It’s been nearly two decades since The Band officially called it quits, but the spirit of the band and the Woodstock sound it pioneered lives on, thanks, in part, to some of the musicians that were a part of that latter-day iteration of the legendary group. In 2012, after hooking back up with drummer/vocalist Levon Helm at Helm’s iconic Woodstock Barn for the Midnight Ramble concerts he would host, Jim Weider, along with fellow former Band member Randy Ciarlante, started up The Weight Band and began playing shows of Band covers with former members of the Levon Helm Band and the Rick Danko Group. Now, Weider and his current Weight Band are releasing their first album of new, original music—with some covers thrown in—and are looking toward a future that keeps that Woodstock sound going with new songs to help fuel the fire.
World Gone Mad, set for release on February 23, is a collection of original songs—some new, some taken from Weider’s days with The Band, which included the band’s 1993 album Jericho—with a couple of covers, including the Grateful Dead’s “Deal” featuring guest Jackie Greene and a Bob Dylan cut. The album even features two previously unreleased songs that were co-written by Helm. Created over about two years, in between tour dates, World Gone Mad features guitarist/mandolinist Weider, drummer Michael Bram, keyboardist Brian Mitchell, keyboardist/saxophonist Marty Grebb and bassist Albert Rogers, all of whom share vocal duties in the group.
Here, Weider discusses the motivation and planning behind the new record, how the new songs reflect The Band’s loose Woodstock sound, some memories from playing with the original group and what he’s learned from the legacies of The Band and Levon Helm.
Let’s talk about World Gone Mad. You guys have been together playing for a while, focusing on The Band’s music and keeping the spirit of that alive, so when did the idea of an album of new songs come up, and when did you start getting in the studio to actually make it a reality?
Well, we’ve been together for about four years or so, and I started thinking about making a record probably about a year into it. I started thinking, “Man, people are really enjoying hearing these great songs again.” I had started playing them with Levon [Helm] again when I joined up with The [Midnight] Ramble Band. And so we started doing some Band tunes, and people were just going bananas to hear them again. That was really an indication of how much people missed The Band after we stopped it at the end of ’99. So we did a few shows with Garth Hudson and [Jimmy] Vivino and it went well. We went out and played for about a year or so, off and on, and I started thinking about writing songs for an original record. That’s when it started, early on, because the record really took us about two years in between touring to do. We would go into The Clubhouse in Rhinebeck and track maybe three songs when we had a few ready and then go back in five months later and track a few more—as we wrote them, you know. It was a process; it just took us a while.
Had you been playing these songs live, or were you holding off until they came out on the record?
“Never Too Old (To Rock N Roll)” is a tune that I wrote with Levon and Joe Flood and Stan Szelest during the Jericho period in the ‘90s, and Brian [Mitchell] rewrote some of the lyrics on it. I wanted to see the reaction—it’s a funny, fun tune—so we started playing it live. And we tried “Deal” out at several places around the country. We haven’t really played any of them out after that, but we’re getting ready to!
What was it like going into the studio with a band that had primarily only played together live?
You know what, it went really well. As you can imagine, they’re all really seasoned players, and everybody knows that music and genre and how to play that style really well. I would bring in a small Tweed Deluxe and a Princeton or something and set up. I didn’t use headphones—I wanted to really capture everything live. I let the amp bleed, and a lot of the stuff, the leads and solos, is all live. Like the Dylan tune, “Day of the Locusts,” and “Common Man,” they’re all really live-feeling in the studio. We’ve been playing together for four years, and when we went in to the studio—a couple years in—everybody was comfortable. You know, “Let’s play, and let’s try to capture the feeling live.”
I interviewed Marty Grebb about two years ago, and when I asked him about a possible album of original Weight Band music, he said that it would make sense that it would sound like The Band, because that’s what you guys are putting out into the world. So when you went into the studio, how much thought did you give to making it sound like that band, but also in a modern context?
That was the total plan. I mean, not only have I been playing that music all my life and grew up here, but that’s part of the sound and style. So that came natural. But we definitely didn’t want to sound like, you know, Jay-Z. I mean we wanted to be loose—that Band sound—and the songs needed to have a continuity, so if we went out and played some more Band songs, the new album would blend in. That’s the Woodstock Sound, to me, and it came from mixing folk music, like Dylan and The Band and Tim Hardin. I used to see Van Morrison here in the ’60s when he was starting out over here and doing Tupelo Honey he was totally influenced by it, keeping it kind of raw. And I think you’ll hear that on “Common Man” and “Never Too Old” or “World Gone Mad” and “Day of the Locusts.” Those are all just kind of raw in the studio, and that’s the way we would record when I was in The Band. We’d set up, Levon would cut the vocal as much live as we could, and I’d leave my amps in the air. I didn’t use headphones, and we’d have these tiny little monitors that you could hear and let it bleed and just try to get a live feel. All those records I did with them had that kind of feel. You can feel it when it’s organic.
Do you think this new album kind of harkens back to those latter day Band albums that you were a part of?
I really do. That’s what we were going for: “Wow, this feels live.” It feels like a band, instead of something layered and layered and layered. If you listen to “Fire in The Hole,” there’s very minimal guitar work. It just sounds like somebody sitting in a room playing it for you. And that’s basically how we wanted to get it. So hopefully that’ll come across and people will dig it.
You mentioned your co-writes with Levon, “Common Man” and “Never Too Old.” When you started thinking about what songs you would put on the record, did you think that this would be a good way to nod to his legacy?
Yeah, but it wasn’t just because he had co-written it with me at all. Basically, I’ve always liked “Common Man” and I wanted it to be on the Jericho album, but at the time it got nixed—we demoed it and it didn’t make it, but I kept it. And the same with “Never Too Old.” We demoed that up as The Band, and I said, “Wow, this is such a fun song.” So I kept it, rewrote it a little bit, Brian rewrote some lyrics, and we changed it up a little bit. So I always had those, and I said, “Well I think this will be good stuff; we should try these.” Also with “I Wish You Were Here Tonight.” That tune, I recorded when I first joined The Band in 1985. We went into the studio with all the original guys—Richard Manuel, Garth, Rick [Danko], and Levon. That was one tune we tracked that never got out, and I had the demo and thought that would fit Albert [Rogers’] voice perfectly. And it did. To me, that song always sounded like a Band song. We just never made the record.