Phil Lesh Goes There and Back Again (Relix Revisited)
Now that everyone has gone off with their own bands, there must be at least a hundred different musicians you guys have played with other the last seven years. How do those flavors come in when you play together these days?
Phil: Well, the only experience I’ve had musically has been, first, with Bob sitting in with my band, and then on New Year’s Eve Billy [Kreutzmann] and Mickey joined us, just for a set, doing old Grateful Dead material. Bobby’s playing has always been really unique, fascinating, really innovative, and it’s always a trip to play with him. That hasn’t changed. It’s too soon to tell how Billy and Mickey are going to relate to what we’re doing, because we only played one set, and it was kind of chaotic because it was New Year’s Eve. We’re looking to play some music together, all of us, and in fact, we’re getting together this very evening to talk about that, so I have high hopes and a great deal of faith that we soon will be making some music, playing together. Very soon, I think we’ll be in a rehearsal situation. Once we actually sit down and talk to one another, then it’ll all probably move ahead pretty quickly.
You’ve been working a lot with Hunter, too, writing song – “No More Do I,” “Night of a Thousand Stars,” “Celebration,” “Rock and Roll Blues”...
Phil: That was the one that started our collaboration. He had been sort of retired at the time. He wasn’t writing too much. So I called and said, “Bob, I’ve got a song. It’s talking to me and it’s saying ‘Hey, take me to Robert Hunter.’” So I talked him into letting me bring it over, and I played that one for him and he said, “What else have you got?” In a week he had lyrics for all of them.
You have a lot of varied experiences in music, being a composer as well as a stage player. How does it all tie together?
Phil: In many different ways, actually, but mostly in the way that everything is orchestrated, so there’s always something fresh of a new development at every turn in the song, and just trying to make sure there’s enough variety and novelty manifested at those points so that the ear and the mind and the heart are drawn onward through this gesture, this experience. My vision has always been, for a recording or for a song or a performance, to have it tell a story, a complete story in one gesture that is not broken up or mitigated in any way. It’s like someone described the music of [classical composer Karl Maria von] Weber as expressing a novel in a single sigh. That’s the sort of thing I’ve always wanted to have happen and we achieved that with this record.
I can tell you’re thrilled about this project.
Phil: Well, this band – I’m telling you. Each of those musicians has played with me at other times, and when this group got together it was pretty spectacular, the alchemy we were able to generate. The first day we played together, we improvised for 20 minutes – it was one of those things where we started played, developed some ideas and then it had an ending to it and we all looked at each other and asked, “What was that ? Where are we? Who are we? What does this mean ?”
That’s when the music tells you that these guys are a band.
Phil: It told me, it told them – you just gotta be able to hear what’s being said. ‘Cause it just spoke through us, man, it just came down. This experience in the studio, honing in on exactly what makes things work in a transition between a vocal and a chorus, or between a chorus and an instrumental, or between the chorus and the bridge, or any of those places where you really have to lead the ear and mind and the heart onward – I imagine that affecting the way we improvise together in a very profound way. It’s going to be more transparent and more intricate at the same time. And much more exciting, because people know when to stop playing for just that three beats and let somebody else come in and take it and put their thread into the tapestry, weave their thread into the big picture. To me, it’s like the ideal of what we had with the Grateful Dead. It’s electric chamber music and Dixieland at the same time.
What does each of these guys bring to this band?
Phil: Warren Haynes is the street-smart roots guy – he’s got that raw street, gutsy, smart, ballsy approach and he brings the kind of gravity that’s really needed. John Molo, the drummer, his knowledge of all the little sub-genres of rhythm is encyclopedic. He has the capability of creating hybrid rhythmic genres. For instance, disco and African, all in one groove. So you can move like an African, or you can move like John Travolta, The music moves in that way, too, and that’s a unique gift.
Rob Barraco knows as much about old Grateful Dead material as I do, and sometimes more. In “St. Stephen,” we have this introduction and over the top of that, Rob will play the phrase that’s the introduction to the body of the song. He combines the motifs and ideas in this tapestry, which is continually evolving. And Jimmy Herring, we call him “Sunshine.” Every note he plays is a poem and when you string a few of them together, it’s like an epic – but it’s all woven into what everyone else is doing.
When all of us transcend what it is that we’re bringing to the band, that’s when it really happens. When we go beyond what we all know and what we’ve been going, and what we’re known for, we always do it together, because that’s the only way it will work. That’s the real deal, when everybody’s playing beyond themselves, and what we’re playing is what’s being, in a sense, dictated to us. I believe music exists eternally, and in eternity, and when our group mind is in the right mode, we open ourselves to the possibility of being a pipeline for that eternal music. It comes down and it steers us. It just says “Okay. Now we’re gonna go over here. ” And nobody, nobody in the band is controlling that. To me, that’s the highest art – to get to that point where you’re open to the eternal music. It’s not something you can control, either. You have to let it happen.
The Howlin’ Brothers take to the Relix rooftop and share a song they wrote with Warren Haynes.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
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.
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