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Published: 2001/03/15
by Jesse Jarnow

Strange Houses – Bob Weir Drops Science

JJ: How do you relate to the content of a lyric while you’re singing it?

BW: Ahhhh, I try to just let it reveal itself to me. Each song, every story, is multi-layered. That’s pretty much the nature of a story. On a given evening, one layer of the story will just jump out of me, and I’m gonna live mostly there. I’m gonna be doing the story from that vantage point, from that point of view. Once again, that colors my perception.

JJ: You do tunes by a number of different lyricists, Barlow and Hunter and a fair amount of Dylan; do you differentiate between lyric styles while you’re singing, or does it just matter what song you’re singing at that particular moment?

BW: The lyric styles are most influenced by the guy that’s singing the song. By that, I don’t mean me. I mean the guy in the song, the character. They’re character driven, for the most part. And, that character… I won’t say on a nightly basis, but almost year to year, that character continues to grow and change and all that kinda stuff. That character has a different sort of mode of expression, a different personality. If you check in, let’s see, what’s a good example of this? Any of the tunes, actually, you’ll hear that – generally speaking, in my tunes – the characters in the tunes, their delivery is softening over the years. Maybe that’s because I’m getting older and some of that is leaking into these characters. They get different.

JJ: Do you have a similar historical sense with the lyrics as you do with the music where you’re entering the same kind of space?

BW: Yeah, absolutely. I won’t say it’s a make believe realm, because I’m not entirely sure it’s make believe. I think it’s every bit as real as this realm we consider reality, but it’s also every bit as fluid as this realm we consider reality.

JJ: How often do you find a lyric relating to your everyday routine?

BW: Rarely.

JJ: Really?

BW: Yeah. Well, until I go there and that’s my everyday existence.

JJ: Huh. Do you consider yourself an actor, then, from time to time?

BW: Yeah. Joseph Campbell actually called me a “conjurer”.

JJ: Different songs call for different kinds of treatments, in terms of improvisation and delivery. Some songs get short treatments, some get big open-ended things appended to them. How do you determine what gets what?

BW: Once again, I let the song dictate that to me. Let’s say, a song like Good Morning Little School Girl: it hasn’t opened up and exposed a whole new region, a whole new place to take it yet. Maybe it will someday. It seems that something like that is best delivered in a succinct manner, to me. We could jam on any tune endlessly, but some songs – for some reason – seem to lend themselves to that to others than other tunes. Like I said, I’m trying to be more open to the possibility to that almost any of the tunes that we’re playing could open up. That’s one of the things that we’re going to be looking into in the near future.

JJ: Still waiting for the 25-minute Mexicali Blues. (Both laugh.) You’ve integrated a number of Garcia/Hunter tunes into your catalogue over the past few years. How did you choose those specific tunes?

BW: I was just lonesome for them. And there are more coming for that matter.

JJ: Are there different qualities that make you want to do a Garcia/Hunter tune rather than a tune by another artist? Or is a good song just a good song?

BW: Well, there’s a little bit of that, that it’s a good song. But, with the Garcia/Hunter stuff, I know that stuff. I know where they live. I know where those tunes live. I grew up with them. They grew with me.

JJ: How much planning do you do before a show?

BW: For the time being, we’re gonna be working off a setlist, I’m pretty sure. Maybe towards the end of this upcoming tour we won’t be. I keep hoping that that’s gonna be the case. As our show gets longer and longer and we keep working up more and more new material. For the most part, I know all these tunes, the guys in the band can use a little heads-up with regards to what tunes we’re doing on a given night so they can brush up on them. I’ll generally do a setlist in the morning when I get up and then we’ll run over whatever anybody wants to run over in the soundcheck and see if we can stick to it in the evening.

JJ: Do you plan out segues?

BW: We plan out a lot of segues, and a lot of it doesn’t happen exactly as we planned it. A lot of the segues just sort of emerge, or just sort of arrive, however they will. Yeah, we do plan segues and stuff like that, but a lot of the fun of it is… We can talk it down a little bit, but we very, very rarely try to play through a segue, ‘cause that takes the sport out of it.

JJ: Does the nature of having a setlist tend to squash creative tendencies?

BW: No, ‘cause as often as not the setlist ends up being a pack of lies, anyway.

JJ: In that case, what goes into calling a song?

BW: If I hear something, or somebody else hears something, and just starts laying in a line that’s suggestive of that song, or that place to take it, and if everybody’s astute and listening, if everybody’s on his toes, we’ll go there.

JJ: How would you describe your style as a band leader?

BW: Laissez-faire. I do not rule with an iron fist. It would take the joy out of it for me. I know that some guys like to have everything just exactly so. I like surprises. The more I dictate, the less I get by way of surprises.

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