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Dave Schools in Full-on Fun Mode

by Mike Greenhaus on March 17, 2014

Photo by John Patrick Gatta

Widespread Panic’s bassist reflects on his heroes, and gives us a peek at his band’s next album as part of Relix’s 40th anniversary celebration.

Into the Wood
The first little Wood tour [in early 2012] was so short that we just barely got to realize the potential of what we could do and how it could benefit us. But a year later, we realized that it had some profoundly good effects on us. It gave us the freedom to rearrange existing material that maybe we felt married to because we were plugged in. And it made us realize that we can do whatever we want with our material, which was always part of the original plan—to allow music to evolve just like we, as humans, do individually. But sometimes, things don’t work out as they’re planned. So with that in mind, we said, “We should do that again and try some other places.” It stimulates the ability to write new music, and it just wouldn’t be the first thing that people would say in a random word association that started with Widespread Panic. The main problem with it is getting people to shut the fuck up and listen to us so that we can play quietly. [Laughs.]

Full-on Fun Mode
We had a few days between our New Year’s show and the Gregg Allman tribute in Atlanta [on January 10], and I wasn’t going to fly home to California. We went up to a studio in the mountains and spent about five days really breaking through some stuff with each other and truly collaborating for the first time in a long time on all-new material. We were just set up in a circle in the room, in record mode, writing mode and fun mode—it was really great. So there’s a whole batch of new stuff that’s been cooking—ideas that we have tossed around but haven’t been brought out onstage. The tour in March provides ample opportunity for us to trot all of it out however we want—whether it’s acoustic, whether it’s electric or whether it’s on the beach in the Dominican Republic.

Let’s Get Down to Business
We wanted to get away from the temptations of being home, not that those temptations are the same ones we would’ve had 20 years ago, but we were sort of forced into a situation where we could write whenever we wanted to. We also wanted to test out the studio without the money-ticker going. We didn’t have to worry about someone dropping by with some fun and we got down to brass tacks. It’s hard to get us all together without a specific purpose in mind since we’re scattered all over the country these days. Our thought was: “The music business has changed, and let’s take it back to where we used to do things and pretend that we’re in the living room of the band house in Athens, Ga.” Except we have a Neve console and a couple engineers recording
everything, including all the clever banter between rehearsal takes.

The Next OK Computer or Workingman’s Dead
As someone that sort of floats around in the music industry from production to playing in different bands to being in a band for almost 30 years, my head says that we don’t need records anymore. But certain bands create 45 minutes to an hour’s worth of moods that can never be recaptured—a group of songs, when it’s well-crafted, can take on a life of its own. And I’m not necessarily talking about the obvious ones like Dark Side of the Moon, a concept record, but just something that is such an excellent snapshot of a group and a really special moment. It is a grouping of songs that seem to belong together like Workingman’s Dead or OK Computer. I hope, someday, I can make a record that has an effect on somebody that way.

Physics for Deadheads
You can’t be around people like Mickey Hart and Bobby Weir without absorbing part of what makes them tick. Mickey has this incredibly insatiable desire to discover and forge new sounds. He wants to hear, literally, the sounds of the universe, and he’s managed to do that. I love new sounds, and I also love old sounds used in new ways because I feel that music is about juxtaposition. So what I have learned from Mickey is that we should always, as musicians, be on the search for new sonic frontiers and how we incorporate those sounds into what we do best. Here’s a guy who’s 70 years old still playing with the strength of 1,000 suns because he loves it. And what I get with Bob Weir is something completely different. Bobby is into distillation, and he’s into quietness, and he’s into letting sounds have enough room to fully develop. Weir just wants to throw one pebble into the middle of the pond and wait until the ripples get all over the shore. What he can do with an acoustic guitar is amazing. The Grateful Dead was an amazing anomaly that never should’ve happened on paper. It’s a physics experiment where the machinery involved would’ve just destroyed itself before the results of the experiment could’ve been completed, but somehow it worked.

Widespread Panic opened for The Band in 1991 outside Charlottesville, Va. Richard Manuel had already exited stage left so it was basically Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson’s version of The Band. It was the first time that I’d ever seen them in the flesh, and I met them briefly, and they didn’t seem very happy about where they were. It was one of those early situations where I realized that I’d rather not meet my idols if I had to meet them like that. I would have been happier with the picture I had in my mind from listening to their albums and pedaling my bike down to the Byrd Theatre in Richmond to see The Last Waltz about 15 times when it was on its first run. I’m sorry that I didn’t live in the Northeast where I probably would have been very happily drafted into being a regular at one of Levon’s rambles. I’ll tie that up by saying that I am really glad to be close to Phil Lesh’s place because he’s really doing a very similar thing in his own way.


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