Mihali Savoulidis – Twiddle

Everybody these days seems to be talking about Twiddle. Rising up the ranks in the festival scene over the last few years, Twiddle has grown from a young and talented band with a lot of potential to all out phenomenon. Their name has been buzzing around these parts for some time, while passionate fans religiously follow them around the country on tour.

Imagine starting with a background in Phish – these Vermonters are steeped in Phish as well as The Grateful Dead. Now add in a good helping of reggae flavor. Throw in some Dave Matthews style dramatic vocals with a positive message and you have the seed of a notion of what Twiddle is all about.

Having all these influences, Twiddle maintains their own distinctive sound. The recently released album “Plump – Chapter 1” is full of great tunes and an assortment of styles. It’s an uplifting LP full of catchy hooks and fun jams, faithfully catching their sound in the studio without succumbing to overproduction or studio tricks.

From the opening track “Complacent Race”, they kick off with high energy. A horn section punctuates the chorus and sets the pace for the rest of the album. “Amydst the Myst” follows up with a ballad feel and sweet lyrics.  “Polluted Beauty” is a fan favorite reggae jam preaching a strong message – don’t let technology strangle you, and appreciate the nature and beauty of the world.

I had the opportunity to speak with the lead singer, guitarist, and main songwriter Mihali Savoulidis. Though Twiddle is known as a jam band, Mihali’s distinctive voice is what serves as a signature to their sound.

Tom Matthew: Twiddle has just released a new album entitled “Plump – Chapter 1”. I’ve been listening to it for the last few weeks and really enjoying it. Tell us about your new album.

Mihali Savoulidis: Thanks so much. It’s supposed to be a double disc. We’ve released this first disc, which is what you’ve been hearing. We’re not really sure when the next disc will get released – sometime in the next year. We’re going into the studio in February to start working on it. We already have a bunch of stuff for it. We have a lot of newer songs that have been in the works that we’d like to get on the second disc. We’re going to cut everything and see what makes the album.

The first disc that we’ve finished is more focused on lyrical content rather than our live sound. We wanted an album that would stand up on its own with this version of the songs, rather than doing it live. That’s how we got the strings, horns, and whatever other resources we took up to Burlington to get it done.

TM: The album itself still has a lot of that live feel to it. Did you record live in the studio, or did you record it one track at a time?

MS: We tracked it out one instrument at a time. A lot of the songs on the first disc are songs we played live for a while, and other songs we wrote once the recording got underway.

TM: What studio did you record in and what was the vibe there?

MS: We were at Signal Kitchen in Burlington, VT. Signal Kitchen is great. It’s right in downtown Burlington. It’s a smaller studio, but it’s got a lot of really great recording stuff in it. It’s got some nice microphones, a lot of vintage gear – the engineer Dave DeCristo that we worked with is super knowledgeable about that stuff, so we had a lot of fun trying out different mics, compressors, and all kinds of stuff.

TM: Twiddle fuses a lot of different styles and sounds into one package. There’s an obvious jam band element, a reggae feel, and a lot of funk. How did this mashup of styles come together?

MS: I think it’s just our interests. We all come from different musical backgrounds. We all have a different style, which goes to make up what you hear. I’m the reggae influence, for sure. Ryan, our keyboard player, he’s more classically trained.  I think what it is, once the songs get into all our hands, our influences start coming out within the songs. We’ve always made a point of trying to be a “genre-free” band, to not try to play one style of music or another. We like it all, so we play it all.

TM: Tell me about the songwriting on the album. Is there one of you that brings most of the songs to the table, or is it a more collaborative effort on everyone’s part?

MS: On this album, they were all my songs except for Brook’s song “Dusk Till Dawn”, and Ryan, our keyboard player helped me write “Amydst the Myst” and “Syncopated Healing”. As far as the lyrics go, other than “Dusk Till Dawn”, they’re songs that I’ve written over the last few years. This is much different from the second album to come. That will be much more of a band collaboration. The other guys, Zdenek and Ryan have new songs that they wrote on their own. I also have a couple of mine. The second album will be much more diverse in terms of the authors of the songs.

TM: Some people have compared you to Phish. It’s kind of an obvious comparison, with you guys sharing the home state of Vermont and some similarity in style. How do you feel about being compared to bands like Phish and other jam bands?

MS: I think it’s kind of a double edged sword. It’s an honor, because we obviously love those bands. They’re clear influences for us. When we started off as a band, Phish was our number one favorite band, along with other bands like String Cheese and the Dead and all that. So there’s no way that style would not come out in our music.

On the other hand, if you put the jamming aside and you put the songs next to each other, we’re a very different band from them. It’s like comparing the Dead to Phish. Obviously, sort of similar scenes and kind of embracing the improvisational side of music, but they really don’t sound anything alike in the end.

We’re very used to the comparison, but I think I can strongly say that our music is very different from theirs. They are a band we love very much, and it’s the kind of music we started writing, so there’s no way we couldn’t be influenced by them. And the same thing with Phish. They’ve been influenced by other bands that they could be compared to, but that’s just the way music works.

TM: One of the things that set you apart from other jam bands is the strong reggae feel. Have you guys ever considered doing Cali Roots reggae festival, or otherwise working with the reggae scene in general?

MS: We’d love to. I think that we do have a lot of the reggae feel. I don’t know that we have enough of it in our music to be embraced by those scenes. That’s certainly music I really love to listen to, something I used to listen to a lot growing up, so it would be great. We’d love it. We’re down for anything.

I think there’s an overall happiness to reggae, and to our message and overall vibe that go well together. If I’m writing a song, and I’ve got a verse and a chorus, I’ll say “Why don’t I try the chorus reggae?” and for some reason my ears always like it that way. So we would love to. I’d be interested to see how we would be received in those scenes, for sure.

TM: What makes the jam scene different from some of the more mainstream music genres out there? What do you think makes it so special?

MS: I think the best thing the scene has going for it is how passionate the fans are. I think our success is directly due to how passionate our fans are about our music, and how not just the music but the overall message that we try to portray to them – a beautiful community of very nice people, respectful fans – that is what I’m trying to say. Anyway, to us that’s the one thing we notice about touring in this scene is just how strong the fans latch onto their bands.

The pop acts, and a lot of country acts, and indie rock, whatever – their fans are amazing too, I’m sure, but our fans are driving hundreds of miles to see these shows. They’re seeing 6 or 7 shows or 15 shows out of a tour, and they don’t want to miss a night. Part of that is us being able to put on a different live show every night and try to explore how we can make each song different from the last time we played it. So it’s a fun experience for everyone.

TM: There’s a positive, almost spiritual quality to a lot of the lyrics in your songs. Do you guys have a specific guiding philosophy as a band, or is it more of a general awareness towards understanding and consciousness?

MS: It’s a general awareness. Me being the prime songwriter and lyricist, it comes from an obvious place. Clearly we’re not treating the earth the way we should. People aren’t being good to each other. There’s just a lot more that we can do as individuals on a small level that I think we could make a bigger positive change in our personal lives, and overall as a race of people.

When I said obvious, it’s just kind of the right way to approach things in my mind, maybe not for others, but there’s just a lot of hatred out there, there’s a lot of meanness and cruelty and status, ego – all that crap.

TM: Who are some of the bands that you’ve come up with over the years? Do you have any musicians you’d like to give a shout out to that you’ve toured with, or maybe are special to you in some way?

MS: We’ve had great experiences with bands like Dopapod, Papadosio, The Werks – these are all our peers. We’ve been touring with them for so many years, or just bumping into them on the road, doing festivals, doing shows together, doing tours together – we did a whole tour with The Werks, we did a whole tour with Papadosio. And there are bigger bands that we’re starting to get to know a little more and playing with, people like Moe. and some others that have given us really nice looks and treated us very well. But as far as our peers go, for sure, the people I mentioned before. We also have Todd Stoops, he’s great. We have a great relationship with him, and he’s been a huge supporter of us, and it’s been really nice getting to know him over the last few years.

TM: And Todd Stoops is featured in the new album on “Every Soul”.

MS: Yes.

TM: Aside from finishing up “Plump – Chapter 2” in 2016, what does the future have in store?

MS: The only festival that’s been announced is down in Florida at Okeechobee. All those announcements should be coming pretty soon. I think next year is looking really good for us. Hogs for the Cause in New Orleans – we’re going back to NOLO which is great. The rooms are getting nicer, they’re getting bigger. That provides a better concert environment for us and for our fans, for sure.

TM: You like playing the big venues?

MS: I do. It’s better sound, and I think it’s a better experience. As a concertgoer, when I was younger, I much preferred going to bigger rooms and theaters, as opposed to the small clubs, in terms of sound, overall room space and all that stuff.

TM: Thanks so much for talking with us today.

MS: Yeah, man. Thank you so much.

Will Evans – Barefoot Truth

After many years as the driving force and front man behind Barefoot Truth, Will Evans’ solo career continues to build momentum. He recently released a new music video entitled “To Be Human” from his latest album “Signal Flares”, showcasing his energetic brand of groove-rock and his positive message. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Will before his packed-house show at the Knickerbocker Café in Westerly.

Tom Matthew: Right now you’re in the middle of a tour entitled “Make a Little Change”. Tell us what this tour is all about.

Will Evans: In response to all the negativity that we’re inundated with every day in social media and the news, I thought it would be cool to combat it with these shows that aren’t just about the show; we do a small charitable act or a community service event coupled with the show. In each town we go to, we’re trying to set up these type of events. Just to preserve people’s optimism, and remind them that there’s a bigger world out there than everything that their friends are posting and bickering about online.

There was I quote I saw that said “Don’t do nothing because you can only do little, do what you can. You’d be surprised what little acts have done for this world.” So with that in mind, we don’t need to do anything groundbreaking. We already have these gatherings and events, where in each city and town we go to we’re getting like-minded people who are drawn to the music and the message within the music.

In fact, that’s where the name for the tour came from. One of my songs is called “Easy Come High”, and the lyric is “Make a little change, let it grow”. We played off that lyric, and that’s how we got the “Make a Little Change” tour. It’s basically about small acts of kindness in all these towns and cities, trying to inspire people just to be kind and do what you can, because those are the things that matter.

TM: Is there a spiritual or religious element you draw from, or is it an organic state of mind for you to give back to the community?

WE: I’m not a religious person, but I’m definitely a spiritual person. Lots of the songs that I’ve written are inspired by the outdoors and healthy lifestyle. Just for an example, we’re going to be doing a community beach cleanup tomorrow down in Misquamicut. I’ve surfed there for a long time. The beach is very dear to the people of this community. I thought it would be a fun way to get everybody together outside the vibe of the club and have a reprieve from the show. Let’s do something that makes a little difference in the community.

TM: And you’re setting an example for others, that they can do this and go out to help in the community.

WE: I think people have just gotten to the point where they’re like “the hell with it”. I’ve seen so many people post “I’m moving to Canada, I’m leaving the country”, and I’m like, this is the greatest country in the world. When you retreat back to what matters, which is family, your friends and your community, it’s a powerful thing.

That’s just one example of what we’re doing. We did a food drive last night. Tomorrow’s the beach cleanup. In Burlington, Vermont we’re doing a charitable yoga class where donations go to the Love Your Brain Foundation, which is started by a pro snow-boarder who had a serious concussion from a snowboarding accident training for the 2010 Olympics. Now he has this foundation where he helps folks that have had neurological trauma or injuries, helps them in recovery, and gives them a community to deal with some of the issues that they have after those injuries.

It’s cool, because we’re catering the giving or the charitable event to the areas that they pertain to. Vermont’s a huge ski and snowboard area, and I went to school up there, so it was cool to be able to jump on board. In Fairfield we’re doing a toy drive for the young haven Children’s hospital, they do a lot of cancer patients there. This gets them some gifts around the holidays, and gets their spirits up. It’s fun.

TM: All good stuff!

WE: And it’s easy, I think we just get caught up in the feeling that there’s nothing we can do. Of course there is, you can hold the door open for somebody who’s leaving the venue tonight, smile, say “thank you”. We need more of that. Then it starts to turn around.

TM: You’re playing with a new backing band, Rising Tide. How did the band come together?

WE: As a musician who’s on the circuit, you keep an eye on players on the road, and all these guys were playing in a band called The Interlopers. They’re all fresh out of Berklee (College of Music), and really talented young players.

When I was looking to rebuild I just knew that I wanted a youthful energy, and that got me fired up again. The early days of touring have this romance to them. Then as the years go by, they start to fade. But having to breathe new life into it with these guys, it lifts me up and gets me excited again. They recorded this last record with me, “Signal Flares”, so this is our first chance to go out there.

TM: How did you enjoy your national tour with Trevor Hall?

WE: It was fabulous. He’s got such a passionate fan base and anything that he approves, to them is great. Getting his endorsement was huge. I made a lot of new fans, met a lot of great people, and played in some fabulous venues around the country. It was inspiring to watch him.

TM: When did you first start playing music?

WE: I started singing in the Baptist choir when I was six or seven years old. I’ve always loved to sing. My dad taught me guitar in high school, and I started playing the drums around that time too. Ever since then it’s been a passion I can’t put away.

TM: How did you learn in those days? Were you taking lessons or learning songs?

WE: I was a teacher’s worst nightmare. I had a hard time with music theory. I just rejected it, because it was against everything music was to me. It turned music into math, and I was a terrible math student. I just learned by ear. I wish I learned the theory and had the patience for it. As soon as I knew the formula for what I was doing, I lost interest in it. That freedom of mind is really what propelled me to keep going.

TM: Hey, Jimi Hendrix played by ear.

WE: Yeah. If it sounds good, then I’m happy with it. I don’t need to have it explained to me on paper.

TM: And you’re here playing with a bunch of Berklee grads.

WE: Of course. Well, it is nice to have them hear me play a song and say, “Oh, that’s a one-five-four progression with a dominant seventh.” They figure it out like that (snaps finger) so I don’t need to explain it to them. But they can’t explain it to me. I just agree. Sounds good.

TM: What musicians and bands did you take inspiration from?

WE: Early on I was a classic rock guy. Then in college, I got really into a band called Dispatch, Dave Matthews Band, John Butler Trio, a lot of roots and eclectic kinds of musicians. A lot of Australian music, New Zealand music. I spent some time down there. There’s a really great reggae vibe to the scene down there, so I got into bands like Fat Freddie’s Drop and Katchafire.

TM: Is there a big difference in lifestyle now that you’ve gone solo?

WE: It’s a “less is more” approach. I like to take less shows, but better quality shows, and really make sure you’re successful and not burn yourself out. Not going out for months at a time, unless it really makes sense.

It’s a lot easier only having one boss, rather than lots of people and nobody really in charge. With Barefoot everyone was on an equal playing field, which is great; everyone put a lot of skin in the game, but it made it hard for decisions to be made, and hard to move forward with things. I know what I want. The vision is how I’m going to have it be, and it’s just a lot easier.

Any business is difficult, and music is like the most difficult because you’re dealing with emotional personalities, and anything with art people get very emotional about their ideas. It’s easier to have one boss on the project that says “This is how it’s going to be”. If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to not play in this band anymore, but I’m going to make it as comfortable to you and worthwhile for you that I can. I feel like a dad in this band.

TM: If you have the vision, they just have to trust your vision. And if they don’t trust your vision, then like you said, they shouldn’t be in the band.

WE: Totally. And it’s a very open door policy. If you’re not into something, please let me know. Everything is on the table, and way more transparent. I think it works a lot better.

TM: What kind of looping setup do you use when you’re playing solo?

WE: I use the Boss RC-300, and I have a couple of vocal effects. TC Helicon makes some awesome vocal effects.

TM: It’s amazing what you can do with technology these days as compared with 10 years ago. You can do a one-man show and have this huge sound.

WE: Right. And for the last two years, what I’ve been honing in on is the solo thing.

TM: Jeff Howard has been a part of your story too. What is your connection to Jeff?

WE: We met Jeff when we were playing with Barefoot Truth several years back in Keene State, at a college festival there. We saw him playing in the McLovins, and like everybody else, we were mesmerized by his technique and his ability at 14 years old. We stayed in touch, so we’d have him come in and sit with Barefoot Truth. He’s been like a brother over the years. We’ve seen him grow up. His style has changed, and he’s always been welcome to join us and express himself on our music. It’s been cool.

TM: It seems like you have a lot of hobbies and activities you like to do. You already mentioned skiing and surfing – what other kinds of stuff do you like to do?

WE: We have an affinity for rescuing dogs. My wife is the proponent of that more so than I am, and we love dogs. We spend a lot of time with ours, doing hiking and the beach and all that. Anything outdoors, really. One of my old bosses said something about my wife and I: “Some birds aren’t meant to be caged”.

I teach outdoor ed at the New England Science and Sailing Foundation in Stonington. In the summer I run the adventure sports program, so I do the surfing and the kayaking, marine science and stuff.

TM: Where do you find inspiration for your songs?

WE: In nature, mostly. I’m a history major, so I love looking back on those stories. Early on I’ve always had an affinity for Native American culture. When it’s not a happy song, it’s usually based on the plight of the Native American people and what’s happened to them over the years. Look at the North Dakota access pipeline and what’s happening there, and finally it’s getting some national attention. Those types of things really hit me the hardest, and I feel compelled to write about it.

The more happy go-lucky stuff is based on what this community service tour is all about, just going the extra mile to help out fellow human beings and mankind. To be kind to one another. I’ve consistently felt better about making people happy, and at shows it’s a chance for them to forget about all the stuff in their lives and what’s going on, and just focus on the experience of being present. Life’s so short. You might as well enjoy it. So that is what a lot of the inspiration is from – making people smile.

TM: Do you stay in touch with the Barefoot Truth guys?

WE: Very much so. Andy Wrba, the bass player, is here tonight playing with the openers. The piano player is going to open for us in Northampton up there at the Iron Horse. We try to do one or two shows with everybody, schedules permitting. We try to get together for a reunion of some sort.

It’s a brotherhood that’s going to go on forever. We certainly ended on amicable terms. Everybody is just ready to try some other things. We’ve got nothing but respect for each other. We went through a lot. 10 years on the road with the same people; you learn a lot about each other and yourself, and that’s going to be forever. We’re very close.

TM: Any plans for 2017 yet?

WE: The hope is that this tour continues and we add some more dates.It’s already starting to look like there’s a couple that we’ll add in the next week or so. From there, I’d love to jump on another tour as an opener, and just keep building momentum and getting my name out there. Be back in the summer, and keep playing this area all summer and just keep trying to build one fan at a time. It’s a very organic process. We know we’re not going to be an overnight success, but we know that the people that love us will be with us forever. That was the case with Barefoot, so we’re just starting that process over again.

TM: Something that people outside of the music business don’t understand is that you don’t just bring in hundreds of people. You bring in one person at a time, and they become the large groups, but composed of single individuals. It’s one at a time all the way to the top.

WE: Think about all that’s out there that people are getting inundated with. Music and culture and art and all this stuff – we need to make them feel really special in order to keep coming and seeing us. It warms my heart when you see people that have been coming for ten years are the first ones in the door tonight. Those are the guys that are keeping us in business, keeping us writing and creating. We owe everything to them. So you have to be good to them. I don’t need to be an arena rocker. I’d love to do it, but realistically I know I’m doing it one fan at a time. I’m okay with that.

TM: If you could give one piece of advice to someone trying to make it in the music business, what piece of advice could you give?

WE: Make sure you’re really going to like the people that you’re going to shove off and hit the road with, because so many times you see people that just want to play with others that are good, or they like their style, but the show is only an hour to 2 hours long. The rest of the time you’re with them you’re not playing music, you’re interacting, so you better be friends. You better get along. Make sure you like the people you’re playing with, because it’s a commitment. It’s a marriage.

TM: What’s the best way for fans to stay in touch with you and your “Make a Little Change” tour?

WE: Facebook seems to be the most accessible for a lot of people, and Instagram @willevansmusic. It’s Will Evans Music on Facebook, if you’re a Twitter person, it’s @WEvansMusic.

Taylor Goldsmith – Dawes

Music and art are all about breaking new creative ground and exploring new territory. Dawes continues to expand from their California roots and grow in new directions. They’re often described as carrying on the Laurel Canyon tradition of bands like The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash and others, but songwriter Taylor Goldsmith wants to blaze new ground with Dawes.

The Dawes tour takes them through New England in March with shows in New York City, Boston, Hartford and Northampton. I spoke with Taylor Goldsmith about Dawes’ inspiration, direction and finding a sense of originality in a saturated music scene.

Tom Matthew: Your new album “We’re All Gonna Die” takes a little bit of a departure from Dawes history and carves a path into indie-rock territory. Tell me about the inspiration behind the new music.

Taylor Goldsmith:  I think we’ve always been a band that follows whatever comes naturally to us. I realize there are some artists that take a more conscious and deliberate approach to their subsequent albums, but us, it’s always been the music revealing itself to us.

Like anybody else in 2017 we listen to all sorts of stuff. Any high point of music history has been the culmination of the 15 years before it. Right now there’s a lot of R&B records, hip hop records we continue to get back into, Tom Petty records, Bruce Springsteen records.

I think that we didn’t really think about trying to be different, trying to incorporate other sounds, it was really just let’s chase that high that we’re always chasing on every record, feeling like we’ve accomplished something that we hadn’t yet. So I think that’s been the biggest goal of ours.

These songs were born out of the same place in terms of me writing them, on piano or acoustic guitar or something, and we just kind of fill them out as a band in the studio. And I think when the people see the show live, it’s really clear that these songs fit in the catalog.

We knew it had its own identity and own personality in relation to the other albums, but we by no means thought this was different for the sake of being different. This is what got us excited, this made us feel like it’s something we hadn’t done before, and it feels like we’re being true to ourselves.

TM: So it’s just a natural evolution of your music.

TG: Yeah, and I think that goes for any band. The worst direction a band could possibly take is saying, “Well that worked for us before, let’s do it again.” I think that goes for a person that thinks consciously about the fact that they want to grow and learn and just be a better person, and be more well-rounded or more cultured, or whatever word you want. To continue on some sort of journey as an individual.

I think in that sense, a band is as much of a living breathing thing. If we were to stop at any point, and not continue that trip of figuring out who else we are, what are some other sides of who we are, then we would just stagnate and die.

TM: I understand your old friend Blake Mills came in as producer on “We’re All Gonna Die”. What influence did he bring to the album?

TG: He has a very original mind, extremely musical. But most importantly I feel he has a really healthy way of never being referential, never taking an idea because it sounds like something else.

And that’s something that even we would be guilty of. There’s a certain moment with a certain riff for an outro that me and the keyboardist Lee were working on because we thought it sounded like Thriller or something, and that made us really happy. Blake was like, maybe that’s exactly why we shouldn’t do it. Maybe that’s exactly why we should look for something else.

I don’t think it’s a conscious thing with Blake, but I think he’s so good at always making sure the music that he’s hearing back at him, whether it’s through the production or the arrangement of parts or whatever, that it’s something that none of us have ever heard before.

When I would go back and listen to songs like “We’re All Gonna Die” or “One of Us”, while it felt like singularly us, it also felt like music we hadn’t heard, and we didn’t know how to classify it as easily. I attribute that to Blake’s never ending quest to surprise himself and those that he’s working with.

TM: In the past Dawes had been consistently labeled as carrying on the Laurel Canyon sound. How do you feel about that comparison?

TG: I think that any band, the dream is to get to the point where you’re the reference. The dream is for a younger band someday to say “You sound like Dawes” the way people say “You sound like the Grateful Dead” or “You sound like the Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan.” When you become the reference, that’s every band’s dream. Anything short of that is always uncomfortable, because you don’t know what to make of it.

When people were telling Loudon Wainwright or much later Conor Oborst, “So people say you’re the new Bob Dylan, what do you think?” I don’t think they knew how to react to that, because it’s not who they are. They’re Conor and Loudon, and that’s how they want to be perceived, and eventually over time that is how they are perceived.

So I guess it’s the same. If people are saying Laurel Canyon sound in relation to Dawes, on one hand I’m honored people are talking about our band. If they’re looking for catch phrases that means they’re trying to communicate who we are, which is a good thing. But on the other hand, if someone was asking me “Do you think you’re a Laurel Canyon sounding band?” I’d say I don’t know exactly what that means.

In my own head I don’t think so, because I look at songs like “Most People” or “When My Time Comes” or “Things Happen”, none of those songs to me sound like a Laurel Canyon thing. And definitely nothing on “We’re All Gonna Die” as well.

At the same time I do understand the fact that we have acoustic guitars, a lot of lyrics, guitar solos, and harmonies. That stuff could be pretty associative. So I understand. But I also feel like, and I feel this way for any artist, is that to put the impression they leave musically into words is near impossible, and requires a lot more work that a few phrases.

TM: Art is always about breaking new ground, yet people trying to relate to it do so by comparing it to things they already understand. So it’s kind of a mash-up.

TG: Yeah, I get it totally. It’s part of the trip, I do it too. People ask me “What does that band sound like”, and I try to explain it too, so I don’t begrudge anybody in those efforts. But it’s an impossible task when you really get to the heart of it. If I asked you “Explain to me the subtle differences between Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen”, you could say a couple things but at the end of the day, you have to tell someone to just listen to it.

TM: Who are some of the modern bands that you look up to or admire these days?

TG: There’s a lot of stuff with hip-hop and R&B that really blow us away in terms of how forward thinking they are, in terms of the sound that they get. Something like the Anderson Paak record or even the new Childish Gambino.

You can draw a lot of links to older soul music but at the same time they seem to be so good at throwing genre out the window and not being concerned with maintaining some hip-hop identity or R&B identity. Their intentions seem to be “Let’s fuck people up, let’s create something no one has heard.” So that’s something that’s always exciting.

There are younger songwriters that we truly love, like Cass McCombs, which our keyboardist actually played on that record, or Bonnie Prince Billy or Bill Callahan. They’re getting older now, but they still feel relevant now to me.

TM: You have a reputation as a talented lyricist. What kind of themes do you focus on with your writing?

TG: I try to keep it interesting in terms of not going back to some same place that I have before. As a guidepost for me if I’m going to feel like writing it, I have to feel like it does something for me. I have to feel like that there’s some sort of catharsis in there for me, putting something in a perspective that I haven’t been able to talk about until that point, and then being able to look at it and say that makes me feel better about the situation.

Whether it’s something to do with love, or looking at our culture today, or death, or whatever it is.

I think there are so many songs that have this sense of announcement  where they can pick up a guitar and say “She left me and I’m lonely, and I’m sad”, and a lot of people are going to be moved by that, including me. But then there’s something to be said for the kind of song that is able to say those things but then take it to the next place, and offer some version of how the narrator is dealing with it and how to put it into perspective, and some sense of carrying on or responsibility.

That kind of stuff is what makes for the greatest songs, the songs that all of the sudden don’t feel simply manipulative or bad, but actually feel like I can take this and apply it to what I’m going through and it can help. I’m not saying I achieve that very often, but that’s definitely the brass ring.

TM: It sounds like a really personal perspective.

TG: What the opposite of that would be in this day and age would be trying to have a more social perspective or public perspective, and I feel like that’s a harder thing to do. I don’t know if it’s simply the times that we’re in. If anybody stood on a street corner right now and got up on a soap box and said “Hey everybody, everything’s gonna be okay”, I think a lot of people would say “Fuck you! This doesn’t help with anything.”

I think if there is any opportunity for us to share experiences and find them edifying and find them hopeful, it is by tapping into those deeper and more personal currents, and talk about what’s going on at a personal level, on a base level, just what’s going through someone’s mind.

I’d love to write the more broadly appealing socially conscious songs, but I feel like to do that and for it to mean anything other than you getting to pat yourself on the back is a lot harder in 2017 than it was in the past. It’s a trick thing, and I find that the stuff that can shift how I look at the world, whether that’s my own relationship with myself or someone else, or even my political opinions.

Sometimes it will be through the most personal and impressionistic songs from someone like Leonard Cohen who probably doesn’t even have that agenda, but his sense of peace and calm is enough to fuck me up and make me rethink some things.

TM: If you could give one piece of advice to someone trying to make it in the music business, what piece of advice could you give?

TG: My advice is always to try to get it going in your hometown, first and foremost. I think a lot of people, they talk about needing to get on tour, and sometimes they’re even able to book that tour for themselves, and they have like 20 dates, but then they end up playing these clubs to virtually nobody. But when you hear these stories where a local group can play to 300 and then 400 and then 500, then all of the sudden even if you’ve never left town, people are knocking on doors and asking who you are.

I’m pretty sure something similar to that happened to Dave Matthews Band, and I think it’s the case more often than not, where if you can get something going where you’re from, people will come to you, people will notice.

So I think when people always ask me should we book a tour, that’s actually not where it’s at. It is eventually, but people look at that as the next step sometimes a few steps too early.

TM: What’s the best way for fans to stay in touch with Dawes?

TG: We’re as available as anybody else, Twitter and Instagram more than anything else. We’re not on Facebook all that much, but sometimes we are. We’re not the most tech-savy bunch of dudes. I wish we were. It would probably do our band some favors, but those are the best ways of communicating with us folks, Twitter and Instagram.

TM: Thanks so much for your time. I look forward to seeing you at Infinity Hall in Hartford on March 12!

TG: Right on, man! Thank you.

Hayley Jane

Haley Jane and the Primates have become a staple of the festival scene here in New England. Standing powerfully front and center of this group is the dynamic Haley Jane, who leads this stylish blend of Americana, Rock and Soul. They’re on tour now promoting their fresh full-length release “We’re Here Now”. I had the pleasure of speaking with Haley Jane on a variety of topics that she’s passionate about.

Tom Matthew: Your new album “We’re Here Now” is very diverse. What did you have in mind when you put it together?

Haley Jane: We didn’t write all of those songs at the same time. Some of those songs were written years apart. I think that definitely lends itself to the diversity of the tunes. We chose to use different methods of writing. Some of those songs were written by me and me alone, like “To the Moon” I wrote by myself. A few of these were written by me and my guitarist, Justin. We would write them on an acoustic guitar, like our song “Creatures” or “Madeline”. We’d write them on an acoustic guitar and then bring them to the group once it was done, and then add everything else. A handful of tunes were written by all of us together in a room.

On “I Can Do it”, we lovingly call it Poo Jam, it was something that grew organically in the studio just from a bassline. I think a lot of the different feels have to do with who started writing the song and where it came from, because we all come from extremely different musical backgrounds.

TM: Some of the new songs even get a little trance feel to them with some interesting electronic stuff going on.

HJ: It’s definitely outside the box for us. Our producer, Craig Brodhead from the band Turkuaz had a huge hand in a lot of the electronic stuff and the expansion into the electronic sound. He did all of the synth that you hear playing. It was pretty neat to have all these songs written and done and then have that added to it once we went through it in the studio.

I think it adds a lot in songs like “Cosmic Katrina” where we always imagined it having that outer spacey electronic sound, but you can only do so much with guitars, and we don’t have a keyboard player. So it’s really cool to get to add that stuff in the studio. And eventually we will have a keys player. My dream is to be able to play these songs the way you hear them on the album.

TM: I know you play a lot of festivals. Some of the new stuff almost has a late-night festival kind of feel, which is pretty cool.

HJ: Oh my gosh, I hope you’re right! That makes me really happy because I’ve never viewed us in that way. Because I come from singer/songwriter and musical theater I always wanted, in the back of my mind, to be able to hold our own as a late night entity, to be able to keep people dancing. But sometimes I like the ups and downs. I like slow songs and I like to take people on kind of a roller-coaster. My concern there is that late night people don’t really want that, but so far I’ve found that people don’t mind it so much.

That makes me so happy that you think that, because songs like “Too Tired” or “Make It Alright” are definitely more jam-based and we can take them for a ride. I’m not just singing the whole time, I let the boys spread their wings. Not let them…

TM: (laughs)

HJ: I’m in charge! (laughs). The other thing is to balance out the confidence of being a band leader with the fear of being bossy.

TM: It’s a hard line to walk.

HJ: It really is! I’m teetering, gracefully.

TM: You’ve got a real lively stage show with all the dancers and everything.

HJ: Yeah, It’s been such a great addition. I’ve always wanted that. I’ve always wanted to bridge – I don’t know that there’s much of a gap anymore because there’s rock musicals and there’s very theatrical rock concerts, but I suppose in my own mind they were very separate things. For me, I come from musical theatre and showmanship, where it’s about not just the audible, it’s about the visual, and I love lights. You can do so much with a good lighting guy.

But I wanted to use human bodies as well. I wanted to take everything that I’ve learned from dance, like modern dance, lyrical dance, everything I learned from musical theater, telling a story, and then take it and smash it into everything I’ve learned in the folk scene, the rock scene, the jam scene, the reggae scene – all these different scenes I’ve had the pleasure of immersing myself in. I just want to take it and roll it all together into this big mess of an explosion.

That’s who I am, and I’m starting to realize it’s not so much trying to fit and conform to one genre, which I think I tried to do a few times. I realize that nobody wants to do that, not even the listeners. I don’t think there are a lot of listeners that just grab onto one genre anymore. Everybody’s proud to say, “I listen to all sorts of stuff.” So I just want to say, “I play all sorts of stuff” and put on an amazing visual show as well as a pretty-sounding show.

TM: When you look at some of the greatest acts in music, they usually have a great stage show as part of their whole mystique.

HJ: I wish I had more time to go see them. A friend of mine sent me a video from a Lady Gaga show, and I was like “I want to do that!” I remember seeing Diana Ross play the halftime show for whatever Superbowl was going on, back when I was really little. I remember her changing her outfit five times, and I loved that. It made so much sense to me because it went with what she was doing.

I think there’s so much cohesiveness between the movement on stage, the lighting, what you’re wearing – all these things. There’s a reason a woman and even some men will change five times before they go out. I haven’t put a lot of emphasis on fashion, and I really am beginning to understand that it’s a huge part of the visual aspect.

We used to all play in our t-shirts and jeans, and that’s fine. But once I started to bring my theater experience, where I came from, I said “I miss getting dressed up, I miss adding that aspect to the performance”. Now there are all these different elements that you can bring into a stage show, and it’s so much fun adding dancers.

I can’t wait to get a lighting guy. Once we have a lighting guy that really knows our music and can put a spot on certain things, go gold when I’m singing about the color gold, or go red when I’m singing about passion, or fire or love. There’s so many different ways that you can pull on people’s emotional strings through visual and audio.

I would love to get into like smell-a-vision and pumping cool smells into a theater, and have a fully immersive experience, feed them cool food while we’re performing to go along with it. You know what I mean? There’s a level where you can start tapping into every sense receptor in the brain. I’m so curious.

Seeing a bunch of women move together in unison is so powerful for other women to see. Especially right now. And that’s something I’m really dedicated to. It’s like a pride of lionesses, they all go hunting together and they work together. I think it’s a really big message for me right now in what I’m doing. It’s important to me that little girls and women see women not in competition, but working together as a group to create.

Not just art, but in politics, in every aspect of our community. Women working together, people working together. I am unashamed to admit that I am focused mainly on women. I think females need one more big push. We still need one more big push into equality, and I think that would be good.

TM: That ties in nicely with your new video, “More Interesting”. You’ve got a tribe of women in costumes and face paint – what’s the story behind the content here?

HJ: It’s so interesting to me, the collective consciousness, the one brain of humanity, because I find it so fascinating that after I put out this video – you’ve heard of hash-tag #metoo?

TM: Yes, it has become very visible.

HJ: I’ve posted it. I’ve been subject to abuse and harassment as have most of my female friends. In this music video, you’ll notice that my band is tied up to trees.

TM: Yeah, I noticed that.

HJ: I never want to come out as man-hating. My band, they’re all wonderful, respectful, loving beautiful men, but I used them and they were happy to be symbols in this music video. And it was my way of tying up the males and the male persona so they will not be able to harm or hurt or be aggressive, and it’s symbolism. It’s just asking them to put their hands down for a moment and see the harm that has happened.

It’s about rebirth. You’ll notice that a woman, my very good friend comes and gets me out of the bed, and I’m in white – it’s about this innocence. It’s taken away from you sometimes. It naturally can evolve into womanhood and maturity, and that’s what’s supposed to happen. You’re not supposed to have it stolen from you. You’re supposed to grow into womanhood and have it evolve into this bravery and confidence.

So that’s really what that is. It’s about an older woman taking a younger woman, and helping her, supporting her and showing her. At the end of the video I come in and I help my very good friend’s little daughter Luna out of the bed. It symbolizes the trinity or the three goddesses. There’s a lot in there, there’s a lot to unpack.

I’m so happy, it makes me feel so connected to what’s going on. That music video came out at the same time as this movement, because it just feels like everybody’s on the same page here. We don’t hate men, we are just tired of even the little things like telling a girl to smile. When a man says “Hey, you should smile”, and I don’t think they realize that even with the best intentions, they don’t realize the discomfort or the damage that they’re doing. There’s little things like that all around.

I’ve heard discussions, and people are so frustrated with it, men will say that everything you do now is sexual harassment. And I said “No, we just want respect.” I really don’t think a lot of men understand the extent. I always say, “Would you say that to your male friend?” “Well of course not, he’s a guy.”

I get it that we’re different, and we want to be different. We want to be treated with equality, but I don’t want to go as far as like – I used to think dresses were bad, that I needed to wear pants, because I needed to show men that I was strong. This whole idea that anything feminine became bad in my mind because I didn’t want men to think I was weak. Now that’s awful. And I love wearing dresses. They’re the most comfortable things in the world. Men should wear dresses, they’re the best.

I hit this huge extreme, and then I realized “You know what? I love getting dressed up in a pretty dress, and dancing around.” And that doesn’t make me look weak, and shouldn’t make me look weak either. Now I’m dedicated to embracing my feminine energy, embracing my femininity and who I am as a woman, and translating it and showing that it equates to strength. That’s my mission. And I feel like that’s been my calling.

I also like to work with girls with body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, because I think that’s a really big thing society has pushed on women – to be very thin. When I was back working in Los Angeles, I definitely had eating problems and things like that. There’s just so much, and I feel like I have this great opportunity and responsibility to just be a beacon of health. I’m trying really hard to stay healthy and be a representative of what I hope. I want to be a woman that inspires people. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

But I have to live it. That’s the thing, I can’t just go out and pretend, I have to really live it. Be healthy, be strong, be confident, be brave. And I’m just like everyone else, I have struggles, I have insecurities, I have all those things. It’s kind of nice because I feel like I’m right there, and if I can succeed then anyone can succeed. And so I’d like to show women that it’s very possible, to work in an industry where it is male dominated and to be successful, and to not have to do anything that sacrifices your morals or beliefs to get there.

TM: Yeah, you couldn’t have picked a better time to be vocal with this message, with so many women emboldened to come out and speak about how they’ve suffered from abuse.

HJ: It’s very real. I think the big ones like rape of course, those are the biggest things to be addressed. But I’m also very passionate about the little things, because I do feel that it’s the little things that lead to the big things. And I don’t think people realize how tiny – I’ve done it. I’m guilty of it.

I’m guilty, as a female, of walking up to a girl that’s loading in gear and being like, “Which one’s your boyfriend?” just assuming that she’s not in the band. I’ve done it. And she’s like “I play bass.” That was years ago, but still you realize that it’s in all of us. Little tiny misconceptions and assumptions can do extreme damage.

So I guess all I’m asking is that people try and be aware. Look alive. Be aware. Really think about what you’re saying before you say it and also don’t be afraid to call somebody out. I think especially with men, they’re so afraid to look uncool or whatever if they call out one of their friends or something. But I think if we all just say it – if you see somebody doing something, and they probably don’t even know they’re doing it – some of my favorite people, including myself, say and do things that are perpetuating sexism and stereotypes and all this ugly shit that just needs to be stopped.

That’s all. Most people have the best intentions and they don’t realize certain things are negative and are affecting society negatively. I worked for Disney, and I love Disney, and they’re doing great things now like Moana, and empowering female protagonists, you know? Because back when I was working there I was like, “Man, every single story is about this woman needing to be saved by a man.” We’re making strides, it’s happening. I’d like it to happen faster I suppose.

TM: Well, you’re just talking about evolution, that’s all. Evolution of music, evolution of our social structures. It’s like a slow moving ship.

HJ: That’s why we’re Haley Jane and the Primates. I’m all about evolution.

TM: So what do you have coming up, you guys are on tour supporting the new album?

HJ: Yeah, we just extended it too. We just added our first Colorado dates, going to New Mexico for the first time, shooting down to Virginia – it’s great. There are a couple things that are so exciting. We’re opening up for Umphrey’s McGee, which is one of our favorite bands as a group. We couldn’t be more excited for that happening. We’re doing a Phish pre-party. We’re doing this great thing for New Year’s, we’re doing “A Party of Five, a Tribute to the Nineties”. We’re going to be doing all sorts of alternative rock like Nirvana and Alanis, and we’re going to dig deep into that for our New Year’s run, so that’s going to be fun.

I’m also going to be doing some recording out in the Northampton area at Spirit House working with Danny Bernini.  I have a project called “Yes Darling” with Ryan Montbleau. It’s a newer thing. We’re recording our first album. We’re hoping to release it on Valentine’s Day. It’s a kind of June Carter and Johnny Cash meets Tenacious D thing.

It’s comedic, but it’s like we’re a couple and we dress all forties / fifties and we go on stage and sing about trying to be in an open relationship and arguing. It’s a little more realistic of what it’s like to be in a long-term relationship. But then there are love songs too, and it’s really fun.

We opened up for Everyone Orchestra for a few shows, and we’re going to be doing a bunch of shows next year, so once we drop the album on Valentine’s Day we’re going to be touring with a bunch of shows to back that album as well.

TM: It sounds like you have a lot to look forward to. Thanks for spending the time with me today.

HJ: Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Eric Gould – Pink Talking Fish

Pink Talking Fish is a rare tribute band. Rather than pick one legendary group to cover and relive their material in new ways, they took a unique direction by covering Pink Floyd, Phish and Talking Heads, stitching together disparate songs and groovy jams for an experience to remember. They’ll be playing at Infinity Hall in Hartford on November 21. I spoke with Eric Gould, founding member of the band.

Tom Matthew: How did the concept for Pink Talking Fish come together?

Eric Gould: I had the idea for the band. I wanted to do something that was tribute oriented, but rather than doing one band and doing it exactly as-is I wanted to do something that had some individualized creativity within the realm of tribute and see how that went. I just picked three of my favorite bands that I thought were compatible, put them together, wrote up some setlists, liked what I saw and put a group of guys together.

The minute we got on stage and played the first show we knew how special this was. From how the audience was when we played it to the way we felt on stage, writing up a dream setlist and performing it is a very special thing.

It was a revolving line-up for a little bit. Then in 2015, Richard James, Dave Brunyak and Zack Burwick joined me as full time members. From that point that’s when Pink Talking Fish was really off to the races. We got our material solidified and kept on enhancing and really just gelled as a group.

TM: When I first heard of your project coming together I thought it was a really interesting idea. The blend of Pink Floyd and Phish i understood right away and it seemed like bringing in Talking Heads really adds some spice to the mix. What is it about Talking Heads that inspired you to include them?

EG: The Talking Heads, what they do with the layering of grooves, taking a bunch of simple parts and making something extraordinary with it – they just have such a great feel where you can just lose yourself and dance. It feels so good, that’s the wonderful thing about the Talking Heads. Some of the material is quirky and weird, some of it is the hits we all know and love and some of it lends the opportunity to some nice improvisation. We like to do that within our show.

So many of the songs are transitional, which is a huge part of what this band is. That’s why they were one of my choices. It’s really about the design of the setlist within the show and how things connect. How we can create something special and new that people haven’t heard before.

A perfect example is the Talking Heads song “Slippery People”. There’s one place where we can get away from the song and easily do a hard cut or a smooth jam into another song, to a Phish or a Pink Floyd song, and there’s an easy way to come back into it as well. So after the audience has taken their emotion from that piece of the night, all of the sudden we’re back to it. It’s just fantastic to be able to do that stuff.

TM: You mentioned that some of the Talking Heads material can be quirky, and I think maybe that’s the glue the binds these bands together – they’re each quirky in their own way.

EG: That’s a key point – in their own way. And that’s what’s so nice about the variety here. All three bands also have a really beautiful soul in their own way. So we’re able to take the audience on a nice roller-coaster ride of emotion through this where we’re going to be able to let people just dance and party and have fun for a good chunk of the show, but we’re also going to be able to get some nice soft moments, or some “put your fist in the air and rock out” moments.

We have a really wide palette of instrumental emotion to choose from. We can open up a setlist with “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads then all of the sudden go into Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” and be completely psychedelic. And then out of that it could just be a groover like Phish’s “Sand” and take them out of that psychedelia into a smooth groove and transition back into it. Next thing you know, we’ll be doing a hard rock tune, whether it’s Talking Heads or Phish, whatever it is. It’s a blast man, it’s so much fun.

TM: It looks like Pink Talking Fish plays a different set every night. Do you guys ever play the same set twice?

EG: No, we don’t ever play the same setlist twice. There’s no need to. There’s so much variety, and we are committed to constantly expanding our repertoire. That’s a huge point for us because the last thing we want for us as musicians or our audience is to get stale and to come to multiple shows and see the same set twice or even similar – we pay a lot of attention to what we’re playing when we come to town. We want to make sure when we come to town another time we give them a different show.

Also, if we’re doing a run we want to go as long as possible with no repeats. We offer people the experience to come see multiple shows with us and have that all be one ongoing experience for them.

TM: The jam band fans out there really appreciate that kind of thing.

EG: We’ve had a lot of two show runs and we’re actually starting to get into some three show runs at the same place. It’s great. You’ll have a group of people that are there for all three shows and they’re there for the journey of that moment, that experience. It’s not three shows, it’s just one experience spanning three days.

Some bands will play the same setlist, and that’s okay, that’s what they do and that’s great. That’s the philosophy of how some bands do it. But for what Pink Talking Fish is, especially with the Phish element, that’s such a wealth of material. They have the same philosophy of attention towards people wanting to catch multiple shows. It’s important for us to be able to do it that way.

TM: Mentioning Phish, that really reveals the talent level in the band. You’ve got some really difficult material there that you guys have to replicate in a way that is sharp. Tell me about the other members of Pink Talking Fish.

EG: Richard James is the keyboard player in the band. The guy is absolutely phenomenal. On top of being an incredible keyboard player who has developed a quick arsenal where he has anywhere between five and eight keyboards on stage at once. He has a great array of sound. Everything from your classic Hammond B-3 or Clavinet to some really nice synths that can create great dance sounds and also psychedelia. He’s really been great at navigating and emulating all three bands while creating his own personality within it.

On top of that, he also has a fantastic voice. He’s been a great contributor on the lead vocal end of things. We all sing some leads, and he’s been able to do a nice job with the Pink Floyd element. His voice has similarities to Gilmour and Waters in certain respects. He’s just got that rich tone.

Zack Burwick is on the drums. Zack is the perfect drummer for Pink Talking Fish. He has such an incredible sense of timing. He has so much knowledge of the material. We all trust him completely, because drums are a very important part in the guidance of the transitions, of the tempos, of the feel of the material – especially when it comes to the more complicated Phish compositions. How that can move in and out of some of the other band’s material. It takes a unique individual to be able to lead us and guide us through that. Zack is just the right guy for that. He’s a fun personality to be on stage with too. Life’s just a little bit more fun with Zack Burwick on stage with you. That guy is just so talented and it’s a pleasure to play with him.

Dave Runyak on guitar, I would venture to say that he has the hardest, most challenging job and he takes it like a champion. He really does. To be able to capture Trey Anastasio’s tone, David Gilmour’s tone, and David Byrne’s tone all in one show, I mean that alone – forget about the techniques of the song and the different emotions you need to go through as a soloist, it’s mind blowing.

Similar to Zack, Dave is just the perfect guy for this. He’s embraced himself into all the material. What he does just to embody the music of Trey Anastasio from Phish, he’s just a true expert at that. He’s another guy where we put a lot of faith and trust in him when we’re getting into a lot of the complicated pieces that Phish produces because he’s just so knowledgeable of it.

When it comes to the Pink Floyd material, to be able to capture the soul of those solos that Gilmour takes out and some of the tones and the soundscapes that happen, he’s really done a great job making that happen. The different rhythms of the Talking Heads, he just really gets into it – one of my favorite points with all of these guys is when it gets rhythmic. It happens a lot in the Talking Heads songs. We’re not thinking about who’s going to jump into a solo next, we’re just grooving on a progression together. I think that’s when we’re really at our best.

All three of these guys, I couldn’t pick a better group of to be able to share this ride with, personally and professionally. I’m personally blessed to be able to call them my band mates and they just wow me with their talent every day.

TM: Do you find any difference in the kinds of venues you’re playing compared to when you were with Particle? Since you’re a cover band do you find yourself booking different kinds of shows and festivals or is there a lot of overlap between the different scenes?

EG: The answer is yes and no. There are some venues that lend themselves more to electronic music that wouldn’t work as much for Pink Talking Fish. One of my favorite venues in San Francisco is called DNA Lounge and it’s a total electronica venue. It’s such a slick place, it’s amazing. But I could never see Pink Talking Fish playing there, it’s just not the vibe. It’s not a place where audiences that are used to seeing us would go to.

But then there’s classic theatres that Pink Talking Fish has been able to come into that wouldn’t necessarily lend itself to what Particle does. But there’s a lot of similarities. Probably more similarities than not in the circuit out there. My favorite venues in general are ones that can cater to live music of all sorts.

TM: Pink Talking Fish has a great light show. Do you have a lighting tech that tours with you or do you take it venue by venue?

EG: We do, we have a professional lighting designer, Vin Pugliese. He joined on with us full-time this year and he’s fantastic at what he does. He has a great light rig that he brings on the road with us. Sometimes he adds some other elements. He also is a projectionist, so in the right scenario he’ll have the lights and projections behind the stage. He’s multi-talented, multi-faceted, and he’s really put in a lot of effort to learn our personality as a collective band and he’s been able to roll with us very nicely, going with our improvisational changes and he puts on a beautiful presentation.

TM: So what does the band have coming up, more touring in November and December?

EG: We’re doing a few shows out in California, then a couple of nights in Las Vegas where one night we’ll be playing “Dark Side of the Moon”. 20 years ago on November 2, Phish wound up busting out “Dark Side of the Moon” at an arena in Utah right after they played Vegas for Halloween. We’re going to be doing “Dark Side of the Moon” in order to honor that.

It’s fun for people. We take some great moments from the bands that we tribute and we love so much and their history. To be able to offer a nod of appreciation and a little bit extra by putting the show around it, that’s really fun for fans. It’s fun for us. Doing things like that is really a blast.

After that we’re taking a little time off in early November then hitting it hard. We’re doing a nice Thanksgiving run on the east coast playing some of our favorite places. Portland Maine, Infinity Hall in Hartford, Boston Mass which is our home town – that November 24th show is going to be a nice Thanksgiving family gathering at the Paradise. That’s going to be a really fun night. Then after that we’re going all around. We’re doing Colorado, we’re doing the midwest in December, so that should be a good time.

In February we’re doing another Capitol Theatre show. We’ve done the Capitol Theatre two different times. The first time we played the epic Talking Heads album “Stop Making Sense”, which was a three and a half hour performance straight up with special guests. Then last year we did Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, which was a similar thing. I think we played for over three hours.

This year we’re doing Phish. We’re doing Phish’s “Junta”, which is a huge album. Some of the beasts that they wrote are on that one. We’re also going to be turning the whole room into a circus and have these circus attractions going on both onstage and off throughout. That’s going to be a real fun thing we’re doing in February.

We’re doing New Year’s Eve. We’re doing a Phish late-night on the 29th of December, we’re doing Philadelphia on the 30th and we’re doing Washington D.C. for New Year’s Eve this year. Those are three of our favorite cities to play. We’ve got a bunch of fun stuff going on, it’s such a great ride. We love it.

TM: You’ve found a lot of success as a musician, as a founding member of Particle and now with this amazing tribute band Pink Talking Fish. What advice can you give to those aspiring musicians out there that are trying to find their way in the music business?

EG: You’re an artist, but you’re also a businessman. You’ve got to make sure that to succeed in the music business, you need to treat it like a business as well as an art. You have to be sure, whether it’s you or whether you’re building a team, that you have a strategy that fits what you want to do. You have to have a vision and you have to build the right team to honor that vision.

You have to make sure you’re working hard but enjoying the ride at the same time. It’s not worth it if you’re forcing it to make it happen. You’ve got to be artful, you have to be business-minded, and you’ve got to make sure you’re taking a step back and enjoying yourself throughout this process.

We all work very, very hard. Not everything is always fun in the music business. A lot of it isn’t. But you’ve got to make sure that overall you’re having a good time and just enjoying yourself. It’s huge, it really is, because it’s not an easy business to make it in. The glory comes in those moments, and the hard work is the longevity of it.

When you’re putting that together, when you’re zooming out looking at the forest, you can say “You know what? I’m loving this.” It’s great, the good and the bad. Get in a good place, and keep on going.

TM: That’s some good advice. It’s been great to talk to you, thanks so much for spending the time with us today.
EG: Alright, have a good one!

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!

John Medeski

TM: The Word is set to release a new album entitle Soul Food on May 4th. What inspired the decision to come together and record another album?

JM: Well, I think it was around 11 years ago we did our first record, and when we came together it was all these different entities coming together to make an instrumental gospel group, and did some touring after that, and everyone kinda went off and did their own thing. We’ve gotten together a couple of times, these past 10 years or so. The thing about The Word is, it really is a band. It’s one of those things where the end result is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

TM: That’s one of the cool things about it, how it has a really cohesive sound. It doesn’t sound like a supergroup with all these guys mashed together.

JM: A lot of that has to do with the original intention. It didn’t come from , “Hey let’s put these guys together”, it came from Luther and I talking for a couple years about making an instrumental Gospel record. We both share a love of that music, and Robert Randolph, kind of surfaced. After we had already talked about recording, we found out that Robert was playing outside the church. We loved his music from some of the sacred steel recordings we heard, so we checked in with him, he was up for it, he came down, it’s kind of a serdipitous or magic beginning.

TM: Yeah.

JM: I think the truth of that has been resounding ever since. We get together and play, the last year or so, and we kind of realized there’s nothing quite like this band out there, and nothing that any of does has what The Word has. Everybody does great things, it’s not that we’re better, it’s just different and it’s undeniable. So we had talked about, “We should do something else”, and just everything finally came together. It takes a long time, because we’re all busy, we all do a lot of different things. So, it’s the kind of thing where everyone says they want to do it, and having the time open up. So that’s what we did, we kind of created the space for it.

TM: Tell us what we can expect from Soul Food.

JM: Well, it’s the next step for us. I think it’s a great record, the songs are great. It’s a combination of some really strong songs and some really rocking improvisations combined with this great gospel music. There are some originals of Robert’s that are in the sacred steel vein, and original of mine, an original of Cody’s, and

TM: It sounds like everyone had a hand in bringing something to the table on this one.

JM: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s kind of how a band like this works. Everybody in the band is a great musician, a composer, a producer, an arranger. So we all came together, and you know, the truth is we just sit down and start playing, and music happens. We went into our second recording session in Memphis and we had tos stop because too much material was happening.

TM: (Laughs)

JM: Really, every time we get together we come up with new things, which is great for live shows. We can spontaneously create music every show to tap into special for that night, that audience, that place.

TM: So who worked as producer for this one, did one of you guys produce it?

JM: Everyone had a hand in it, I would say. I oversaw the final mixing. Producing is multi-levelled, and everybody was involved.

TM: Tell me about the recording studios you chose to record in. You recorded in New York and in Memphis?

JM: Yeah, we recorded in New York at Brooklyn Recording, which is an incredible studio with amazing equipment, and Andy who owns the place is a really great engineer. We were doing a couple of gigs in the city, so we set aside the time to start the record. We’ve played a few gigs together over the past ten years, and we’ve added new material. Stuff we never recorder. We did a lot of stuf that we had been working on and developed live, and hadn’t been recorded. We recorded a couple of new originals. And then in Memphis we went to Royal Studios which is a legendary studio. Al Green recorded a lot of stuff there, and it’s got an incredible vibe. It was really inspiring for everyone. So we went there to finish up some of the stuff we started and while we were there, a whole lot of new stuff came out, including a song called Soul Food. That was created there after we at an amazing soul food dinner. We just went down and started playing, and bam! It just came out.

TM: Your playing is a little more traditional with The Word, as compared with the generally avante – garde jazz and funk keys that you’re known for. Do you have to think more inside the box for The Word, or is just part of your natural flow?

JM: I don’t believe that anybody is one-dimensional. For me, I’ve always loved all kinds of music, always played all kinds of music. Medeski Martin & Wood is probably the best known thing that I’ve done. I’ve played on hundreds of other records of all kinds in the past 30 years.

I just love music. The Word for me is an outlet for this other side of myself. To me it’s pretty natural. Any time you’re playing a style of music, you should be listening to the music and what’s happening, and then adding what it needs, or what you feel, or what’s necessary. It’s not about doing your thing on top of what’s happening, its about getting inside what’s happening and becoming a part of it. That’s what it is for me. It’s pretty easy, you know? It’s more rockin’. That’s just another side. (laughs).

TM: And that’s something the North Mississippi All Stars bring to the table with the rhythm section in this project.

JM: Absolutely. I’ve known those guys for a long time, since they first went out as a duo. I love them. They keep growing. They’re all incredible musicians, at the highest level, the deepest level.

TM: Robert Randolph plays with a tremendous amount of energy on stage. It’s contagious in the crowd, so I imagine you must feel it too

JM: Oh yeah, I love playing with Robert. Robert is charismatic, he’s also an unbelievable player, and a great musician, and has a sensibility. He’s like a natural star, that guy. So it’s a treat to play with him. It’s always inspring.

TM: The Gathering of the Vibes is our backyard here in Southern Connecticut, and the Word will playing here this summer. What do you like about playing at the Gathering and other music festivals like that?

JM: The audiences for most of the people at these festivals for the most part are there to have a real deep musical experience. Dance, and get lost in the music.  There not going there to hear something exactly the way they’ve heard it before. They’re going there to feel something, and when an audience is open to that, it enables the bands to deeper and further than you can when you’re playing the same old stuff.

TM: Do you get to roam the festivals and enjoy yourself, or are you working most of the time?

JM: It varies, you know? A lot of times these festivals are a way for me to hear some other bands that I don’t get to hear. I’m very busy doing my thing, and I don’t have a lot of time to go and see shows, so, one of the things about going to festivals is you get to hear people you’ve heard about, or bands that you haven’t heard of. The music at the festivals is inspiring, to hear what’s going on.

For me the most important thing is that I am ready to give a hundred-plus percent for the show I have to play. So sometimes that means I need to be in the quiet, getting prepared for the show, and sometimes I go out and experience what’s happening and take that energy in. It’s really different on so many facets. I used to have to try and figure it out, but I really have to do what I feel, when I know my experience is going to put me in the right space.

TM: You’ve done a lot of different projects with a lot of different great musicians. Free form experimental jazz, blues, funk, gospel – when are we going to see you on a Reggae album?

JM: (laughs)

TM: Are there any genres you haven’t made a splash in that you’d like to?

JM: Well, it’s endless. I’ve dabbled in a lot of things, but shoot, you never know.

TM: When you play, how much of it is thought out in terms of theory, and how much is just straight from the gut intuition?

JM: I don’t know if it’s that cut and dried. When I play, for me it’s listening, reacting, playing from the gut and intuition. But, when you do that, what you have to work with is what you know, what you study, and what you’ve learned. So the theory and all the technique is stuff you study, and then it comes into play. And the truth is, only a certain percentage of that will be available. You play with other people, and the energy is going up. So the more you have in your bag, the more you’ll have to draw from. For me it’s different things, because you work on things, you practice, and you study. You can do it by yourself, but you can also do it with the other people you play with, and you develop. But when you play, you get into the music, you become the music, and you let it tell you what to do. It’s  not really one or the other, it’s like one informs the other, and back and forth.

TM: If you had one piece of advice you could give to a young person who wants to succeed in music, what piece of advice could you give them?

JM: Well, I think the most important thing is to find your voice. So even if you’re playing other styles of music, you are yourself, so that means you need to find your connection, and what it means to you. All these notes, chords and rhythms that are out there, that we love. You need to really make them your own, and use them in a way that is really coming from you. That’s the most important thing.

And to listen. Always be listening. Whether you’re playing with people, whether you’re walking in the woods, whether you’re walking in the city, on the subway. Wherever you are, you can be listening, and hear everything as music. You have the symphony that is the universe.

TM: Wow, that’s great advice.

JM: And other than that, practicing.  (laughs)

TM: Yeah, practicing helps.

JM: Yeah, you gotta do your time. You gotta really give yourself over. You gotta give yourself at least a year of doing nothing else 24-7 but music, music, music, music – if you really want to give it a shot. There’s something I read about how many hours it takes to master something, like 100 hours is the tipping point or whatever that is. I don’t know if that’s really correct, but there’s something to that. You’ve really got to put the time in.

TM: Right. I think part of that is you have to train your body as much as your mind and get it built into the muscles, your finger memory, whatnot.

JM: Yeah, there’s where putting the time comes in.

TM: That’s good advice. And it ties in with your first piece of advice. Everyone who learns to play learns from someone else, learns other peoples styles, and at some point you have to spend the time figure out how to make this your own, and figure out what your voice is.

JM: Yeah, and it’s important to learn from somebody else. I don’t mean just records. It’s important to learn from the teachers out there. Teachers who love what they do.  Because there’s a kind of wordless transferrance that happens when you work with someone. That’s the only way to learn music.

I mean you can learn from records too. But the really most important information comes from actual interaction.

Michael Franti

An interview

Michael Franti and his band Spearhead are well known for their upbeat songs with a positive message. He tours the world in his dreadlocks and bare feet, spreading the messages of love, compassion, and understanding. His concerts are a big dance party, with Franti himself frequently joining the crowd and jumping around with his fans.

He recently released a new single called “Once a Day”. It is accompanied by a really fun music video filled with all kinds of amazing artists, dancers and athletes. I had the pleasure of talking to Michael recently about his new music, touring with SOJA, meeting the Dalai Lama, and staying positive in a difficult world.

Tom Matthew:  You’ve recently released a new single entitled, “Once a Day”. It follows your tradition of a catchy hook, danceable rhythm, and a positive message for people to “rise up”. Tell us about “Once a Day”.

Michael Franti:  Last year my son was diagnosed with kidney disease, and by the time we had discovered it, he had already lost 50% of his function. When we found out, we thought it would rip our family apart. As we came together to find ways to fight this disease, it actually ended up bringing our family closer together. There was a lot of hugging, a lot of kissing, and a lot of telling each other how much we meant to each other. From that I wrote the song: “Everybody ought to hug somebody once a day”.

In the first verse I say, “Got your friends, got your money, got your family, got your honey” – you got a million things. Then life comes along and knocks you down to the ground. That’s why I say everybody ought to hug somebody once a day.

I remember I was doing everything I could to end my life at 16. I was taking too many risks. I thought I had a million questions. My son at 16, he’s wondering how many days he has left. That’s a hard thing, and the truth is that none of us ever know at all. Our monitor man Jeff, his father unexpectedly passed away a few days ago, and it was a big shock to all of us. So the song is a gentle reminder to love those who are closest to you.

TM: The video features a number of really talented people, including Rik Daniels who does some amazing dancing without the use of his legs, and skateboarder Bob Burnquist pulling tricks on the half-pipe. How did you form the concept to have this big diverse crowd in your music video?

MF: Our fan base is very diverse. In the last few years, me and my fiancée Sara, we started a foundation called the Do It for the Love Foundation. We’re kind of like Make a Wish Foundation. We bring people in advanced stages of terminal illnesses, taking adults with special needs and wounded veterans to live concerts. People can just write to us and say, “My sister is dying, and she wants to see Garth Brooks”, and we send her to the show.

Meeting so many families over the last couple of years, I have met such inspiring people. People who have had every reason to give up, every reason to quit. Not only do they not quit, they thrive. They became the most beautiful people and the most talented people. So I wanted to invite people who embodied that, who have fallen down and gotten back up.

Rik Daniels, the dancer you described, he was born without the use of his legs. He was four pounds when he was born. The doctor told his mother he was never going to walk, you should probably institutionalize him, because he’s going to be a tough challenge for you. And she was like, in Rik’s words, “F*** you doctor, that’s my child and I’m taking him home! And he’s going to do everything my other two kids do!”

As a single mom she raised him. They expected him to do chores around the house, do his homework, and everything else she expected of the other kids. They just had to find ways to adapt. Along the way he became a seven time All-American gymnast.

I met him at one of our concerts, and the way he danced was so inspiring. I said “Someday I want to connect with you and do something.” I just thought that in my mind, but I didn’t get a chance to get his email or anything. So a few years later I was making a movie and he came to mind. I put a message out on Facebook and said, “Does anybody know this guy?” One of his friends wrote me back.

And Bob is another person, I think Bob is 37 or 38 right now, and he’s been in the X-Games since he was literally 14 or 15 years old in the big air competitions. He’s always in the top three, year after year. He’s someone that if you see him train – I was out there shooting the video, and he would land probably 1 out of every 20 tricks. So here’s somebody that falls down something like 95% of the time, and he gets up every time, so I wanted to show his ability to do that.

TM: “Once a Day” was co-produced by the popular Jamaican producer Supa Dups. What did Supa Dups bring to the song?

MF: Supa Dups is an amazing cat. He started off being a DJ, and from being a DJ he got really into rhythm. He’s Chinese-Jamaican and his family is all from Jamaica for many generations. He has a group called Black Chiney that was his company. From that he just started doing little remixes on his own, and then he had some success in that realm. He’s gone on to do tons of records for Eminem, Rhianna, Drake, and every dancehall artist you could imagine, from Shaggy to Beenie Man.

Recently he’s been getting into producing records on the American reggae scene. He’s worked with artists like SOJA, J Boog, and a lot of these American reggae artists. When that vibe came through, we connected with it. We worked out of Circle House, which is the studio owned by Inner Circle. It’s a legendary studio. Every big artist from the Miami area has worked out of there. Recently Pharrell had booked out one of the rooms for two years while he was making the whole last record. So it’s a real super-creative place where there’s a lot of good energy. It’s all sort of copied around Inner Circle and their love of positivity. They love making records in a more traditional way than people do today.

TM: Last year you were touring with SOJA in support of the hit single, “I Believe”.  They are another band with a consistent positive message. What was it like spending time with those guys?

MF: It’s awesome. They’re a very big band. There’s a lot of personalities there, and sometimes that’s a challenge. But Jacob, who’s the leader of the band, has a very passionate voice for positivity and change. He has surrounded himself, like my situation, with people who share that. It’s a really big band and all those cats get along really well.

The tour we did was a full-time tour, and every day there was a yoga camp before the main show. All the guys in the band got into yoga, and a bunch of them never practiced yoga before, so it was a really cool time. All of us were saying at the end of the tour that it was our favorite tour we’ve ever been on. It was a great experience.

TM: You jump right in with the audience at your performances. What’s the energy like out there at one of these big shows when you’re dancing your way through the crowd?

MF:  I love getting in the crowd, and every show I do some songs from the audience. I bring the guitar out there, bring the microphone out there. When I was a kid – I go back to music when you didn’t click a button online to get a ticket. You waited in line for hours and hours and hours just to get a ticket, and then three months later, you waited in line to get into the show. You’d go to the concert and run to the front of the stage. We would take turns holding our spot there if anybody had to go to the bathroom, get food or drink or whatever. And when the band came on, we would take very careful notice of what four pedals the guitarist would have, what shoes were the bass player wearing, or whatever.

Then I went on to become a doorman at a club, where I saw hundreds of bands coming in. And there were always these bands that would say hello to you, and say thank you at the end of the night to all the staff who worked there. Those were the bands that I noticed were coming back year after year, the ones who connected with the fans, the ones who connected with promoters, and the people who were appreciative of everyone who worked at the club.

I’ve carried that ethos throughout my career. When I perform a show, I want those people who came in last, who are at the back of the venue, or who maybe bought a cheaper ticket at the back of the venue – I want them to have the same feeling that the people at the front feel. That’s why I go into the audience. There’s nothing more fun for me in my life than when I’m in the mosh pit at a show, moving up and down with a bunch of people who believe in what you believe in.

Somehow through the music you find that identification with the core beliefs. In our band we have a motto, “Love Life”, two words. Every day we are thinking, “What we can do to love our friends, love our families, and to love the planet?” We go snowboarding or bike riding, or yoga or running, whatever we do to take care of our bodies. What are we doing to show compassion for other people, doing acts of compassion for other people in the world who need help? We love life, and I feel like people identify with that at our shows. So to be in the crowd celebrating that is cool. Nothing is more fun.

TM: Recently you had the honor of spending some time with the Dalai Lama. What did you take from that experience?

MF: It was really amazing. I was invited to come play a song at his birthday celebration in Irvine, California. The first performance was in this huge basketball arena. There were a few thousand people there. I played my guitar, and a little wooden drum. I told the story of how I wrote the song, and I started playing and singing it. I look behind me and the Dalai Lama is clapping and singing. I was really moved by that.

I asked him on the stage – because we all got to take turns asking questions – and I asked him, “In the world, it’s easy to become frustrated. You read the news every day, and we’ve got all these difficult challenges we have to face. We’re constantly being divided and exploited by politicians. How do you keep going? How do you stay focused on being positive?”

He said, “You have to look inside yourself, find those dark moments, and examine them.” He said, “Wisdom does not come just by experience alone. It comes as a combination of experience and human intellect. So you have to look into your heart and the ways you’ve interpreted those things to learn from them, and when you do that, it’s like creating a vision. From that vision you take it to other people and do acts of compassion.”

It doesn’t mean anything to be a compassionate person who doesn’t do anything in the world. That’s just a nice person. You have to go out in the world and do acts of compassion. Do things to relieve the suffering of other people. It was really amazing sitting next to him and hearing that.

Afterwards, he said of my performance, “When I first saw you, I kind of scratched my arm and said what’s up with these tattoos, and what’s up with these dreadlocks, and you looked really hard. And then I heard your music and it was very light. I heard what you had to say in the song, and the song was really exciting. But excitement doesn’t last forever.” We all laughed. Then he said, “What is important is the words, the meaning when you play it. You want to encourage everyone to listen to the words and take the lyrics on, that’s what lasts forever.” That’s what he goes for, not for the excitement.

And I said, “When I first saw you, I thought that was a cool robe. Where can I get one?” He laughed and said “In order to wear this robe, you must become a monk. And the first thing you’ll have to do, Michael, is shave your head, shave your dreadlocks. And the second thing you’ll have to do is take a vow of celibacy.” Then he goes, “I met your fiancée, so I don’t think you want to do that.”

He said, “I’m a monk with a lot of restrictions, but you have a really good heart and a really good message so I’m going to make you a monk with no restrictions.” So I told my band afterwards, “That’s my Wu-Tang Clan rapper name, ‘Unrestricted Monk’”.

TM: Every time I’ve seen you, whether live or on video, you’ve been in your bare feet. What does being barefoot mean to you?

MF: Well, it means that every step is going to feel different. You might be walking on what looks like smooth concrete, but there are cracks, there are bits of grit and things poking up, and every step is different.

I started going barefoot when I was on tour in other countries where kids couldn’t afford to wear shoes. So I took off my shoes, and I couldn’t even go three steps without going “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!”

So I went back to San Francisco and after three days it really didn’t toughen up my feet, so I went another day, a month, a year, and now barefoot for 15 years apart from planes and restaurants where I wear my flip flops.

TM: If you could give one piece of advice to a young person on finding success in music, what piece of advice could you give?

MF:  I think the main thing is to be yourself, and do not be afraid of being that unique person that is you. Because that is your greatest gift to the world, for you to be your authentic self.

Like I said, we have a motto in our band which is “Love Life”. In our house, we add on to that and say “Love life, serve the greater good, and rock out wherever you are”.

What that means is love life. Keep finding ways to challenge yourself, finding ways to grow, to be your best every day. And appreciate – love your family, love your friends, love the experiences that you have, and approach them with all your passion.

To serve the greater good means to give back, to find compassion and globalize that compassion, to act with compassion every day.

And the final part is rock out. Don’t ever lose your enthusiasm for being your unique and authentic self. Find whatever that is for your unique self, and live it, be it. We all need that passion.

TM: That’s great advice. I really appreciate you taking the time to be with us today.MF:  Right on, thanks a lot brother