Football and Music with Dan Archer
Dan Archer is man of many talents. A musician, record producer, and songwriter, he has worked on many of the projects that you and I have grown to love. Through his efforts as a Producer, Dan has shaped the sounds of some of the best Jam oriented bands on the road today. Among Dan’s list of credits are Phish’s Lawnboy, Strangefolk’s Weightless in Water, The Jazz Mandolin Project and Blind Man Sun’s Of The Spheres. I spoke to Reid Genauer from Strangefolk one night at The Wetlands in New York, and asked him what he thought of Dan’s abilities behind the soundboard. He cited Dan’s amazing ear and his understanding of the technical, as well as, the musical aspects of recording. A quote by Roger Waters from the film Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii comes to mind.
“In order to be a record producer, you have to have to be in charge of a recording session. In order to be in charge of a recording session, you have to have some knowledge as to what the equipment is about, but you also have to know what the music is about.”
Well, Dan knows both. In addition to playing in a number of bands indigenous to Vermont, Dan has toured as guitarist in the Dude of Life Band and, it’s not unlikely to find Dan jamming somewhere with Trey Anastasio or Jon Fishman. Having recorded their second album, Lawnboy with Dan, the boys from Phish often return to work with the producer that helped them on their way from Nectar’s and The Wetlands, to Madison Square Garden and Great Woods.
On Saturday, January 9th, 1999, the Denver Broncos played the Miami Dolphins, and Dan Archer and I had a little talk. But this was no formal interview. It was just two guys hanging out, talking about one of our biggest passions, music, with some watching football thrown in as well. Here is what transpired.
MI: So Dan, are you a Jets fan?
DA: They used to always make me mad because they would do so well and then blow it. Now that they’ve got Parcells at the helm, he seems to be pulling things together.
MI: Well, we can check the game every now and then. So, when did you open Archer Studios in Colchester?
DA: When I went to the 24-track format, which is the industry standard format. It was a big leap up to the 24-track 2-inch format back in 1987. I had an 8-track set-up in the studio that I had from 1983-1987. And before that, I was in my apartment with a little 4-track set-up.
MI: Who was the first person you recorded professionally?
DA: Michael Hurley. He’s sort of a cult folk hero from the 60’s, and he’s this great singer/songwriter/stylist, and he was tied in with the Holy Modal Rounder crew. That was the first album I engineered and produced and that was back in ’87. Then, I actually got this jingle gig through a friend of mine who worked at an ad agency. This was back when I had my 8-track set-up in ’83. You can say I sort of hit the lottery because it was the tri-state megabucks lottery for Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. And it was a big account for this ad agency, and they paid me an incredible pile of money to do it. So, I reinvested it in the studio. I bought some rooms and moved it over the Diane Drive, which is the current location of Archer Studios. I was on Church St. in Burlington before that.
MI: And producing this jingle paid enough to afford you to open the studio?
DA: Actually, it did pay for at least about a third of the investment.
MI: I know you’re from the Albany area. What brought you to Burlington?
DA: I went to school up here, at The Woodstock Country Day School, for my senior year of high school. I had this friend, Zoot Wilson, who was a local hero up here. Unfortunately he died last summer. But, I had left and went back to New York and was about to move down south, to Nashville, and check that area out. Then Zoot called me up, and this is probably 1973, and said come up here and do some gigs with me, and I said “ok”, and here I am. Although I have managed to escape! I worked out in California in the early 80’s, which is where I sort of got more into the studio thing as I got hired to do session guitar work at various studios.
MI: Did you like living on the West Coast?
DA: I liked it, but you know what I found out after a couple of years? I’m an easterner. I like the seasons. Then I was going to move to New York City, and that was in ’83, and once again, I came back up here for a visit. Joe Moore, who is the sax player in Pork Tornado, approached me. We decided to put together a little combo, and I never made it out of here again! Vermont is a difficult place to escape from. Once you’re here, it’s really hard to uproot yourself.
MI: In addition to being a producer, you’re a pretty good musician as well. What came first? Playing or recording?
DA: Well, I played the clarinet in the fourth grade, which I still have. I learned guitar at age 12. You see, my sister had an acoustic guitar, until I got a hold of it. From that time on I was in bands non-stop. In sixth grade I was in a band called “The Present Tense”.
MI: You have a unique guitar style. Who are your influences?
DA: Clarence White was a major influence. He was kind of a studio guitarist, kind of country oriented, and a string bender. Unfortunately he was killed in 1979 when he was only 23, so we missed out on a lot more good music to come.
MI: You said when we spoke earlier that he produced a sound on the guitar much like a pedal steel guitar would sound like?
DA: Ya, it was that sort of sound that he would emulate on the guitar, and a lot of people picked up on it, from Jimmy Page to Albert Lee. Danny Gatton, who played with The Birds on their studio albums, was influenced by him as well.
MI: Pork Tornado is the band you’re working with now a days. Who makes up the rest of the band?
DA: It’s Jonny (Fishman) and myself (drums and guitar respectively), Joe Moore on sax, Aaron Hersey on bass, and we call him “Lord Bass”, and Phil Abair on keys. Phil is our French-Canadian of the group. It’s the original Dude of Life band without The Dude of Life, and with the addition of Joe Moore. Joe is an old buddy, and he’s the tornado of Pork Tornado. He’s a wild man.
MI: Are there any plans in the works for a Pork Tornado tour?
DA: Well, we can only when tour when our drummer is available, which is Jon Fishman.
MI: He’s a busy guy.
DA: Yeah, I know! I told him look, why don’t you get a real job! I know your busy and everything, but c’mon Jon!! But, we are going out on tour the first three weeks of April, up and down the East Coast, and I’m sure we’ll be at Wetlands! Were gonna unleash the Tornado on anyone who’s willing to endure it. I hear Brad (Sands) is going to be coming out with us as well, and he’s a great guy. It’ll be a party.
MI: So, what does the “Tornado” sound like?
DA: Well, there’s psychedelic-country with some funk thrown in, but that’s just part of it. Our hit song is called, Kiss My Black Ass, which Joe Moore sings, and it’s a funk tune. We get funky. But, we’re sort of all over the place. We rely on spontaneous combustion. We sort of have a rule that we’ve broken only a couple of times, which is not to rehearse. We just go out there and fire it up and see what happens, and it works out a lot of the time, and sometimes it doesn’t, but even when it doesn’t, it works. But, we might break the rule a little bit before we go out because we have some brilliance we’ve been originating on our own that we have to pull together so we don’t fall flat on out face out there. So, we’ll probably break our rule a few more times.
MI: Well, you guys have all played together before, right?
DA: Oh yeah. We’ve all played together a lot in different formations, or all together. Aaron Hersey and I have done a lot of playing together.
MI: Do you write a lot of material yourself?
DA: I’m writing my Vermont poetry, and I’ve got pages of it. It’s all in verse and rhymes, and it’s really charming.
MI: Do any of those poems become songs?
DA: Well, the Vermont Prose hasn’t been used in a song yet, but I’ve been working on original material that we’re trying to get together for Pork Tornado.
MI: If you play covers, what would you like to do?
DA: I’ve been getting into Frank Sinatra myself these days. I don’t know what my problem is. We might do a couple of Frank covers. We’ll see.