11/12/99 Interview w/ Mike Houser

Widespread Panic
By Paul Ghiotto for
Detours @Alligator.org

In a rock 'n' roll world of "buzz clips," corporate record mega-mergers and Britney Spears, Athens, Ga.-based Widespread Panic has managed to do the impossible.

The band, which plays the O'Connell Center Sunday night, has trod the well-worn jam band path by drawing in fans without the help of MTV, platinum records or top-40 hits. They've done it by throwing rock 'n' roll, jazz-influenced jams and intelligent lyrics into a blender, tying songs together seamlessly. A 20-minute Chilly Water ---> Dying Man ---> Chilly Water jam certainly ain't instant gratification.

Luckily for Panic, the fans aren't looking for 3-minute album regurgitations.

"Spreadheads" will drive hundreds of miles to see to a band affectionately known as "The Boys," then scrawl down the set lists on the backs of ticket stubs. A thicket of microphone stands pops up during shows so tapes can be traded later. And Web sites like the Spreadweb (www.netspace.org/Widespread/) have been created in case anyone wanted to know how many times, and where, the band played "Coconuts." Three years have passed since Panic took the stage at the dank but comfortable Florida Theatre. But what a difference a few hundred shows make.

Since 1996, Panic has accomplished some not-so-modest feats, including the release of three albums and its latest effort, "'Til the Medicine Takes;" playing a free show before a throng of 100,000 on the streets of Athens, Ga.; and routinely selling out four-night New Year's Eve runs at Atlanta's stunning Fox Theatre.

But the band, comprised of the Fogerty-like growls of vocalist John Bell, bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance, percussionist Domingo "Sonny" Ortiz and Professor Longhair-influenced keyboardist John "Jojo" Hermann has filled a niche in rock 'n' roll. They're southern without being cartoonish; they're a jam band whose lead singer wears cowboy boots instead of tie-dye.

Panic lead guitarist Mike Houser has his own quirks. Unlike most rock guitarists, he sits on a chair, bluesman-like, throughout an entire show, his head bowed and face obscured by curly hair. Houser's trademark style, like a cross between Yes' Steve Howe and the Marshall Tucker Band's Toy Caldwell, drives his band's jams and whips most crowds into a frenzied, pot-smelling tangle of sweating, dancing bodies.

Detours recently caught up with Houser to ask a few questions about Athens, Panic's new album, jumpin' off amps and his take on the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."

Detours: Since the last time y'all came to Gainesville, that must have been in '97, you played in a venue that fit maybe 3,000, and now you're basically playing the basketball arena.

Houser: We've been playing in arenas all across the country and, you know, we don't always fill them up but it seems like we always get a good crowd. Either the record has made a difference, but we've had a lot of people in a lot of places.

Detours: How's the album doing so far?

Houser: It seems to be doing pretty good. "Dying Man" has gotten a lot of radio airplay and now they're shifting their focus to the next song which would be "Climb to Safety," I guess.

Detours: It seems like that one's a bit more radio-friendly than the others; it's a bit shorter...

Houser: Yeah, yeah. That's a song a friend of ours, Jerry Joseph, wrote and we figured it was a good song to put on there because it is very radio-friendly.

Detours: As far as your record goes, the last I heard you had a contract with Capricorn records to produce "X" amount of albums. Was this the last one in a series or do you have more albums to produce for Capricorn?

Houser: This was the last record in our contract with Capricorn. We signed back in 1990, I guess. We signed for seven records and one of those was a live record.

Detours: Any plans to sign back with Capricorn?

Houser: Well, you know, we really don't have any plans right now. We're still kind of riding this record and don't really know what's going to happen to us. You know, the record industry... I guess most people don't realize what turmoil it's in right now. With the internet, and there have been a lot of mergers, the record industry is a bit ahead of us right now.

We're going to sit tight and see what happens. I'm sure by January we'll probably know where we'll go. And I'm sure whatever company we sign with will want us to do another studio album pretty quick, so I'm sure we'll be getting to work on it before too long.

Detours: Really. Well, this album... it's interesting that y'all cut it in Athens. Some of the reviews I've read have kind of dubbed it "the country album." What do you think about that?

Houser: I haven't seen any of those. Let's see... well, definitely "Waker" obviously has a country feel to it. I don't know that anything else on there does. You know, "Dying Man" has kind of those bluegrass harmonies...

Detours: It seems the kind of tempo on maybe "Nobody's Loss" or even "Blue Indian" has...

Houser: Yeah, I have heard people say that had a "country" thing to it; to me, it's too bluesy to be in a country vein. But you know people... everyone gets a different impression. As long as they don't throw it in the trash, it's alright.

Detours: That's interesting. It's seems like there's a concurrent theme going through it, and I'm wondering if that was you, or John Keane, or it just so happened to be more, dare I say, "southern" than some of the previous albums.

Houser: You know, we really didn't have any concept going in when we made this record. A lot of people have commented on the fact that it seems more polished, or more studio-ey than our records have in the past. We really didn't talk about it, we didn't do anything different. We played the same guitars, we ate the same food and drank the same beer as we always do... it just came out that way.

And John Keane had a lot to do with it, but he's produced five of our records now, so it's not like we changed producers or anything. It just came out this way, and I don't think there's just one explanation. But we were very happy with it. I think when we were done with it we all kind of sensed that it was a little bit of a departure, but it wasn't really anything done intentionally. I think we're all really happy with it. It's exciting to do something new after... I guess that's out sixth studio record. I think we kind of 'let go' a little more and let John Keane produce a little more, and we were open to any sort of ideas that anyone had.

I think it made for an interesting record. It's been a lot of records that we've done, and when you can do something that you haven't tried... it's exciting for everybody. It's exciting for us, and most of the comments I've heard were that it seems to be more produced than any record we've done so far. At least nobody has said to my face that they didn't like it. Most people seem to enjoy the little extras that we put in there.

Detours: The album to me... I think why people are saying it's a bit more Southern is because you're drawing from a lot of different regional influences from within the South, almost sub-regional influences. Whether it be Dottie Peoples with that gospel, and the banjo, and you've got that Dixieland horn... if it was subconscious, it was a heck of an effort.

Houser: Well, yeah, it really was. We didn't have any plans coming into this album. We had a selection of songs we knew we were going to choose from, so we went like we always do and recorded all of them. And we picked what we wanted out of that bunch. We just got to produce it and got to record it and it just came out that way. Like I said before, we're all real excited, and... it's my favorite record. Whatever we did, it seemed to work.

Detours: I read some of the updates on your website during the recording process. How influential was that sense of place, of being home, when you were recording this album as opposed to being in Nashville or New York or wherever it might be?

Houser: Well, we've recorded a couple of records outside of Athens. John Keane, when we first got the band together in 1986 or whatever, we met John Keane. We recorded Space Wrangler in his studio. It was just a two-minute walk from the "band house." We've known John our whole musical lives, and he's known us. He recognized early on that we were not going to be the kind of band that would fit into a standard band mold. So we've had a long history with John. He played on Space Wrangler... there's stuff on Space Wrangler that John Keane played on.

We've had a long history with him. We've watched his studio grow from, you know, when he was living in the studio and there were beds in the hallway to what we call the "Keane Compound." It's actually two houses. One of them he lives in with his family, the other one he has devoted totally to the studio. It really has come a long way, and John... I think he's one of the best people out there as far as recording. He can play any instrument, he can sing, he's very technical... he knows every inch of every piece of equipment that's in there. And he knows us, and we know him. I mean we've been recording in that studio since 1987. It's an old house; if you just drove past it, you would just think it was somebody's house. And so you go in there and you're in a living room and the studio's back in the other part of the house. So you just feel very at home there, and we've been sitting on that same sofa for ten years now.

We really love it there. I mean, you would be hard-pressed to get us out of there. As a matter of fact, we've already booked time there next year to work on our next record, whoever we sign with. It's a very comfortable place, and it's not the kind of place where you can just slack off because John is very intense. So it's comfortable, but it's also a real work environment, so we get a lot done in there. And that why we love it, because John creates this environment where you feel good, but you're still giving 100 percent. It's just a perfect place for us, and I hope we can always make records there.

We made a record in Nashville, and we made a record in muscle Shoals, Alabama. And you know, I'm proud of those records, and we had some good times while we were over there. But what happens when you're recording is that it takes about six weeks or two months, and a lot of that time is down time. For the first couple of weeks of any record, everybody's working, and it becomes a matter of "Mike's gonna do a guitar part today, and then John's gonna do a guitar part tomorrow, then Dave's gonna do something." So you end up with a lot of time on your hands, and if you're living in a hotel room in some town you don't know, it gets to be a drag. And it really starts to weigh on you.

When we're in Athens, if somebody else is doing a part, then I can go home and fix dinner for my family or whatever it is I have to do. Then I can go back over to the studio and do my part, or listen to my part, or whatever. So it's just great all around, being in Athens. Athens is a really cool town; we love it.

Detours: One thing I don't want to harp upon... but what is it about your sense of place? are you a native Georgian?

Houser: No, none of us are. We actually come from all parts of the country. J. B. is from Ohio, and JoJo is from Manhattan, and I'm from North Carolina, and Todd's from Tennessee and Sonny's from Texas. So we're all transplants. But Athens is just a great music town. I went there to go to college and really had no intention of being in a band or anything. I met J.B. there, and we started a band, and it's the kind of town where you can start a band and get somewhere because people really respect original music in Athens. You can't go out in Athens anywhere and find a band playing cover songs. Nobody wants to hear that; they don't care if your music sucks as long as its your music. It's a really great town for a bunch of guys to get together and play some tunes.

Detours: It is interesting...I was up there this past Saturday, and I went to this pharmacy with 50 cent ice cream. The girl I was with goes to Georgia, and she was telling me they were threatening to put in this Eckerd's across the street, and the town rallied around this. She said Michael Stipe even went to a commission meeting to speak against it...

Houser: That's my neighborhood. You were at Hodgson's, and my wife was really in an uproar about it too because that Eckerd's was really going to create a traffic problem there. That part of town is called five points. And the community just got together and made such an uproar that Eckerd's just backed out. So we're getting a natural foods store in there, which is great.

Detours: Very nice.

Houser: But yeah, people are very active in the community. Obviously, R.E.M. is very active. And you can walk around Athens and you can see guys who were in the big bands when we started. Everybody stays there. You're in your band for awhile, and then you start doing something else, and then you have a family, and you live there and become part of the community, and that the way it has worked. I still run into people I used to go and see play when I was in college. They're still in town. They may be painting houses as a day job, but they still have their garage with their band setup. And they still sell tapes and everything.

And it's a big arts community. There's a lot of art, and there's a lot a film in Athens. I wouldn't be surprised if someday you hear of an Athens film festival. It's just a great place.

Detours: It seems like it has fostered countless bands. It seems like a really fertile place. Something I've always wondered... personally, I've seen you guys play many times since 1995, and you had obviously been together nine years by then. Watching the progression of your growth, do you ever sit down and say, "We're playing a 10,000 stadium in Ohio." Does it ever strike you?

Houser: Well, it happened to me just the other day... well, it was yesterday and we were in Charlottesville. You know, my parents live up there about 20 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. They came to see us at a place when there were three people in the bar. And they came last night and there was three or four thousand kids in a basketball arena. You know, I just thought about it, and how far we've come and what my parents must think. It's a lot of fun.

Obviously, none of us really ever imagined we would be here. When we started our band In Athens, we were the black sheep. We were playing jam rock when everyone else was playing jangle rock. People just didn't give us much of a chance to do anything. We've survived and prospered somehow...kind of like a weed, I guess.

It's been a great ride, and we're all really appreciative of what we have. We have the same people that we've always had. Even some of our crew guys have been with us for over 10 years, so it's like one big family. We run into bands all the time that are made up of guys thrown together by a record company or whatever, and they always comment on the fact that we have such a tight-knit bunch of people.

It's been a lot of fun, and we couldn't have done it without the tremendous fan support we have. We don't get a lot of radio air play or video air play or anything like that; it's really the fans who keep the ball rolling.

Detours: I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal commenting about record sales and your continued success... And it seems to me, I've seen you in several different parts of the country, and it seems to me people in other parts of the country In interviews use the label "southern rock." It seems like an easy label to throw on, but obviously a bit inaccurate. What do you think about that easy tag?

Houser: It is... people are always looking for an easy way to describe something. And I don't think of us as "southern rock." I think of us as a southern rock band, but not "southern rock" like Lynyrd Skynyrd. I think of us as being a rock band from the south. But other people always want to put a tag on you, and we obviously give them opportunities. There are obviously southern influences in the music, and we don't want to debate that or take anything away from that.

A lot of us grew up in the south, and listened to a lot of that stuff growing up. And so there are influences there, but there are also many other influences that we bring into the music. So to just say "it's a southern band" is one thing.. if they said "southern influences," that's more accurate.

To call us a "southern rock" band just brings up negative connotations, but there's nothing you can do about it. People are going to write what they write. All you can hope is that they'll come to the show and actually see for themselves what it is, and then decide what they think.

Detours: Do you ever wonder about the connect the audience makes with you? Especially in the South, there's a connect that people make with you... it's as if your band is theirs. Just the term, "The Boys." I'm sure you've heard that plenty of times. For people who are complete strangers in central Alabama who call you "The Boys"... how do you feel about that?

Houser: Yeah, I know what you mean...it's very personal. It's very flattering. Somebody feels like they know so much about you that they can call you a nickname, that means you have done something on a very personal level, and and I don't know what it is that we do that does that. We just started out as a rock band. We really didn't have any intentions or ideas about what was going to happen. We just wanted to play our music without any interference from the outside world. We never wanted someone to say, "You guys have to do this..." We've always did everything the way we wanted to do it, and not the way other people told us would be best for us. We haven't let other people influence us. Whatever it is, the fan really... I think they're a bigger story than we are.

We do what we do, and we try very hard. We live and breathe Widespread Panic all the time. Nobody gets up there without being prepared to give all they have. And when we go out on the road, it's the same thing. By the end of the tour we're usually crawling home. But I don't know.

It's strange. I think about it sometimes; I don't know what people like about us so much. Obviously, we try hard; and obviously, we write decent music. But I don't know what it is that's that extra, but the people seem to feel it. We're all really grateful that we have it, but nobody seems to know what it is.

Detours: It seems that the best rock 'n' roll is that music where you've got that connect right off the bat, and you can say it or play it and people know it... an unspeakable knowledge, and people know it's there. If we were playing for a different people, we'd quit. It's that fan spirit that's the driving force behind it.

Detours: It also seems your stage presence is different from the stage presence of a lot of other rock guitarists, too.

Houser: Well, I've been that way my whole life. I was in a little garage band when I was in high school in Chattanooga. These guys were all stage masters, they were all doing their poses and everything. And I would just stand there, and they sat me down and had a meeting with me about my stage presence. Well, we were just fifteen, and we didn't have any gigs or anything, but these guys were really into their looks.

Detours: What was the band's name?

Houser: Awww, we didn't have a name, we were just a bunch of kids. I've always felt that the music was always important, and not what a guy was doing gymnastically or whatever.

Obviously, I sit down now, so that rules out any sort of physical activity on my part. And to some people, that's a real drag. Not really to people who are into the music... but I read an article in the paper the other day and whoever it was who reviewed the show just loved it and everything. Then they got to me and said, "But Michael Houser, the guitar player, is the least charismatic person I've ever seen."

No matter what they think about me personally matters. And that's the way I've always felt. And I'm just not the kind of person, and never was... even when I stood up, I just stood as still as I possibly could. But that's just me and it's not for everybody. I'm not saying it's the right way, or anything like that, but that's just the way I've always been.

And I have to concentrate. I don't have time to think about, and never had had time to think about, anything else. When the music starts, that's where my mind goes, and that's really all that's in there.

Detours: So jumpin' off the amps was never a priority?

Houser: (deadpan) No. And nothin' is... once we start playing, I typically close my eyes, and I'm not aware of anything but the music. I'm always surprised when the set's over because it seemed like it just started.

Detours: So what prompted you to sit down? Was it the ease of being able to zone into it?

Houser: Well, no, I actually started sitting down, and I sat down for a couple of years when we first started in '86 and '87, I guess. And I got a lot of people asking me about it... they thought I was blind, or whatever. I had several people come up and say, "I'm sorry you can't see." And so I started standing up just out of sheer frustration with not wanting to deal with questions...but I was always more comfortable sitting down.

And then, I started using a volume pedal very early on with my right foot and I use it constantly. I would end up standing on my left leg for three hours a night just stock-still and I developed leg and back problems. A couple of years ago I just said, "I have to sit down, and if people don't like it I guess I'm gonna have to start driving a taxi or something." So I started to sit down. And what I found was it was easier to play and I have a better range on my guitar and I enjoy it so much more.

I had let the problem go so long that I was expending more energy every night to stand up than I was actually using to play. It couldn't continue. I did it, and no one has ever said anything to me about it. People have questioned me about it, but when I tell them why, they shake their head and go, "Oh, I see."

You know, no one's ever thrown anything at me or called me lazy or anything. I'm happy about that.

Detours: I don't believe anything like that is gonna happen down here.

Houser: Well, no, you worry about things and you get pissed but then you say, "Aww, it's silly to worry about it." But you never know in advance.

Detours: Well, before we go, I wanted to see if you would be willing to do some word association.

Houser: Well yeah, I haven't done that in a really long time.

Detours: Weaver D's?

Houser: Bar-b-que.

Detours: Florida Gators?

Houser: Florida Gators? I'd have to say Gainesville.

Detours: Now with the big game comin' up...

Houser: Oh, is it time for the Georgia-Florida? Oh, okay. When is that? Is it this coming weekend?

Detours: Yeah, I believe it is.

Houser: You know, I never made it... I was at UGA for five-and-a-half years and I never made it down there for one of those.

Detours: That's something to be proud of.

Houser: I had a lot of friends who would go down, but I never could do it. They don't do it anymore there, do they? It's not the "World's Largest Cocktail Party?"

Detours: They still claim that...

Houser: ...but they've restricted it quite a bit, huh? You just can't have a good time anymore.

Detours: Let's see...Capricorn.

Houser: Capricorn. God, that brings up so many. I have two things. I'm a Capricorn, too... I was born in January. So I have a lot of words that go with that.

The first thing that flashed into my head was a goat.

Detours: Goat? Let's see. Kudzu? Houser: Kings.

Detours: Last one...Quincy Carter; no, Halloween.

Houser: Halloween...the first thing I thought of was black cat.

Detours: So do you have costume and everything?

Houser: My wife is working on it, and I leave it up to her. She's actually coming to New Orleans to meet me, and I have no idea what it's going to be. I'm sure it's going to be good.

I guess we'll see you down in Gainesville.

Detours: Well, have a good trip and have a good time in New Orleans.

Houser: And we'll see you down in Florida.

7/30/99 - Roseland Ballroom, NY show review


Widespread Panic Proves Anything But
Published: July 30, 1999

Roseland Ballroom - New York City, NY
07/27/99 - 07/28/99 Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY

07/27/99 Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY
1: Love Tractor > Fishwater > Dyin' Man, Blue Indian, Goin' Out West > Airplane > Blight > Climb To Safety
2: Walkin' (For Your Love) > One Arm Steve > Ophelia*, Swamp* > Christmas Katie* > Jam** > Drums*** > Space Wrangler > Tall Boy
E: Hope In A Hopeless World****
* with Dirty Dozen Brass Band
** with Julius McKee on sousaphone
*** with Terrence Higgins on percussion
**** with Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Warren Haynes on guitar
['Jam' before 'Drums' was Dave, Julius McKee, and the drummers;

07/28/99 Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY
1: Holden Oversoul, Makes Sense To Me > You'll Be Fine, Driving Song > Diner > Driving Song > Big Wooly Mammoth > Jack > Travelin' Light
2: All Time Low > Impossible > Bear's Gone Fishin' > Papa's Home > Don't Be Denied > Papa's Home > Drums* > Rebirtha** > Coconut**
E: Weight Of The World**, It's All Over Now**

* with Terrence Higgins on percussion
** with Dirty Dozen Brass Band
[The Dirty Dozen Brass Band opened]

setlists by Everydaycompanion.com

Usually at concerts, the most excited fans push up to the
front, riveted by their idols. Not so on Tuesday night at the first of two Roseland shows by the vastly popular, largely unhyped Widespread Panic, from Athens, Ga. The energy in the spacious theater was most intense near the back, where dozens of loose-limbed rock-and-roll gypsies grooved together.

Widespread Panic encourages this kind of reception.
The six-piece ensemble is at the top of the ''jam bands'' scene, a floating community that rejects star-oriented mainstream pop in favor of values that seem old-fashioned to some.

Playing blues- and country-based rock, singing lyrics full of pastoral images and workingman's philosophy, bands like Widespread Panic make music for dancing and relaxation.
If stars from Madonna to Marilyn Manson express the culture's shifting anxieties and desires, jam bands embody consistency, just doing their thing in peace.

Musically, this emphasis on lasting community has led such groups to preserve, in mutated forms, a century's worth of American musical traditions, from New Orleans jazz to bluegrass and Grateful
Dead-style psychedelic rock. If esthetic conservatism creeps in, leading players back to grooves and riffs that become ruts, that is the price of favoring steady revolution over novelty.

Widespread Panic gives this style a Southern twist, which makes the music meatier. Often compared to its Georgian predecessor the Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic is at least as influenced by New Orleans sounds.

Joined by its opening act, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, for much of Tuesday, Widespread Panic showed why it is the biggest draw these days at the Crescent City's annual Jazz and Heritage Festival.

John Hermann's keyboard playing owed a debt to Mac Rebennack, also known as Dr. John, who modernized stride piano playing in the 1960's. The work of the guitarist Mark Houser on ''Christmas Katie,'' one of the songs featuring the horn players, extended the river delta sound to include a nod to the Mississippi blues great Jimmy Reed. That song led into a drums-and-percussion interlude, with Domingo
(Sunny) Ortiz taking the mood international, finding remarkably melodic Latin and African beats on his congos.

For all this wandering, Widespread Panic continually returned to a homey focus on bar-band-style party music. The main vocalist, John Bell, sings as if he gargles dirt, and that's a compliment. The grittiness in his voice lends a soulfulness that grounds the songs' flights of fancy.

Widespread Panic's just-released seventh album, ''Til the Medicine Takes'' (Capricorn), deviates from the jam-band formula, even including some hip-hop-style scratching on one track. Live, the band stayed true to the Southern musical tradition, one that those who scorn this scene must admit still yields sweet fruits.


3/25/99 Keane Studio Mixdown by Dave Schools

by Dave Schools

March 25, 1999 Keane Studio, Ltd. Athens, GA


I know, I know, it's been so long since my last installment that you
thought I had fallen prey to the appetites of the angry studio gods
(madness for many, absolution for the lucky) or perhaps fallen off the
face of the earth. I have, for your information, been hanging out
leisurely at John Keane's studio and been constantly amazed by the
performances he was able to coax out of a willing group of singers and
players. What began with my former description of being put under the
microscope of John Keane for hyper-scrutinization and possible humiliation
was weathered gracefully by members Houser, Bell, Herman, and Ortiz. JB,
Jojo, and Mike all took turns as they worked out new guitar, keyboard, and
harmony parts. Alternating half days and days to avoid the burnout and the
dreaded studio tan these guys really laid down some emotional and burning
hot parts. I watched JB compose and sing some of his best lines ever.

Not being a true vocalist I have never appreciated how hard it must be for
someone like John Bell to "get into" the singing of the words in that
glass booth. He is a man who likes to sing from his heart and sing with
the truth behind every word. He also relies on his environment to help to
fuel the emotion of his performance. It's one thing to emote and convey
that emotion to an arena full of kind folks wanting to soak it up but it's
a completely different thing to capture those feelings with only an
expensive microphone staring at you. Your reward, rather than an encore or
round of applause, is a rare compliment from John. And believe me, we live
for words of praise that come from his mouth. Somehow John attains a
delicate balance of control and confidence that encourages the performer
to take chances (where the really good stuff comes from) and reign in
those evil thoughts of doing the "correct" thing that crush the feeling
right out of a take.

It's difficult for us as a band to relinquish control of our tunes and
arrangements, but years of working with John have enabled a real trust of
his sensibility when it comes to vocal harmonies and guitar parts. You
see, John can play and sing any part better than any of us (you will hear
his crystal clear and always-in-tune pedal steel and bubbling banjo on a
few tunes) and this can be intimidating. But like I said earlier, he does
indeed inspire the confidence to pull off the right feeling performance.
This recording will prove that he is the man who understands Widespread
Panic well enough to produce more than just a recording of our music. He
makes sure that this snapshot is one that you will treasure and we will be
proud of. I would like to hope that the resulting document is also
something that John will be proud of as well.

So, after finally getting everybody's parts laid down on tape it is time
to suss them all out and put them in a form that is fat, happy, and in
your face. This is called mixdown and is arguably the most crucial part of
the entire recording process. There are folks who make their living
engineering the mixdown of recordings. These people have golden ears and
are kind of like surgical specialists. For our two previous studio
recordings we had utilized the extraordinary talents of Clif Norrell and
had been most happy with the results. We decided to go with someone
different for this project but at first we didn't know whom. For awhile it
looked like longtime REM producer Scott Litt would be brought in to do the
mix, then it was going to be Susan Rogers who has worked on many projects
for that purple wearing symbol loving guy who now refers to himself as
"The Artist." Finally it was decided that Jim Scott would get the honor.
Jim's resume reads like a top ten list of great records and he earned
himself a Grammy for his work on Tom Petty's Wildflowers album. Jim is a
great guy who we had met before in New York after one of those infamous
Irving Plaza gigs. He listened to the demos of the material that
eventually became Ain't Life Grand while "hanging out" in the back lounge
of the bus and had wanted to produce that record. Scheduling conflicts
wrecked those plans so we very happy to welcome him into this project.

Jim arrived with a bunch of archaic outboard gear like Altec compressors
that had only one big knob and one dancing VU meter. He burned an
incredible amount of Nag Champa in a little dish with a fortune cookie
message "Be Patient, it will benefit you" pasted to it. And patience is
one thing a mix engineer must have if he is going to help rather than
sabotage a project. Here's how a mix works: the musicians have laid down
all the parts and they are scattered all over 48 tracks of digital tape.
It is his job to set the levels of each of those instruments and add
effects like reverb or echo to them. This ability is what makes mixdown so
critical. You can bury a vocal behind a screaming guitar or you can put
the vocal out on front, you can put reverb on the snare or make it sound
like it's right in front of your face, you can pan Mikey's lead guitar way
over to the left side and JB's rhythm over to the right or vice versa. The
question is which option do you choose? Once all of these decisions have
been made those 48 tracks are distilled down to a two track tape (either
digital audio tape or quarter inch reel to reel tape) to be sent to the
mastering lab and then to the pressing plant where they are made into
those clever shiny discs we all so love.

Patience is indeed a virtue as in order to create a mix many, sometimes
hundreds, of passes will be made on a song. A mix can be gotten on a four-
minute song in about a day. Imagine how long it took to mix the nearly
eight minute Rebirtha on the last album. In the old days each fader move
to set the level of volume for each voice or instrument had to be made by
hand. If the mix was a complicated one there are too many moves for just
one pair of hands and additional hands are required. This is how band
members can get involved in the mix. I remember nearly all of us with our
hands on the console for the mix of "Stop/Go" on Space Wrangler. These
days that situation is resolved by a technical marvel known as
"automation." This means that the whole console is hooked up to a computer
that remembers each little fader move so that each time a pass is made on
the tune the fader moves are set and on the next pass you can watch those
little things move all by themselves. After a mix is printed to quarter
inch and DAT formats it is Rob Haddock's job to mark all the settings of
everything (sometimes hundreds of little knobs, buttons, and blinking
lights) down on paper. Actually, these days, all the settings are
videotaped and then archived with the multi-track master reels in case a
remix is wanted or needed.

Delicate edits are also performed on the songs at this stage. For example
we had decided to cut a few measures out of a tune and this had to be
performed on the quarter inch machine. This requires a steady hand with
the razor blade as cutting one thousandth of an inch in the wrong
direction of the tape can destroy a once in a lifetime take. This is where
Jim's surgical skill came into play. These talents are rare and Jim really
turned out to be a master of mixology and an entertaining guy as well. His
most recent project is the new Red Hot Chili Peppers' CD and it sounded
great. We had a little listening party of our stuff two nights ago and let
me tell you, his mixes blew our minds. Brown Cat family members who had
not heard any of these tunes at any stage of their recording were amazed
and could be seen dancing down the halls of the studio with wine glasses
in hand.

There were many photos taken and high fives given and when it was all said
and done we realized that with the help of professionals like John and Jim
and the recording engineer Brad we have made the best record of our
career. You will be pleased we are sure. There are many surprises to be
had in listening to this recording and I personally haven't gotten tired
of it yet. I discover new sounds hiding beneath others in Jim and John's
powerful and layered mixes. It seems as if John's plan of being a more
"hands-on" producer paid off. All that is left now is for the CD to be

Mastering is the final stage before the discs are actually pressed and
inserted into their jewel boxes or Eco-friendly cardboard sleeves (which
we obviously prefer but record shops don't because they usually don't fit
into their shelving system). In the mastering process all the elements are
unified in three simple but very important ways, the first of which is
making sure that the peak volume level of each song is the same. There is
nothing more annoying than a poorly mastered recording where you have to
get up and change the volume of your amplifier from song to song. The
other things that occur in mastering are giving the recording a "unifying"
sheen with a small amount of treble and bass equalization if needed and
compressing certain songs to give them a peak ceiling that is the same
from song to song. If you have ever bought an older disc that was recorded
in the seventies (for example Led Zep's Houses of the Holy) you may
discover that it simply doesn't sound as good as your more recently
recorded discs. It may sound dull and muffled by comparison and not as hot
as others may. But then you might go out and purchase a boxed set that
claims to be "remastered by Jimmy Page" and you will find that by
remastering these older recordings they have been brought up to par with
the way things sound these days thanks to the miracle of digital audio.
Mastering can really make or break a recording.

So what happens next? We wait for the whole manufacturing process and the
release of the CD and then our work will begin anew with publicity
interviews as the folks at Capricorn Records get their marketing strategy
into gear. There may be in-store appearances and special promotions.
Perhaps I will write another one of these telling journals from summer
tour as all the dominoes are lined up for the release of this disc. It's
been fun writing for you; I hope you have enjoyed it and maybe learned
something about recording as well. Take care, and we will see you from the
stage somewhere out there on the road.

2/10/99 Keane Studio Tracking by Dave Schools

by Dave Schools

Feb. 10, 1999 Keane Studio, Ltd. Athens, GA


Last week we went into great detail concerning the process of "setup."
Harsh, wasn't it?

This time we go into the process of tracking or the actual recording of
sounds to tape. Now that all the instruments have been tuned, isolated,
and recording levels have been perfected it is time to begin recording.
For this project John Keane has replaced his 32 track Otari analog
recorder with a Sony 48 track digital machine and augmented his usual mass
of compressors, equalizers, and other devices with even more of the same.

As I mentioned earlier, John had really wanted to be a "hands on" producer
for this project and had therefore brought in the highly competent
Bradshaw Leigh to tweak the sounds and push the faders. John's
ultra-versatile assistant Rob Haddock was always on hand to do the dirty
work like changing tape reels or running microphones. This way John could
be free to really concentrate on the idea facet of production.

We were chomping at the bit to begin cutting some tracks so when the call
finally came we were more than happy to leave the TV room (despite an
exceptionally funny episode of Animaniacs) and get into the hot main
recording room. We were set up in a semi-circle with Todd in the corner,
me to his right, Mikey, JB, and Jojo completing the circle back around the
room to Todd's left. Sunny's antics could be witnessed through the plate
glass window between Mikey and myself. The first song is usually somewhat
of a warm-up to get levels tweaked even more not only in our headphone
mixes but also in the control room. Sometimes some real magic can happen
in those first few runs of a tune. For instance, "Hope In A Hopeless
World" from the last CD was really just a warm-up, but John was so taken
with its energy that it became the first "keeper" of that session and went
on to become the most successful single of our career to that point.

This time the first attempt was "All Time Low," and it's energy was
probably a little over the top. We played it three more times and got a
version that we were pretty happy with. Thus began the process of
tracking. Now at this point it is necessary for me to make a tough
decision: should I as a chronicler of this process allow you, the readers,
to know what songs we have recorded for this project? I'm pretty sure I
know what your answer to that question would be, but I must tell you that
I will not divulge the contents of this yet untitled project. Sorry, but I
like a good surprise as well as anyone. I will tell you that we cut 13
songs that you have heard before, 4 jams that will become songs during the
recording process, and three covers: two for fun and one to go on a
tribute album for a certain band we all know and either love or hate. But
that's as far as I can go. I will only refer to these tunes as just that:

So back to task at hand. Perhaps you have heard the old saw: "Hurry up and
wait." Let me tell you that no one is more familiar with the meaning of it
than musicians and their hard-working crew. There is always a hurry, a
rush, to get to where you are supposed to be at a precise time. Of course,
once you arrive you sit around twiddling your thumbs for an hour. This is
true of the live arena and no more so than in the studio. There is always
something to hold you up and delay the sound of John's voice coming
through the headphones saying; "It's rolling." Drums are the main concern
at this point in tracking and this is why: All other performances (vocals,
guitars, bass, and percussion) are pretty expendable meaning only that
they can be replaced (or overdubbed) later. What the producer is concerned
with is getting a good feeling drum track that Todd is happy with. But
just when you are ready to count off the intro for a take John or Rob will
burst through the door to tune up the tom tom head or adjust the overhead
microphones, or heaven help us, change the snare drum entirely. This last
option is one of the most feared for it entails waiting around for another
twenty minute while the new snare head is tuned to the proper pitch. This
is why there are so many photos of us just sitting around accompanying
these diary entries.

Thus, all the pressure lies upon Todd during this point. Drum tracks
usually consist of many different sounds. This includes the snare, kick,
hi hat, tom toms, and overhead microphones. The fact that the drummer is
indeed the foundation of all the rest of the sounds you hear prevents him
from having the luxury of overdubbing his part later. We all need Todd to
be the rock we know so that we can have him as a living metronome for our
parts during the overdubbing and fix-it part of the recording. And I will
say that Todd outdid himself this time. He can always be counted on to lay
down a solid, steady beat for all songs, always. But this time, by the end
of the first week, we had cut nearly twenty keeper tracks. He saved us
from succumbing to the restless tedium of "hurry up and wait" and allowed
us and John the luxury of having more time to concentrate on arrangements
and new musical ideas. Todd gets the gold star for the session indeed.

While the tracking is going on there is always time for sitting around and
listening to previously recorded tracks in the back room, discussing new
arrangement ideas, or doing interviews. Sometimes our friends drop by to
check up on us or just to have a little fun. Kevn Kinny brought us a
bottle of wine, Vic Chesnutt rolled up to hang out, and Randall Bramblett
brought Roger Glover by to say howdy. Who the hell is Roger Glover you may
ask? Well, my friends, he was the bass player for Deep Purple during the
incredible "Smoke On The Water" period of that band. He is also one of my
big influences. Just listen to the bass line on the live version of "Space
Truckin'" from the Made In Japan album. I was really glad to meet him and
in my rush of excitement in meeting him never even thought it was odd that
he would be in Athens. Randall explained that Roger had heard his latest
CD and been so taken with it that he called him up out of the blue to come
to Athens and work on some songs with him.

Other friends come to the studio to cut guest tracks on the album. In the
past we have had the Memphis Horns, David Blackmon, Vic Chesnutt, Daniel
Hutchins and Eric Carter of Bloodkin, and a host of others in to augment
our sounds. This project is no different, as we have had Colin Butler from
Big Ass Truck in to whip out some turntable magic, The Dirty Dozen Horns,
and even a gospel choir.

One thing that often happens during tracking is a certain amount of
rearranging of the parts of a song. For instance a verse or chorus may be
removed or added as the case warrants or a bridge may be added to create a
change in the tempo or feel of a song. Case in point: by the time we
settled on the final arrangement of "Wondering" we had gone through over
forty takes in three different studios. For the most part we run into two
situations when arranging songs. One is the case where we have been
playing a song live for so long that we are, in a sense "married" to it's
arrangement. It can be difficult to change something that we are so
accustomed to and we usually wind up abandoning any ideas along those
lines. The other instance is when we are actually composing a new song in
the studio. In this case it's easy to work out new ideas because, in
addition to the song being fresh, there is a shared feeling of excitement.

I know I speak for all six of us when I say one of the most rewarding
things that can happen during tracking is when John Keane actually gets
excited by a new song. It's almost as if you see a cartoon light bulb
flashing and hovering above his head. This is when things can really start
happening. For instance, when Mikey recorded the demo for "Raise The
Roof." you could see the wheels turning in John's head and the glimmer in
his eyes doubling in intensity.

We ourselves could never have conceived the alien four part harmonies or
the synthesizer pad that John added to that song. This is a great example
of hands-on producing the ability to add something truly unique to the
recorded version of a song. Let me just say that this rare occurrence has
happened several times already with this session. There is a feeling of
excitement going on here like I have never felt before.

Once all the drum takes have been captured on tape, we rejoice because it
is the time when the studio fun begins. We also rejoice because we realize
that we have recorded way too many songs to fit on one CD. It may be a
difficult decision to set half of these songs aside for another project,
but it beats the hell out of not having enough material at all. Todd
basically goes on call and I get the distinct honor of having my bass
parts put under the microscope for hyper-scrutiny by John. This can be a
real ego-buster as you hear your sloppy technique or off-color notes come
flying out of the studio monitors as John halts the tape and says with a
grin, "I guess we should fix that whole section." But this is the wonder
of modern recording technology: these little problems can be fixed.

In some cases it is necessary to re-record the entire track, sometimes the
wrong note can be "punched in." Punching in is a technique where the
recording engineer pops the machine into record mode while you play the
correct note or notes (hopefully). He can get the machine in and out of
record mode without corrupting any right notes you played in the original
take. John has a fast punch finger (sometimes it's just one note to be
fixed and leaving the machine in record mode for a split second too long
can ruin the original part) but no one can pull off the quick punch faster
than Johnny Sandlin. I like to compare punching in to a gunslinger and the
quick draw and Johnny to the fastest gun in the east.

It usually takes me a few days to fix my bass flubs. But other than fixing
my mistakes this is also my chance to try out other sounds or ideas. I may
decide to try out a different bass like my fretless or the electric stand
up which no one has ever seen me play before but will hear (thanks to Jane
McNall at Modulus). On the Everyday CD I played harmony bass parts in the
song "Diner" during the "hanging in the light" section. One was the
"regular" bass line and the other was a fifth harmony performed on the
fretless. This is what is great about the studio versus live: you can pull
off physically impossible feats and take your part in any direction you
please, and if it doesn't fit then you can do something different.

Coming in the next installment:

Everybody gets put under John Keane's microscope.

The terror of recording background vocals.

Preparing for "mixdown."

Some comments from the rest of the boys and John Keane.

2/3/99 Keane Studio Setup by Dave Schools

by Dave Schools

Feb. 3, 1999 Keane Recording, Ltd. Athens, GA.


It's hard to believe that just over three weeks ago I stood offstage at
the Fox Theater with the rest of the boys watching in amazement as 5,000
Panic fans got their last dance licks in to the tune of Prince's "1999."
You would have thought that after four nights and nine sets of dancing fun
they would be tired --- certainly too tired to pogo to pre-recorded music
with the house lights full blast. Maybe they knew that there wouldn't be
another show for quite some time. Maybe they knew the reason was that it
was time for the band to disappear into that secret garden of sound, the
studio (insert spooky music here).

Nearly three years ago, while we were recording Bombs & Butterflies, Ben
Tanen came up with the idea of me keeping some kind of journal documenting
the goings on of the session. This would be parceled out to the Spreadnet
so those members would have something to chew on instead of the usual
between-tour flame-inducing comparison threads. It was a great idea, but
alas, one that fell by the wayside. Three years later it is still a good
idea and perhaps now the time is right for said journal to see the light
of day. Or maybe I just felt so guilty about sicking that interviewer from
The Wall Street Journal on Ben that he was able to convince me to actually
follow through with only the slightest amount of friendly pressure.

I had considered going into great detail concerning all of the parts of
the CD making process, but even plotting those segments out in rough form
proved to be so confusing to me that I have scrapped that idea in favor of
a more "user friendly" form. In other words, I'm going to take the
"onstage" approach to this piece: I'm going to let it flow. So just jump
in and hang on!

There are a few basic differences between performing live and recording in
a studio setting (other than the obvious) that you should be aware of. The
foremost of these is the fact that in a live setting what happens simply
happens and becomes history once it has been played. There is no going
back to replace a wrong note or an awful harmony. A studio recording is
different in that all wrongs may be reversed. The studio project is, in
reality, a snapshot or a permanent record of one period in a band's
development and therefore great pains are taken to ensure that the quality
of this snapshot is something that all involved can live with --- forever.
In other words, history can be changed in the studio.

The other main difference is the presence of a producer in the studio
setting. While there are many decision-makers onstage during the show
(six, to be exact) there is only one decision-maker in the studio and in
this case (as well as so many in the past) that person is our mentor, John

A little background on John Keane: a native of Athens and father of thre
e, John has been the head honcho on all of our records except the
self-titled one we refer to as Mom's Kitchen and Everyday (both of which
were produced by the groove-oriented ears of Johnny Sandlin). When we
recorded Space Wrangler way back somewhere in the late 80s, John was
sharing his house with the studio, a roommate (Tim White, the guy who
played organ on "Travelin' Light" and "Chilly Water"), and the
ever-present studio cat --- an orange Tabby appropriately named Fader. If
you parked your car in front of the house next door, the mean old lady who
lived there would come out screaming and threatening to have the car towed
if it wasn't moved immediately.

Many years and albums later, the analog 16-track tape machine has been
replaced by a Sony 48-track digital machine (and accompanying Macintosh
computer armed with high-tech editing tools). Tim's old room now houses
amplifiers for the purpose of isolation. Fader ran off and was replaced by
Zack, a fluffy little beast with a propinquity for meowing in pitch with
Mike's guitar solos. And the mean old woman next door has moved on to
greener pastures thereby making room for the rest of the Keane family. We
like to call that side of the street the Keane Compound. The point is, we
feel right at home sitting on that front porch watching the folks in the
fancy house across the street play tennis on their clay court. Loco's Deli
knows the place by heart. In fact, you could give any driver a band
member' s sandwich order and chances are he will already know who it is
for. It is this sense of familiarity that keeps us coming back. Sure, we
could go somewhere fancy like Paisley Park or Bearsville to record our
albums, but we have everything we need right here in Athens, not to
mention our families and loved ones.

The first day of any session anywhere is a nasty little process known as
"setup." This is just like bringing the gear into a live venue and
soundchecking it except that this brand of setup is painstakingly slow. It
has to be slow because everything has to be perfect. Placement of
microphones must be tested and re-tested because the sounds going to tape
must be true and sonically pure. Many producers will record instruments
separately or in different rooms in order to eliminate what is known as
"bleed." Bleed is what occurs when the sound from one instrument runs into
the microphones for a different instrument. For instance you will often
notice drummers surrounded by Plexiglas on TV. This is done to prevent all
the noisy loud guitars from bleeding into the drum microphones and turning
the engineer's job into a living hell. We like to torment John by setting
up in the same room so we can feel like we really are playing together.
This togetherness is ideal for us but it makes microphone placement all
the more crucial and thus extends setup into the realm of complete and
utter boredom for those of us simply wanting to get in there and roll the
tape and jam.

But the cooler heads of our engineer and producer (augmented by assistant
Rob) prevail and we calm down and remember that isolation is so important
due to the nature of the recording process. You will recall that above I
had said one of the main differences between studio work and live
performance is the ability to fix mistakes. This ability stems from the
fact that each instrument (right down to each individual drum head and
guitar amp) has it's own microphone which is connected to a recording
console which, in turn, is connected to the recording machine. Just like
your DAT machine at home has two "tracks": left and right, our Sony
machine has 48 tracks, one for each microphone and instrument. It is the
fact that each instrument has it's own track in the tape machine that
allows mistakes to be fixed without corrupting another instrument's sound.
This is why the need for isolation is so important. It is what allows me
to maintain pick throwing distance from Todd during a live take while my
bass speaker and accompanying microphone are located in a closet somewhere
else in the house. That way, my sloppy bass lines are not bleeding into
Todd's pristine kick and snare microphones. Thus, when it is my turn to
fix my screwed up bass playing I can do so without recording over a
flawless drum performance. I can only do this by having a tape machine
that records to a separate track dedicated solely to my bass signal. In
other words I can play along with Todd's earlier drum performance while
replacing my original bass performance with an untainted one. Conversely,
with the bass amp and microphone located in another room there is no
evidence of Todd's drumming on my allocated track on the tape machine. The
same holds true for all the guitars, keyboards, and percussion as well.
Confused yet? Well don't worry, it becomes easier to understand, I

After setup the chore of "getting sounds" begins. This is when Todd
willsit at his drum kit and will be asked by John or the engineer to
continually pound the snare drum until a kick ass sound is acquired along
with a good recording level. (Note* The engineer is the guy who tweaks the
recording levels and deals with microphone selection and placement. It is
his job to capture the purest tones on tape. Engineers are usually experts
in the field of electronics and sound reproduction. Most producers are
engineers while not all engineers are capable of being producers. John
Keane is an excellent engineer and you will see that this is the first
album where John actually had someone engineer the recording for him.
According to John, he really "wanted to be able to produce" this CD.
Therefore the engineer for this project was a nice man named Bradshaw
Leigh.) This process getting sounds can be rough on drummers, as their
particular skill is such a physical one. Banging on the snare drum for an
hour might not seem like anything more tiring than performing live for the
same amount of time, but believe me, it's much worse! After Todd has been
through the ringer it is Sunny's turn. Due to the large number and
sensitivity of the microphones on his percussion rig he gets his own room.
But he cannot escape the torture of the checking of the microphones.
Everyone gets their turn in the meat grinder although this time some of
us, myself included, are lucky enough to have good old Wayne check our
guitars for us. Only a day and a half into the session and it was nearly
time to play a song as a group! Tracking was about to begin.

Coming in the next installment:

"Why is the pressure on Todd?"

"What do you mean, 'Are we married to this arrangement?'"

"Do we HAVE to do it again?"

"Okay, who ordered four dozen spicy wings from Loco's?"

and . . .

"What is the bassist for Deep Purple doing in town with Randall

1/6/99 Band Interview

Spread the word: Panic reaching to outer limits
Wednesday, January 06, 1999
From CNN Interactive Writer Jamie Allen

When your band has been playing gigs since the 1980s, and you've released six albums along with a collaborative effort with another artist, and you're at the end of your touring schedule for the year, it's hard to get overly excited about your accomplishments.

So the six members of Widespread Panic will have to be excused if they seem to be taking their success -- which has been building like a freight train going uphill -- in slow-and-easy stride.

"It seems like (our fan base) almost doubles every year," says a nonchalant Mike Houser, guitarist for Widespread.

The Athens, Georgia band ended 1998 by playing four sold-out shows at Atlanta's historic Fox Theater, capping a surprising year that started in their hometown with a free concert to mark the release of their live CD, "Light Fuse Get Away." That April event flooded Athens streets with tens of thousands of peace-loving and grooving fans who danced for nearly three hours to the band's blissed-out jams, which are often compared to Grateful Dead and that other modern Dead band, Phish.

The band then performed eight months of headline touring from coast to coast, and made its first foray into the international market. Meantime, the year-ending gigs at the Fox were equally joyous -- a peaceful collection of 'Spread Heads and less committed fans who nonetheless appreciate a good jam session.

"Our fans don't cause trouble; they're active," says drummer Todd Nance. "Everybody's up, dancing and stuff. They're not into hurting each other or moshing or stage diving or stuff like that."

They're committed, too. Many fans stood out front of the theater hours before the first Widespread show in rainy 40-degree weather, some hoping to score "miracle tickets" (a Dead term referring to free access to a show), others just taking in the atmosphere.

'We were just trying to survive'

"I didn't know this (success) was going to happen," Houser says, thinking back to the days in 1986 when Widespread formed and played small pubs in Athens. "I had no preconceived notions. I mean we were just trying to survive, but we're very happy with the way things turned out."

What musician wouldn't be happy? Though they haven't reached widespread radio acclaim, the Panic is one of those bands that thrive on the road, a hard-working group that gels in live settings, weaving their homespun music with the audience's energy to create unearthly performances. And no show is a repeat performance; the band aims for improvisation, using their songs only as signposts to the end of the show.

"The whole idea of it is not to be the same two-and-a-half hour show every night, so people can keep coming back and have new experiences," says Nance.

It's for this reason that most music fans have heard of the band, and plenty are still talking about the last Widespread show they attended.

"You can relate to a lot of the things they have to say," says Brooke Solis, a 22-year-old fan who traveled from Albany, Georgia for Widespread's Atlanta shows. "They're down to earth. They don't forget where they came from. You get into the music and they carry you along with it."

'The same vision'

And there's more to come for fans. Widespread plans a winter of work, putting together another studio album. In April, they will hit the road again.

But at this moment in time, Houser and Nance reflected on everything they have accomplished since their days of playing in a high school band in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They've come a long way.

"We used to play for a dollar a night at the Uptown Lounge in Athens," says Nance, who worked on houses to help pay bills during tight times.

"I was a pizza guy," says Houser.

But Houser maintains that Widepread's bandmembers -- lead singer John Bell, Domingo Ortiz, John Hermann, Dave Schools, Nance and Houser -- never got into music to make loads of money or live the mythical rock-star life.

"I think everybody pretty much had the same vision the first day they came together, and that is to just play," says Houser.

An original sound

Widespread Panic released its first album in 1990. "Space Wrangler," considered part of the development of their sound fusion, included the concert favorites "Coconut" and "Travelin' Light."

"The chemistry was always there," says Houser, "but the evolution took some time."

A self-titled release in 1991, followed by 1993's "Everyday," intermingled with tours with the H.O.R.D.E. festival, triggered name recognition for Widespread. "Ain't Life Grand" was released in 1994, and is the band's best-selling album to date, although the 1996 release "Bombs and Butterflies" is on pace to outsell it.

"Bombs and Butterflies" includes the track "Aunt Avis," which has a video that was directed by Panic fanatic and Oscar-winning filmmaker Billy Bob Thornton.

The band also released "Nine High A Pallet," a collective effort with acclaimed singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt.

Their most recent accomplishment: Touring the international market, from New Zealand to Europe.

"We had a great time," says Houser. "In Australia and New Zealand, hardly anybody had ever heard of us, but the people who did come had a good time."

Now that Widespread is enjoying broadened horizons, there are new challenges to deal with -- more touring, and greater responsibilities.

"We just try to keep the B.S. to a minimum," says Nance. "The bigger you get, the more there is."

And then there's the seemingly endless comparisons to Grateful Dead. Though Nance and Houser admit they have picked up Dead fans since the legendary band broke up with the death of frontman Jerry Garcia, there's the obvious need to grow away from the "Dead" label.

"It's flattering to be compared to the Dead, or any band we've been compared to," says Houser. "But it's nice when people recognize that we have our own sound, which I think people are starting to do."