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Published: 2003/01/23
by Mick Skidmore

Ekoostik Hookah Ohio Grown

Ekoostik Hookah has long been a band that’s fused the old and the new together effortlessly. They certainly don’t need any introduction to readers but just in case you are not aware the band has released its best ever studio album in Ohio Grown. What follows interviews with Dave Katz and Ed McGee, so without further ado let’s get on with it. First is the interview with Dave Katz.

M.S. The new album is probably your strongest effort to date. I really think you have some great songs on this disc that reflect some of your influences. For instance I really like "Dragonfly" Did you approach this disc any differently from the others? To me it sounds much more diverse.

D.K. You are right it is very different. I think the tracking of it was the biggest difference. We used a really good engineer which made a big difference in getting the sound we wanted, It’s so much cleaner I think We didn’t deliberately approach it any differently than we did our other albums but we did do more varied stuff. It just turned out that way. It wasn’t a conscious effort to do more varied stuff. But we like the results. It’s a reflection of different member’s backgrounds and influences.

M.S. I really like "Raging River" which has a great groove. It’s kind of classic rock updated. I can hear influences of Chicago and Santana and I mean that in a positive way.

D.K. Well, thank you. That means a lot. I have always been a big Chicago fan.

M.S. The irony there is that most people that will read this think of Chicago as the middle of the road band that they are now. They have no idea that they were a dynamic rock band in the late ’60 early 70s. Terry Kath was a truly great guitarist!

D.K. Right, I still actually go and see them every time they play in the area and they still put on a good show. I was always into the horn bands like Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago and even the harmony bands like Seals and Crofts and folk-rock singers like James Taylor.

M.S. When you write songs do you do it in a really structured manner and is there any real difference between how the writers approach things?

D.K. Ed and I both have slightly different ways of doing this. I think I come to the band with a little more of a finished tune than Ed does but not in all cases. But always the rest of the guys in the band are free to work there own parts into the songs. I mean it is very rare that either one of us will say I want you to play this or I want you to play that. It does happen for certain parts of certain songs, but the final product reflects everybody’s influence and input.

M.S. Do the songs ever get turned around totally from their inception at any time?

D.K. I wouldn’t say totally but there are parts that get dropped and other things that are added.

M.S. With this album did you deliberately try to be more concise with the songs?

D.K. No, I don’t think we did. It seems to be pretty standard with the length of the songs. People always talk to us about trying to be more radio friendly but it is really hard to do. The songs just come out that way. They just come out seven to nine minutes. There are a couple of songs on their where our live versions are definitely a few minutes longer, so there was some effort to cut down some of the solo slots but we didn’t really cut much out of the songs at all. That’s just the way they are.

M.S. I hear a lot of CSN influences in your harmonies. Where they an influence?

D.K. Yes, that’s another band that I listened to for years and years and America. All the harmony groups, even going to things like the more progressive rock and roll stuff like Boston, Kansas, Yes. I love harmonies.

M.S. How are things progressing for Ekoostik Hookah? Do you think it going at the right speed?

D.K. I don’t know if there is a right speed. I guess the right speed would be fast and we are not doing it quickly. I don’t know. It’s slow and steady. It just keeps plodding along. Not having ever had any kind of tour support or anything like that makes it real difficult to hit the whole country hard. It’s pretty much impossible for us to that. We rely on word of mouth a lot and we just go out and have a good time. Generally wherever we go when we go back again there are a few more people than before and that is good. It’s not really that big of a deal. Sure, it would be nice to see it move faster.

M.S. I was wondering if as a band you were comfortable with where you are at and the fact that you have to take care of everything at a grass roots level from the managing, booking, selling CDs etc.

D.K. I would say in doing it this way the positives outweight the negative aspects but there are a lot of negatives. It certainly could move quicker. It would be nice to have tour support at times. Are we happy with where we are? is a kind of yes and no answer. Yes, I am happy even if it never got any bigger than this I would feel that we are quite a success in our own right and that’s a great thing. We had a great time doing it and hopefully we turned a lot of people onto good music. On the other hand it is kind of difficult to look at it and say this is as far as we can go. We hope that out music is worthy of going further and having more people listening to it. It goes both ways, but I think the most important thing is that we have maintained complete control over what we do- and not just our professional lives but our privates lives, which I think is real import, at least for us. We have all maintained some semblance of life outside of playing music which is hard to do once you start signing your life away. To me that is the big positive.

M.S. What do you think of the music industry?

D.K/ It’s a dirty business. I’ve been doing it in my own way since I was 15 years old. I did the hard rock thing. I lived in London for a while when I was in a hard rock band and we had European tours and we had a number three video on Music Box. That’s how we got over there. This was around 85 or 86. I saw that end of things. I don’t know what you call it the glam-rock, pop-rock and it was nasty. Totally nasty, people were screwing each other left and right. It’s not anything I ever wanted to be a part of which is kind of why I went to this grass roots things, at some point I decided although it is the business I’m in, I ma not really into the larger aspects of the "business." They just don’t really interest me that much. Money would certainly interest me like it would anybody else but man it is jut cut throat and I have seen so many bands get completely buried, bands that were good bands.

M.S it seems like the majors latch onto what they think is the next big thing. They put out their albums and do nothing with them.

D.K. Absolutely that is a tough route to go. If you get into the advance money and you spend that and you still owe it back. All of a sudden you can’t release your own material fro five years or you have to fight in the courts to get out of your own contract. It’s a mess. I’d almost rather stay away from it. We’ve always said we would remain independent unless someone came to us with the ideal contract which is unrealistic because it’s just not going to h append. At least that’s the way I look at.

M.S. It seems that some of the best music these days is made independently

D.K. Hopefully the musicians are deriving as much pleasure from the music as the people that are buying it. That has to be a part of it. If the musicians are not enjoying their part then frankly you end up with a lot of what went on in the 60s and 70s when musicians were signed to these big contracts and they end up dying. It’s hard to be on the road and keep up the demanding schedule that companies will put you through it if you do become successful. It’s out of hand, nobody should be expected to do what these people do because they end up being basically miserable and I don’t want to be miserable. I want to enjoy it.

M.S. Going back to the new album I kind of like the aspect of the different diversity. There’s country rock, jazz rock, some jams. It’s a real nice mixture. Is that something that just happened and do you intend to keep that diversity in your repertoire?

D.K. The diversity is something that we have always and will always like to do. I think you are right, it did happen a little more this time but I don’t think it is necessarily in the individual songs but it’s like having another player in the band. Having an extra percussion makes a different. If you take "Deal With It" which has the rub board, washboard thing on it, we haven’t really done that in a song before and that song without the washboard might not seem so diverse, but all of a sudden you have another layer that you can use. I think all of our songs that have been written in the last few years have gone even more towards the different types of music that we are writing—-I don’t know if I’m making any sensebut what I mean is that if we are writing a country type song, it is now more country than it would have been a couple of years ago. I think we are getting better at that.

Part Two Interview with Ed McGee

M.S. I’ve enjoyed all your past albums but this new one comes from a totally different level. It’s without doubt your best to date. How do you feel about it?

E.M. I actually feel sorry for the other albums because I think this one really kicks the rest of their asses (laughs). It almost makes me feel bad for them as their own entities because I think this one is so much better. We are all pretty psyched about it. I have never seen the band so proud of anything.

M.S. Is there anyone factor that you attribute to the quality of this album?

E.M. Well, for one thing we had Chris Sheppard come in from Chicago to engineer the album. He is just top-notch. He has worked with all kinds of bands in the past. He has won Grammies and all that. There was just something about working with him that makes everything so much smoother. I think he is the perfect combination of the technical expert where he is working in a very non-emotional level and just making sure everything from a technical aspect is nailed down. But then he does, when he needs to, get emotional and creative and he can come in and give suggestions that are more to do with the music and how the song is going. I just know that dealing with him helped. That right off the bat is one of the major differences. And recording it at home again was nice. I think the last album was recorded in Cleveland and Chicago and just being able to do it on our home town was very helpful

M.S. Now was the album recorded analog to digital?

E.M. This one was all digital. I’m afraid to answer this question too extensively because I’m going to sound like an idiot that doesn’t know what he is talking about….

M.S. That’s okay I can’t pretend that I know that much either, but people are interested in the technical aspects. I thought the album had a pretty warm and full sound.

E.M. I think on Seahorse and Where the Fields Grow Green we used mostly analog and a little bit of digital added. I think most of the basic tracks were analog and then we added vocal tracks that were synched up on digital. This one was all digital. We used the equipment that Chris Shepherd brought in. If anyone really wants to get into it all his basic stuff is at his site which is I think. We used Protools for all that and that was another factor because using Protools sort of helps make everything sound good and picks things up.

M.S. Now had you been playing this material for a long time prior to recording it? They seem like they are more arranged than usual.

E.M. I think most of them were, but we intentionally added more things to them that required some more thought. It wasn’t just that we went in and recorded songs that we knew by heart. We added different musicians. We added horns to one song ("Music") and that involved Dave having to basically write horn parts and direct everybody. Then we brought in a violin player for "Dragonfly" and I had to tell him where I wanted him to lay so there was a lot of extra added things involved and then there were a couple of songs that were brand new that we had never played. Cliff sings one song that is not our own "Sweet Lucy" but we had never played it before. We kind of learned it on the spot and recorded it. It’s a song by Michael Hurley. Cliff is a big fan of his.

M.S. Okay, I have three or four of his albums. He is what you might call a little zany!

E.M. Oh yeah, he is. Actually that’s being a little bit reserved saying he is zany.

M.S. Some of the best people are that way.

E.M. He is great.

M.S. The new album seems to have more textures already mentioned but it also seems much more of a song album even though there’s some lengthy soloing. Was this something you strived for or did it just happen?

E.M. I guess it was a little bit of both. I think for us when we go in the studio, we want to exploit the studio for what it is worth. We are basically a live band and that is our most natural setting. But we are also musicians and I think we all respect what the studio has to offer which is where you kind of slow down and you say "what would it sound like if we added a choir at the end of this song." We tried some things that didn’t work and we didn’t use them. For us it is more of a slower process —-you don’t have to do it all in the moment. You can slow down and experiment a bit. I think we all enjoy that ability. When I brought in the violin player I had originally planned on him playing in a different song and as soon as I heard it just didn’t sound right to me and right at that moment I thought that maybe it would be better to put him on Dragonfly, so just kind of having the ability to do stuff like that. It’s not what we normally do but it is also not unnatural. It is just a different media.

M.S. A lot of bands have that dual personality. They really are two different things. Making studio albums with great songs is an art.

E.M. Yes, it’s a completely different medium.

M.S. This is the closest you’ve come to being extremely successful with it.

E.M. Going back to your earlier question of what made this album so much better than the others, I always got the sense in the past that when we went into the studio it seemed like the guys in the band met the task with some reluctance. It was like it was just part of the job that we had to do instead of being a different outlet. It bummed me out a bit because I really enjoyed the change in the new challenge, but on this latest album I didn’t get that feeling at all. It seemed like everybody was looking forward to it and much more involved an interested. I think that change in moral had a lot to do with how it turned out.

M.S. My initial reaction was that I thought a couple of the songs could have been trimmed a little bit making the "song" aspect even more of an impact, although listening to it now I feel you get the best of both worlds. I think Dave (Katz) said that you have done some radio friendly edits of a couple of the songs. Is there a serious effort on your part to get some radio play?

E.M. Well, as far as I am concerned I have always thought that music is meant to be shared and the more people that can hear it the better. If it can get on the radio that would certainly put it to more people’s ears and of course it would be good for us. I have no problem with that. I think some people shy away from the radio.

M.S. I think that people that doing are really shooting themselves in the foot. Why not get some real good music on the radio?

E.M. Right, exactly. You are either part of the problem by not being there or you are part of the solution by being there. I’d rather be part of the solution. It’s difficult for me to write short songs. I found that in the past when I am writing songs I go "here’s a short one" and as soon as I am done with the arrangement and the band gets a hold of it we are, it’s seven to ten minutes again. There are a couple of songs that I think could be trimmed a little bit. I did that with "Dragonfly," I made attempt to trim that to radio time and it’s still essentially there. It’s strange to have to do that to one of your songs. It’s like some doctor saying that you have to chop a couple of limbs of your child and you have to choose which one.

M.S. Editing album cuts has been something that people have done for a long time. Take The Doors "Light My Fire" they cut the entire solo out for the single but it still worked.

E.M. That’s the perfect example of doing that and having it succeed I remember reading that when they did that the guys in the band weren’t even sure where they’d chopped it out. So we tried to do. I’d love to know that our music is getting to wider audience on the radio that would be great.

M.S. How difficult is it getting to the next level without tour support and everything?

E.M. I’m still losing my mind from the hours on the road. It’s always been a slow and steady process. Things are getting better and in certain distant towns we are getting to play bigger halls. It seems lately it has been a little more difficult. I think the industry has taken a hit across the board. I mean most of the bands that we are friends with are all saying that the numbers aren’t as good as of late. But despite that there are signs. We just played in a place in Detroit that was much bigger than we had played in before and that went very well. We’ve seen crowds increase in Boston. It’s definitely slow but it is happening.

M.S. Quite a few of the bands that I have spoken to over the years have gotten to the point where they gotten fed up with doing the business aspect of things, how do you feel about that?

E.M. Well the band as a whole has always been fiercely protective of our independence and I still think it is a good idea to some extent, but we have started to become more serious about considering options where we can have someone take care of some of the load without endangering our control over the music of course. We are more flexible than we used to be and have been considering our options as far as the business end because for a small in-house it’s a lot. Personally I try to stay away from it. I write songs and that is enough of a job as it is without getting involved in all the rest of it. One thing that scares us is that you sign some deal and you are putting yourselves on a list with other bands and that company doesn’t want you to be at odds or competing with other bands that are on that list. You are not even allowed to play when you want to and we love plying music so we’d hate to have to be asking permission to go get a gig somewhere.

M.S. What do you have planned for 2003?

E.M. Well, we are going to Jamaica again at the end of March. This will be our third trip. We just set up a package deal for people so they can for one sum of money get transportation, lodging and see us play three or four concerts or whatever it is going to be this time in Jamaica. That’s one thing. Of course, we have the two Hookavilles. We are already planning for that. We will also be touring extensively and we have some live recordings that Chris Sheppard recorded for us of shows last year, so hopefully we are going to be releasing some of that. Personally I plan on just writing a bunch of songs. I have so many songs that I have been working on, on the backburner. I am actually looking forward to the next week or so and I am going to be hopefully finishing up some music. I am just looking forward to having more material in the repertoire.

M.S. What do you think of the music scene at present? Is there anything that you’ve heard that you are excited about?

E.M. Our band is comprised of people of incredibly different musical tastes so this answer will be an Ed McGee answer and not a Hookah answer. I was always a big fan of Phish and I was very excited that they got back together and that’s making a big buzz because they were gone for so long. I just got back from seeing their three shows in a row in Hampton, Virginia. I had a great time. So, just as a Phish fan that was exciting for me. There’s certainly a lot of buzz about the Bonnaroo Festival. I think it is kind of cool that that festival put together so many quality acts. We have played many festivals over the years but this one seemed to be king. It just pulled in so much talent. I was kind of hoping we could go to that one.

M.S. What about Hoohkaville, do you have anyone in mind for this year’s shows?

E.M. I have some personal favorites. I’d like to see Alison Krause and Union Station, Emmylou Harris. I feel we have somehow missed out on getting female or female vocal oriented acts. I am a big fan of female vocalists. I love that new live album by Alison Krause and Union Station, so I’d love to see them there, but we are still in the planning stages. I don’t even know how many invitations we have out now. Hopefully within the next month we will have some announcements to make about who is going to be there. I say bring on the women! It’s funny I am kind of running out of people that I want…it seems like a lot of the bands have already been there. Like Bruce Hornsby I was going for forever and we got him last year. It is a blast to just sit around and look at my CD collection and say "who can we invite," I’m still not quite used to that.

M.S. Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you could be in a position where you are hosting a festival with some of your musical heroes?

E.M. No. It's amazing. Some people often say it must be like a dream come true, but I'm I never ever bothered to dream that. Why would I think that! It's amazing after a show we sit around in the van or at the hotel and literally just brainstorm….it's kind of like throwing a party and it's your house and you get to choose what to play on the stereo real loud except they are actually there.

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