Yes, No and Maybe: Celebrating 20 years of Medeski, Martin & Wood’s musical adventures
Wood: It was always interesting because we were coming from a completely different place. We thought that we were up there onstage conjuring up Sun Ra, Mingus, West African stuff, Duke Ellington, Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix. But then we’d be playing for this young sort of hippie crowd and they’d be thinking Trey or Jerry Garcia. They would have a whole different background of music. They were attracted to our approach to playing but it was just surreal that they were seeing the music the same way we were seeing it. It was very strange to get the attention that we were getting but for a reason that were not able to relate to at all. So it was a combination of being incredibly grateful that people were showing up to our shows, but being really confused by what they saw in us. There was a long period of that and we eventually gave up trying to figure it out. It was a little surreal there for a while. To a certain degree, I think this probably happens with just about any band. They think they are doing one thing and people hear another. Ultimately, it doesn’t even matter.
Penta: At one point, we got a little sad when it seemed that the old audience had been pushed out but then we realized that it was great to do what we wanted to do and have the support of a large audience who appreciated what we were doing.
Wood: It became this weird challenge once we realized what it was that they liked. All of the sudden you have this choice to cater to it or not, so suddenly your music becomes a little more self-conscious. It’s inevitable I think. Suddenly you’re questioning every decision you make: Am I doing that because they want that or am I doing it because I know they don’t want that?
After the more straightforward grooves of the Gramavision material, the band took its music in a more experimental and studio savvy direction under Blue Note.
Medeski: We signed with Blue Note and it was the first time we had a decent budget. That was where we really started to pull in, in terms of the studio, hip-hop and popular music on how we approach things. David Baker came back and then Scotty Hard came in [to produce]. “Hey-Hee-Hi-Ho” was where we first started really using the studio.
Martin: Baker did half of Combustication and Scotty did half. Then, as Scotty started to permeate, we started to do more sound manipulation stuff. Scotty was coming out of Wu-Tang Clan and Prince Paul and I loved that stuff. John was turning into Jimi Hendrix with all his stuff. So we were definitely using the studio more as another instrument than ever before. It influenced our writing, playing and sound.
*The band continued its Blue Note run after Combustication with the acoustic Tonic and the innovative and surreal The Dropper in 2000.
Medeski: We had been opening for a lot of people and playing a lot of loud rock shows. We had just opened for Dave Matthews for five nights. We needed something that was just the opposite of gigantic places where you needed to be really loud. Let’s play [the now defunct downtown club] Tonic with no microphones and acoustic piano. Our friend set up a pair of stereo mics and he had great equipment in front of the band. We went back to listen to it and decided to make a record out of it after the fact.
Wood: We wanted to break away from some of that stuff to different hardcore influences. Stuff that was a little edgier. That is when we made The Dropper. We were looking to find more current things in harder core rock and roll. There was a certain point where we were covering PJ Harvey songs. We were just looking for influences beyond classic jazz, ‘60s rock and R&B and Bob Marley.
Medeski: Combustication was our biggest selling record to date at that point and we figured we’d just put our noses down and try and be creative: To play what we are feeling and what we are surrounded with. Scotty Hard [produced] that record. He wanted us to make our Sgt. Pepper’s. Almost everything is played live on that, but it was the way it was mixed that makes it sound so weird. When we mixed it we really treated it like a hip-hop record or something more contemporary. We edited things together and we brought Ribot in to do some stuff. Scotty did an amazing job on it.
Martin: With the opening track, “We Are Rolling,” we were in this basement in Brooklyn and we were finally sitting down and making a record. There was this explosion of energy that was like this punk rock, fuck you energy. What came out I thought was so beautiful, I felt like it was such a strong statement of what we were right then. I wanted it to be the opening song and we went back and forth. John wasn’t sure because he thought we would get dropped if we opened with that song. Commercially, maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do but it defined who we were. I didn’t hear one complaint from the label until people realized that we weren’t going to sell as many records as the one before. That just made me feel better about it.
Lundvall: I was really happy with the albums they made for us. They always made money for us and did very well for us. They decided to do their own thing so we parted ways, but we are still on extremely friendly terms. I’d love to have them back on Blue Note, that’s for sure.
Penta: Everybody thought that The Dropper was a drug reference. MMW never names their records or their songs until the night before they have to deliver them. It’s really infuriating as their manager. I will be hounding them in the eleventh hour for this information. I guess it’s hard to name instrumental songs. They were convinced that the record was really challenging and that the label would drop them when they heard it. So the band referred to it as The Dropper and the name stuck.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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.
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