Stefan Lessard Talks Yukon Kornelius
Yukon Kornelius at Vail, 2011
I’m guessing “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” is a favorite of yours. Between Yukon Kornelius and DMB at the Gorge a few years ago when you guys played that for the first time.
Yeah, you know its funny because we played that and I was like, “Oh wow. It’s funny that we’re playing cover songs with DMB that I already played with another band,” because DMB is the first for everything. The first original song, the first cover songs. I mean growing up in DMB for me was like the first time. It was just an interesting experience for me as a musician and in DMB to go back there and think, “Oh! I already know this song!”
I interviewed Boyd [Tinsley] recently about his film Faces in the Mirror and he said that when he was recording the music for that film, it was when you guys were doing Big Whiskey and the GooGrux King and it was an incredible creative time for him, and that his music since then, especially on Away from the World is totally reflective of that. Do you find similarities and differences between playing with Yukon and then going back to DMB and vice versa?
Well, what I’ve discovered with playing with Yukon is that I’ve never had the time or chance in my life to sit down and learn cover songs and learn other songs that I might wanna play and then go play them. For me with DMB, it was always writing original music. For me, what I’ve been getting out of Yukon and all these little side projects I’ve been putting together, I mean, I’m a writer. If I had to choose one or the other, I’d rather write every single song I play or play a song written by someone I’m there with than play a cover. At the same time, I’ve learned that I really love going in and researching a song, finding out more about it.
You know, the thing with Yukon that I used to do with DMB in the early days and because of politics and because of stage placements and microphone costs and what we had, I sort of stopped singing backup vocals. But I started again with Yukon and just learning to play bass parts while singing backup vocals is a completely new thing for me and it’s put me out of my comfort zone but it’s also something that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s one of those things where in Yukon, we switch up instruments every once and a while to make it fun and exciting. It has to be fun and exciting for the guys up there. I mean, these are guys who’ve been invested in the groups that they’ve been in for the most of their careers. For them to get out and be in a garage band, and to do it in front of their fans and still being guys playing live music and having fun and paying homage to some of this great music.
I have to admit, I came into Yukon Kornelius not a fan of heavy metal. I didn’t dislike it but I just wasn’t a fan of it and I had such new respect for bands like Skid Row and Quiet Riot. It’s just sort of like opening up my head to new music. When I go back to being in DMB, I sort of feel a little more humble about things. And also, I have a bigger catalogue of things to reference when I go into the studio. When I think about bass parts, for Away from the World, I guess like [Boyd] has creativity that sort of shines down upon him and I kind of research my creativity a little bit more. For Away from the World, I really kind of wanted to pull out a kind of John Paul Jones sort of vibe to the bass playing and the lines, and a little R&B too. But originally, for “Rooftop,” that middle section, I was thinking [about Zeppelin] and kind of going after that rocking vibe for the bass line.
The music on Away from the World is great. Personally, why I enjoy DMB so much is because everyone really is doing their own thing and making their unique sound but it’s one cohesive sound that’s moving along and that’s something you guys have always been able to do. I think the songs on this latest album; actually songs like “Mercy” and “Snow Outside” and “the Riff” really show that.
Aw thank you. And I agree! I think that this last record was very thoughtful. And we approached it in a different way and that’s a good thing! The thing with Big Whiskey, it was a confusing time for us but at the same time, it was aggressive. We were really aggressive about putting this big record out with Roi [LeRoi Moore] as such a big part of it. And then, I think Away from the World was like a release from all of that.
Kind of back to an open page?
Yeah. Sort of a blank canvas but also with Big Whiskey for me was that there was question. Should there be horns, should there be no horns? Should it be just LeRoi? I think those kind of questions were probably going through everyone’s head, even Rashawn [Ross] and Jeff [Coffin]. I’m sure they were thinking, “Should we be playing here? I’m not sure.” We had these conversations; how do we pay homage to Roi. I think the way we ended up doing it was the right way. But Away from the World, it was basically “We are the band.” I think Jeff came away from Big Whiskey and into Away from the World kind of understanding a little bit more about what LeRoi was adding to this music. I felt his performance in the studio, at least for us, improved.
And then I imagine recording with Steve Lillywhite again helped that process.
Stefan: It did because Steve was great. I mean I’m not sure if there was much of a direction or vision. Dave was working on the music before we got in there. But Steve came in with a vision. So with the riffs that Dave was working on and with Steve’s vision, it just really helped guide us with a focus. It helped me out too because I’m such a try everything kind of guy. Like I could do this, do that, try this. But then Lillywhite was like, “Let’s just take it back to the basics. Let’s kind of look back at our history.” I like using different producers but I could see doing another three with Lillywhite back-to-back. I think it would be kind of cool. It’s like the Star Wars Trilogy. To work in a studio in a way that keeps it fun and light and not too heavy and a lot of times, the stranger behind the board can add tenseness to the room. Having Lilywhite there, it was definitely the right time for us as a band to bring him back to the fold.
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