Inside Widespread Panic’s New Album: Dirty Side Down with John Keane
What percentage have been performed or road-tested before the sessions?
50 percent of the songs that they are doing are songs that they’ve performed live in the past. And about half of the songs are new material that has not previously been played live. And the other songs are some songs, there’s a song called “Clinic Cynic” that drummer Todd Nance sings and that song’s been around for a while but it’s never actually made it onto a studio album. And they’re doing a song that Jerry Joseph wrote called “North” that’s been one of my favorites for a long time but that one’s never actually made it onto an album either.
In 2006 you toured with the band before Jimmy Herring joined. How did that experience shape your role as a producer and the studio dynamic with the guys?
It didn’t change my relationship with the band that much because I’ve been working with the guys since 1986, but it did give me a chance to get to know Jimmy well. And I was touring with them when he first started playing with them. The first show we did was at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, so I got to spend a lot of time hanging out with Jimmy and we were teaching each other Widespread Panic songs. We were both trying to learn as many Widespread Panic songs as we could while we were on the road. And I thoroughly enjoyed that part of the experience and so when they came into the studio, Jimmy and I already had a pretty good rapport.
Going on the road with those guys, for me, was kind of like running away and joining the circus. I’m sure all this running around the country on a big bus is an old hat to those guys, but for me, it was like a vacation because I’d never done anything like that—and not at that level. So, I had a great time being a tourist in all these different cities and getting play amazing venues like Red Rocks and Radio City Music Hall.
Are you playing on the album as well—I know you often sit in on pedal steel, and have filled in on guitar in past interim periods?
Yeah, I usually end up putting little bits and pieces here and there on studio albums—steel guitar mainly. I play steel guitar on a few songs—maybe a background vocal here or there. That’s part of the fun of making records with these guys. I’ve been known to add little bits and pieces on the quieter songs.
They’ve got a new song called “When You Comin’ Home” — it’s a really beautiful, quiet little ballad and I put some steel guitar on that. And we also brought in Anne Richmond Boston to sing some backups on that. She’s a singer who lives here in town and she’s performed on some of the other Widespread records and she’s probably the only guest musician other than myself that will be appearing on the album.
This album was only a few days into recording when your friend and longtime Panic associate Vic Chesnutt passed away. Are there any tributes to him on the album?
Yeah. We’re doing a song called “This Cruel Thing,” which is a song that Vic [who passed away on December 25, 2009] cut in my studio in the mid-‘90s as a demo and it was during the sessions for About to Choke, one of his albums on Capital Records, but it never made it on the album. And as far as I know, he didn’t put it on any of his albums. But the guys came in and were saying that they would like to do a Vic song, so I pulled this one out and played it for them and they really liked it, so we decided to record a version of it.
Most Relix readers know you as a producer. Did you always know you wanted to have a career in music production?
My dad worked in a radio station and when I was a little boy and we always had tape recorders around so it has always been a hobby of mine. When I started playing guitar it was only natural for me to want to record myself and listen back to it. I was about 13 or 14 when The Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach album came out and that was around the same time when I was trying to figure out how to play lead guitar—and I became sort of obsessed with that record for a couple of years. I played it so much that I wore it out and I had to go buy another one. And I was now trying to figure out the guitar solos and figure out which part Duane Allman played and which part Dickey Betts played. I’d try to play both into a tape recorder and overdub one over the other—probably my first experience with overdubbing was bouncing guitar parts from one tape recorder to another.
When I was in high school, it didn’t really occur to me that there was a career to be had in music production. And I never really thought that I would be able to make a living doing that. So when I graduated from high school, I went to Southern Tech in Marietta, Ga. and took mechanical engineering for a couple years and I got really bored with that and I came home and started playing in bands for a living. Eventually, it became necessary for me to start recording the various bands I was playing in, and that’s when my career sort of started to blossom.
In Athens in the early ‘80s, there were no recording studios. So, if you wanted to record something, you pretty much had to do it yourself—or you had to drive to Atlanta and spend a lot of money. So, I bought a Reel to Reel 4-track and started doing demos for my band and when other bands in town started getting wind of it, they started calling me up and wanted to come in and make demos for their band. And it just sort of snowballed out of that. After about three or four years of doing that, I decided to make recording my full time job—probably in about 1984 or 1985—and I stopped playing in bands for a living and started recording for a living. And my studio has just sort of slowly evolved since then. And all the money I made from making recordings, I put back in to the studio and bought nicer gear.
Talk a little bit about your studio. It is actually the home you formally lived in, right?
The studio is in an old house in a residential district in Athens. It’s not a purpose-built facility, it’s just sort of a home studio that expanded. It has a very homey feel to it. It’s not like going to a doctor’s office to record—you know, some studios are in industrial complexes and the whole vibe is kind of barren. I think people like recording here because it’s like a house and there’s a kitchen and a front porch with a swing and it’s a nice neighborhood to walk around in—and it’s right in the middle of town.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
- Dame "Sugar Muffin"
- Dead Confederate: In The Marrow
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- Iron & Wine at The Beacon (A Gallery)
- The National "Don’t Swallow the Cap" on Letterman
- A Great Night in Harlem (A Gallery)
- "Friend of The Devil": Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett, Grace Potter, Keller Williams, Ministry…
- American Idol’s Randy Jackson To Produce Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Trey Anastasio Band at The Hangout (Video Stream)
- Allie Kral Says Goodbye to Cornmeal
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll