You mentioned some of the guys who flew in to be there for you. I wanted to talk specifically about Todd Nance and Duane Trucks, who have been in the news lately in the scene, because Duane replaced Todd in Widespread Panic. I guess they’re friends, because they’ve been cohorts for a while. So, that wasn’t awkward at all getting them in the same room?
DH: First of all, just to say this: I don’t think one of those guys would have one bad word to say about the other. That’s not the case. There’s no hard feelings between them at all, it’s just one of those weird situations. But, when we made this record was before any of this happened. When we were in the studio, it was before Todd when on that hiatus and Duane started playing. And, they were never in the studio at the same time when we were making this record. It was before any of that went down.
Oh, I see. So, to speak specifically about them as drummers, what’s different about them? I know you’ve known Todd for a really long time. You’ve probably known Duane for a pretty long time, too. But what do they bring to the table, individually?
DH: Well, it’s harder for me to talk about Duane, because the only time I’ve played with Duane is this record. He is great. Dave Schools brought him, and he said–I guess at the time Duane was 24–and he was like, “This guy’s 24, but don’t worry. He doesn’t play like he’s 24.” And it’s true. He’s a natural, and he’s just amazing. He’s a great rock n’ roll drummer. But these studio sessions are the only time I’ve played with him. So, I don’t have much other perspective on playing with him. I’ve heard him play with Panic several times now, and he’s great.
When I first saw Widespread Panic in like ’86, when they were starting out, all those guys were amazing. But the guy I locked in on, for whatever reason, was Todd. Maybe it was because Eric Carter and I were always looking for a drummer in those days. And he was just hard to ignore. He was rock solid. He was like a drum machine with soul, is what I used to tell people. Every musician is different. It’s like fingerprints. Everyone’s got a different one and brings something different to the table. But both those guys, to me, are just sure bets. They’re great musicians and really cool people. That ties into it for me. I’ve played in the past with combinations of people in the band that weren’t the greatest friends. It wasn’t like anyone was enemies or anything. But to me, especially at this point, I really like playing with people that I would just hang out with anyway. It makes it work on a different level.
You mentioned when you first saw Panic and saw Todd playing back in the 80s, and I kind of wanted to backtrack a little bit to that moment. So, take us back to Athens when you first met the Panic guys. What was the scene like down there at the time, and how did you get to know them?
DH: The first thing you have to understand is that Eric and I lived in Huntington, West Virginia before we moved to Athens. Huntington was in some ways similar. It’s a college town. It’s where Marshall University is, in West Virginia. A lot of creative people came through there. In fact, several of them wound up moving to Athens. The thing is, at that point – I don’t know what Huntington is like these days – but at that point there was a ceiling. We had a thing going on called Original Live Music Night in Huntington, where people played their own songs. It was just that night and it became kind of a big thing in Huntington for a little bit. But outside of that, if you wanted to get a gig in Huntington, you needed to be in a cover band – like a top 40. That was it. So, when we came to Athens, I just felt like I had gone to heaven. We were interested in songwriting. And in Athens, I think it’s still very much like this, but in those days, if you were a cover band, you were kind of looked down on. It was just the opposite. You were expected to get up and play songs that you wrote. That was just great for us. We thought it was great. It was a real quick education. We’d see R.E.M. play little unannounced shows. We’d see Widespread Panic in the early days, Vic Chesnutt. Just, all these great musicians and songwriters, and all kind of collaborating and mutually supportive. It was a true community. It wasn’t like a competition. People genuinely rooted for each other and helped each other. And, a lot of times played in each other’s bands. There was a lot of cross-pollination. The first couple of years we were in Athens, it was just like no money could have bought that kind of education, you know. It was a pretty great time.
It seems like that bond and the cross-pollination as you said has lingered ‘til today, even with this latest album. You’re still friends with those guys and they’re still helping you and you’re helping them out.
DH: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of the cool thing about Athens, but about music, really.
Going back a little bit further, when you were in West Virginia growing up, who were your biggest music influences? You mentioned how the Beat writers were as big of an influence as any of your music influences, but we didn’t really talk about your music influences so much.
DH: Well when I was a little kid, like four or five years old, I got into The Beatles. I had two older sisters who were, if you do math, were like teenage girls when The Beatles were around (laughs). So, The Beatles were in our house. I got really into Beatles as a little kid. It’s interesting because I have kids now and when they were about the same age, they got into The Beatles, and, I mean obsessed with them for a while. There’s something about The Beatles that little kids can connect on, I don’t know. So, yeah, I got into The Beatles when I was very young. My dad was way into country music. He had a bunch of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, stuff like that. That was mixed in there too. That was the real early stuff. I was into 70s pop stuff – I was a huge Elton John fan when I was a kid. Eric Carter kind of turned me onto Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones when were probably about 11 or 12, and that was it. Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones are probably still…no music really eclipses their music in my life. I mean there have been plenty of people that I love, but if I have to name an influence, that’s the stuff.
Do you have an earliest live show memory that you can remember?
DH: Back when we were in like high school, Eric Carter had a neighbor named Johnny Lynch and he had a band named Johnny Lynch and the Lynch Mob. He had a separate building from his house where he kept his drum kit and he would have parties over there. Different people would come in and play. That’s the first place Eric and I played, was at a few of his parties. I can’t remember any specifics about it, except that it was just thrilling to get up and play in front of people. But when I lived in Huntington, like I told you, we and a bunch of other people around town started this thing called Original Live Music Night. I think it was every Tuesday night at the Monarch Cafe. We started attracting 250 people per night, which in Huntington at that time, was unheard of.
That’s pretty good anywhere.
DH: Right, and it was like written up in the papers in stuff. There was all this talk of getting together a tour. But, it all got political and it fell apart. It didn’t last. And that’s when we had to leave. But, when that was going on, those were the first live performances. Man, that was the highlight of our week. We would spend all week writing new songs and getting them ready for Tuesday night. That was great, because that was, in a very minor way, like this is what it’s like being in a band and doing this for real. Writing songs, getting them ready, getting to the show. It was just once a week, but it was great. At the time, it was enormous.
Now, to fast forward through the cycle of life, if you will, what is your live schedule looking like? Are you planning on touring on this record at all?
DH: Most definitely planning on touring. It’s honestly still coming together as far as the specifics, when and where through the rest of this year. But yeah, that’s the whole idea. I really want to get out and play, behind this record particularly as much as possible. That’s coming.
Do you think you’ll tour with the Bloodkin band on it, or a mixed crew?
DH: It will probably be a bit of a patchwork. Like, at different times of the year and different parts of the country, there will probably be some different bands. There may be certain guys that are threading through there, that are constant. But it’s not going to be all Bloodkin. And that’s part of the deal, because Bloodkin’s not really full-time on the road right now. It’s just me just kind of keeping busy. But, there will be some Bloodkin in there too, for sure.