For the first time, TAB’s current tour includes an acoustic set that features some full band segments. What did you take away most from these segments?
First of all, I’m amazed at the number of kids who know all the lyrics to every one of those songs! Secondly, I’m very glad to see Trey becoming comfortable enough with himself to get up and do an hour or more of solo work. He sounds great– both his playing and his singing. The crowds, which one would think of as pretty rock-hungry, have been eating it up. The only downside is that the rest of us get pretty itchy waiting a whole extra set to go on.
You played and recorded with songwriter Sarah Pedinotti, who is known as the singer in Railbird. How did you meet Sarah and when did you start performing with her?
I played a gig or two with her six or seven years ago. Then, during the time when Trey was off working with a different version of the band, Sarah was going to start doing a two-night-a-week residency at One Caroline in Saratoga, a restaurant and jazz club owned by her wonderful family. She assembled some really fine musicians, including pianist Dave Payette, and called me up, half expecting me to turn her down. Both of my parents had just passed away very unexpectedly, and I jumped at the opportunity to regain a little family-style regularity in my life. I played with Sarah and the boys for a couple of years, starting in early 2006. It was the first time I had ever worked with a bunch of musicians less than half my age! It was exhausting, but fun. Coincidentally, those guys are out on their first national tour as we speak; I wish them nothing but the best.
When I lived in Saratoga, I remember you played in No Outlet. Have often do you perform and record with those guys?
Everyone has gotten so busy with other projects recently that No Outlet has not been working much at all. I do still work with both Kevin Maul and Dale Haskell in other contexts– with Kevin in the Burns Sisters Band and in the Mississippi Hot Dogs (with Chris Carey & Chris Kyle from Railbird), and with Dale in Street Corner Holler (with Mark Tolstrup). No Outlet will be backing up Texas singer/songwriter Billy Ely at Valentine’s in Albany, NY on May 26. That would be worth your while to catch.
I read once that you played in Mamas and the Papas. Can you give us some background on your work with that historic band?
In 1988, John Phillips was living up north of here in Bolton Landing, NY. He had some NYC guys who played with him regularly, but a few others who seemed to come and go. He would occasionally do gigs at Lena’s with some local musicians. When he called me up to see if I’d be interested, it didn’t take much convincing; I’d always been a fan of his music, and when he told me that the great Louisiana drummer Kenneth Blevins (John Hiatt, Sonny Landreth) would be playing, I was sold. I toured the U.S., Canada and Norway with the Mamas & Papas, which at the time consisted of John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Spanky McFarlane and Mackenzie Phillips.
The original TAB stopped touring in 2004. How closely did you stay connected to the Phish/TAB world? Did you perform in other bands with Russ, Ray or the other members of TAB during this period of time?
It was a very strange and uncomfortable period for Russ and me. The two of us stayed in touch through that time, but mostly to see if the other had heard anything new. It was a somewhat dark and uncommunicative period for Trey, and, as a result, we were pretty much left uninformed. It wasn’t until after things collapsed in Trey’s life that we started getting more information about what had happened and why.
When did you and Trey reconnect before he reformed Classic TAB in 2008? Was it when he was living near you in the Albany/Saratoga area from 2007-2008?
We actually had very little contact while he was here. He was pretty busy with legal issues and community service.
The current TAB has featured a diverse mix of covers, including somewhat modern hip hop songs by OutKast, Jay-Z and Gorillaz. I was curious who brought in those particular songs and how they fit in with the repertoire? It is interesting from my perspective: it seems that 10 years ago pop covers might not have fit in the jamband scene but the crowd seemed to love them.
Those of us in the band will often joke about not mentioning certain things to Trey before a show, for fear that we will find ourselves performing them that very night. I think the Gorillaz song was his idea, as was the Jay-Z thing (the P.T. Barnum in him couldn’t resist hitting NYC with that one!). I have to take the blame for mentioning that I had once heard zydeco artist Chris Ardoin doing an incredible version of “Hey Ya” at the Rock’n‘Bowl in New Orleans. Next thing I know, we’re playing it. People love that song!
Trey told a story about a conversation he had with you this tour about how—because of the internet—you have to change the setlists each night because every show is documented and traded. A few years ago, you could even tell the same jokes each night. How important is it to create a varied setlist versus a consistent tight show?
I know Trey wrestles with that one nightly– on one hand, you always want to give each night’s crowd a fresh, exciting show. On the other hand, how much do you allow the content of your show to be dictated by the same few faces you see every night? Sometimes you have to just go with what feels and sounds good, and hope that a few of the people there missed the last show.
The earliest TAB songs—“Sand,” “Gotta Jibboo,” “First Tube” and “Last Tube,” among them—grew out of jams written by you Trey and Russ. Have you continued to write with Trey and Russ in a similar fashion?
No, but I wish we would– it’s a fun process. Someone once described what the three of us collaborated on as ‘Curtis Mayfield & Fela Kuti Play Cop Show Themes from the ‘70s.’ I can sure think of worse things to be accused of!
Last June you sat in with Phish for the first time at your hometown venue SPAC. How did you feel the sit-in went? What did you notice the most about how your bass style fit with Fishman’s playing?
Given the kinds of things that Trey is capable of involving one in, being tapped to play a bass line that I wrote (and in the same key I wrote it in!) was a piece of cake. Playing with Fishman is an effortless pleasure– he’s a wonderful drummer, and he really listens to the people he’s playing with.
In our recent site interview with Ray, he says that at first he thought of Trey as his boss and later it started to feel more like a band. I know your friendship with Trey was slightly more involved when you joined the group but was there a point in the group’s arc that TAB started to feel like a true ‘band.’
Although Trey certainly encourages and respects our individual input, there is no question about who has the final say; he is definitely the boss.
Now at the tour is over, how did you feel this winter TAB tour compared to other TAB tours?
Everyone seems to be working better with each other’s strengths– Trey and Ray are working off each other more and more; Jen has become a first-rate section boss, knowing just when to bring the horns in and out for maximum effectiveness; Jen, Russell and Natalie are all becoming even better soloists; the rhythm section’s grooves are getting deeper and more effortless; Jen and Nat’s vocals are simply perfect. I love working with this group of people without reservation; on both a musical and a personal level, there is a compatibility that I have rarely experienced in a band before. Part of Trey’s genius is his ability to assemble the right people, and then let them do what they do best.
Trey often uses TAB to try out new material before bringing it to Phish. Of the new material the band has played this winter, did any of the new Trey originals immediately jump out at you as being perfect for TAB as apposed to Phish songs?
“Ocelot” has been working nicely with the new horn arrangement. There are a couple of songs from the musical Trey’s been co-writing (“Burn That Bridge” and “My Problem Right There”) that seem to be a good fit for us as well.
What is the biggest difference between the current lineup of TAB and the version of the group that toured from 1999-2004?
Since that original group was different each time it went out (first as a trio, then a sextet, then an octet, then a dectet), it’s hard to say. Of the larger formats, this current septet is probably the most manageable. It was great when we had percussion and five horns, but that’s an awful lot of people, horns, mics, egos and elbows to coordinate. The band today is a well-oiled (and well-behaved) machine; it’s less of a free-for-all.
Does TAB have plans to record or release any of its recent studio sessions?
There’s talk of recording sometime this year, but who knows? Trey’s a busy man.