Music Is Nothing that Everything Else Isn’t: An Interview with Max Creek’s Scott Murawski
DB: Do you think that association with the Grateful Dead carried a stigma?
SM: In some ways I think it still does. I meet people who are closer to my age, who were around at that time who have never seen us and they ask me “What is the name of your band?” I tell them Max Creek and then say, “Oh, it’s a Grateful Dead cover band.” And I’ll say “Well, it probably hasn’t been for at least fifteen years but if you want to think of it like that…” But in part that came about because back then “Grateful Dead Music” was the only title for it. Now you have the whole jam bands thing because there are so many people who are doing it.
DB: How has your own performance style evolved over the years?
SM: When I started it was often a race to see how fast I could play, how many notes I could fit in. Then I started listening to more jazz people. I had a Pat Martino tape. I can still put that on and be mystified by what he’s doing. It’s mind-blowing. You listen to some guitar players and they’re fast because they’re playing some easy shit. Then you listen to Pat Martino and he’s not playing anything easy, he’s all over the fretboard and he’s still fast. This isn’t easy stuff to play slow and he’s burning it up. Then it got to the point where I just wanted to be able to play anything that I heard in my head, so that anything I heard, no matter where I was on the fretboard I could get it out. I did that for a while. I am not one of these people who’s just a guitar-hound, who eats, drinks and sleeps guitar. I see myself as more of a writer than a guitar player. I have a roomful of instruments and I will play all of them. Rarely will I pick up the electric guitar first. Usually I’ll pick up the acoustic. I have a banjo in there I’ve been playing quite a bit, I have a pedal steel and a bass, a couple of keyboards. The thing about it is, by developing your skills on any of these instruments, when you come back to the guitar, you’ve improved, you’ve learned something that can be translated to the guitar.
DB: You mentioned that you think of yourself as a writer. How has your writing changed over the years?
SM: I think I could do better (laughs). I am never satisfied. I will write a tune and be satisfied for a day. I write with a tape deck because I can’t stand waiting, I’m instant gratification boy. I have to play all the parts, put all the drums down, do all the harmonies. So when I hear something in my head, a couple of hours later I want to hear the whole thing.
This goes back to my guitar playing too but I think that music is nothing that everything else isn’t. What I mean by that is the whole universe is a vibration, the planets go around, and that’s a very slow vibration. The tides are a little faster vibration. Then you get down to the human heartbeat which is faster and then a vibrating string which is faster yet. I think that it’s all harmonics. So one of the improvements in my playing is lalalam not driving the music, I’m trying to forget about what I’m doing and whatever that moment is just let it express itself through me. Rather than thinking about what I’m playing, I’m thinking about what I feel, whether by having my eyes closed and thinking about that people that I love or looking out into the audience and watching someone dancing. A better musician is more of a conduit for the energy rather than the source of the energy. And the same is true for songwriting.
DB: You’ve been playing with the core members of Max Creek for a while now, what does that familiarity bring to your performances?
SM: When I jam with other people that’s when I really notice what we have. There are some things that happen that are totally unexplainable. There is interaction there that goes beyond words, that I can’t even explain. The core relationships are filled with all the things a marriage is filled with. When you’ve been with people week in and week out for twenty eight years, you know way too much about them. You love these people for who they are, and you love them for all the shit that you hate them for too. But when we get up there and play, and it happens, there’s no beating it. You just can’t touch it. When we’re out there in an improvisation, at a point where there is no form, there are times when it’s just unbelievable. There are moments when I am a spectator, where I am inside of my head looking at my hands which are playing stuff that I have no clue where it’s coming from. It’s like you perform these tasks to get it started but then as it goes on it builds its own energy mass and the next thing you know you’re no longer inputting into it, it’s inputting into you. It’s taking over. There will be these moments when I’ll think “Whoa, this is unbelievable,” and I’ll look over at John and he’ll be like “Yeah, this is unbelievable,” and it’s happening to everybody at the same time. When it happens, everybody knows. The audience knows. It’s a magical thing, and no one person is responsible, it’s just a whole vibration that everyone is resonating to.
DB: Let’s talk about your big festival, Camp Creek.
SM: It’s one of the shows I most look forward to every year. The first one was in Connecticut in 82. Then we did three or four up in Maine and then we took a few years off. What happened was these were one shot deals. We’d burn our bridge. They’d tell us “You can’t come back here, that was too much.” Well we found this place out in New York, the people who run it, as long as you don’t bring glass or light fires, they are absolutely pleased to have us there. The setting makes it feel like you’re isolated from the rest of the outside world for the weekend. The thing I like about this is it’s our festival, we’re running the show. If I feel like going up and doing a set then I go up and do a set. We try to vary the other acts to expose our audience to as many musical styles as possible and introduce everybody to everybody. We try to promote musician camaraderie and jamming. In fact there’s a lot of playing that takes place off stage and that’s really gratifying as well.
DB: Who are some of the favorite people you’ve had the opportunity to play with?
SM: Playing with Merl (Saunders) a few weeks ago was personally memorable for me. It looks like we’re going to do more stuff with him too. Every time Mike Gordon has sat in with us, it has been a great experience.
DB: You’ve known him for a while. That must have been interesting watching his career develop.
SM: You know people are always saying “It must piss you off that Phish is so successful, you were doing what you were doing long before they were and blah blah blah.” Phish is great. I think Trey has excellent compositional abilities. I have great respect for them, and I love every one of them as a player. I think they work their asses off, and I have a lot of respect for that. People are always asking is there tension between you and Phish, well not as far as I’m concerned, and not as far as anyone else in my band or their band that I know of. I don’t think there is any tension there, that’s a myth. Some people just love that kind of stuff. (editor’s note- a few days after this interview took place, Scott joined Phish on stage at the Tweeter Center for “Possum,” and “Tuesday’s Gone.”)
I’ll tell you a story about Mike though. He used to come out to shows when we were playing in Vermont. Well one time he taped the show, brought it home and transcribed one of my guitar solos. Then the next time we played up there he brought the sheet music for me. He said, “I wrote out one of your guitar solos, I was just trying to figure out what you were doing.” All I could say was “Wow. Thanks.”
DB: One final question,. not to lay all this elder statesman crap on you, but do you have any words of wisdom for younger people out there just getting started on the guitar, thinking about putting together their first band?
SM: Let me just quote some other people for that. First, “the best musician knows when not to play.” Someone told me that as a teenager and it’s one that has stuck with me. The other one, which I think is attributable to Dizzy Gillespie, is “Learn as much about music as you can and then forget all that shit and play.”