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Published: 2003/01/23
by Dan Alford

Rob Derhak Remembers Paradise

moe. had a busy fall; from winning a Jammy to releasing a Christmas album, they were all over the map- and in the coming days they will even be in that place on the map they rarely visit, the West Coast. The band is out on road, ringing in the New Year with a new album entitled Wormwood, a nearly seamless musical suite of older and newer tunes created from a relatively unique mix of live tracks and overdubs. [For more on the process of recording and mixing the album see Dean’s interview with Al. was able to catch up with bassist Rob Derhak and get his thoughts the new album, some old shows and the veracity of internet rumors.

Dan Alford: You just finished up doing a few Monday night shows with your new side project.

Rob Derhak: Swampdonkey.

DA: It’s essentially Reid Genauer’s band right? I bugged Nate [Wilson, Percy Hill] to play with moe. at the Jammys, and was happy to hear him sit in on "Opium" at BB Kings.

RD: Yeah, it's Adam Terrell, guitar player, Andy Herrick [drums] and Nate Wilson. I just started talking to Nate. They live around here, and it was just something that I wanted to do. I had been wanting to get together a side band, but I didn't really know anybody. But I knew Nate. He's sat in with us before and we're friends with him, and I called him a couple times when I had time to get something going. I wanted to play in another band, and I had some other tunes that I wanted to do, some other originals. I had called him a bunch of times, but he's kind of a hard guy to get a hold of. It was actually at the Jammys that I told him, and he was totally into the idea. So I went down to this bar when I got home from touring and talked to somebody, and then I got back to Nate. We were trying to figure out who else we could get to play, and he was so used to playing with these other two, he was like, "We should just have them do it. I'll see if they're into it." They definitely were. I didn't really know those guys. I knew Andy, but not very well, and I didn't know Adam at all.

DA: What sort of material are you doing?

RD: A lot of covers. Covering some Jeff Beck, and Grant Green, some organ grinder music. [laughs] Some classic rock stuff, a couple of moe. tunes. We're doing our versions. I call Meat "Meat Mach II". And "Timmy." I kind of cut the fat out of some of the songs that I just kinda get sick of playing. Stuff that's just been so ingrained- you know, there's nothing wrong with it. You just go through all these processes where you go from one person to another and we've done it so long that it's just evolved that way. And I went back to the basic form- I'm talking about "Timmy Tucker" specifically- and it's sort like how it started out. I just wanted to see how it evolves with different players, just for the hell of it. And "Meat", Al wrote that tune. I thought, "What would happen if I take all the sections and completely rearranged the way they go?" You know, start out with a different part, see if it could be a totally different song with all the same parts.

DA: What about the new material?

RD: Al and I did a duo, so one tune I wrote just before that that never became a moe. tune, and another song- I don't know if I ever even showed it to the guys. I guess we worked on it, but it wasn't really happening very well. I didn't really organize it; I call that tune "Diggin' In".

It's weird. Some of the weirdest stuff that you can't imagine working with moe. all of sudden clicks with the band. And some stuff I wrote specifically for moe., for some reason it just wasn't happening the way I wanted it to in my head, so we moved on to other stuff that worked out better. It's weird how that works; stuff you never think is going to be a moe. tune ends up being a moe. tune, and stuff you think would, the rest of the band isn't on the same plane. [laughs] Luckily we have enough writers that we're never suffering from a lack of material.

DA: Speaking of doing material with other players, you were part of a one night Power Jam in Tennessee, with Alan Hertz [Garaj Mahal, KVHW], Robert Walter, and Eric McFadden among others. How did that come about?

RD: [laughs] Yeah. That thing was weird; I didn't understand what was going on for most of it. [laughs] I got this call, and we weren't doing anything. Chuck was doing his All Thumbs thing that weekend, and Al was playing in Boston for the Transamericans that night, so I was like "Shit, I'll fly down. Sounds like fun." I'd never played with any of these guys. It was definitely a cool experience, to go in without any idea of what we're going to play, with four or five other guys I've never played with. [laughs] It was like, "This is a test right here." I showed up and we just sat there hashing out stuff for four hours before we started playing.

DA: When I heard it, it was more aggressive than I thought it was going to be. There’s soul jazz on there, but ass-kicking soul jazz…

RD: Hip Hug Her. Yeah, that was my introduction to that. I knew the tune, but when you go to play it and you haven't played it before, there're all these subtle, tiny changes. I was like, "What the hell is going on?" I think Alan is kind of an aggressive drummer, so that lent to that style. The other guys had played together before; they a little idea of what was happening.

DA: Well, how do approach guests sitting with moe.? There have been many in the last few months…

RD: [laughs] It comes easy because we do it so much. Generally we first say, "Hey do you want to play one of your songs?" [Peter] Frampton was totally not into playing one of his songs, like, "I don't want to take over the stage. I'm your guest and I'd rather play something that you guys play." He was a real gentleman, nice guy. We definitely don't look at it as someone taking over the stage. We look at it as an opportunity to do something different. When [John] Popper played, he was sort of against playing one of his own, but then we learned a couple Blues Traveler songs anyway. He ended up having so much fun that he sat in the whole night, and we were like "C'mon let's play Runaround'." We coerced him into it. And Warren [Haynes] is always easy to play with.

DA: Warren can slip in, but Bobby [Weir] probably wants to know what’s going to happen.

RD: Actually the last time Bobby played with us, he was really easy going about everything. When you have Bobby play with you, you don't want him to be like a sideman. You want him to come up and sing, so you definitely do songs that he knows. And he knows like a thousand songs, so it's not that hard. We ran through a couple things and everything went real smooth. We played at the Christmas Jam and he was on top of everything and we thought we gelled real well that night.

DA: Back in 97 he sat in with moe. on the Furthur Fest for Cryptical > Other One > Cryptical. Did you approach him?

RD: We approached him. We'd been playing that anyway. He was really gracious and nice; we were kind of nervous. The main thing was he didn't really remember "Cryptical". He hadn't played it in thirty years, so we had go through and teach it to him. And then Mickey was like, "That was really cool," but then he was telling us that we did "Cryptical" wrong. I think he said it was in seven and Vinnie was like, "No it's not. What're you talking about?" [laughs] Then they had some drummer conversation that I wasn't privy to. He used to play the drums when we played all the time. He'd just sit there playing his little kit. He'd sneak out and do it and disappear afterwards.

DA: Something else from the fall, your Paradise shows were widely acclaimed. I was at Garaj Mahal a couple weeks later and they kept coming up in conversation.

RD: I don't remember the shows, to be honest. [laughs] Going back and playing a small room, that's a weird little venue; the Paradise was always a cool place for us. Boston was notorious for us; for moe., something catastrophic would happen to us every time we played in Boston, and that happened for years. One year we opened for Ben Harper at Mama Kin, and right before we were about to go on and someone was like, "You guys gotta move your van because the cops are gonna tow it." And Chuck just took off; we had like five minutes before we were going to go on, and Chuck just took off. He was gone for fifteen minutes looking for a place to park. It was one of those things when we had forty minutes anyway, time was getting shaved off our set. Then one time at the same place we had our own gig and right in the middle of "Rebubula", that was our last tune, they just cut the power in the middle of the song.

So we're playing at the Paradise one time, I think the last catastrophe happened at the Paradise, where they had just put in a new PA system and wired something wrong and we were playing and one of the speakers just burst into flame. Shooting flames from it. The guy comes running up with a fire extinguisher, holds it up to the speaker. [laughs] Of course, we just start breaking into the song "Fire", and he holds it up to the speaker and blasts it, except he's holding it backwards and he nails some fan right behind him. It was like some three stooges skit; he nailed somebody with a face full of this fire extinguisher shit.

So going back to the Paradise is kind of like reliving the old Boston days when we used to scrape and scrounge for shit. It was a lot of fun, but I just remember being so frustrated, like, "What's going on? We're cursed here." So we go back top the Paradise and I have no recollection of anything, and then it all kind of comes back. I'm standing on stage and there's a giant pole right in front of me, and I'm like, "Oh yeah! That's right!" [laughs]

We've been having a lot of fun; we went through a phase doing a lot of Monkeys On Ecstasy [moe.'s stealth moniker]. We love to go back to these smaller rooms and play a tight set. Now I remember the Paradise, just recently. The first night was great. It was a real aggressive set; we were locking really hard. Vinnie was really pumping it on the drums.

DA: Speaking of Vinnie, you guys kept all the live drum tracks for Wormwood, right?

RD: He's always been a great drummer, one of the best guys anybody can play with. He keeps great time and he always plays the right amount. He's real tasteful. Vinnie can play in any band and fit in; that's the sign of a good drummer. All the drum tracks are live. We kept guitar and bass if they weren't out of tune. That's part of the problem doing it live; you're playing and your guitars, even if people don't realize it, are going out of tune constantly. Plus the whole band is doing it. If you get rid of it [the guitar track], you can hear it through somebody else's mic.

DA: I think most people know how the album was constructed, but whose idea was it? It’s a pretty unique approach, although I heard Zappa did it too.

RD: He did. In in this instance it was my idea. It wasn't even put together very well. I wanted to do something like this, and we just sort of ran with it. We were talking about doing more stuff, recording stuff on the bus or in hotel rooms, but it turned out we didn't have the time and the console we were using was so huge, there was no way we were going to get it in the hotel rooms.

The odd thing is that people do a live album to preserve the jam, and we actually took live tracks and pieced some live jams, and redid them as studio cuts. It's sort of a bizarre reversal.

DA: And most people do a studio album to preserve a song, its structure and all. Take out the jam.

RD: Yeah, the one thing that annoys me about jam band albums is when they try to jam in the studio and there's this long jam that is totally stale and goes nowhere. I can't stand that. I still wanted to have instrumental sections, so why don't we put something together where if you weren't paying attention to the i.d.s on the CD, you listen to it as one long piece of music? But we pre-think where we might want top have really minute dropouts, and we can actually listen to each tack separately and not notice they're tied together. That was the hard part. That whole thing is a set we played three or four times over the summer, that progression.

DA: Some of the tunes on the album have already been released on Warts and All, so what was the song selection process?

RD: Our manager said, "Try not to do too many songs you've done live," but I don't consider the Warts and All... They’re like a glorified burned CD, so I didn’t want to consider that, or have that be something that would take away from us using songs on an album. I couldn’t even tell you what songs are on Warts and All.

DA: What kind of say did you have in the second volume?

RD: The second one we had fans vote on. They picked, I think, seven, and we chose the best sounding of the seven. But I don't think I'd do that again. I didn't expect something like that. I thought they were going to pick something really weird and obscure, and they didn't. Everything was from that last tour we had done, and they were very similar.

DA: So are you going to treat it as an archival series then? It’s really more a live release series as it is, with shows from that same year.

RD: We want to pick live shows that are interesting for whatever reason. The first one we picked because we remembered it, the crowd being insane and us playing well. And we listened to it and we're like, "Yeah, it was." [laughs] The next one, I'm not sure what we might do. We had a couple of shows where we had no tapers at all, and a couple weird shows, so maybe we'll do one those since nobody has them.

DA: Last thing, I heard that you guys turned down Bonnaroo. Is that true?

RD: No it's not. We haven't made the decision yet.

DA: Such is the internet. Part of the rumor is that you’ll tour Europe.

RD: We're looking into it, seeing if they'll have us basically. [laughs] It's weird how these rumors get started. Last night friends of mine came up from New York to see the show in Portland, and they were like, "Reid's coming down to jam with you." And I was like, "What?" and they said, "You didn't hear?" First of all, why the hell are you driving from New York to come up here? Have you lost your mind? [laughs] And why would Reid come without telling me? He didn't, of course.

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