Dave Schools On Returning to Athens

Widespread Panic performs at the Classic Center, Athens, GA
Monday-Wednesday, April 23-25

from Athens Banner-Herald by Kenneth Aguar

Kenneth Aguar: How's it goin?

Dave Schools: I've been great. The tour has been great. The band is sounding great. The crowds have been great. The only thing that hasn't been great is this cold-ass weather.

It's just warming up here in Athens.

Thank God. We're heading south after tonight. Hopefully, we can get a taste of it.

Are you missing Athens? (laughs)

I'm missing everything that I've grown accustomed to after 25 years of living there!

It's been nearly 2 years since our last interviews, and the band has made yet another transition, with a new guitar player. How's Jimmy Herring working out?

It's magical! He's just a helluva guy. Barring the fact that everybody knows about his guitar ability, he's one of the sweetest people in the world. He is somebody that we've known for probably - since the late '80s, from all those gigs we did with Bruce Hampton and The Aquarium Rescue Unit. So, we were already on the same page in a lot of ways. First and foremost, having all been snapped thoroughly by Bruce Hampton! It's just great having him in the band. It just feels right.

Yeah. I've seen him play with The Dead and Col. Bruce. He's a really fluid guitar player. What would you say is the main difference between George (McConnell) and Jimmy?

That's a hard one to really get around. I think Jimmy has an innate understanding of what this band really is. Having done so many shows with the "classic line-up, back in the '80s. He watched us go from a bar band to a band that has a major label deal and can pull some people in around the country, in bigger venues. I think having been privy to that, that growth, sort of gives him an innate understanding of what the band is about.

I guess it's been about 7 years since the last Classic Center run of shows. Is that right?

Oddly enough, it is right!

Are you looking forward to coming back for shows in Athens. I mean, just granted that you could definitely play larger venues. I assume you chose the (Classic Center Theatre) for acoustic and aesthetic reasons?

Yeah, you know it's a cool place to play. And we don't get to play Athens all that much. People usually have to come over to Atlanta to see us. There's a lot of folks who have never seen us play in Athens that will probably try to come to town to see the shows. The best thing about it is to be able to go home after the show and sleep in our own bed!

So your new studio album (2006) is called "Earth to America."

I'm not sure if you could call it the new album any more! It's the last album, by the last lineup of the band. There's a new one in the works. I'll detour your questions right now ... We went back to Compass Point (Bahamas) with this version of the band in January and worked with Terry Manning (Led Zeppelin, Al Green) on song writing and walked out of there with basically 18 "blueprints" for songs, some of which we've been doing the usual "road testing" on out here on this tour. And others we probably need to do a little more work on in the studio, or maybe we just wanna keep them "up our sleeves" for the album release. But that's a great thing, because the last couple of records have been tough. The one that was called "Ball," being made by basically the five surviving members of the band - and (producer) John Keane and George (McConnell) coming in to play guitar on that - was a strange experience. And it was probably something that we maybe shouldn't have done. ... "Earth To America" is a great record. I just don't know if it got the treatment it deserved. And this time, I feel really good about it because we took these tunes into the studio with our producer, when they were sketches and we got to work on them some there (Compass Point), sort of a song-greenhouse kind of thing. I'm really excited. We're going to go back right after this tour, I think, to get back into the studio the second of May.

So this will be your second record with Manning?

Second record with Terry Manning, first record with Jimmy Herring. Jimmy has a lot of really deep, deep ideas. I think he has a much more "studio oriented" approach to playing guitar than anyone else we've ever had in the history of the band.

Do you think the Athens music scene is still vibrant and thriving?

I think it's always vibrant and thriving. The problem is, really, there's so MUCH vibrancy! And a lot of the best bands never really get on the road and get to show that vibrancy to the rest of the world. You know, it's pretty remarkable that the percentage of bands from Athens that actually take it on the road do get attention. I think that speaks volumes for whatever's in the water here! (laughs) There's always been a complete acceptance of originality in Athens. I think a lot of towns, they "pooh-pooh" the kind of originality that really speaks to generations. Whereas in Athens, it's allowed to happen. I'm sure there's always people making fun of it, but something keeps everyone just plowing away!

Are there any particular groups in Athens that you are fond of at the moment?

I really like Maserati. And there's a lot of them. There's that whole Cinemechanica going on. Psychic Hearts rock pretty hard. Go see a band at The Caledonia, chances are they're gonna be cool! I tell you what, there's one band I really like that's called Dead Confederate, which I think is really something different and kind of heavy and atmospheric all at the same time. Check 'em out!

What musical ambitions do you have left?

You know, really, I've fulfilled a lot of them. I think that the biggest ambition I could have would be to feel like whatever it is I'm doing, musically, still has meaning to not only myself, but people who care to listen to it. And I hope that that goes on for a long time. I don't think I could be "punching the clock"

You still got a few moves left in you?