla said that one of the reasons your solos were different from everything else on the radio at the time was because of your jazz background. I'm curious how much of your solo writing was different on purpose, and how much of it was just because you couldn't help it, because you were so inundated with the world of jazz when you came into this?
Chris Hayes: I came up in that. I learned playing all those standards out of the book and playing a lot of funk, and not really playing a lot of rock.
I had to kind of learn that. So I'm kind of more of a funk player. I never considered myself a great jazz guitar player or anything, but that's kind of how I learned. So I possessed certain parts of the lexicon. I sort of speak that language a little bit. So naturally it is going to have an influence on the note choices that I would make.
That is what I would gravitate towards. If I had been a devotee of Jimi Hendrix or a blues guy, it would have been a completely different thing.
If I had been some sort of technical, Eric Johnson-type guy -- he's fantastic -- if that was the kind of stuff that I liked to play, then it would be more like that.
Cris Cohen: Everyone has kind of their own voice on their instrument...
Chris Hayes: I think so. That is the way I look at it. That is why music is so cool. Because regardless of your technical level, there is a certain amount of expression that goes into it.
There are varying levels of technicality. And sometimes being perfect isn't necessarily the best thing, because none of us are really perfect.
It is kind of more human almost in a way to have the flaws in there. That is my excuse for not playing better, anyway.
Cris Cohen: What's the old saying with live performances… if you make a mistake, do it a second time. Then everyone will think you did it on purpose.
Chris Hayes: Exactly. The whole thing goes by so fast, it is like nobody even notices.
Cris Cohen: And then staying on the idea of the solo, there is some cool concert footage out there of you doing these extended solos / intros to "I Want a New Drug.” How did you develop that?
Chris Hayes: I used play with this band called the Ellis Liebman Band with Dave Liebman and Pee Wee Ellis. There is a long tradition in jazz of doing solos with just drums. If you listen to like Elvin Jones “Live At The Lighthouse”… just drums and saxophone. A soloist and a drummer. So, we started doing that as an intro for that song.
I think it was a good time for everybody to take a break. I'm sure they were backstage making fun of me, or doing whatever it is that they needed to do to get ready to do the last song. Because traditionally we did that as the last song in the set. Bill would just start with a kick drum, lay down the four beats, and I would try to jam a little bit.
Sometimes the solos were really good, and then other times they were less good, but it was always fun. I tried to do different things and use different modalities and scales. It was actually a great thing for me to be able to do, and I was glad Huey let me do it, because with most bands you might not get to do that.
Cris Cohen: So basically it sounds like you had kind of an overall skeletal structure to it, but within that, there was some room to play and improvise every night?
Chris Hayes: Yes. And the nice thing about just having two instruments is there is a lot more freedom in terms of harmonic content. You can play whatever you want. There is nobody playing any chords underneath you. You can try some different things. I enjoyed it.
Cris Cohen: A lot has been written about how your jazz background influenced your playing in this rock arena, but I'm curious how your experience in the world of rock influenced your playing?
Chris Hayes: It certainly gives you a better sense of how to entertain people. Not that I am some sort of compelling performer, but I am probably a better performer for having done that for 22 years.
Now sometimes I will find myself jumping around on stage. Traditionally when you go see jazz guys, they don't jump around all that much. But from time to time I will do something like that.
Watching His Son Learn Guitar
Cris Cohen: I know that your son plays guitar. Watching him learn the guitar, how has that given you a different perspective on the instrument?
Chris Hayes: It is interesting because he is learning it from a whole different direction and perspective than I did. When I was a kid, we learned how to play by playing with people and eventually playing in clubs. You did a lot of jam sessions. There were opportunities to go out and play that were pretty easy. We didn't have the internet, obviously.
Nowadays, you can learn anything that you want on YouTube, from fixing a dishwasher to learning how to play Eric Johnson solos.
He got into country music, which is a completely different animal than playing be-bop or funk. He is more of a country kind of guy, which is great. I was never really very good at that, so it's cool for me to watch how he approaches it. Because it's more of a lick-driven sort of thing.
Cris Cohen: I found out that your son is a big Brad Paisley fan.
Chris Hayes: Loves Brad Paisley, and Brad has been so great. He has been really cool to both of us, and we have been to a bunch of his shows. He is really a great guy and a great guitar player. Ben absolutely idolizes him… as do I. I think he is fantastic. He is a great performer and a great human being.
Cris Cohen: What is or was your songwriting process?
Chris Hayes: A lot of times Huey would just give me a piece of paper with some lyrics on it. "Here. Write a song to this." That was the easiest thing to do. I was really into just writing songs, but I was kind of a little blocked on the lyrics side. Huey really preferred to write the lyrics himself anyway, which I totally get and he was better at it. Maybe he would give me just one verse and one chorus, so I could get sort of the pentameter of it.
Those twenty years I was really into just coming up with music. It was flowing through me. So sometimes I would bring songs to him and go, "Hey, this is something I've been working on. Can you write some lyrics to this?"
That was harder, because he had to come up with lyrics to my music and melody. That is a lot more difficult than writing the song to lyrics that have already been written.
Because music has its own higher emotion than words do. Words are powerful, but music is emotionally powerful, and it is hard to come up with something that is not corny to fit the emotion of a musical passage.
That is hard work, but he did it. I'm proud of him. He did it well.
Cris Cohen: How would you say your songwriting changed from album to album?
Chris Hayes: When I first got into the band, they had a couple of songs that they were working on, and I said, "Well, I like to write songs too. Can I write some?"
And they were like, "Sure, of course."
So I came up with a couple things, and then we ended up using a couple of them on the first album. I think we used three songs, which was cool for me. The first stuff that I wrote for the band had a New Wavy kind of vibe, because that is kind of what we were doing on that first record. It was more of a New Wavy kind of record.
The second album was more of a pop kind of thing, except for "Workin for a Livin," which was kind of almost a country tune. It has been covered by three country artists, so that's kind of interesting. The lyrics are so every man.
By that time, we weren't really New Wavy anymore.
We got "Do You Believe in Love" on the radio, and that helped us. Once we did that, then we went out and just played a bunch. When we started working on "Sports,” I think we got really lucky, because "Heart and Soul" was a huge hit. "I Want a New Drug" and "If This Is It." "If This Is It" is a pretty well-crafted pop song. "The Heart of Rock and Roll." Those were pretty compelling album tracks.
There were a lot of different things on that record that ended up being bigger than I would have thought.
When we were making "Fore!", we were into the record and we still didn't really have a whole bunch of hits. Bob Brown (the band’s manager) said, "Hayes, I need a hit out of you." So I got myself a six-pack of beer, went back to my house, and just threw down "Stuck With You." Not the lyric part of it, just the music. I brought it to Huey, and he came up with the words for it.
A New Purpose
Cris Cohen: In other interviews you spoke of taking a hiatus from music. What did that entail and what was the reason behind that?
Chris Hayes: I kind of just got into hanging out and watching my kids grow up. Music becomes like a lifestyle for musicians. It is like an identity and a lifestyle. Sometimes that identity or lifestyle may conflict with other stuff happening in your life, and for me I think that was it.
Now I am just Sara, Ben, and Nick’s dad. Sometimes your purpose changes.
It is all good stuff. I am just happy that I had the life that I had with the band. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot. I'm just really thankful that I was able to experience the things that I was able to experience.
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Cris Cohen: What stands out in your mind when you think about the recording of the album “Let The World Decide”?
Kyle Travers: Definitely the time put in. We worked really hard on this. We used the Prince method -- it is what we called it -- where we tracked every idea that we could come up with, and then listened back and decided what was good, what was bad, what actually added to the song, what took away from the song. It was definitely an intense effort… and that's a different way than we did the last record.
It was also our first time recording at Echo Mountain Studios, which is a very fine studio here in Asheville, North Carolina.
Cris: Especially on this album, sometimes you have what sounds like three songs in one song. I'm curious how much of that is planned and how much of that is inspiration?
Kyle: I'd say about 60% planned, 40% inspiration. One thing we wanted to do with this record was capture our live personality more than we did with the last one, and in order to do that we had to open up some room. For instance, the extended guitar solos on “Do Confide” and “Individuals” -- kind of the middle section -- that's us just venturing into our own improvisational territory and seeing what we can muster up, which is something we're known for doing live, and we wanted to be able to capture that on a record.
Cris: And along the lines of solos, one thing that really stood out to me in videos of your live performances was when you go back and forth between using a pick and not using a pick within the same solo. What drives that and how hard is it to pull that off?
Kyle: Well, it's become easier over the years. I think being raised in western North Carolina had a big influence on that. There's the flat picking technique, which some of these guys can play lightning fast with a pick, and some of my blues influences as well played like that. But then also as time went on I got into more of the finger-picking style and also slide guitar. Two of my main influences (with that were) Duane Allman and Derek Trucks. Neither of them uses a pick when they play slide, and it kind of gives it a more human tone, a softer edge to it. So when I'm playing a solo at any given time, I try and be spontaneous about it. And sometimes that involves harnessing more of that flat picking style or that aggressive blues picking style, or more of the finger touch. (It depends) on where the band is taking me, because they kind of guide me around in the solo, so to speak. I'll adjust my technique to match them and hopefully fit the improvisational effort we're trying to put down.
Guitar Parts That Are Like Vocals
Cris: On the instrumental “Ursa Major” the guitar parts are really like vocals. You could almost imagine there were lyrics that you are channeling through your guitar. How has your guitar playing been influenced by either your vocals or the vocal techniques of other people?
Kyle: That song is written by Josh Clark, our bassist, and he is an incredible songwriter. He's able to add that vocal touch to any instrumental he writes. He uses a loop pedal and he puts down his bassline and kind of writes a vocal-sound line to begin with, with his bass guitar maybe an octave up, using another pedal so he can find the harmonic response to the initial baseline or melody he set out to do. So he wrote that melody and I kind of just added harmony to it.
But as far as my personal influence from singers, my father introduced me to all sorts of great soul singers: Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Otis Redding. I think it's almost subconscious. All those years being a kid and him spinning these records over and over again, it kind of just comes out in your playing. I don't know if it's as much of a conscious effort as kind of just happens from hearing these soul singers. Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and just the licks they kind of sing with their voice. When I'm just winging it, playing the guitar, they kind of come out for me at times.
Cris: There is some really interesting musical conversation between you and Josh on this album. Traditionally the bass player locks in with the drummer and it's the two of them having this really symbiotic relationship. But with you guys it is the guitarist and the bass player going back and forth within songs. How did that evolve?
Kyle: That’s Josh's melodic ear that he has trained. He can work from their cohesiveness (with Eric on drums) and kind of complement me simultaneously. A good example of that (kind of playing) is one of our favorite records, “The Allman Brothers Band - Live At Fillmore East.” If you listen to Berry Oakley's playing, he's right there with the two drummers. But at the same time you'll hear him hit a lick right there with Duane or play just against Dickey Betts, while he's still in the pocket with the drummers.
Cris: With this band, it sounds like everyone is allowed to be an individual. Everyone is allowed to contribute. Everyone is allowed to musically voice their opinion. And yet, especially in songs like “Sweet Anna Lee,” you guys are all paddling in the same direction, for lack of a better term. Is that always the case? What happens when one guy wants to go in one direction and another guy wants to go in a different direction within a song?
Kyle: A long discussion happens. Sometimes heated, sometimes not, to be brutally honest. But yeah, like you said, the way this band writes songs is everyone has a voice. You got that nailed. And one of the rules and principles we go by is we are not going to confine ourselves into a small space musically.
In the instance of “Sweet Anna Lee,” my brother (Eric) penned that tune, and I helped as well. We co-wrote it, but he definitely started it off. I came to him and I was like, "Man, you have got something special here." Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, we always have loved this Americana kind of sound, and he really was able to harness that with this song.
We all thought it deserved to be on the record. And a discussion happened. Does it fit? Is it us? Eventually the conclusion (we came to was): Anything we write and enjoy is us. We are not going to restrict someone. Just because it doesn't sound like something I wrote, doesn't mean it's wrong. You know, maybe I'm wrong in that scenario. What is the direction?
We have been advised to play (just) one kind of music, and it is something we cannot feasibly do. We just have too many influences and we enjoy playing different styles of music. We take pride in being good at playing different styles of music. We like to switch it up and just play the game however we see fit.
Cris: I totally get that, because the music industry does not know what to do with someone they can't put in a box.
Kyle: Oh they don't. They have no clue, man.
Cris: Did you guys consciously decide as a band, we're not going to let anyone pigeonhole us?
Kyle: Yeah. To tell a story I rarely tell in an interview, we were approached when we first started by some names that will not be named in Nashville, some heavy hitters. We did a showcase. It kind of looked like “American Idol.” They set us up on a big stage and said, “Play four of your songs. We are going to sit here and take notes.” And they liked us. They sat down with us and said, "First off, you guys are good looking. We can work with that."
And we were immediately thinking, "Oh no."
Then they said, "Here's what we're going to do. We are going to shorten the songs (to) two and a half, three minutes. No more guitar solos. We are going to sit you down with a songwriter that can gear this more towards pop music," and so on and so forth.
We just said no. We'll fight in the trenches out here before we set ourselves up for that kind of situation. So it was a conscious decision. We decided we are going to do it our way instead of their way.
Maybe that cost me millions of dollars, but I don't care. I'd rather play the music I like than be wealthy.
Cris: Focusing on your locale, most articles refer to you as an “Asheville-based band.” How would you say Asheville has influenced you as musicians?
Kyle: You can hear it in the versatility of our music. There's just so much good music going around here, and the fans in Asheville are usually very open minded. You'll see the same guy at a bluegrass show that you'll see at a jamband show, or the same guy at a blues kind of show that you'll see at a hard rock show, or an Americana show.
Growing up around these people and learning from them, it has just soaked into our nature as musicians. That's something Asheville certainly has to offer: The versatility and well-rounded musicians for young cats like us to learn from.
Cris: In this one interview you were quoted as saying, "We play what we feel, not what we think." Can you elaborate on that?
Feeling Versus Thinking
Kyle: Certainly. I think music, for me at least, is something you feel more than something you think about. When I was 7 years old and I first heard the Beatles or (specifically) “Sgt. Pepper's,” I didn't think, "This is ingenious and creative." I felt it was ingenious and creative… if that makes sense. To take that to an improvisational sense, if you're playing a three-minute solo, and you have the eyes of a thousand people watching you and it's just you making up ideas off the top off your head… at the point you get caught thinking, you are dead in the water.
The flow stops, because now you're thinking, "Where are we headed next? Are we headed in the wrong direction?" You're (second) guessing yourself. You have to stop all your thinking and just feel the music, play what you feel.
Cris: And then my other question along those lines is: How do you stay with that once you get into the studio? Because from everything I've heard and read, a lot of people get trapped in overthinking when it becomes studio time.
Kyle: Right, certainly. And I think we've been guilty of that too, as much as anyone else.
Before you go in, you do the thinking. What are we setting out to do? You kind of lay out an outline. With this song, what are we setting out to do? But once you get in there, you have to let that go and kind of let the tune evolve (on its own), if you're going to let it sound organic and a become a piece of art. I think you could work on one song for eternity. But at some point you have to say, "This is done."
Cris: Is that kind of giving up on the idea of perfection?
Kyle: Yeah, maybe so. Part of that is understanding that perfection is unobtainable, and also undefinable. What is perfection? How can you ever reach something that you can't define? In my opinion, you've reached perfection when you've reached a good stopping point, rather than redoing it and redoing it and redoing it.
Some friends of mine are doing their first record. They're called Black Garlic. They are out of West Virginia, and they tragically lost their lead guitar player, Stevie Watts, in a car accident, right after they started making the record.
They asked me to play on the record because he passed away and he was a big fan of mine, and I was set to be a guest on the record anyhow. But there were all these huge holes and gaps left in the music, because he wasn't able to come back and do overdubs.
I kind of just harnessed the emotions I felt about the whole thing and about the songs. I wrote a couple of harmonies that I could play with him. But it's definitely weird to play...
Music is like a time machine. I got in a time machine, went back in time, and played harmony with my friend who passed away, and traded licks with him and played solos. And I'll tell you right now, 90% of the material they're using is the very first bite I took at a solo. Even though I would try it two or three times, that first whack is the one. Sometimes perfection is just spontaneity. It is not over-calculating.
Cris: Was the emotional level the same as if you were all in the studio together?
Kyle: Yeah, I would say so for sure, if not more so, because I knew in a way this was the last time I was going to get to play with my good friend. My emotions were kind of heightened in that session, because of the finality of the whole scenario. This is my last chance, so I'm going to get it, dammit.
For this episode of the Bands To Fans podcast I spoke with Michael Bram, drummer for The Weight Band and Jason Mraz. We discussed the different approaches he has for those two artists, what he learned from studying the work of Levon Helm, and what influenced his singing style.
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