Dan Horne is phoning in from his new Los Angeles recording studio, “It’s a cool little place in Studio City, right by Universal Studios, called Universal Hair Farm or U.H.F.” Describing the scene, he mentions, “We have tape and computers, tons of gear, lots of keyboards, old synthesizers. It’s really well-equipped.” In addition to his role as producer, the artist has kept busy with other projects, releasing his first full-length solo debut, Count The Clouds, in the spring and most recently delivering a new live album, recorded at Williamsburg, N.Y.’s Brooklyn Bowl on March 4, 2023, with his Grateful Shred brethren.
From embodying Phil Lesh’s role alongside Austin McCutchen and Adam MacDougall, our conversation lingers on special moments which make up the live batch before traversing to accounts of stage time with Bobby Weir and Mike Campbell. Memories continue to unfold, only this time pertaining to the solo material–striking a groove as we hold space for some unique numbers and distinct instrumental moments.
The interview provides just a glimpse at Horne’s current cycle, born out of a myriad of experiences–bassist and bandleader of Circles Around The Sun and the aforementioned Dead cover band, as well as supporting the likes of Jonathan Wilson on the road–the artist’s legacy has stretched as the producer of records by Cass McCombs, Mapache, The Chapin Sisters and Allah Las.
On top of his long list of accolades, Horne still frequents the road, whether it be reviving the Grateful Dead’s catalog during a romp along the Pacific Northwest in mid-July or supporting Mapache’s Sam Blassucci the same week, he still finds time for his other projects; like closing out the month and entering August with a hefty lineup of southern appearances in support of Circles Around The Sun’s latest release, Language.
Grateful Shred released a new live album recorded at the Brooklyn Bowl earlier this month. What can you tell me about the set?
We’ve been mixing some new Bobby tunes and a bit more obscure stuff. “My Brother Esau” is on there. That’s a good one. “Alligator” that’s one that I sing. It’s weird cause we were pretty out there. I think I’m playing a half-step off for part of it. [Laughs.] But I think it’s kinda cool, just how chaotic it is.
That’s one of the things you all do well as improvisers is go beyond what’s expected. You’ve perfected accentuating an idea.
Yeah. We don’t try to get too perfect on anything. We like to leave room for our own interpretation without completely changing the vibe of stuff. Though we still stick to versions that we like.
I’d say there are a few true-to-form covers on there, “Rubin and Cherise” and even “Terrapin” are some examples.
Yes, “Terrapin” is one that we try to stick to the original version. Like, keep that spirit. I just love it. It’s one of my favorite album recordings. So that’s one where we definitely try to channel the original intent with Jerry’s pretty vocals and tempo.
Naturally, as the bassist for any Grateful Dead-adjacent project, folks will draw comparisons to Phil Lesh. When did you begin to approach his style and integrate it?
I grew up in Palo Alto. But I wasn’t that into the Dead scene. However, it’s just inherent in that community. I was more into Les Claypool–Bay Area punk stuff. I got into Phil’s playing more recently, like actually learning some of the stuff he does came later when I started playing Dead songs with Jonathan Wilson. And I got to play with Bob [Weir] a little bit.
What can you tell me about the first time you played with Bob?
He was cool, really friendly. And we were both just playing, doing weird stuff. He always kept everyone on their toes. The first time, it was with him and Mike Campbell. That was wild. It was also with Jonathan Wilson and all his friends. So it was pretty fun.
Is there a specific song from the Grateful Dead’s archive that first hooked you?
I had a moment with “China Doll” that was weird. I was like–wow, this is pretty good stuff.
In addition to the new Grateful Shred album, you also turned out your first full-length solo release, Count The Clouds, this spring. It seemed like an organic progression to deliver The Motorcycle Songs EP first and follow up with a complete set.
I started working on it right after the EP. I just kept going. I wasn’t touring that much because of the pandemic. So I had time to be in the studio, which was really fun. And I started hacking away at songs. Some of the songs I wrote a long time ago. And some of the songs I had just made up in the studio when I’d go in. It was a fun challenge for me—something I’d wanted to do for a long time and showcase my life skills in the studio.
Since you spend a lot of time touring, it makes sense to have a piece like “Ode to The Road” on the LP.
That song was just me reminiscing about fun times that we’d had. Touring with all my friends and kinda missing that while we were on lockdown. I’ve got some pedal steel and country harmonica in there.
I noticed you tapped into a California country vibe on a few of your tracks. Since you mentioned the pedal steel, I read you broke out some other instruments on Count The Clouds. What’s included?
Well, it was fun playing drums because drums are difficult, and I’m not that great. But I have played since I was a kid. I’ve never been the drummer, and drums are such a physical instrument; ‘cause being on stage and bringing that vibe every night is hard. So being able to do that in the studio was just so much fun. I would spend so much time tuning the drums and getting them to sound just how I wanted. I used a bunch of different drum sets and tried to get different sounds… So that was fun trying to make myself sound like a real drummer.
Two tracks that stuck out to me were “Hedgehog’s Song” and “Hedgehog’s Dream.” Besides the correlation between the titles, what can you tell me about the pair?
Well, I’ve always loved “Hedgehog’s Song” and played it on acoustic guitar forever, so I just wanted to record that. And then it’s funny, I did that drum take [on “Hedgehog’s Dream”], and I just kept playing, and then kinda came up with the idea from there. And then I kept adding onto it and overdubbing. And then I sent it over to Frank LoCrasto, whose band is called Kolumbo; he’s great and played synthesizers and some Rhodes keyboards on top of it.
I felt like it was the hedgehog’s cosmic adventure.
Clay [Finch] from Mapache said I should call it “The Hedgehog Goes to College.”
Do you have a favorite instrumental moment on Count The Clouds?
Well yeah, “Hedgehog’s Dream” stands out for me because I got to do the things I’ve been experimenting with, like a lot of the percussion that comes in at the end was really fun. One of the things I love about the electric [Davis] Miles stuff, is Airto Moreira; his chaotic percussion just lifts the song in such an unexpected way, so I was trying to go for that. And also I was playing acoustic guitar through an amp, kind of inspired by Gábor Szabó. That was another special moment, being able to do that.
This album, as a whole, feels like it’s steeped in psychedelic nostalgia while also clinging to a certain folk-rock backbone. What was frequenting your playlist while you were working on this album?
If I told you, you’d know where I stole all the songs from, so… [Laughs.] No, I was really getting into electric Miles Davis, but that was kind of cathartic music to listen to at the time. I like Escape, that type of music, and I was also listening to a lot of Jerry Jeff Walker, who I love, so that obviously kinda comes through. And then Jonathan Richmond, love him. Also, Azymuth, it’s like a Brazilian rock band from the 70s–they’re still going.
Before we conclude, I want to mention the new studio. Congratulations.
Yeah, I have a new studio in L.A. I’ve been recording bands here, and I definitely want to do more of that. Sometimes I feel like people or bands from around the country are shy, but just don’t hesitate to hit me up about recording. I love collaborating and working with bands that I like. I have a cool studio, and I’m looking for stuff to do.