With a new Ratdog album just released and a tour to follow, Bob Weir has his hands full. He spent the summer on the road with The Other Ones and joined Phish on stage at Shoreline Amphitheater on October 6th. He recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Jambands.com about a variety of topics, including the new album, the song-writing process and Hanson.
JW: I wanted to start off by talking about the new album, Evening Moods. It was the first time you were in the studio in quite some time. Is the recording process a lot different now because of technological advances?
BW: It is but I tried to ignore that as much as possible. We did use “Pro Tools” and all that kind of stuff, but there are facilities available these days that allow people to make a record that is not what they really did and I don’t really know how I sit with that.
JW: So it does change your approach even if it’s on a subconscious level.
BW: Yeah, I mean you can fix virtually anything with “Pro Tools,” you know, if it’s out of tune or out of time. You can fix it, but then it becomes something else. Maybe I just have to sort of warm up to the new tech’.
JW: Can you talk a little bit about the song-writing process? I know you had a number of different lyricists. Which comes first, the music or the lyrics?
BW: It happened in every conceivable way on this record. The lyrics would come first. The music would come first. They’d come all together, at the same time. It depended on who we had around. I mean, everyone was involved on the writing of the music by and large, some of us more than others at a given time. We just spent a lot of time together, kicking stuff around. I think it’s a better way, if you want to make a band and achieve a band sound, I think it’s a better way to write. It’s also kind of a little more satisfying to me because I know what the song is amounting to, what it’s going to sound like. The song arises from the group. I know what people are going to be playing and that’s going to take me to a place that’s going to maybe suggest a lyrical direction or I can bring a lyric in and say ‘O.K., here’s a lyric, what does that say to everybody?’ You get an ensemble response to that. It’s a fun way to do it and it’s also a rewarding way to do it.
JW: How does this process compare to what you did with the Grateful Dead?
BW: That’s what I finally arrived at with the Grateful Dead. When I was writing the last few tunes, “Corrina” or “Easy Answers,” I tried to involve as many people as I could in the process, so I knew what they were going to be up to. The interpretation that I got was a little closer to what I had in mind when I was writing the song.
JW: Can you talk a little bit about your philosophical approach to music? I mean, you’re certainly a unique individual in that you’ve been touring as a professional musician since you were a teenager. You played with one of the biggest bands of all time and now you’ve done work with The Other Ones and Ratdog. How do you prepare for a show psychologically? How do you stay motivated on a night to night basis?
BW: Well, I keep mixing it up as much as I possibly can so that I don’t get bored, and I don’t get bored. That’s the main thing, just keeping the surprise factory high, as high as it can be.
JW: Surprising yourself or surprising the audience?
BW: Both. It’s best when you can do both at the same time.
JW: Are there differences in how you approach improvisation between Ratdog and The Other Ones?
BW: It’s kind of methodical. You take a theme and you develop it. That’s pretty much the way it’s done. Sometimes something will arise completely as a bolt out of the blue, a new line or a rhythmic overlay or something like that, but most often, I just try to follow my footsteps.
JW: If you’re about to walk on stage with The Other Ones or with Ratdog, you’re in the same mindset that anything can happen on a given night?
BW: Right, and should.
JW: Can you talk about how you came to use Mike McGinn as a producer on the album?
BW: He’s been working with me for a number of years and he started out as an engineer and I didn’t even know for the longest time that he had musical abilities. After a few years of getting to know each other, it came out that he’s a musician as well, has musical sensibilities and has a little something to say. When we started out this record, he was pretty much just the engineer, but it became evident that his input was amounting to more than that and that he was a budding producer. So we all recognized that and went with it. It’s nice to have someone in that position. I mean, all of us had our hands in the production of the record, to a degree or a lesser degree.
JW: In the early days of Ratdog, it was just you and Rob Wasserman performing together. How did you assemble the rest of the line-up? Were there certain players that you had in mind of was it more of an organic process?
BW: It just happened the way it wanted to. Rob and I did a session and we needed a drummer because I was working on a musical theater piece. I wanted to put down a tune that we had written for that and I needed a drummer. Rob had just done a Levi’s add I think, with Jay (Lane) and he said ‘oh, I know a drummer. He was pretty good. We just did a session with him yesterday.’ So I said ‘hell, call him up, you know, any old drummer will do.’ That session went well and so we wound up adding him and we had a trio. Then Matthew (Kelly) came through town and he’s an old friend of mine and I always loved playing with him, so we added him on harp and a little bit of guitar. Then we were a quartet. People came and went and it’s hard to describe all of the ebbs and flows. It’s a long story, but we eventually ended up with a band whose personnel was by and large stabilized for long enough to direct our attention from teaching the new guys our old book. Everybody knew all the old tunes, so it was a question of ‘so what are we gonna do now?’ and we decided ‘well, let’s get to work on some new ones.’ After about a year of that, we had a record.
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