DAVE SCHOOLS :: PRIVATE JET FROM PARIS TO USA
Kayceman: I wanted to start by asking you for your overall impressions of the tour thus far?
Schools: I think it was exactly what I expected it to be. Which was; growing pains, tiny little night clubs in Europe with unusual PAs, and a variety of environments. I didn't really think too much about certain aspects of the band becoming a band. There was no way I could have realized these things because I had no prior experience. My band [Widespread Panic] took 20 years to get where we are today; this is kind of a different thing. There were certain aspects, communication on stage and things that I couldn't have predicted, some were great and some were troublesome and needed to be addressed. But overall I think it went really well. The plan that looked great on paper but could have been a disaster is still doing remarkably well.
Kayceman: And musically how have you felt about things?
Schools: Well I've felt both good and bad. There have been nights where the music suffered, and there have been nights where the music went beyond where anyone could have hoped, and that's the world I'm used to living in.
Kayceman: Thinking back, was there a show or two in particular that really stood out to you as harnessing the potential?
Schools: I thought that Plaun showed just how rock and roll this band can be. I thought Amsterdam was one of the first nights where we were really able to do some improv on stage. Barcelona showed we could slay a festival type set. Offenburg was ridiculous with improv from Jerry - making up songs on stage and starting songs the band had never heard. Then you have things like Paris where overwhelming enthusiasm from the audience and complete and utter lack of respect from the nightclub, so that was kind of an interesting situation. Every night is so new, and when the environment is changing, the only constant is the five of us.
Kayceman: Are there a couple of songs that you have really taken to and are looking forward to developing?
Schools: Well certain songs are more fun to play, and I've never been able to put my finger on why that is. It's not that they are easy to play, but I love "Crime and Punishment" because of the dynamics of the song. Some of the songs on the album, I was really concerned with them translating to the live experience, but we did some surgery or some field changes. "One In My Hand" is a good example, it's so ethereal on the record, and we can't do that in a club, maybe in a theatre, but a bit more of a beat and pulse was added to it. "American Fork" we had the hip-hop... Once Wally [Ingram - drummer] started playing a hip-hop beat, and I started playing bass with my thumb, like funky style, it seemed to take on an appropriate stage tonality. And "Shinning Path" was another one that benefited from a little less studio atmosphere and a little more Jerry Joseph brand funk playing. Just certain things worked in the studio and unless you're Pink Floyd and have a laser light show you need to re-adapt them to the stage. I still think "Shinning Path" is like a fuckin' dynamic, modern rock anthem whether it's the way it is on the record or the way we finally figured out how to play it live.
In the same vein, are there songs that you like but you don't feel you are pulling off very well live?
No, because what usually bothers me about a song is that it's not feeling right when you play it on stage. If it doesn't feel right and everybody agrees -- then it's not that you don't like it, it's like a problem that needs to be fixed, it's like an engine that needs an oil change. Jerry's got so many songs and they're all so fuckin' good, there's none that I don't like. What I don't like are musicians who won't let a song get to its potential, whether it's due to their limitations or they're lazy or they don't listen. In this band there's nothing like that, everybody is listening and trying to do the right thing for the song.
In my opinion there are five very distinct personalities - five people who are all very accomplished, and there are so many variables in putting something like this together. One of the big questions I had prior to seeing you guys play was... sort of like the Chicago Bulls mentality; you have all these great players, but can you make it a team? How do you feel about that, do you think it's starting to gel more?
Yeah, that's a big concern. It's like a basketball team - there are certain positions that are assigned because those players have certain talents. And anyone hot-dogging or hogging is hurting the team. And the team's potential is unlimited when they act like a team. And there are always growing pains, but firmly entrenched, everyone is doing their utmost... It's tough because everyone is so talented, and you got chosen for this gig because of the particular ability you have, but you have to rein it in and save it for when you need it, save the three-point shot from the top of the key for the end of the game when you need it. But working together as a team is so much more effective. There are only so many Michael Jordans, maybe one or two a generation, and even some one like Michael Jordan will insist that it is a team, and that's why they are so great. Because on any one given night, any player could be having the game of his life.
And you have to feed that person the ball.
It's a great analogy.
I see it clearly. There are bands where there is the front guy and the guys who play the instruments, but real bands...
The bands that have gone down in history as creating a sound have been very team like.
From my observations, I have sort of determined that you are the musical director and Jerry is the...
Jerry is the front man, the song writer, the touchstone.
So is there a direction you want to push things. After a month of doing this, do you see a direction in which you want to "steer the boat?"
I don't think so. I mean obviously you want to steer it to a place where we will be able to write more songs as a band, but that's still in the future. And we're still getting our feet wet. Right now I kinda feel like we are in our "Terrible Twos." You know, there is a certain amount of pushing the envelope to see what you can get away with and to discover where our particular boundaries may lie. But for me as musical director, producer, it's like I don't like to have a plan to begin with, I like to see what comes up naturally and then work with that. Because I think to bend a bunch of talented people to one vision before they have had a chance to express themselves... like I may have had an idea for a sound on a song when Jerry and I wrote it, but until I've heard the band playing it together, I just threw my pen out the window and kind of just like, "Okay, this is a cool approach. Let's embellish this part of it." That's just the way I do things. I prefer to let the band develop organically and deal with problems as they come up. And once I feel like everybody, including Jerry and myself, really feel comfortable, there's a stage we need to get to. And I think when Jerry feels he has the band trained the way he wants, and I feel like the band is attentive enough to Jerry and loose enough--it just can't be taught, it comes from playing, and when we get to that stage we'll see what happens.
And in your gut do you think that's where it is headed?
It's either headed there or to the shit can. It would be a heinous waste of effort and talent to let some small triviality upset this boat. As it stands, we have the rest of the year booked, and I can't foresee anything... Jerry and I have a great relationship, we can yell and scream at each other like babies, but we're still like hugging in ten minutes. We're both volatile people, and we understand each other that way. He can yell at me and I can yell at him, but very seldom will it escalate to a Battle Royal. So I think that aspect of us is seen and felt by everyone else.
Now you are obviously involved with many things, so when you guys go on break is this still going to be your main focus? Like for instance, when you go on tour with J [Mascis] does it switch, do you put on a different shoes?
Yeah it does, because with J I'm a bass player playing J's stuff, and that's how J wanted it. J's not known for collaborating, in fact, he's known for playing every instrument on his albums. To me that gig is a great chance for me to play with one of my heroes. For the Slang gig, my involvement is like rounding up musicians, being there when they do overdubs. Layng [Martine III] is always at the controls and I play bass. Once all that recording of elements is done, it's pretty much up to Layng. He sends me stuff like, "Here's how this thing is developing. I used this bass line and Eric's [McFadden] flamenco or mandolin here," and I stay involved like that, but I'd like to spend more time on the post production.
That seems to be something you are really digging on these days.
Well it is. But physicality made it impossible for that to happen. He lives in Long Island, I live in Georgia, and I was playing with Widespread Panic and Gov't Mule. Who knows, when Panic goes off break we'll see what happens. We haven't played more than 60 or 80 shows in a year in like five or six years. I'm 40; I don't wanna play more than that.
So how does all this affect the way you think about Panic, or do you not even think about Panic?
I think about Panic, but I am capable of focusing on more than one thing easily. It's all a matter of budgeting time and mental energy. I'm not really thinking about what I'm going to be doing next April with Panic right now at 40,000 feet in the middle of Stockholm Syndrome tour. And consequently, it's like with Gov't Mule; Panic plays a spring tour and winds up at Jazz Fest. They leave on the bus after the show at the Municipal Auditorium. I keep my hotel room, and the next afternoon I go over to the Gov't Mule bus and play a show at the Orpheum and go out on tour. For me, this is what I do, and I love it more than anything. I've made certain choices in my life concerning marriage and kids, home responsibilities that enable me to do this. This is what I want to do. And I admire the hell out of someone like Warren Haynes for playing music, it's what I do. And believe me I'd rather be playing music instead of sitting at home in front of my flat screen TV. The only things I really, really miss are my friends at home and my dogs, and my big comfy bed with the velvet bed spread. I miss the comforts of home, but if I had to do anything else other than play music to make a living, well, I probably wouldn't do anything else well enough to have achieved the level of comfort at home that I have. I wouldn't be able to care for two animals responsibly, I wouldn't have a recording studio in my basement, I wouldn't throw parties every Sunday for my friends to watch the Simpsons and eat good food.
It seems like quite a luxury to be able to afford a comfortable lifestyle from doing what you love.
Exactly. I work hard doing the thing I do best to be able to continue to do that. That's why this thing is so great for me - because Jerry trusts me enough. This became apparent through the Conscious Contact thing - to allow me to edit the songs, to edit him, and in the studio, to regulate his spewing fountain of energy. Most performers and artists, they take that shit really seriously, that's their essence, so for him to allow someone as goofy as me to come in and have an opinion that matters to him makes me proud.
As well it should.
It's something I've worked at for a long time. I think I produced my first record over ten years ago; it was called Smelly Old Cat for my friend Kevin Sweeney's band Hayride. And there have been a lot of little projects along the way, but the first one with a budget was Conscious Contact, and then this record had a big fuckin' budget and a lot of responsibility. I was working with Terry Manning, who is one of the guys who created rock and roll as we know it, at a famous studio with other people's money and other people's art. Yes, I had an artistic stake and a creative stake, but to me, I enjoy that responsibility and that trust, and it means the world to me. I want to do different things, and I've made that perfectly clear to the guys in Panic. And Jojo has too, and so has Todd. It's important that Jojo gets to play with Smiling Assassins, Mojo Mardi Gras Band, and that Todd gets to play with Barbecue, and Sonny can do whatever he wants to do as well as JB.
Is that something that's always worked for you guys? Has there ever been sort of the mind set of, "No, we're Panic. We need to work on Panic." Or has everybody always been sort of free with that?
Well, we spent so much time all consumed by "making it" as Panic that by the time we got some free time, who's gonna have anything to say. We played 250 shows a year in a van. Next thing you know, you're on a bus. Next thing you know, you're on three buses and playing arenas. When you get your chance for a break, no one is going to tell anyone how to spend it. Whatever keeps your creative juices flowing is good for whatever projects you are involved in.
A little while ago, when we were talking about Panic, you said that there was still something "left to happen." What did you mean?
Remember that I'm an English major, and all great literature has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think Panic is a great band that is going to make a mark in history whether it's a footnote, a chapter, or a whole book, but the end isn't here yet. It's the classic story of the beginning and the greening years and the dues paid, then the tragedy, then the overcoming of the tragedy. To me, the story is not finished. And I think if Mikey [Houser] were here he'd say the story's not over yet, he'd probably be proud of us. I hope he would be - I currently assume he would be. He was certainly smart enough to know that no one was ever going to sound like him, so I think he'd say, "Man those guys have nutted up, and they've persevered." And as many second thoughts as I've had about the whole process, like maybe it should be over, you know, it's all part of mourning or dealing with loss or a tragedy or something so completely unexpected like that was. I just feel there are a few chapters left to write. Hey, we've been doing it for 20 years, and there aren't too many bands that make it past that water mark.
Not many at all.
And it was always more than just a band. It's a family, and there's plenty left to happen. I'm interested to see what happens. I'm really glad we had this time off. We needed it more than anyone probably could have ever known.
I think that's safe to say. So how did you feel about the past year-and-a-half musically with Panic? Was it hard?
Fuck ya it was hard. It had its amazing moments of grace, which is what Panic has always been about - not a literal definition of grace, but a figurative definition. To me that was always the beauty of the band; the anti-hero, the underdog. Every time it seems like fashion is going to catch up with you, you make a change. It's never been a conscious thing, we are what we do. The few times in the past where we had attempted to do something for reasons other than what would come naturally to us, we always learned a lesson. Half way through this year off I find myself every now and then going, "I wonder what JB is doing?" He's probably working in his garden, spending time with his wife. "What's Jojo doing?" He's gonna have a baby soon [Which he did, a healthy baby girl]. I can see him with that out of tune fuckin' piano in his house, banging away; Kristi upstairs going, "I thought he was on vacation?" Todd, I see him every now and then in Athens when Barbara Cue plays. And Sunny I see more often than not because we have mutual family friends. So everybody is enjoying themselves.
I'm sure it's healthy for everybody.
It should be.
And hopefully, I assume you would come back with fresh juices and ideas and motivations even. Now, you listen to a wide array of music, and you talk about the other guys in Panic, and how it's the Meters and Van Morrison, but you've always seemed to really dig music.
I do. And let me go ahead and back track, I don't wanna sound like I'm slamming the guys in Panic. Jojo said something that I thought really hit the nail on the head. We were watching a Radiohead video from their last tour that the guy from MTV gave me, and Jojo was like, "These guys used to seem like such a band. But this performance is just the Thom York show." Which then led to him going, "You know there is just no music that excites me. You know what I listen to at home, or driving around in my car?" I said, "I don't know, what?" He said, "Classical music. There isn't any rock and roll that excites me." And I think that's why there is such a tendency, well, if there is nothing new that excites you, then what choice do you have but to go back to the stuff that does, or at least used to? As far as I can tell, Van Morrison is still a very viable artist. Elvis Costello is still a viable artist. Neil Young is still viable.
Are you still excited about music?
I am, but I've always been excited about types of music that a lot of people we hang out with... it's like, JB couldn't give a god damn about the new Henry Rollins Band record. It's not his style. I get excited when Mike Watt has a new project. I really don't think those guys get excited in the same way. But I eat and breathe music, and because I do process so much of it, every now and then I do find something that is incredibly moving to me. I love that Super Furry Animals Phantom Power record. Do I think it's like an innovative record? No. The sounds, the melodies, I've heard them all before. But is it an amazing record for me to listen to? Do I personally get a lot of enjoyment out of it? Fuck yeah; it's my favorite record from last year. Is it the same as Radiohead's OK Computer? No. Even though OK Computer - granted, Thom Yorke's melodies are out of the box, but the instrumentation on the record is like Supertramp instrumentation, classic analog keyboards. It's about the production, and it's about the melody.
So with the amount of music you consume, are you consciously aware of influences that are really affecting you right now? Is there a certain genre, or an artist that is affecting how you play your bass? Like the whole four string versus six string thing, I was thinking, "Why is he doing this? Why is he playing the four string instead of the six string?" So I'm curious, where are these influences coming from?
Well, if you go back to what I said about allowing things to happen organically and then sort of nurturing them. That plays a big part of it. The four string thing; I've sort of had an affair, a sort of renaissance with my love of the four string when I started playing with Gov't Mule. Because I was using so many different sounds, and six string basses are a pretty modern thing, they were created out of need for really clean, modern bass tones. But some of the Mule material, it was really necessary that you had that distorted, over-driven, classic rock bass tone. Woody [Allen Woody] never liked Fenders, he liked Gibsons. I love Fenders, but I never really played them with Mule. I played Gibsons, and I kinda forgot that I'm really articulate on a four string, and there's a lot of things I feel I can do on a four string. But with this band [Stockholm Syndrome], it seemed that the bass needed to take a traditional role. With Panic, the six string bass provides me more bass to play because we move from song to song; things can happen that weren't expected to happen, and I have a really wide range of tonality and notes from those low fuckin' notes up to guitar tones.
And it's easy for me to play one bass all night long. Anything can happen. I've got the potential to deal with anything. With Gov't Mule, I'm switching basses every three songs, different tunings, some songs we're in E Flat. With this band, I think it was really important that I make the bass traditional, so I'm playing a jazz bass with flat wound strings. On a couple songs, I break out the six string, because I need the extra notes. "American Fork" is in a key that is kinda grungy and needs the low notes that the six string can provide. I could tune down, but that's just not gonna work. "Shining Path" has one low note that I feel is necessary, and it's fun to play. And out in Europe, I didn't feel like bringing a bunch of expensive vintage basses. That will probably change over the summer tour.
Now my assumption is that different bands serve different purposes for anyone who is in different bands. You mentioned that one of the reasons you use the six string in Panic is because anything can happen, and that, traditionally has always been one of the aspects of all music that has been the most interesting to me. Is that something you'd like to see happen with Stockholm Syndrome, where there is more of that?
Yeah, I mean... Jerry [Joseph] himself would say it would be really easy to start out the solos, so Danny [Dziuk] always gets "this solo in this song," Eric [McFadden] always gets the next one in "that song," I get "this one," "here's where I'm gonna do a rap about Nicaragua," but having to do that all the time would drive us crazy. And also, it takes a lot of the excitement and the fun and potential out of it. Now, do we want this band to be a noodle jam band? Hell no! Do we think the potential exists for great improv as a group? Yes. Do we want to always leave the door open for that? Yes. Do we want to play a half hour version of "Road to Damascus" every night? Probably not. But when there are nights when it's cooking, and it happens, are we glad that it was allowed to happen? Fuck yeah. With me and with the way I play the bass, it's always been--or at least in this part of my career--I'd like to think it's the mature part of my learning curve. There's no reason for me to ever get out there and go, "Hey look what I can do." It's more like, "Hey what does this song need?" "What can I do to make this song fully realized as a band sound?" Maybe that comes with maturity. Maybe that comes with more production work and learning how sounds fit together in a soundscape. Maybe I'm just fuckin' lazy. But the great thing is I love what I can do on a four string. You know, throw anything at me, I'll play it on a four string. The six string is a fairly recent innovation in the world of bass playing. John Paul Jones was playing four strings all the way through the end of Zeppelin. He played an eight string, but that's like a twelve string guitar, and that was just for "Achilles Last Stand" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine." Fuckin' heavy, but basically the same four string set up.
It seems that there's been somewhat of a resurgence with Zeppelin since those DVDs [How The West Was Won] came out, and I feel like I've gone back to listening to that stuff like I was 17 again. I don't think I've really listened to that shit in years.
Well, think about it. How much did you listen to it when it ended? I mean I was in a position to buy Physical Graffiti when it came out, wait for Presence to come out, wait for Song Remains the Same to come out, wait for In Through The Out Door to come out, wait for Coda to come out and be disappointed. And then, you know, it was all over. There were never high-quality bootlegs routinely available. So it's like, how many times can you listen to that small chunk of viable material. And I have to admit it didn't weather too well in the '80s. Hearing Robert Plant singing about "Mordor," I was just kinda tired of it. I knew how great it was. I knew it had a huge affect on me, but it just wasn't working for me. And when those re-mastered CDs came out, it was like a brief resurgence. "Hey this shit translated in the media change, and it sounds great."
What the DVDs did was put live performances that sounded fuckin' great, along with the visual medium, into the hands of a generation that has been trained to associate visually with music. And also, what Zeppelin fan didn't go out and buy the CDs and the DVD on the first day? You know, we opened up the night club in Athens, rented a DVD projector, and I ran the movie through the sound system. It was just a private party for our friends, and it was fuckin' great. And I think the other thing that is so great about this resurgence and appreciation for them is that they were never a tightly niched band. Its like, "What kind of music is Led Zeppelin?" "Fuckin' Led Zeppelin!" I mean, "The Rain Song." To go from "Song Remains The Same" to "The Rain Song" to "Over The Hills and Far Away" to "The Grunge" all on one side of a record. Heavy metal? Hard rock? What is it? It's the sound they had. And that's what people miss.
It's like the Dead, they transcended genres. They wanted to write a fuckin' jazz song, so they wrote one. They wanted to write a slack-key blues song, so they wrote one and recorded it. Panic does that, and it's important to do that. And I think Stockholm does that very well. You know, Jerry was concerned, about half way through the recording process he's like, "Is this record too eclectic?" It could be a concern. So I turned to Terry - Terry Manning, the man who knows all - and I said, "Is this going to be too eclectic?" He just goes, "Siggghhhh," and the sigh is important. You know you are going to get some truth out of him when he sighs. He goes, "I wish more bands made records like this." And it made me think about the records I like, like The Beatles. They transcend everything, but they were willing to write show tunes, heavy metal songs, silly ballads, and ridiculous psychedelic songs. It seems bands are so desperate to "make it," whatever that means, that they are doing everything they can to make it easy to market themselves. You don't have to write a whole article that still can't possibly describe what a band sounds like. "Well, these guys are socially relevant rap-rock." Well, do they do anything else? Because I don't really want to be brow beaten by socially relevant rap-rock for three hours. They don't play for three hours; they play for 48 minutes. To me, that's not an evening's entertainment. I want to go see a concert.
A whole night, a whole affair.
Yeah. And I think it's time for that to not be so associated with classic rock. It's time for talented musicians and song writers to plant their seeds and let them grow. Jerry can write a song like "Purple Hearts" on the guitar. It has pretty chords, but the band was what made it jazzy. Wally starts playing a "Girl From Ipanema" type beat, Eric's playing flamenco jazz scales, Danny's playing beautiful blue clusters - good musicians can flush out and realize anything.
You mentioned something else I found interesting a few weeks ago. I don't even really recall exactly where or when, but we were talking about this album Holy Happy Hour, and you said something along the lines of artists having it easy since the '60s, and that in some way maybe that is changing. Is that what you think, that artists need to step up?
Do you remember what we were talking about; was it in reference to being socially relevant?
We were talking about some of the lyrical content. How there's not a whole lot left to the imagination with a lot of these songs. Take "American Fork," take "Empire One," all you need to do is hear them once and not be a fuckin' idiot, and you know what you're talking about. So the comment was in reference to Panic, you said "Panic never takes a political stand. They never have and they never will." So do artists need to take a stand now? Is it time to sort of take that back?
I think they do. If that's what their intent is. Because it always comes back to intent. Jerry's gonna tell you exactly how he feels anytime you ask him. I think it's important for artists to have opinions. Otherwise, what use is their art? Art that describes only beauty only goes so far in my book. I prefer to surround myself with art and music that challenges me a little bit. Like the Grateful Dead, you get a song like "Sugar Magnolia," and it's pretty empty headed. But most likely, before it you got something pretty challenging like "Wharf Rat" or something that makes you fuckin' think, something-anything. "Sugar Magnolia" is kind of the mouthwash of the concert, to send you home with a kiss.
So is it your hope in some way — take the Republican South, there are a lot of people you are going to be playing to in a couple days who fuckin' love Bush. Are you in some way hoping to make them think?
I'd like to make them think, but I also think it's important that artists never call people out specifically.
I agree. No one likes that, and it doesn't really help anyone.
So this isn't necessarily Bush-bashing because a lot of these policies were rolling through the Clinton Era too. I think really it's our job to make people aware of losing their voice. I've said this time and time again; it's embarrassing the level to which this country has slipped educationally. We used to be so proud because America was one of the most educated countries in the world. When you lose education, you're selling out your future, and I think that's dangerous. And when you are selling out education in a democratic society, you are selling out the future generation's ability to be democratic, to be able to accept the responsibility for freedom. Remember, this government is supposed to do the will of the people, and when more than half of the people are not even expressing their will, it's the government's job to take care of it for them. If the people aren't saying, "Hey wait, what about this, and this, and this," then it's the government's job to say, "Well we aren't really getting any feedback on this subject matter, so here's what we think we should do. Here's what's in our interest." I think that people just need to educate themselves.
So is this part of the education process?
I'm not here to educate anyone. But I am here to say, "Educate yourself."
Switching gears, how about a big question, what is your favorite thing about playing music?
Shit, I don't know because I don't recommend that anyone ever do it. I don't know what it is.
Is it the interaction, the actual sound, what drives you?
I think as a kid I was always kinda picked on, always the last to be picked for the dodgeball team, always the first to get tagged in flag football because I was the biggest and the slowest. And maybe back in some fundamental psychological way, it was one thing I always did really well. But yeah, you know, on stage when the shit happens and the magic crackles, when Wally and I do something and we look at each other and smile, or Eric pulls off something and I look at him... it really makes you feel good. The synergy with the audience for these kinds of bands is amazing. You unite a bunch of individual elements into one coalesced mass.
Being on the other side, that's sort of something I've always wondered. When everything starts to click, and the crowd is getting it, and there's something much bigger than five or six people on stage, there's something happening that is much larger than what these guys could do individually, is there a sense, or a conscious thought of not being present, sort of away from your body, away from thought where things are just sort of happening?
Yeah, it's a tough balance. You are an entertainer, and you work on things and develop skills that work for whatever your act is. But hopefully within that framework, there is enough stuff that will happen by magic that will keep you from ever going, "Okay, it's show time folks!" I could never do that. For that guy [pointing to Jerry], there's enough surprises to last a lifetime on a nightly basis.
Do you ever find the crowds make it harder to reach those moments, or do you ever find that they are helpful?
Well, there's a lot of that dynamic. Sometimes they can throw you if their energy is overwhelming and it's kind of the opposite direction. And sometimes there's no energy from them when you need it. It's a real symbiosis - you've seen it. We used to say there was such a huge difference between a West Coast Dead show and an East Coast show, and there was. I grew up on the East Coast and saw shows at Hampton, Springfield, Massachusetts, and New York City, and the energy was just overwhelming. And sometimes we'd get really annoyed when the crowd would clap faster than the band, and you would hear the band adjusting the tempo to keep up with this overwhelming, nervous East Coast energy, and then you go to the West Coast, and it's like; what am I, in fuckin church, what's going on here? It's a different kind of energy. And the bands we seem to like the most, somehow, well, they don't harness that because that would imply that they are in control of that energy and they aren't. It's a real symbiosis. Sometimes it works out great, sometimes it doesn't, and I think that's kinda part of the experience. I think with this band we like to describe ourselves as a rock band, and there are certain aspects of things that we approach more like a rock band. Focus on Jerry, focus on his words, and then there are other moments where we let the band go, let the band be a band, do some improv, focus on Eric for a minute. They all quit playing, and Wally is taking a drum solo that's fuckin’ unreal. Let Danny get textual, I think that's important. But it's also important to remember that this isn't a jamband, it's a rock band - a socially relevant rock band.
You seem to have an aversion, or it seems clear that you don't want to be — I don't know exactly how to put it, but sometimes it seems that you get a bit annoyed when people look at you and just think, "Panic." Is that because you are capable of so much more and don't want to be pigeon-holed in that way?
There's a little bit of that to it, sure. I'd like to think that people would let me be more than just what they think I am because of what they've seen me do for 15 years, but I'm not gonna argue with that. I would hope they wouldn't come expecting to hear me play Panic songs. Or maybe they understand that I am musical enough at this point that I'm a bass player traditionally, and I'm gonna play what the part calls for. Come see me with J Mascis, and I'm playing that kinda bass. Come see me with Panic, and I'm playing what Panic calls for, come see me with Acetate...
Sure, that makes sense.
But I think the greater issue is really; is that person doing themself a disservice? Are they limiting their chances to be turned on to something else? And I used to be that way, so I understand it really well. When I was "Dyed in the wool" 1982, 83, 84, it was like, don't play me the new Elvis Costello record, I don't wanna fuckin' hear it. Where's that Dead show from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that's what I want to hear. So I can totally relate, but I was turned onto a lot of other things through what the Dead did. If someone comes out and hears us do "Spanish Bombs," maybe they used to say, "I don't like the Clash. They do that stupid 'Rock the Kasbah' song." Then they go, "What's that 'Spanish Bombs' song? It's on London's Calling? Wow, I gotta get that and check it out."
The last question I want to ask you is sort of disembodied from the rest of this, and if you don't want to talk about it that's fine, but I want to ask you if you could just sort of share a memory or two, or a thought about Mikey. Something you could enlighten me on that I wouldn't have been able to read elsewhere, something like that. About Mikey, the person, not just the musician?
He was really an easy-going guy. That was kind of the first front that he would put out to people; always really easy-going, but he was very well educated and had definite opinions about things. And that's not a side of him that he would ever allow anyone to see until he was very thoroughly comfortable in your presence. And being as shy as he was, very few people got past that wall. He was truly a humble guy, a genuinely nice person, not a malicious bone in his body. Always called Barbette [his wife] everyday, loved being a father, but also loved being a rocker. Loved being the non-rock star. He loved it. He was really fuckin' smart, one of the smartest people I've ever met. He had a chemistry degree from the University of Georgia, so he was really smart along those scientific lines, and I don't know — I think maybe deep down inside he knew that being the non-rock star made him even more of a rock star. Maybe he didn't know, I don't know. I always think of the word "sublime" used with him, which is kinda cool because the way he played, at times, it just took over and dominated everything, and then at other times, it would just sort of fade into the background, and that's kinda like what Panic is like. You know, Todd was the first person to make the comparison that it is like a team, because someone who is usually reserved for a defensive type roll is maybe having the night of their life, that's the night to throw them the ball. Mikey would do that. I think my favorite moments with him on stage were always when he and I were the last ones left before the drum solo. We'd be just looking at each other and have these huge weird... because we loved weirdness, we loved it. Sometimes it would sound like we were both playing backwards, we loved that. Writing songs like "Liza's Apartment," sitting on Todd's parents' deck looking over the lake at night in Chattanooga, just like "Let's add this part," and we'd play it and just laugh because it was so fuckin' weird. All that "Mom's Kitchen" material is crazy-composed, left turns, schizophrenic weirdness, a lot of that came out of... Mikey wouldn't get home from work at Domino's until three in the morning, and we'd just sit around and play that stuff and laugh. It was fun, and we never could have known what was gonna happen. I think that's the stuff I cherish. Mikey and I fought like cats and dogs. It was a real, kind of, brotherly love/hate relationship. We were always going to be there together around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, but damn, we could be fighting on Christmas Eve sometimes. But you know, we both loved each other a lot. It was just a cool time. I was really young and stupid and hadn't learned how to deal with other people; I don't think any of us really had. We learned how to deal with other people by learning how to deal with each other.
It has to be a very unique situation to have that life, where you get these young guys together. Like you said, most bands don't last 20 years, and I think that's one of the most fascinating things about Panic - the band dynamic.
It's hard to talk about stuff...
Yeah, it's a really hard thing for me to ask, because I don't want to... I don't know if it's my place to ask...
Well, it's still hard to believe that he's not here. I think about him everyday. It just seems so shocking and weird and all too real. Those last four or five months, it's just like what the fuck, you know. But he squeezed every second of quality out of it that he could.
It was absolutely astonishing from the outside. I mean absolutely, fuckin' mouth-open, astonishing. To be completely honest with you, I remember leaving that Bonnaroo show and going back to my tent, and I just sat there and fuckin' cried. And I was beside myself with how... He was so sick looking, you could see it.
But you didn't want to think about it. It was such a duality for me being a big Panic fan; it was like, I want to enjoy these shows because I don't know if I'm ever going to be able see another one, so I don't want to think about it, but at the same time I need to focus every fuckin' second of thought on the fact that I might never see that guy again, and the quality of music that he was able to muster was un-fucking believable.
That was the best I'd ever heard him play was probably the last two tours.
I don't even have words for it. Again, who am I to say anything anyway other than some weirdo fan, but it was just absolutely astonishing. And the band itself, I would sit there and wonder how the fuck you guys were getting on stage. How the hell you are playing those songs, it was amazing. It was such an amazing thing, sad but amazing.
Yeah, it was...
And that's an understatement.
Well, you know it's like the biggest smile I saw out of him that whole last week of playing was when he was on stage with that guy [pointing at Jerry] at Red Rocks. "Road to Damascus," and this jam that was just not going to let go, and Mike had this ear splitting grin, it split his face right in half, and it was great. I certainly couldn't even begin to tell you how I would respond with that same kind of situation. I don't know if I could separate myself from it enough.