INTERVIEW WITH MIKE HOUSER OF WIDESPREAD PANIC
6/7/96 - Backstage at the Warfield Theater, San Francisco
by Dan Skolnik
--Mike's guitars and equipment
--"Having a drinky"
--Mainstream acceptance of touring bands
--WSP as an acquired taste
--Mike's guitar leads and inspiration
--The trademark Mike Houser solo
--The Bloodkin songs and audience reaction to them
--WSP's feelings about reviving Dead covers
--Spreadnet and its impact on Mike's life
Rock & Road: How's the tour going?
Mike Houser: Oh, it's been going real good. We've been playing really nice places on this tour, like Chastain in Atlanta, and Red Rocks, of course. The place up in Oregon was real nice. All the venues have been real fun, so we've been having a great time.
R&R: Well, I wanted to start out by asking you about your equipment and your guitars.
R&R: I noticed during the soundcheck that you had three guitars that appear identical. Are they?
MH: Yeah, well they're as close as modern science can get. I bought the first one in like '91. I bought it at a store, just went in and picked it up. It had a couple of fret jobs on it -- y'know, where they replace the frets and everything. At that point, after two or three fret jobs, the neck gets real worn. And so I needed another guitar, and this one -- my original one -- it would quit on me every now and then 'cause I sweated into it so much. And so I looked around everywhere, and Fender in the meantime had quit making this particular guitar, it's called the Telecaster Deluxe Plus.
And all it is is a Telecaster with all Strat hardware. It's got a whammy bar like the Strat, and it's got the Strat pickups, and it's got the roller nut...
R&R: What's that?
MH: Uh, up at the top where the strings cross the nut? There's a metal pin in there that rolls, so that the strings are never really meeting any resistance.
And so, Fender had quit making that guitar. They only made it for two
years. It wasn't really popular. Most people who buy Telecasters I guess
want a plain Telecaster. They don't want all that shit on there, y'know? So I went to Washburn and asked them to build me a guitar...
R&R: This is number two?
MH: No, this guitar I keep at home, the Washburn. And it was black, also; it didn't have the same finish or anything like that.... And then, the guy who had signed me up for Washburn had moved to Fender, and he was their artist relations guy there. And so, once I found that out I called him up and... said, "Any possibility of you building me some [Fender] guitars?"
And he said Yeah, so they went back and dug up the specs and they had to
go find the guy. The guy who did that finish -- I think it's called
"Firestorm" -- didn't work there anymore. And nobody else knew how to do it.
R&R: They only had one guy who can do the finish?
MH: Yeah, that particular finish. And so they had to go and find him and get him to come back and do those two guitars. And when they got done, I [had] three identical Telecasters. And that should last me for a while.
MH: The first one lasted in good condition for about five years --
R&R: Of nightly use?
MH: Yeah. So I figure the next two should last me ten years. So the Fender folks have been real good to me.
And the amp I use is a Soldano. That's my favorite amp. I've had almost every kind of amp there is, and I got hooked up with them through Blues Traveler. Chan had a Soldano, and, um...
R&R: Oh really? From '91, with the HORDE?
MH: yeah, I guess it was. I remember the HORDE Lakewood show in Atlanta was when I called Soldano up, so, yeah, that woulda been, well maybe '92. But he hooked me up with them and I think they're the best amps out there. There's a lot of people trying to copy them now: Softech; and Peavey makes a Soldano-like head now. Seems like there's just a lot of guys out there who don't have anything better to do. A lot of scientists out there, y'know.
R&R: So do all the guys in Widespread make their own choices about speakers and amps?
MH: Yeah, I use a Mesa cabinet. JB uses a Mesa cabinet also, and Dave, I don't even know what [he uses]. But yeah, that's my rig, a Soldano amp through Mesa speakers. None of us have an amp endorsement. I've got a Fender endorsement, JB doesn't have any endorsement, I don't think. He plays several different kinds of guitars.
R&R: He doesn't? Gosh I could think of so many things he should be endorsing-- not necessarily musical products.
MH: Yeah, I know! And Dave's got a Modulus endorsement, of course.
R&R: Oh yeah, Modulus is a big San Francisco company.
MH: Yeah, their folks should be out here tonight, actually.
R&R: What kind of equipment are you looking to get in the future?
MH: Nothing, I'm set. (laughs) I really am. It's been ten years of experimenting with different rigs and everything, and I'm very happy with what I've got right now.
R&R: The process of getting an endorsement, is that something in general that the musician has to go after himself?
MH: It depends on what state your career's in, really. Obviously a lot of times when you get to a certain level they come to you, but I had to chase down this Fender deal. It took me years.
R&R: I notice that another part of your setup is the wet bar. I saw that you've got a couple bottles of, what is it, gin, up there on your cabinet?
MH: On MINE?
R&R: I thought I saw Gin & Tonic makings.
MH: No, I don't drink alcohol. I mean, I drink beer but I don't drink
liquor anymore. I gave it up years ago. When I had a kid I had to quit
R&R: Okay, alright.
MH: But yeah, JoJo's got a little setup there. He likes to "have a drinky."
R&R: I wanted to ask you about, generally how do you see the scene for touring bands in this country evolving over the past two years and the next two. And obviously, in light of the room we're in, I'm talking about that factor; that influence.
[The interview took place in a small, private dressing room with purple
walls, backstage at the Warfield, with a door marked "JERRY" in elegant
MH: Well, I don't really think that that much has changed for touring bands, y'know, as far as getting out there, being on the road. What's probably changed is the acceptance in the mainstream, for touring bands like Blues Traveler. Uh, we haven't been accepted into the mainstream yet, obviously.
R&R: But don't you see, or do you see your audience either swelling or trickling in, or generally gaining, uh --
R&R: Yeah, momentum.
MH: Yeah, I see that. I don't know what to attribute it to; I'd like to attribute it to people just becoming aware of us, and getting turned on to the music and stuff like that. Which HAS been happening to us. Y'know, our audience continues to grow, and that's our goal, obviously, is to play for as many people as we can. And I don't know what other bands are experiencing right now so it'd be hard for me to say.
R&R: Well, like when Leftover Salmon opened for you at Red Rocks last week. Leftover Salmon is personally one of my favorite bands, but until I guess a year and a half ago, I did not know them. The first time I heard of them was when a rumour went around New York City that "Leftover Salmon" was the sly name for Phish, and it was really Phish playing a secret show at the< Wetlands....
MH: Oh! [laughs]
R&R: But I've seen them half a dozen times since then and they just blow me< away every time. I think that they are definitely seeing an influx. And I'd like to feel you out about whether or not you think "influx" is good, in the sense of people suddenly going "Now who do I listen to?" Is that something that can upset the balance of what a band has going?
MH: Gosh, it'd be hard for me to say. I like Leftover Salmon a lot, too. I just think that if you go out there and you keep playing and you stay on the road, people will start to come to see you. And eventually more people and more people. That's what Salmon's done, and a lot of bands like that have done. You just have to be very persistent. I don't really know that's there's any change in the public psyche about bands like us. I don't think everybody is gonna wake up one day and say, "Wow, these bands are great; how did I miss them?" I think it's more just a natural process of somebody comes to see you and they tell their friend, and then they come to see you. A lot of people talk about whether the public is changing. And I don't really see that a lot. I think it's just a matter of getting out there and playing as much as you can, and eventually they'll come. If you play, they'll come. If you play enough, they'll keep coming back. And there have been some breakthroughs, like Blues Traveler.
R&R: Well then is like music like propaganda -- you just keep playing it until people believe you?
MH: Well, for us, I think for our band, we are sort of an acquired taste. Y'know, I don't think the guy at the Chrysler factory is necessarily gonna like us the first time he hears us. Or maybe the second time or the fifth time, y'know? But yeah, I think if he does listen to us enough or he comes to see enough shows, he will begin to, um, underSTAND what we're doing. And again, I think you obviously have to have the spark and the talent
that drives everything, but I do think that, for bands like us, and for us in
particular, it's something that you have to kind of get used to -- _I_ think.
I mean, I'm not positive; I just think we're more of a band you grow into.
It's like when you were a kid and you bought a record. My favorite
records were really the ones that I didn't like THAT much the first time I
heard it, but after I kept listening to it I began to understand the levels
involved. And those are the records that I still listen to. The records
that hit you over the head the first time you hear it, and you go "Wow that's
great!", after a while you don't even put it on anymore. And I think that's
the kind of band we are.
R&R: That leads right into something else that I was hoping to get a chance to ask you, in the same vein as what you were just saying about levels. In terms of your guitar playing in particular: the first few times I saw Widespread, y'know, I really thought -- I kinda thought your solos all sounded the same. And after seeing the band I don't know how many times now, I think I have a better understanding of where your solos go. But I wanted to ask you, do you have certain mental pictures for each song that you try to paint each time you play it? Or does it just come out differently each time? Take a song like "Hatfield." Is there a certain idea or a group of criteria that you try to meet in your soloing each time you play that song? Or do you just GO?
MH: Well I like to think of it as, uh... almost painting what's in my head. It's hard to describe the process that I go through, and it's different a lot of times. y'know? But for me, when I play a lead, it's describing something that I kind of see or hear in my head. And it's kind of like trying to paint a picture. It's very hard to describe.
R&R: Do you ever play a lick in practice and think "That would really go well in 'Hatfield'." Or does it just COME OUT in "Hatfield," and you think< "Woah, where'd that come from?"
MH: Yeah, that's where most of my inspiration comes from, is from when we're actually playing. And if I do something that I really think I like a lot, then I'll try and remember it but a lot of times I'll forget it.
One song in particular -- "Fishwater" -- we played somewhere up north one
time. It was just a jam, and this guy taped it, and sent it to us. And we
had forgotten about it; we would have never approached it again probably. So
we got this tape and we listened to it, and we said, "Wow, that's cool. Let's
do that again." ... Fortunately this guy sent us a tape. We were very lucky
R&R: A little bit of inspiration that you would have lost to the wind.
MH: Yeah. And I really can't even begin to approach how I go about doing what I do. It's a natural outpouring of what I have here [touches the top of his head], and, uh, it's the best thing that I can do. That's why I love playing, is because there's nothing else that I can do better than I play lead guitar, Y'know, that's my talent or whatever. I couldn't be a better salesman, or a, y'know, a carpetlayer.... There's nothing else that I could
personally do that I can do better than play guitar. That's not saying I'm a
great guitar player --
R&R: Oh, go ahead!
MH: But as far as my personal abilities go, that's the thing I do best.
R&R: And it's cool because people come to a Widespread show, or any band that they're really into, and they realize when they get into that music, >dancing to that, and reflecting back to the band is the same thing; is the best thing that THEY can do.
MH: Yeah. Right. Well y'know, all the rest of the guys are in the same boat I am. It's really the only thing that we could ever do. There was no second thoughts, there was no second-guessing. We met, we all realized that we had the same vision, and... it's the same for all of us, y'know? It's the MOST important thing that we do. For each one of us it's a different process, but it's a very, uh, healing sort of thing. Each one of us gets that something out of the show.... That THING.
R&R: That touch of medicine,
MH: Yeah! And you can feel terrible walking onstage, and when you walk offstage you feel great. That's the single most powerful thing that we have in our lives. And,' y'know, I'm married and I have a kid, and they're very special and powerful to me also. But the music is really what drives all of us. I hope the day never comes where we can't do it, because it really is a very powerful and a very -- It's something that's real good for all of us. And we love it. We always have.
R&R: Does it ever happen that you come onstage feeling great, and then you don't have a good performance and you leave it feeling bad?
MH: Oh, well we get frustrated sometimes. Obviously when you feel like the show didn't go as well as you had hoped that it would, you get frustrated. And we have a rule -- as close to a rule as we get -- that we don't really talk about it after the show, because everybody is real UP. And so if we have something that's bothering us, we wait 'til the next day to talk about it. Because if you talk about it after the show, um, everybody is so keyed
up and tense that you really get into some problems, y'know, because
everybody is feeling the same way.
And it doesn't happen very often; usually, when one person doesn't feel
good about the show, a lot of times everybody else thinks it was great. Or
when somebody isn't having an especially strong performance, the other guys
in the band just turn it up a notch, and they kinda take over for you; it's
like a team. And so, most of the time if I feel like I'm not having a good
show, JB'll just be singing his ass off. So it all balances out.
But it's funny that you mention that. A lot of times, the shittiest
venue, where everybody feels bad, you'll do a great show. And then sometimes
you'll get into the nicest venue in the world and it's not as good a show as
the one in the dump. So it's just a day-to-day thing, and you never can tell
when it's going to happen.
R&R: Even when you're walking onstage? I mean, when DO you start to know, "this set is really coming together" or "this set is not coming together."
MH: Well, for me, personally, a lot of times I know as soon as I play my first guitar lead. I'll know then whether it's coming naturally or whether I'm having to force it. And at that point I'll either go, "Alright, it's there," and I won't have to think about it again; or I'll go, "It's not there. What can I do to make it be there?" So I'll have to work harder to get into it.
But performing is like nothing else in the world. I mean, there's so many
things involved, and so many factors, and everybody's up there with their own
brain, y'know, and their own perception of what's going on. So it's
something else. We've been very fortunate. Our personnel has been the same
-- except for T. Lavitz -- for ten years.
R&R: Alright, let's move on to another question. How would you rather be introduced: A musician; an Athens musician; a Georgia musician; an American musician; or an Earthling musician?
MH: Oh. man!
Voice from hall (possibly Dave Schools): YUP, it's an INTERVIEW.
MH: Yeah, I'm very proud of being from Athens, and our band being from Athens. I love that town, it's a very special place and we're all proud to be a band from Athens. So yeah, I guess I'd like to be introduced as a guitar player from Athens.
R&R: Alright. Do you ever sit down with Danny Hutchens to write a song, or are all the Hutchens tunes Widespread is doing totally written by Hutchens and Bloodkin?
MH: Yeah, uh, actually some of them Danny wrote himself and some of them Danny and Eric, his sidekick, write. But yeah, we don't collaborate as such. We have heard songs that we really dug by them and we just decided to play 'em.
R&R: Do you feel you have a similar songwriting style with Danny?
MH: Uh, not me personally. We all -- Danny is just a really talented guy.
His songs are really intense and really personal. And really Athenian. I
mean, those songs to us could only have been written in Athens. Danny's
songs kind of paint a picture of Athens. And that's one of the reasons that
we've always loved his music, because it makes us feel Athenian. But I can't
remember how -- The way that it all started was just us hearing it, and
going, "Wow, these guys are great." And then I guess part of it was us
wanting to expose other people to their music through our own performances.
R&R: Well lemme ask you this, as maybe the hardest-hitting question that I'll ask you, aside from saying I thought all your solos sounded the same....
MH: Hah! [laughs] Well, y'know, and back to that -- Uh, that's TRUE. I mean, I have a style, and I can't make my solos sound any differently than they sound. That's my way of playing the guitar. And, y'know, I realize as much as anybody else that you could take a solo from one song, and a solo from another song, and listen to 'em, and it's the same solo. It fits into each song differently [though]. But yeah, that's a -- I think that -- that's something that's common to a lot of musicians -- that style. And me and Dave were talking about this not too long ago. And he was like, "Yeah, your solos DO sound the same, but they fit into the songs differently, and people LIKE
that; that trademark Mike Houser solo."
R&R: Yes. Yes. But are you trying to sculpt a trademark Mike Houser solo or are you just so completely enamored of that sound that it expresses everything you want to express?
MH: I don't think about it. I just do it. Sure, if I could play a guitar lick like, uh, Steve Howe, I'd LOVE to be able to. But I can't, that's Steve Howe's trademark guitar. And y'know, you listen to a Yes album and -- I can tell you instantly [snaps]. I call tell you just about ANY guitar player.
Once I hear a little bit of the song, I can tell you who it is, because
that's THEIR trademark lead sound.
R&R: And that's what you clue in on as a guitar player.
MH: Yeah. And so I recognize that I have a sound, and that, ummm, it's my sound and I wouldn't change it.
R&R: Are you as proud of your sound as you are, say, of your son?
MH: [Totally deadpan] No, I've got a great kid. But it's not something that I can take credit for. It's just the way I am, it's the way I was made. And that's just the way it is, and I can't --
R&R: But didn't you -- I mean, you had to experiment with various electronic effects, and what kind of guitars, and what kind of strings, and what kind of pics and all that stuff.
MH: Right. Well I'll tell you what, early on, when I first picked up my first guitar, and started playing it, I established a little pattern, on the guitar. And I have expanded and worked with that pattern for all these years. But almost instantly, as soon as I started playing the guitar, that was it. That was the sound, that was the pattern that I would build
everything else from.
R&R: When you first started, did you start electric?
MH: Yeah I started playing electric guitar. I had an acoustic for about a week. I immediately got an Ibanez Telecaster. So I very quickly established -- like I said, it's a pattern, on the neck, and it's a physical thing; I could show it to you. And as far as I know, it had nothing to do with scales. I still don't know a scale to this day. And it's very strange.
Bruce Hampton says it's some kind of weird Middle-Eastern scale or
something. And once I found that little pattern, I was locked in. And it
has nothing to do with what key, or a scale -- It's actually WRONG, is what
it is. It's not right. It's just that I've gotten -- I've played with it so
much that, uh -- It's very strange.
R&R: If it sounds right though, who says it's wrong?
MH: Well, I know. It's not technically right. I mean, technically I should be doing a couple of different notes, but it's those places where --
R&R: Yeah but says who? Stravinsky? Mozart?
MH: Well exactly, exactly. Yeah. So, that was it. And then once I started playing with JB, y'know, it was all over after that!
R&R: I love the notion that once you found the pattern you were locked in.
MH: Yeah, I was! And I still do it to this day. That same exact "first-time-I-picked-up-the-guitar" lead. I still do it every night.
R&R: Okay, well just to race back a couple paragraphs to where I said I was going to ask you the hard-hitting question about Bloodkin....
MH: Oh right, right.
R&R: Has the band ever discussed, um, what I think would be fair to qualify as the reaction from a sizable portion of the crowd, of "Fuck these Bloodkin tunes." Has the band ever said, "Some of the audience is saying this. How do we want to react"?
MH: I've never heard that. Personally I wasn't aware that people were dissatisfied with the Bloodkin songs. Are they?
R&R: Well, I -- No, see, but -- The reason that I come to this is because, for instance at the Halloween show, in '95, when you came on for the first encore, and some bozo like two rows behind me -- I was right in front of Dave -- he starts yelling "Screw Bloodkin, we came to see Widespread," or something like that. And Dave stepped to the mike and said, "You got a problem, man?" And the whole audience clued in -- I thought -- for that moment, that that's what went down. Another time, I have a tape from '93 where JB steps to the mic and he says, "Yeah about those Bloodkin tunes, we play em 'cause WE LIKE EM!" And so I just thought maybe those were both comments from that consciousness....
MH: I have been aware of dissatisfaction among some of the fans, and mostly friends of ours, when we do get Danny and Eric actually up onstage. I think that there are people who want to see Widespread Panic. And it's the same with guests; y'know, when we have guest musicians, whether it's Dave Blackmon or John Keane or whatever, at some point the people say, "That's enough of that. We want to hear Widespread Panic."
And so I've been aware of that sentiment before. Especially at Halloween,
when we got Danny and Eric up onstage. And I can understand that. Y'know,
when people come to see Widespread Panic they want to see Widespread Panic.
R&R: Do you find that flattering? Or is your personal reaction "Well fuck you, we'll play what we want."
MH: Well, I understand it. I understand it. And I wasn't aware of any particular dissatisfaction with us performing --
R&R: I don't want to overestimate that. For the sake of my question I was accentuating it.
MH: Right, right, right. As far as us performing Bloodkin songs, I always figured people liked 'em. For me, when I was a kid -- when I would get a record, I wouldn't even LOOK at who wrote it. It never occurred to me 'til I got in a band and made a record, that you could actually put a song that you didn't write on a record. I always assumed that every song on every record was written by that person.
And so I think there's probably a lot of that out there; people that think
"Makes Sense To Me" is a Widespread Panic song. And it never occurs to them
to look on the little sleeve, or whatever.
R&R: And it always seemed to me, like especially at that Halloween incident, that the guy was missing the point so hugely, because if you guys came out onstage and played the Sesame Street theme, it would STILL be Widespread Panic -- playing the Sesame Street theme.
MH: Right. ... Well, with "Can't get High" we expected a negative reaction from the everyday Widespread Panic people who come to all the shows. Because to us that's a radio song, and it seems to appeal to people who DON'T really like Widespread Panic, y'know what I mean? It's almost like "Here's this song for you people to listen to that don't like Widespread
Panic. Here you go. Here's a song that you can probably get a handle on."
And also, it was on the radio, and we did one tour where we felt like we
had to play it a lot because it seemed to us that there were a lot of people
buying tickets because of that song. And we obviously didn't want to
disappoint them. But, uh, it's not something we spend a lot of time thinking
R&R: Okay. Well, good. Uhhh, here's another question. When I interviewed JB a year and a half ago, we talked for a long time about the fact that Widespread, like a LOT of bands, started out as predominantly a Dead cover band. Blah blah blah. Why you guys aren't playing Dead songs so much anymore. Blah blah blah. You did it on Halloween, all this stuff. ... When we talked about. "ChinaCat Sunflower" he said you don't play it anymore because "there's a great band that's out there playing it, and if anyone should fuck it up, it should be them." Again, with the change that occurred, Jerry's passing, my question is might the band's policy or feelings about playing Dead covers change, or would you still feel weird about that? Are you gonna feel weirdER about it? And do you guys ever say among yourselves, "Y'know, I bet people would be PSYCHED if we jammed on 'ChinaCat'"?
Voice from hall (a WSP roadie): YEAH, that's RIGHT, Mike!
MH: Yeah, well I can't remember it anymore. It's been a long time since we've played it. Uh, I don't see any change in light of what's happened with Jerry and everything. The reason we quit playing Dead tunes was because we wanted people to come see us to see US.
R&R: But now that people do that -- and I'm just speaking hypothetically --
but now that people DO come to see Widespread for the sake of seeing Widespread, and they don't anymore have the opportunity to hear "ChinaCat" played by the Dead, what's wrong with playing an awesome show of Widespread -- full Widespread sets -- and then playing "ChinaCat" as the encore?
MH: Well, we may --
R&R: I'm not trying to tell you what to play, I'm just trying to pick your brain.
MH: Oh yeah, I understand that. Y'know, it didn't -- Jerry dying didn't change the way WE feel about it. And at some point in the future we may do it as a tribute to him, or something like that. But our mindset is still the same in that, um, we... we... don't want to cover the Dead. We love their music and everything. And especially now, it would be EASY to do it. And of course everybody would love it and everything. But to us that would kind of feel like jumping on a dead -- y'know, the dead man's bandwagon.
R&R: So that's what I'm trying to find out. You don't think that a performance of a tune that is so associated with the Dead, at this point, can be pulled off as a simple performance. You think that people will read too >much into it....
MH: They will read too much into it, I think. And we certainly don't want to take advantage of his passing, or even APPEAR to be taking advantage of it. So yeah, I would say that if you're gonna hear anything like that it'll be a long time from now.
R&R: Well call me up and let me know!
MH: [laughs] yeah, okay!
R&R And there's Halloween.
MH: Yeah, maybe on Halloween, which is also when we play "Coconuts," a song which WE wrote that we don't play! ... We kind of mess around with "The Other One" sometimes in jams. And "Me & My Uncle" was always one of my favorites. So we may play that sometime in the future. "ChinaCat" was, y'know -- I can't even remember how we did it, whether it was good or bad --
R&R: Oh-ho-ho! IT WAS GOOD! It was good, Dude!
MH: -- But it was always a struggle. But yeah, we really -- the reasons that we stopped playing Dead songs haven't changed for us. It's still there, and it's even more now, with not wanting to take advantage, because I think a lot of people in our position might be tempted to do that. But we love Jerry, and --
R&R: Oh, you do think that? I mean, how do you mean that: "Might be tempted to do that"?
MH: Well, I think it'd be easy, now with them gone and obviously a huge demand out there for bands to perform their material, I think it'd be easy, y'know, to fall into that kind of thing. And I haven't seen any bands doing Dead material, but I figured when Jerry died there was gonna be a big, um, movement of bands playing Dead songs.
R&R: Well, getting back to Leftover Salmon. I mean, they do it. They weave "The Wheel" into some of their jams. They play their own version of "Fire On The Mountain," with different lyrics...
MH: Right, I've heard that.
R&R: ... And they get monumental glee every time they do it.
MH: Yeah. Well, they were doing it BEFORE Jerry died, too.
R&R: Okay, we got time for one more question?
R&R: Alright, it's kind of an involved one. As I assume you know, Widespread is the subject, and the passion, of one of the liveliest communities on the Internet.
MH: Oh, really?
R&R: Woh, yeah, with Spreadnet. There are hundreds of people who check it every day, and it's one of the best examples of how the Internet enables fans >of a band to make it such a bigger portion of their lives.
R&R: And again this is something I talked about at length with JB. And even since then, the whole phenomenon of the net and the way that bands can use it has evolved. And so I want to ask you, as yourself, as a member of this sort of new species -- probably an unwitting member...
MH: I am definitely unwitting.
R&R: ...of this new species of "net celebrity,"...
R&R: ...do you have any qualms about it? About the way that people --it's even more intense than TV -- people sit down with each other in a virtual community and talk about YOUR band, and YOU, and YOUR life, and YOUR guitar playing, and all of this stuff. What are your feelings about that?
MH: Well, first of all, I've only seen a Spreadnet thing once. I'm not computer literate.
R&R: You know that Dave is very involved in it?
MH: Yeah. Yeah. And I don't have any problems -- well, I take that back. I think there's a lot of good that comes out of it, as far as people getting information they want, and everything. The thing that was scary for me, and for us, when this first started happening, was that, somebody would compile the comments every day and send them to us, while we were on the road. So every day, you wake up and there's a stack of papers on the table in the bus with a review of the show last [night] -- basically a review; it was people's
comments, which constitute kind of a review. And so that was really kind of
creepy, because, uh, for me personally it was knowing too much. I really, I
didn't WANT to know what people thought. It was almost like it was getting
too personal or something, y'know?
R&R: Yes. And did that surprise you?
MH: Yeah, I was amazed. And I guess what really got me was one comment -- and I tried my best not to read these things, because in the first place I
didn't want to know.
For me, the show is always great in my mind. And I don't mean that in a
stuck-up way or anything, but what I'm trying to say is, to me, tomorrow I'll
have an image in my mind of this show tonight. And it'll be a fairly --
hopefully, it'll be a fairly positive image. And then -- It's like
listening to tapes. I can't listen to tapes of our shows unless I absolutely
am MADE to do it. Somebody has to MAKE me do it. Because it's never as good to me as it is in my memory, y'know what I mean?
R&R: And that's a big disappointment to you.
MH: It is, it's disappointing to me because there's so much energy in the
show, and so much... [shakes fists] ENERGY. And then when I go back and
listen to the tape, I start hearing little mistakes, or little things that --
When you're up there and you're in the show and the crowd's there,
everything's great, y'know? And then when you go back and start pickin' it
apart.... And that's what was happening to me with this Internet stuff. It
was almost like being made to listen to a tape, and find out that it's more
flawed that you remembered.
R&R: Okay, but what if it happens the other way around? What if you are on the bus one day and you're thinking "Last night's show was really lame. I screwed up." And then you look on Spreadnet and everyone's raving.
MH: Well, and that really was the case most of the time. I mean, as far as I remember, there were very few negative comments, and it was mostly positive comments. And again, it's the same thing for me.
[tape flip: lost one sentence] ... I don't need a lot of reinforcement. You see what I'm saying? And so, for me those things have little to offer and a lot to hurt.
Y'know, I don't mind them, and the other guys in the band had a lot of fun
reading them. And some of them were funny. It was just too much, for me.
And also, the thing that I'm scared about is, my mom's on the Internet.
And one of the comments was "Hey, I was hanging out with Mike after the
show, and one of the roadies walked by with a case of beer, and Mike just
smiled at me and said, 'I gotta go,' and followed the beer!". [Laughter]
And this in on the Internet where ANYbody can read it. And that's when it
got TOO personal.
R&R: Well, it just adds to your rock star image! I mean, your mom, she knows you're not in the Vienna Boys Choir, right?
MH: Well, that particular thing didn't bother me, but I saw the potential,
y'see what I'm saying?
R&R: Yeah, sure. Definitely.
MH: And so I am not a big Spreadnetter. I have only seen -- my
sister-in-law called me in to her computer one day and said, "Check it out."
And so I saw the page. But I didn't delve into it any farther than that.
BUT, y'know, it's a computer world, and I'm not trying to hide from it, and
I know that it helps us get information out that needs to get out there. It
gives people a chance to talk about -- people with shared interests to get to
each other and get to know each other and stuff like that.
R&R ...To augment the whole Widespread Panic experience, for themselves and
for each other.
MH: For THEM, yeah. [Long pause] The other thing about the comments that
we were getting was, you had to make yourself stop and realize that this is a
small proportion of the people -- [those] who would comment constantly -- the
number of people that we would be reading would be a FRACTION of the
audience. And so you could -- the potential was there to get a skewed
R&R: Yeah, but it's also probably the most devoted fraction. And the most knowledgeable.
MH: Right, exactly. Exactly. And the most fanatic. So the potential I saw
was there -- if you started to take those people really seriously, then
you're really focusing on a small set of the people.
But yeah, one of these days I'm going to have to get a computer and get on
the net, I guess. Like I said, I've got a five-year-old, so he's gonna be
wanting to surf the net. Obviously I don't want HIM reading about me chasing the guy with the beer, so....
Yeah, it's an interesting phenomenon. I mean, computers are just amazing.
I got turned off to computers when I was in college, and this was back when
they had the IBM cards. And so if you wanted to write a program, you'd have
a stack of these IBM cards. And if any of 'em get bent or misplaced, you're,
um, you're fucked. But that was my only experience and I actually dropped
out of that class. I threw my computer cards out my dorm window.
R&R: Ha ha! Alright!
MH: It's a different world now. But just so you can get an idea of why I'm so proud of my kid, [shows a picture from his wallet], there he is.
R&R: I saw him at the Halloween show; he was wearing his...
MH: Oh, you did? Yeah, the Casper outfit.
R&R: Yeah, Casper. Did you write "Dream Song" for him? I've heard that.
MH: Really? I only wrote the music for "The Dream Song"; JB wrote the
lyrics. And I don't really know how he came about it. What was funny at
Halloween was that Waker got up on stage, and of course he had his laminate around his neck --
R&R Awwwww, no!
MH: And these people in the audience saw this laminate -- this was way before the show -- and they said, "Come here, come here! Come a little closer!" And they were trying to GET it! And I really think they would've just snatched it from him, but I said, "Waker, get away from there!"
R&R: Well, y'know, it's that Southern Redneck contingent in your audience.
MH: Yeah, yeah, it was those frat boys, probably.
Silly voice from hall: Goddamn frat guys!
MH: Well, I gotta go get some supper.
R&R: Alright, well thanks a lot Mike. This has been a VERY interesting interview! I really appreciate it!
MH: No sweat. It was nice meeting you.