DB- So even though you’ve been playing music for many more years than say Jimmy and Warren, that doesn’t matter if they have the ability to tap in?
PL- No I don’t think it does.
DB- On a similar note, how has your relationship with the audience changed over the course of your career?
PL- That’s kind of an interesting thing too. At the very beginning I used to think of there being a carrier wave that was stringing us all together, the audience and the band. For the first three or four years of the Grateful Dead it seemed as if there was information being transmitted back and forth on that carrier wave. Then in the early 70’s it seemed to change in that the energy and the link was still there but what was transmitted back and forth was just energy, there wasn’t any information of any kind. And that sort of held through the rest of the time with the Grateful Dead. But now I feel like I’m getting more of the feeling of the early years, like there’s information of some kind being circulated or transported back and forth between the band and the audience independent of the music itself.
DB- To what do you ascribe that lull?
PL- I have no idea. Maybe in the 60’s there was more of a consciousness of the spiritual world and then later on people’s consciousness became more materialistic perhaps, I don’t know. But I really feel that now there is a hunger for spiritual sustenance and music is food for the soul as well as being food of love.
DB- Has your own ontology or spiritual engagement been consistent over the decades you mentioned?
PL- Well no, I’m just as human as the next guy. My commitment to the spiritual path has wavered. Of course after the transplant it returned in full force. Now I feel pretty strongly that I’m steadfastly on the path and I don’t wish to be blown away, I don’t want to be tossed by the currents of astral or emotional or other situations that arise in life. That’s one thing about connecting with that eternal consciousness that’s in you. There’s a part of you that’s just there and it’s observing your psyche and your emotions and what your physical body is doing. It never sleeps and it’s always there. It’s that thing that makes us human and makes us children of God.
DB- Is that manifested in your music, and if so, to what extent?
PL- Well I certainly hope so. I can’t really make that judgment because it’s impossible for me to be that objective at this point.
DB- Well do you feel appreciably different say from an emotional standpoint when you perform nowadays?
PL- Oh sometimes it’s just chill city. The electricity is just running up and down my body, some of the stuff that’s played by the group mind. The thing about it is that what occurs when we play together is so much more interesting and rich and deep and full of range and expression than any one of us could have thought up by himself.
DB- Certainly the heart and talent of your current bandmates facilitates that as well. You have two my favorite guitar players in your band.
PL- I’ll tell you, they’re two of my favorites too.
DB- What led you to move from a fluctuating roster of players to this core band?
PL- It was the alchemy that this band has together. In the first thirty minutes that the band played together we went to places that were new to me and very exciting. We all looked at each other after those first thirty minutes and said, “Whoa, what was that?” It stops you cold sometimes and you have say, “This is impossible.”
Although everybody in the band had played with me in other contexts with other musicians, this was the first time they all played with me together. I just didn’t want to let that go because it was the closest to the shit, the real shit that it had been, and it just keeps getting closer. Of course you never really get there but that’s the fun of it because it’s infinite. The higher you get it keeps receding a little farther and you keep going, keep striving for it.
DB- As opposed to the Grateful Dead, you really have two guitarists playing lead. Has this led you to engage with the music any differently?
PL- That was the idea. I wanted everybody to be a lead player and whoever has the spotlight at the moment is the first among equals for now. Then someone else will take that position, or ideally what’s created is a web of lines and relationships. That’s the best way to perceive it. That’s what Charlie Mingus said about his music. He said, “Focus in front of the music and listen to the whole thing, don’t try to pick out any one strand because you’ll miss the totality.” That’s how I ask the players to approach it.
DB- Well you have players with big ears.
PL- That’s the prerequisite I think.
DB- Moving back to something you said earlier about setlists, I remember at one point you indicated that your goal was to move past setlists but it seems that now they are essential to what you hope to accomplish on stage.
PL- Your goals change as experience enlightens you. For now the idea of telling a story and describing a journey of some kind through the setlist is working really well. But that’s still a goal and hopefully we’ll be able to improvise something like that in the future. What we’re doing is a way station en route to that goal. It’s all a journey.
DB- The composed pieces that you performed in the summer, do you plan to return to those?
PL- It’s been planned from the beginning to turn them into a set-length song cycle. Hunter’s already written the lyrics for everything. I now have to integrate the lyrics with the music that I’ve already composed and in some cases compose new music. But it’ll be a set-length song cycle with seven songs, improvised interludes and composed interludes as well.