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Published: 2001/03/15
by Benjy Eisen

Russ Lawton: Man in Motion

Benjy: The first batch of tunes sound like they were written around the same time. They’re like snapshots from the same time and place. Does this batch also have that cohesive quality to them?

Russ: Yes. We haven’t gotten together in a year and a half and now this is kind of where I’m at, or whatever. That other time it was a little more rocked out and now it’s a little more like taking a few steps back for the chilled out funk, you know? Smoke a joint and [kick a beat]. Those are the ones that we’re holding up. There’s a lot more stuff on tape but Trey weeded through them and picked what he wanted, so that’s what’s going through his head now too. We’ve been doing a lot of stuff where we’ll snap it down. Like I was saying, we were in his basement, looking at each other, playing light, his kids are sleeping, and it was just feeling good. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing anything by not slamming it down. There’s a lot of them there, in that category.

Benjy: Let’s talk about the covers.

Russ: Of course we whipped out “Ooh Child” again and it’s totally brilliant with the horns. It’s like “OKAY!!” We do one called “It Makes No Difference” by The Band. Oh man! A day before the first show we did a tech day at the Orpheum, and my wife was at soundcheck and she goes, “Damn, that sounds really good.” If she doesn’t like something, she’ll tell you.

Benjy: And then there’s “Mellow Mood” by Bob Marley.

Russ: Yeah and that one too, man!! I got a rehearsal tape of that and I was listening to it. We literally put the tape on, came back and got our harmony parts. The first time we played it I said there’s something going on with this song, the way we’re doing it, where it already sounded good. We only half knew what we were doing and Trey’s talking us through it and it already sounded good. We did that last night and it was good.

Benjy: Are there any other new songs for this tour that you haven’t played yet?

Russ: Yeah. There’s one other funky kind of one that I was thinking about this morning that I would like to do.

Benjy: An original?

Russ: Yeah, and I can’t think of the name of it. It’s got that funky kind of laid back beat thing. There’s one called “Sidewalks of San Francisco.” We played that one last night. “Till I Met You” – that one’s cool. We haven’t done that one yet. I think that one’s still in limbo. It’s a cool one. There are a couple things that will probably pop up. I think what Trey likes to do with the covers is that you always have something in reserve so you can change the set up. It’s like last night during setbreak – I was talking to my friends and I was like, “I’ve got to get backstage because something may be up that I’ve got to huddle for or something.” There are a few things we haven’t done. Tony has brought in some that show his influence, some New Orleans kind of tunes. What’s the name of the song? “Cry To Me?” Maybe something like that. We’ve talked about doing some other tunes now that we have the horns.

Benjy: I think the biggest question that everyone wants to know is: Are there any future plans?

Russ: Well tonight will only be the fourth gig, but I remember up at Syracuse this week we said “We got to do this again. And this is definitely going to be too short.” So I’d like to believe that we’re going to do some more. First we’re just trying to get through this, but in my heart I really think that we’re going to do something again. I think it’s pretty special and we all know that. Trey’s got a lot of stuff that he wants to do. He’s worked really hard with Phish and doing that symphony thing that he did and he’s got a lot of ideas man, but I think we can fit it all in.

Benjy: Last time, so many of the originals eventually made it into the Phish repertoire. A lot of those beats are yours. How conscious of that were you when you worked on these new songs?

Russ: There’s no thought about that one iota. We’re doing what we feel like. Never think about it. Even before, I remember Trey saying, “We went to the first day of recording. Do you mind if we do those songs? It’s probably going to be awhile before we get together and I really want to do those.” That was a compliment. I said, “Man, it’s an honor that you guys would cover these songs.” I just laid down some groove, man. He’s the one that did all the work, as far as being the songwriter.

Benjy: Trey brought songs from this band to Phish. Did he ever bring Phish tunes to this band? In rehearsal even?

Russ: Not really, no. We haven’t done Phish covers. I think he’s done that song from Farmhouse, [sings: “When I woke up, I had a bucket.”] That’s really the only Phish song he’s done so far, other than what we did originally.

Benjy: For the last tour, it was first set Trey solo, second set full band. This time it’s both sets, full band.

Russ: Right. And then in the middle he may go out and do a song with Tony on the acoustic, or he may do one by himself, like that one from Farmhouse, or there’s one he does with just the horns. It’s diverse to blend the set. It’s a nice mix. It’s a really nice mix. It’s the kind of band I like to be in, you know?

Benjy: And you like having both sets, because you get to play more?

Russ: Well, yeah whatever. I liked it last time because I’d go out and listen to him and I’ve grown really fond of a lot of those songs. But this is really cool. I’m getting beaten up out there.

Benjy: We started this interview by going back and rewinding to when the last Trey tour ended. Let’s skip ahead now and fast forward to when this tour ends. What’ll you do?

Russ: I’m going to call Gordon Stone. I know we’ve got a few gigs in March. I’ve got some local gigs around town. I’ve got to mix down the Rhythmo Loco album – I’ve got one more vocal to do. I’ll be psyched to get that out. And we’ve got a few gigs. We’re going to do once a month in Salem at Dodge Street. Actually I’m going right from this tour into the studio with this songwriter. I guess he had like a number one hit in England last year. His name is Bobby Gosh, from New York. I’m doing his new album. And then things are kind of piecing together. I know with Gordon Stone we’re playing Saratoga, New York at the end of March. And hopefully we can make a new album. I’m definitely psyched to get back together with him and Rudy because that’s been sounding really good too. We’ve had some really great shows. We’ve been doing it as a trio and it’s been really good. Rudy tunes in to what we’re doing and it’s been really sounding great. I’m looking forward to doing this album project too because I love going into the studio. I’ve done some recording this year up where Pork Tornado’s recording an album now. I’ve done a couple album projects up there and I’ve got some percussion stuff to finish. Things are coming in.

Benjy: If you had to sell the show to somebody, what would you sell them on?

Russ: I would say that it has a lot of depth and a lot of versatility. It’s a whole bag of tricks. You’re going to get some serious funk, some serious groove, and you’re going to get some really good melodies for your head to walk out of the room. And you’re going to get some uplifting heartfelt stuff too. It’s very emotional music.

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In 1998, Benjy Eisen pioneered the modern day tag-line.

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