‘Simmering Like A Good Spaghetti Sauce:’ Food Metaphors, Setlist Construction and the New Deep Banana Blackout Album
The past twelve months have been a transitional period for Deep Banana Blackout. The group has successfully weathered the departures of vocalist Jen Durkin, and trombone-player Rob Volo, welcoming Hope Clayburn (vocals, sax, flute) and Bryan Smith (trombone, tuba). The band also experienced a management shake-up amidst a flurry of record label courtship. The octet eventually signed with Flying Frog Records and began sessions for the long-anticipated follow-up to its studio debut, Live At The Thousand Islands. At present the momentum is building as the band recently completed a well-received opening slot with the Allman Brothers Band. In addition, Flying Frog Records released Feel the Peel on July 17. DBB Guitarist Fuzz touched on all these topics while calling in from Colorado where the band was off in the midst of its near-perpetual tour.
Updated Deep Banana Blackout tidbits can be found at www.deepbananablackout.com.
DB- Before we talk about the new album, let’s discuss your experience on the road with the Allman Brothers Band.
F- For one thing it was a great musical experience because we had the opportunity to play with them during their set every night. The horns would get up and do an Otis Redding song, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” Then I would come out with Johnny, and halfway through the tour with Erik as well, and we would all do “Southbound.” Especially towards the end of the tour everybody was swapping licks. Also towards the end of the tour Marc Quinones came out and sat in with us on timbales, and Warren and Derek played some guitar with us as well. They’re great guys. I knew that going in but you could really see it on a daily basis. Their crew is also really cool so it was smooth. I thought it was great exposure for people who hadn’t seen us before.
DB- At Great Woods [Tweeter Center] Marc came out with his sticks and he was just so rapid-fire that at one point Johnny just stood back and started cracking up.
F- Marc’s just insane. Johnny really idolizes him. He’s one of the first percussion players that Johnny took notice of. When he was young he went to an Allman Brothers show and it was like, “Wow, I really dig what that guy’s doing.” This was long before he got into the whole world of percussion-playing. He was a drum-set player at first. They hit off right away too.
DB- Over the course of your touring I would imagine that you’d already met every member of that band with the exception of Gregg.
F- And Jaimoe.
DB- I assumed you had known each other through Connecticut music circles.
F- We have a lot of common friends but the first time we met was on the first day of the tour. He came up to me and said, “Fuzz, you seem like a Fuzz.” We saw Jaimoe quite a bit on this tour. He was the guy was hanging out. He got there early and he was always there during our set. He’d come out and have dinner when we had dinner.
DB- What about Gregg, how much did you interact with him?
F- He approached me a couple nights after we started the tour, shook my hand and said, “It sounded really good last night.” He was real friendly although he didn’t hang out with us. He said something to one of the other guys about being on Butch’s label. He made some reference to it being cool and that he knew that any band Butch had signed would be good. There was a good vibe coming from him. I could tell that he liked us and that was good enough for me.
DB- When you came out for “Southbound” you were over on his side of the stage and he seemed to be really getting into it.
F- I wasn’t going to get too much in his face, turning around and doing too much interacting with him. I gave him an occasional nod and he did the same. Actually the first time I came out he nodded me over to Warren because I didn’t know who was going to be cueing the stuff.
DB- I thought Hope in particular really shined when you guys came out with the ABB.
F- Their attitude was that usually it’s guitar-guitar-guitar so that when the horns came out it was a new fresh thing. That gave everybody a good feeling. Warren said he wanted to interact with the horns more. He was always doing guitar duels with Derek so I think it was a cool thing for him to duel it out with the horns.
DB- What were some of your favorite moments from your sets?
F- Our set would go by so quick, we were doing 45 minutes, that the things that stick out the most for me was our sitting in with the Allmans. But I particularly enjoyed doing the new songs like “Raspberry” and some old favorites that their audience really seemed to get into, “Hear My Song” and “Pure Gravy.” It was just cool to see that their fans were enjoying what we were doing.
I know a lot of people liked it when their guys came out with us. Derek played with us on “Getchall In the Mood” and “El Sol Esta En El Fuego.” It was kind of cool because “El Sol” has this eastern tinge to it and I know he’s into that kind of thing. And then “Getchall” is a funk jam which is different than what he does with those guys as well. I really got to know Derek on this tour. He came back onto our bus a few times after the show and we played some guitar together.
Now that I think about it there were a lot of cool moments from our sets. We did “B’gock” one night and it was really over the top. We’re a little more goofy than any of the Allmans so I think they were half-shocked, half-entertained by us out there making chicken sounds and then moving into this really heavy rocking stuff.
DB- You mentioned the length of your set. This brings up a topic that interests me. On most nights you are the one who writes the setlist. Describe the challenges in putting it together and the factors that you balance. For starters, how long does it take you to complete it?
F- It can range anywhere from twenty minutes to a couple hours- not that I’m just sitting there working on it for a couple hours. Sometimes I have to come back to it. I’ll bust it out early if we have a long drive but if there’s a good movie playing or a good conversation going on in the van, I’ll put it aside.
I try to keep careful records of what we did the last time we were in a town so I can make sure it’s different. It can be time-consuming because there are so many rules to making a set work right. There’s also each person’s request, “Can we not follow this song with this song because I have to do this,” or “I’m playing almost the same in this song as I am in the last song.” We used to rotate it but one of the reasons that I kind of do it fulltime is because people would forget about the little things and then we’d be on stage with our thumbs up our asses trying to pick the next song because someone didn’t want to play something.
DB- You also sketch out who is going to take the principal solo in a given song. I would imagine that complicates things quite a bit.
F- Sure because any of them are open to anyone. We can throw a drum solo in there instead of a sax solo. That’s another thing- I also pay attention to who solos the best in certain songs and who seems to like to solo in certain songs, as well as who soloed in that song last night or the last time we were in a certain city. That’s a lot of stuff to think about but I think it all counts. Of course when it’s all done and it looks like a really cool night that’s when someone comes in and says, “Could we not do that song tonight.” [laughs] If somebody’s not into something then I change it because I’m not the iron fist.
Sometimes it’s a little stressful but I enjoy it and I’ll take that over standing on stage not knowing what to do next. Thankfully though, lately we’ve had minimal audibles with the setlists.
DB- So the eight of you divide the responsibilities, with you working on the lists and the other members pitching in elsewhere?
F- Yes. It’s hard to have a complete democracy in every area so each of us has some aspect that we run with. I also tend to be responsible for the arrangements. Some of the other guys focus on booking or the management side of things. Hope works on making the sections sound really good, in particular the vocal harmonies. That’s a good thing because Hope is really motivated in that way. There’s more of a fire under our asses these days, in part because we had to get moving to try to put a new band together. In the past someone might suggest, “Let’s try to work on this vocal thing,” and everybody would say, “No, we got that.” I’d be like, “We’ll its acceptable but it doesn’t kick ass.” What’s good now is everybody’s paying attention and working pretty hard.
DB- Well that’s a fine transition to Feel The Peel. As you go back and listen to it now, Id like to hear your impressions.
F- For so long during the mix-down I really didn’t have an opinion because it was really testing my patience as a human being working around the clock. But now I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of those records that you can listen to a lot and find lots of new things. There are a lot of variations from one song to the next and even within songs. It’s almost like a good movie that you can watch a number times and say I used to like this but now I’m into this.
Feel The Peel is a little more focussed, a little more song-oriented and not as in-your-face as other things we’ve done. It’s still rocking, still grooving and still soulful but not necessarily machine-gunning you down. Those elements still get incorporated into the live show but on the record we wanted to get past the blasting guitar, blasting vocals and let it sit there simmering like a good spaghetti sauce.
It also helped that we had the opportunity to work with producer Tom Dowd. It was a big learning experience. It taught us all when you pay attention to detail also when to know that something’s done and move along. For somebody like him who’s been in the business for so long, that’s like a sixth sense. It’s easy to understand but it’s not as easy to explain. He knew how to get the best out of everybody without telling anybody how to do anything.
He also helped us to get through a mountain of work because he focussed on the vocals. We went down to Florida, a really cool place, the Hit Factory in Miami. It was great just to get out of the northeast and go to Miami in January. But then on top of that we got to work with Tom. I had to be getting under his skin a little bit because I kept saying, “We gotta get this done” and I had a huge list of all the things we had to do. I don’t think he realized how involved our vocal session was going to because there were so many combinations- me and Hope, Rob and Bryan, Rob and me, the four of doing four-part with two of us singing lead and then swapping the lines. There was a lot of stuff going on. Without keeping careful track we could have let things slip by, “Well we forgot to put the chorus in that song”It was a lot to think about and a lot to accomplish. It proved to me how good he was that we got it done in five days.
DB- Not only that but he isn’t feeling so well these days, right?
F- He had just gotten over an operation earlier that year which is why we went down there. He couldn’t fly. He seemed to be in pretty good health, though. I don’t know if he wanted to do this but we had him working pretty long hours. We were in there from eleven in the morning until ten at night. He got a taste of what we’re like, we can be workhorses. We have limited time when we can record because we have to get back to tour.
DB- Well the vocals stand out in a number of places. “Rocco’s Lament” comes to mind. I really like Hope’s sense of restraint, until she lets loose in the end and really brings the point across.
F- Yeah, she saves that final straw for the end. I like the way she approaches everything she does more as an instrumentalist which I think ultimately is a good thing.
DB- What song was the biggest challenge to record?
F- I think that getting “La Familia” or “Everybody.” We wanted to make sure that we captured the authenticity in terms of how those tracks sounded. A song like “What I’m Talking About” we did in one or two takes. We can come in and slam a rock thing but then a softer Latin thing takes a few shots before we can say, “Now we’re capturing the vibe.” Those were the more challenging ones.
DB- I know your opinion tends to fluctuate on this, but right now what are your favorite moments on the disc?
F- I really like the way “La Familia” came out especially when it kicks into the double-time part. I also really like “Rocco’s Lament.” It’s a song we don’t play that often live because we’re all about pumping up the audience. But in terms of production, the way it was mixed and especially the transition into the Rhodes solo, the arrangement really comes alive. I also really like “Big Thing.” I thought that was cool. We had our friend Brad Mason come in and he plays trumpet and EWI on the record. EWI is the thing that puts that gangster tinge on there and I really dug what he did. The part we put together for the chorus just gave it a really cool vibe.
DB- How would you compare this experience with the recording of the first Deep Banana disc?
F- I think the biggest difference was with Live at the Thousand Islands I’m not sure how serious anybody was. There was much more of an idea about what we were going for with this record. Live at the Thousand Islands was more, “Let’s set it all up and see what happens.” This time we prepared quite a bit more. For instance, we made sure Cy had all the right keyboards. I wanted to make sure he had piano and fender Rhodes and Hammond organ because I knew there were certain songs that would sound better. So I needed to book a studio with that in mind. It was also a big difference from the first time where we were like, “Why don’t we throw this in there?” “Okay that would be cool.” It was more on the fly. This time before we recorded anything we decided to record in particular places to get certain sounds.
DB- Jumping ahead, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the Gathering of the Vibes.
F- I know that a lot of people were disappointed and I was too. Things didn’t happen that I expected would happen but I still had a good time. When I first got there on Friday and saw the site and how it was laid out, I thought this is by far going to be the best festival these guys have thrown. Unfortunately the weather kind of got in the way. The Saturday night thing was really cool though. There was a great vibe on stage and it all went by so quickly. When someone wasn’t up there people were goofing around backstage. George Porter was making lots of funny wisecracks, Dickey Betts was goofing on everybody, Logic was back there and Bernie [Worrell] too. I also enjoyed hanging out with Buddy Miles, who was a really nice guy. It was great working with Ray Manzarek and Matt Abts as well. I thought that although the daytime stuff got a little screwy it seemed like whatever they were able to fit in was still really cool.
DB- The band is returning to Japan in August. Describe your first trip over there.
F- The Last time we were there it was pretty freaking amazing. When we went in June we were really surprised at the response. We weren’t aware they were that familiar with us. It seemed like quite a few of these kids had been listening to us for a few years and a lot of them knew all the words. It was like they had been waiting for us and they were really cool. We went on at one thirty in the morning and played until five and they stayed there until the very end. The whole place was raging. It was one of the coolest scenes that we’d ever played to. I’d heard it was cool in Japan but until you go experience it yourself you really don’t get a handle on it.
This time I’m going to stay over there for a week afterwards. I’m really looking forward to it. E [DBB road manager] and I just bought one of those CD and books to try to learn the language. I want to try to get familiar with it because they’re making the effort to speak our language. They know it a little bit and I want to at least be halfway there too, have a few basic things down.
DB- Final question. You’ve been out there for a while now with the new line-up in place. I’m curious what sort of feedback has been floating your way.
F- I’m aware there are people who don’t like what we’re doing, who think that it’s not as good as it used to be. But I also think for every one of those there are quite a few more who think it’s really cool and like it even better. That’s all that really matters because as long as there are people out there who are digging it then we’re still going to be doing this. We’re always trying to cut the bullshit, and make good music, hopefully something that musicians will like as well.