Widespread Panic’s Michael Houser – Keeping Busy (Relix Revisited: October 1999)
One of the interesting things I find in your cover selections is that some of them, such as “Peace Frog” and “Over The Hills,” are very much Panic doing covers of the Doors and Zeppelin, while others like “Aunt Avis” and “Makes Sense To Me” are unknown to many as covers.
Houser: Right, and that’s two different types of covers. The Zeppelin and the Doors are mainly for Halloween. And the other covers that we’ve done over the years have been songs that we really dug a lot that we could play in a different way and have good results.
As far as the band’s originals, does one person write most of the songs or are they a group effort?
Houser: Sometimes they’re a total group effort, and sometimes they come out of practice or a jam or something that we make into a song. And there’s others that I’ll write or J.B. writes or JoJo writes, and Todd has written a song now, and Dave is working on a song, so they come from wherever. Sometimes we’ll come in with a song that’s 80 percent there, and we’ll just fine-tune it or something. J.B. has written the most songs probably, and then me and JoJo write a couple of songs a record or so.
Is the person who writes it the one who gets to sing it?
Houser: Sometimes, although there are several songs that J.B. sings that I wrote. But if me or JoJo’s singing it, then me or JoJo probably wrote it. There’s some songs, like I said, that I wrote that J.B. sings.
As far as the songs and their live presentation, do you guys go in with a setlist?
Houser: Yeah, we do. We found that a couple of years ago we were starting to play the same songs. We were stuck in kind of this mode where we would play the same 30 songs or so. And we wrote down all our songs and realized that we had 100 songs or so that we could play. So from that point on, we decided to start not repeating songs for like three nights, and that makes us go through our songs and play at least 80-90 percent of them on a regular basis.
Do you occasionally junk the setlist partway through?
Houser: We’ve had times where something has gone wrong, or something has happened, and we had to go with whatever we felt like. But usually we’re all pretty aware of where we’re at and what we’re doing.
There are some songs that you don’t play that often like “Coconuts.” Is there a reason why you don’t do some of those songs that much?
Houser: That’s a funny story. You know “Coconuts” was the first song that we wrote that we played a lot. And so we ended up playing it every night for like five years. And one day J.B. just said, “I can’t do it anymore.” And that’s when we quit playing it for like, I don’t know, three or four years or something. And now we’ve kind of gotten back to where we’re comfortable with it, and we play it like once a tour or something like that.
Let’s talk about influences briefly. Are there any guitarists or musicians who have influenced the way you play?
Houser: Yeah, lots of them. I guess my favorite guitar player is Steve Howe from Yes. He’s a great guitarist. And I used to listen to a lot of Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Rush, Ted Nugent and stuff like that. That’s who I learned to play guitar to basically. And then, just whatever was on the radio.
Are there any current artists that you particularly like?
Houser: I like Vic Chesnutt a lot. I like Bloodkin a lot and Jerry Joseph. And I’ve got the new R.E.M. on right now. I listen to a lot of classical music. A lot of days I just turn on NPR and listen to whatever they’re playing—jazz, and really just about anything that we like. My wife just got a Bruce Cockburn record. I’d never really listened to him before, but it’s a great record.
Have you guys run into any problems where people try to lump you into the “Southern rock,” Allman Brothers, Dixie Dregs category?
Houser: Not really. I don’t think a lot of people think we’re Southern rock. We get the Allman Brothers comparison, but we get the Dead comparison more than that probably.
That’s sort of an unfair thing for you guys, because the Dead was the Dead, and what you are doing has a similarity in that you are an improvisationally-based band, but beyond that I think the similarities end.
Houser: You know, people are always looking to put you in a category if they can.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
Houser: Like I said before, I’m looking forward to going around the world again if we can, and putting out this next record, which we’re all very excited about. I think we’ve got some good stuff for it, and we’re all kind of thinking about that right now.
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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