By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
I believe we used the same Ace Tone organ as as in the early days. It's still extant. Chris owns it. It still functions; it's a little touchy these days, but who wouldn't be? We bring it on the road sometimes.
As a musician, you've played with R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish at various times. What was it like playing big spaces with these bands, as opposed to the club settings of the dB's or Continental Drifters?
When you're going out and playing someone else's songs, you have a different kind of emotional investment. As the hired gun, I always do my best to make them sound like themselves. I once had a business card that said, "I Make You Sound More Like You Do." My theory is not to leave your thumbprints all over other people's songs. I was fully aware that those guys wrote the songs, and I was there to help frame the picture. Also, there's a point where you can't see anyone at a big show. You know the coliseum is filled, but you can't see past the first row, so that's different. I mean, I get nervous whenever I play, still get a little trepidation. But no matter what, you feed off the audience, and you have a connectivity to the people onstage. Hopefully, if everyone's firing on all eight, you have this powerful, emotive engine that's out there churning away. I can think of some Continental Drifters shows where the six of us were so focused with each other that it was like being on a locomotive speeding out of control. You had no idea where you'd end up, but you were going there, and you better hang on for dear life.
But that doesn't really answer the question. At a club show with the dB's, it's our stuff, so we're all very involved emotionally and personally. There's a lot of putting oneself on the line for those songs, so I'm particularly careful with mine to make sure they're delivered. The nice thing about the smaller venues is most of the time everyone's there to see you. Five will get you ten that everyone that shows up to Blueberry Hill will know who we are and own actual records by us. So we're not necessarily just on someone's Spotify playlist; we exist on a physical plane. When we played the Bowery Ballroom in New York, there were plenty of twentysomething people there for exactly the first time. And that's very exciting. When you start doing this, you don't think, "I'm going to write classics." So if it strikes a chord, that's important; that's how it's supposed to work. But you can't guarantee that. And I think that the dB's, because of the care that went into those records, have accomplished that in many ways. I mean, our live performances back in the day were certainly hit-or-miss; I'm a lot better at it now. But in a day and age when there's basically an entitled audience, who has access to the whole history of music for free, you'd better have something good.
Anything else to add?
Well, we're very fortunate to have made this good record, and I hope people will hear it. You know, I guess at this point, to make a living at it you either tour your brains out or get a song in a movie. Our personal schedules are such that it's hard to tour our brains out, especially at our relatively advanced ages. I don't know what the future holds for us. I've certainly enjoyed this go-around a lot. I just want to wake up tomorrow. That's triumph. I have discovered that middle age, basically, means waking up and finding friends on the obituary page or sick with cancer. And that's so disheartening. I want to just keep on the sunny side, as the Carter Family would say...wake up in the morning and make it to the end of the day. I'm happy with the little times now. I don't need the huge conquests or a dump truck full of cocaine at my doorstep. If I died tomorrow, I would feel that professionally I had accomplished most of what I wanted to do.
So people should take advantage of this rare opportunity?
I would see us if I were living in St. Louis! I don't think they're going to be disappointed. The setlists we've been doing have been a good balance of old and new.