Robert Randolph

TM: John Medeski and the North Mississipi All Stars discovered your music and brought you into The Word almost 15 years ago. How did it feel to come full circle after all that time and record another Word album this past year?

RR: It’s been actually great, you know, I think it’s kind of perfect timing, cause all through the years, I think we were all on major labels at the time, and it was a lot goin on, and we’ve kinda been on these sort of see-saws of like, up and down, touring, radio hits, non radio hits, touring festivals, this and that, and it’s all really been cool for each respective band and the artist, but, you know, I think this was sort of the perfect time, I mean, especially sorta given the state of all the depression that’s goin on around the country, and the world, to have us come along and create such music that’s positive, you know really has these great messages, has a mixture of gospel, blues, and rock, and it has all of that, and it really just makes you feel good, and it just comes back around to that, and I think the music is actually coming back around to artists, and roots bands doing roots music, and embracing roots music again, so I think it’s really the perfect timing for it all.

TM: I agree with you, the world needs positive music now more than ever.

RR: Yeah, and you know what’s so funny is, it’s kind of ironic that when you say the words positive music, it hits these sort of people in this record industry, you know, and as syrupy as it my sound, it really sounds corny to them. I’ve explained to so many sort of popular, pop record label people over the years, and they just don’t understand what is really wanted by the masses of the people. And it’s sort of weird, you know,  that it has to be that way, but until you see these artists and see people coming along, I mean, it’s just like a guy like Beck, beating out all of the popular artists for the Grammy, you know, and doing that it goes to show you what’s really wanted more by the real, I wouldn’t even say the real, just most of the music listeners out there, you know, and I think throughout this whole sort of popular, and its not even talking about any other artists, people are gonna do what they’re gonna do regardless, but it’s just great for us to see a record label like Vanguard, and there’s other record labels and other artists out there making positive music, but there’s just not enough of it, and I think there should be more, and I’m just glad we’re one of the contributing bands to contribute to that movement, but not really a movement. It’s just kind of going back and grasping what was already done, but to revive it all.

TM: Right. And a lot of people that listen to mainstream music, they haven’t had the first-hand experience of being at a show with one of these high-energy positive bands, where people are celebrating life. There’s a whole feeling that goes along with it that you just can’t express on the radio.

RR: Yeah, there is a whole feel, and a whole listening experience to listening to music, but you know the the thing that’s more telling, is now you have all of these music festivals, which people would rather pay a lump sum of money where they can go ahead and hear 5 or 8 of their bands they like in one sort of day or weekend at a festival, and these festivals have come more and more in demand. There’s so many festivals now that I think it’s great for music. Years ago we didn’t have so many festivals, and people had to pay all this money to go see some band they heard about and don’t know much about but they go there, but it’s not much of a joyful, live music experience or what have you. So I think being in the Word allows us to contribute to that feeling. It makes me happy.

TM: The Word is releasing their second album on May 4 entitled Soul Food. Tell us what Soul Food is about.

RR: Well, Soul Food its sort of, it’s funny you get Soul Food when you go down south, which the term Soul Food originally originated from, and there’s a spread of a bit of everything. You got your greens, your yams, mashed potatoes, you got your cornbread, you got your mother’s chicken, your baked chicken, your fried chicken, your macaroni – you got all these different things, which is sort of telling of the music that we make, you take these artists, you take these guys like John Medeski and the North Mississippi All Stars, who’s really blues based from Mississippi and that whole area, and me coming up from the church, but growing up in the inner city. You mix this all together and you get this sort of soul food experience musically. And when you listen to the record, you get songs like, you get these gospel traditional songs, and you got original songs, and there’s actually so many different styles wrapped up into the Soul Food record, and recorded by The Word, so it kinda brings it all full circle. Which is funny, because I’m actually recording another record myself, Robert Randolph, Family and Friends sort of record, and when we we’re exchanging emails on what we should call the album, I think Luther Dickinson said, “Hey, maybe we should just call it Soul Food” on the thing, and, I said well I’ve already got my record entitled “Got Soul”

T.M. : Uh, huh.

RR: So they were just like, “Well, what do you want us to do? Everybody likes this one, and this one’s gonna come out before yours,” so I was just like Let’s go for it, it doesn’t matter. Got Soul, Soul Food, Robert Randolph double soul recordings. Whatever, you know.

TM: Will Soul Food be similar to the first album, or have you taken it in a new direction?

RR: It’s similar in some ways, but it’s really more, you know, I’m not really sure what it’s more or less of, but it’s just a new thing, but it has all of the original gospel tunes, it has some songs that we all played, we’ve collaborated on, and written some originals which gives it that gospel fusion rock jam, well not jam, but it’s a mixture of, I’d say, Hendrix meets the Allman Brothers, and you put em all in church.

TM: (laughs) That’s a great analogy.

RR: Yeah, if you put Hendrix, the Allman Brothers, and George Clinton all in church, that’s what you get.

TM: You’ve pre-released a couple of singles from the new album, and I noticed some vocals on there. Are there more tracks featuring vocals on the album?

RR: This record actually has three or four songs performed with vocals, I’m not sure, I forgot how many because we recorded so many songs, but we just agreed on that, to have some great vocals on there along with that, just to create sort of a new vibe, a new mixture, so it’s not going to be exactly like the old record.

TM: Uh-huh.

RR: There’s also some acoustic songs on there, one song we recorded all standing around the microphone, I’m playing a dobro, Luther’s playing the acoustic guitar, and Chris is playin acoustic bass, and Medeski’s on an unplugged Wurlitzer, so it’s kind of a thing, you know?

TM: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of fun.

RR: Yeah. Well it sounds good, and it gives you this whole great experience of, and I think Ruthy Foster sings the song, Glory Glory Hallelujah, and it’s just a real sort of hoe-down, soulful thing, you know?

TM: With so many talented people in the band, I’ve wondered how the songs are written. Is there a leader that’s bringing a lot of the songs to the table, or is it a more spontaneous collaboration between you all?

RR: I’m not sure what songs actually made the record. We actually recorded over 20 songs, well that’s what we have mastered, we recorded more than that. But doing all of that, for most of the time we just sit down and we play, and someone says “I like this, I don’t like that”, and then we come up with a thing, you know, and some other instances, like in the song “New Word Order” which was actually Cody’s idea he had written for the word, and then the song “Come By Here” was actually my idea, I brought this vibe and brought it all in, that’s why when you see the credits, it’s just created by The Word, or whoever’s name is on it first is like so-and-so and The Word because we all really just have an idea, but once we start playing it, it all comes to another thing.

TM: You recorded the new album at a couple of different studios, both in New York and in Memphis. Did the local flavors influence how the album came together?

RR: We just wanted to pick the 2 studios that had sort of the best vibes of them, and being that, I think it just so happens that the North Mississippi All Stars, I think they were doing something at the time in Brooklyn, and then me and Medeski both live close, so we just drove there, and that was sort of the first sessions. So we all agreed to go in for three days and see what we come up with. We had this idea of recording again, and then once we got down to Memphis, we kind of already had a feel, but we wanted to go into the old world studios where they had the old original gear, and old microphones, and the same old drum set that Al Green played on some of the Al Green records and whatnot, and we just wanted to get that old vibe. By the time we got to Memphis, we kinda had a better vibe, and it was a better old thing down there, so to answer the question, it did have something to do with what you’re listening to.

TM: Yeah.

RR: But sometimes you can go into a studio and everything’s a bit too clean, you can’t really get a vibe. I’ve been in some of those studios where everything’s all digital, and you kinda like plug in, and you’re like “This doesn’t feel good”,

TM: Yeah, the feeling’s gotta be right.

RR: Yeah, that’s something I learned, when I was on Warner Brothers, and it’s not really a bad thing, it’s just you wind up in some of these studios and you’re on a high tech budget, so you take advantage of these big budgets and you hear stories about this great studio and everything and you kind of don’t get the vibe, you know.

TM: Do you guys spend any time together other than recording and playing out?

RR: No, cause everybody’s got there own bands, their own other thing that they’re we’re all doing other than that, so that keeps us busy most of the time. There’s a bunch of the festivals during the course of the year that each band is playing at, so we kind of get together and we jam, and we sit in with each other, or if somebody’s coming into town, somebody will stop by, and whatnot. We’re all a little older now, so there ain’t much time to sit around and go play ball and video games with each other.

TM: The Word is coming back to the Gathering of the Vibes this year which is our big festival here in Southern Connecticut. I saw that The Word is playing a few other festivals as well, like Hangout and All Good. Seems like you guys have a pretty busy summer in front of you.

RR: Yeah, it’ll be cool, it’ll be fun. That’s what we wanted to do, we just wanted to not play too many festivals, but play a lot of the cool ones in the different regions and get everybody talking, including Jazzfest, and all the stuff we’re doing now and then. We’ll probably do a headlining tour in the fall. Who knows, we’re already talking about doing an acoustic Word album after this, and going back into the studio sometime soon, and kind of building on that acoustic thing we did which was actually cool.

TM: Tell me about the Robert Randolph Music and Arts Program.

RR: Well the music and arts programs is something that, there’s actually a lot of politics involved that I’m starting to find out which, fighting against these school board politicians, who really don’t care about the kids, they do a lot of talking, but they don’t because I come up with solutions for a lot of these inner city kids, especially where I come from in New Jersey, in Newark New Jersey, adding to that providing a place for them to go and figure out, first of all, just give them a place to go that’s a positive place where they can talk and learn about anything whether its anything of the music and arts phase, whether it’s being a conductor, playing music, reading music, doing editing, audio editing, video editing, all these different things, and it gives kids a place to go to see if they can do something, so it’s just one of those things where they’ve kind of thrown me for all these loopholes, but we’re not that far away.

TM: What’s one piece of advice you can give to a young person who aspires to get on stage and share their music with the world?

RR: I would just tell them to do what’s in their heart. You’ve got so many different music artists from all over the globe that, they may be interested in a style of music that doesn’t quite suit where they’re from , so others may try to make them feel uncomfortable. But that’s the history of music. You got blues music started out here in the states, in Chicago and down south and all that, you know, records start being shipped overseas, and here comes the british invasion, next thing you know soul music and hip-hop music started here, and white guys started doing rap, and Charlie Pride doing country music, you got all these different things, so you just never know. I’m playing a pedal steel guitar from Newark New Jersey, friends with all these great rock and roll stars, these pioneers, and appealing to all these different audiences, and it’s something they didn’t know, so I just tell people to do what makes you feel good, what feels good in your heart, and just practice that and do the best you can.

TM: That’s great advice. Thanks for giving me your time, I really appreciate it.

RR: Thanks for all your support, and we’ll see you at the Gathering of the Vibes!