I think a lot of that comes from the music you play, too. Honesty and authenticity are two things I’ve heard Dave talk about quite often. That resonates with fans, as you’ve said.
You know one thing that’s really cool? My nickname is BT. But for years, it wasn’t something that was known in the fan base, but then it started to get out there a little bit. Now people might just look out the window and say casually, “Hey BT.” But they wouldn’t say it like a fan calling out to a musician, they were saying it to a friend. They were saying it in a familiar way like they knew me, and that always blew me away, man. It was from the heart. It was like, “I know you from your heart and from your music. That’s the part of you I know.” Because we’re musicians and we open our hearts – and this is all of us – people know who we are already, which has always blown my mind.
Those early albums had a ton of heart in them.
One of the fortunate things that happened in the early days was that we had Steve Lillywhite as our producer. He wasn’t trying to create something out of us; he liked our sound and he liked what we played and he wanted us to give that same kind of thing on the albums that we gave live. So Steve’s thing was really capturing the best of us but still capturing the true parts of us from the heart, and finding ways to bring the best out of us. And he still does when he works with us; we find things that we didn’t even know we could do. Because of that, he started us off; three albums with a license to be who we were; to not try to contrive into being something different. We were thankful in that respect.
He’s an amazing producer, but also a producer that realizes that the sound that these guys have here live is it, and we just need to bring that sound and energy onto an album. That was a fortunate thing for us; the record company never tried to make us sound a particular way or do anything in particular with the music. Even as personnel have changed over the years, we play what we want to play and we play what we feel like playing. It makes it more fun. It’s good like that and thank God, because it makes it fun. It’s freedom and it’s fun.
Did get that same feeling being back with Steve for Away From the World?
Absolutely, it was the same. He got us to play just really cool stuff, in a way that, afterwards, you go, “Shit, did I just play that?” I don’t know how he does that but he has a way of bringing out the very best in us. It definitely felt the same doing Away From the World. In one sense it was like it had been forever since we’d seen Steve, and it had been. But in another sense it’s like an old-hat, you know? If you count The Lillywhite Sessions, he’s been the producer that we’ve worked with the most. It was really cool to be back in the studio with him.
Within the freedom that Steve allows in the studio, you’re able to go to different places. You want to please Steve; you want to give him the very best. That pushes you as well. I’m so glad we got the chance to work with him again and I would love to work with him even another time. But that same sense of freedom in the studio is there. And Rob Cavallo, too. Rob allows for a lot of freedom. We’ve been lucky in the producers that we’ve had over the years.
Were you guys surprised by the response to that album? It’s a demo tape, essentially, but those versions of those songs are still beloved.
At first I was like, “Holy shit, they leaked the album!” I couldn’t believe that. It seemed like they were so careful about marking the CDs – whose is whose – and it still got out. It’s really cool though. At that time, and I guess still now, people really dug that album. I guess in a sense it was more like rehearsals. Some of those songs may have been the very first time that we all played them as a band. Or at least we might’ve only learned it just before we played it. So it was new and fresh and it was really just like the first things we played. I think sometimes the best and the most honest is the first time you all play something. I think that might be part of it; maybe it’s not perfect but it’s honest and it’s straight from the heart. There’s a few examples of things that we recorded in the studio right off the bat that actually was what we used on the record.
When you do something in a very special way the first time – or whatever point it comes, but it’s that point where you can feel it and it’s really special – you can’t just go back and do it again. It’s just done; you’ve done that. You can never recreate a special moment or a particular piece of music and what it does to you. You can practice every note and make it as perfect as possible and it doesn’t matter. Once a magical moment happens, it happens and that’s it. So maybe that’s what was part of that; that from-the-heart magic. The heart makes magical stuff happen. And hopefully that’s what that was. It really blew me away and made me happy to see.
One of the magazines – I can’t remember which; maybe it was People or something – had a poll of the top albums of that year that The Lillywhite Sessions came out, and The Lillywhite Sessions was on that list! And it was a leaked rehearsal from an album! I just thought that was really cool. I listened to it this summer a little bit because we started to play a few songs from it, so I wanted to go back and listen to some stuff. But I really dug that.
I can’t help but notice “Monkey Man” still hasn’t been played…
We still have not broken it out, man.
This summer sounds like a great time for it.
(Laughs) This summer is wide open, I think, so you never know. Anything might happen.
Your song “True Reflections” also made a surprise appearance last summer, possibly thanks to some fan encouragement on social media. Any chance we see it again this year?
Quite possibly. I would definitely like to play it again. I couldn’t believe how long it had been since the last time we’d played it. The whole spirit of last summer was we would just pick a song and play it. One day I came in and said, “True Reflections,” so they said, “Alright, we’ll rehearse it tomorrow and play it tomorrow night.” And that’s how it happened. Carter said, “Let’s cover ‘Kashmir,” and we said, “Okay, we’ll rehearse it tomorrow and we’ll play it tomorrow night.” That was the whole vibe and it was so much fun. It was just whatever people were feeling. That’s fun.
The band also played “#34” last year for the first time in nearly six years, a song I always associate with LeRoi. Was there a talk amongst yourselves about playing that song and really rehearsing it to make sure it was ready?
No, not really, we just got into it and started rehearsing and got into it. That’s like all of us, though. LeRoi’s heart is in that song, so whenever we hear it he is always with us. Once again, we can rehearse it to the point of getting the parts, but you can’t rehearse it to the point of trying to create a feeling. That just has to come from your heart at the time that you play it. But it is special.
There’s a couple of songs like that. For me, “Lover Lay Down” is a song that reminds me of LeRoi. I remember it was the day after he died and we were playing a gig [August 20, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles] and it was a tough gig. But then we got to “Lover Lay Down” and I just lost it; I had to leave the stage. I went backstage and I just broke down. That was a song that I always thought LeRoi’s heart was completely in. There’s a lot of songs, but I think in that song in particular LeRoi’s heart was there.
That’s a beautiful song. The venue selection for this summer has stirred up some discussion within the fanbase. Most notably the absence of the traditional Alpine Valley run.
Yeah, the thing you have to realize is that when I and the band hear about the schedule is the same time the fans do. And honestly, in my case the fans usually know before I do (Laughs). I love Alpine; that’s one of my favorite venues to play, period. I don’t know the rationale; that’s agencies and management. I love Alpine and wish that we were playing there this summer. We’ll be back.
The two nights in Chicago should keep them happy. Also, the three night run in Berkeley looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.
Yeah, it’s gonna be a fun summer. One of the cool things is that – in this tour and the last few tours – is we put in more breaks in between the shows. When we do that it’s cool because it gives the band a chance to relax and then, when we come back, we get to really jam and it makes the show much more fun and much more energetic for us when we’ve had two or three days, as opposed to one day in between gigs. That has actually been a really good thing for the band and I’m glad it’s gonna be like that. We just add more time; we start like a month earlier. I’m looking forward to it. We’re just gonna have fun.