24 Questions – Russ Lawton on Trey Tour, Jam Bands, and Jewel
16. What do you make of some of these younger jam bands? Are there any in particular that stand out to you?
Let’s see. We’ve played with a bunch of them…I’m trying to see who else…the Slip really, those guys are cool. I’m trying to think now, cause we’ve done a bunch of these shows and…well, I saw Galactic and I like those guys. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. I’ll have to come back on that one. But there’s definitely a lot of guys trying to do something, you know? That whole scene is really cool. Some rise up and some don’t. Some should rise up and they don’t for whatever reason.
Especially a lot of the jazz cats who have influenced the jam band scene. Groups like Medeski Martin and Wood who have put more of a groove behind it.
Yeah. You know, they did the Scofield record and we played with them when we did the Autumn Equinox Festival in Maryland. Four years ago did you ever think he’d be playing on the jam band circuit? You know what I mean? Not to put him down, but…
Well none of the jam kids knew about him until Medeski.
And that’s the cool side about it. I mean sometimes it’s like, ‘Okay what qualifies?’ I know being in Boston, nobody was giving us any airplay. I remember one radio station said ‘Well you guys just aren’t hard edged enough’ and I’m like [makes a face]. I mean, everybody’s just trying to keep their job and fit in on the radio and this and that but it’s just…sometimes it’s like ‘This band’s a jam band and this isn’t’ and I don’t know man – it’s such a funny business. Everybody’s got their opinion. There’s this really good book called ‘Hit Men’. It’s a really good book, if you ever get a chance to read it. And then at the end of it, it’s talking about A&R guys and one guy goes, ‘When it comes right down to it, nobody really knows.’
I mean, who would’ve ever thought that this whole jam band thing would take off? People don’t know. It’s just when you least expect it. I can remember when I was with this band The Natives. Gene Simmons [of Kiss] has a label and he was really into our band. He was dropping our tape. It was like a two-part deal – he signed us and then we’d get like Columbia to put it out or something. And he was dropping our tape and all these record people came down from New York and everybody was like, ‘Um, I guess women in rock is just not happening right now.’ This is 1987, ’88, ’89. And can you believe, I mean, now – you can’t get away from it! And it’s probably going to level off a little bit but those were the comments we were getting. Same thing! And Mary Amsterbrook is as good as a songwriter as Sarah McLaughlin or any of those people. She’s way better than Jewel.
17. This tour is a tour of theaters and mid-sized venues. How are they different to play, acoustically, than clubs?
At first you think you have to play harder and you may play a little bit harder just ‘cause the sound’s got somewhere to go, but you’ve got such a great system. We’ve got this guy Bruno on the monitors and Paul [Languedoc] out front and all the sudden you realize that – it happens pretty quickly – you can do the same thing, but you’ve got all the head room, man. And so it’s pretty much the same. If anything, if I have no monitors, I might hit harder, you know?
18. What about versus playing outdoors at festivals?
Well it’s funny because we did the first theater, and then the second one I was like, ‘Yeah, this theater sounds better than last night’s.’ It’s funny that you’re saying that but it’s like even the theaters have their better sounds. You can go ‘This club sucks, it sounds awful!’ or at a place like The Higher Ground where it’s like ‘Oh that sounds really good’ – it’s the same thing. It’s the same odds sometimes…better odds I think, but you’re still definitely dealing with it.
19. You’re singing on this tour?
Yeah. Back-ups. And the whole Gordon Stone tour I was on the back of the van working on my harmony parts. I bought a little walkman – I just wore the thing out.
‘Cause I never did a whole lot of that. I did a little bit of harmony but when you’re playing drums you can’t go like ‘Okay it’s the root’ and then play the F chord – I can’t cheat man. I’ve got to know them by heart. I’m up on the drums. Some parts come easier than others. And I wanted to do a really good job; I wanted to nail it man. It’s important.
20. Every time you do any different project, you always pull something away from it with you. What do you think you’ve learned specifically from playing with Trey and Tony.
Let’s see. Obviously, putting things across. If anything, I was thinking about this, this morning when I woke up, how we haven’t really played that much together but how we pull…it’s like a professional band. ‘Okay we’ve got this amount of time and we’ve got to make it sound like this.’ We’ve just got quality players. Although some bands will do that, you know – do one rehearsal and they’ll go out and do the gig and it will sound really good. So that, and just the vibe and just having a good time and stretching out a little bit. And just like how Trey would go, ‘Just learn this song’ and throwing it out there and feeling good about that. And the whole energy. When we played in Asheville we had a night off and everybody went out to dinner and everybody relaxed and it showed in the gig, you know? It’s like a party kind of thing, you know? And musically it’s having some fun, just putting it out there man, just feeling good about it. And just seeing how it all pulls together. To me it was just amazing how I could lay down a beat and Trey would go write a song around it. It was like totally cool man! And a good song, you know? A really good song! That’s amazing.
That comes across in the music, I think. Music is always honest.
Yeah, you know it’s like when we did the 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes thing. That was like the best show I have done, ‘cause we had theatrics and things like that, in the least amount of time. Plus it was Trey’s doing. But it’s like he made a show out of it. You see how can you make something happen in the least amount of time and just really pull this off and make this like ‘wow’ impressive, you know?
21. Have you guys been talking about the shows afterwards and reviewing them that way?
Yeah, but not in full detail. I know Tony and I might pull aside, and we both want to do the best job we can do; we’re both very appreciative to be here, you know? But we don’t get into long detail about it. If we have a great show everybody gives each other a hug and we have a great night or there’s definitely some, ‘Woah, what went on tonight? That was amazing!’ or some night may be like, ‘Okay – it was good but…I get two. Every night.’ – I was talking to Brad about that. It’s like I remember watching the Olympics one time and you see these skaters and they’re going to be judged on this one performance and they fall down.
After practicing for months with perfect runs.
Right! What a drag! A so every day is different. The guy is having an off-day. I remember one night, I think it was St. Louis, I just didn’t have enough sleep and I was really spacing out and I played decent but it wasn’t like the night before and it’s like – why? Some days you can read the whole newspaper and some days you can’t even look at the thing, you know?
22. A question for the fanboys. What has been your favorite shows of the tour, favorite highlights, that sort of thing? So far, anyway – I know the Flynn and the Fillmore are still yet to happen.
South Carolina was really cool, the whole vibe of the town. It’s interesting – the first show was amazing ‘cause it was just sort of fun and we were feeling around a little bit. That was Ann Arbor. Then we were in uh…where were we after that, man? I wish I had my book with me – Chicago was it? But that was really good. And then like the third night it was really good too but I was a little not as relaxed…but something else happened. You know, like every night has had its own special thing. And I remember in Saint Louis – that was the night that I was slippin’. I wasn’t as on as I could be. But every night had its little special thing to it. And then at the 9:30 Club, that was really raging. I remember I broke two sticks and that was my big thing – I was like ‘Woah, I broke two sticks!’ I never break sticks, you know?
23. Did you throw them out at the crowd, ‘rock and roll’ style?
Ha! Nah, but actually I did give some sticks out to the kids. They asked me for them and that was beautiful. But every night has its things. I remember in Chicago, we got into this thing – we do ‘I Can See Clearly’ and we’d ride the D out and it would just kinda simmer down. And what was that other song? I think we were doing ‘Ooh Child’ and we’d just ride it out. We’d just ride out that groove and it was like Curtis Mayfield or something. And we’d just bring it way down and just play light. That was a night that the lighter stuff really worked, I thought, really well.
24. Any mad crazy road stories?
No, I mean it’s pretty common. We just get some folks backstage, hang out, meet some people and it’s been great and everyone’s really appreciative…But you know, we’re not raging around. We’re hanging out and staying out late once in awhile but it’s been great. I imagine if we stayed out there for a couple months it would get a little crazier or whatever. Start drinking more or something. Haha!
Interviewer Benjy Eisen is currently starring in Mountain Dew commercials as the ‘Do The Dew’ boy.