‘Lets Rip This Thing Apart’- Talking DeadFloyd with The Machine’s Todd Cohen
"Who covers Pink Floyd and WHY??", was the question I asked ten years ago when I first heard of The Machine. I had passed on a show or two when I was in high school because the thought of someone doing justice to the Pink Floyd catalog in the live setting just seemed, well, impossible. But I was finally coerced into seeing them at Wetlands (where else?) and was absolutely floored from start to finish. The highlight of the evening was a virtually perfect "Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Part I)" which segued right into "Shine On (Part II)", complete with a ten minute jam over the ending section that sounded nothing like anything I'd heard Pink Floyd do. Now mind you, this isn't just a bunch of kids playing Pink Floyd with a fuzz box and a synthesizer. The Machine has a professional set up comparable to some bands two or three times its size. The group comes complete with a light show, including the obligatory helicopter searchlight, heartbeat and clock chimes, all of which result in a satisfying live experience.
But The Machine’s talents don’t end there. It toured for a while as "Beatlejam" doing very well by the repertoire of the greatest band in history, and will now be taking to the road as DeadFloyd, described as" a jam-band integration of the music of The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd." Joining them will be several stellar musicians, including Matt Abts, Jeff Pevar and Johnny Neel.
I recently caught up with Todd Cohen, drummer for The Machine, to discuss a variety of topics, including Bonnaroo, where The Machine played not once, but twice.
*Dan Greenhaus: So lets start off with the obvious question, where did the
concept for "DeadFloyd" come from?*
Todd Cohen: The truth is kinda funny actually. The Machine’s keyboard player (Neil
Alexander) was going away for most of August and July, and I wanted to do
something where I could still do a "Machine" show, but have the opportunity
to do something different. I was speaking to my agent about this, and he
recommended Johnny Neel. And along with Johnny Neel comes Matt Abts
because of their "X2" package. And since Joe (Pascarell, Machine guitarist)
and I had gone out with Jazz is Dead, we decided to go crazy and add Jeff
Pevar as well. So basically it all stemmed from not having a keyboard
player for a little while. And the common denominator between all the
players was really simple; Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead.
DG: So was Jeff really the "catalyst" for The Dead aspect of it?
TC: Well, Joe and I had gone out with Jazz is Dead last year with Jeff, and
Joe is a tremendous Deadhead to start with. And in fact, The Machine used
to play a lot of Dead back in the first five years of the band.
*DG: So it made sense with all these players to do a little something with
TC: My main goal and concern was that we could jam more. That’s what I was
really concerned with.
*DG: Being that quality jamming isn’t all that easy, how much practice went
TC: Not as much as you might think. Individually, we are all so familiar
with the material, its just a matter of getting out there and playing it. I
guess its kinda fun not having rehearsed it all that much, so it keeps it
*DG: Have you guys worked out what songs and setlists you are going to play
and what you aren’t going to?*
TC: We collectively came up with a group of songs from both bands that we
were all familiar with that we were going to play, and a group of songs that
we weren’t familiar with that we were going to play.
DG: And the setlists are going to vary from one night to the next?
TC: Oh definitely. We have a ton of material between the two bands we want
*DG: Which of the Grateful Dead songs are you looking forward to playing
TC: Definitely Terrapin Station. Slipknot too. Those are lots
of fun to play.
*DG: Changing gears, lets talk about Bonnaroo for a minute. Tell me about
that. What was it like playing that festival?*
TC: Absolutely amazing. We got to play in front of A LOT of new fans that
hadn’t seen us before. I was bombarded by emails from people saying we were
one of their highlights from the weekend, and with the fantastic bands that
were down there, that’s a great compliment. And walking around was great
too. We got to see the Dead and everyone else, it was really, really great.
DG: How about the slots you played?
TC: We played one of the welcoming slots, one of the first bands to play
with was great, and then we played one of the late sets sat night. For the
late night set, there were people…..as far as the eye could see. It was
DG: Did playing an event like Bonnaroo lead you to stretch out more?
TC: Absolutely. We did a lot of jamming, improvising, a lot of stretching
out. We played a lot of songs that were…....less of the "pop" stuff…..
*DG: Was that something you decided to do before hand, or it the result of being
on the stage at that point?*
TC: You know, this is something we want, and should, be known for. I think
we have a unique approaching to jamming, since we’re a synthesizer based
band. There really aren’t that many bands that do that, with all the
synthesizer and electronic sounds, and because of that, I think we bring a
nice twist to the whole jamming thing, and we wanted to show the Bonnaroo
crowd exactly that. We’re jamming, we’ve been doing it and we’re going to
keep doing it.
*DG: Was there anything you guys as a band learned at Bonnaroo, with respect
to the repertoire? Perhaps you expanded on a song that doesn’t normally do
so, and it helped you guys…...*
TC: I didn’t learn that much about jamming per se, but I did learn, from
being exposed to it, that there is this huge audience, larger than I
thought, that wants to see musicians just get up there and play. And there
is nothing more exciting from our point of view, than playing in front of
people that want to hear you go off. And as far as I’m concerned, just
having those moments on stage, with the spontaneity and the energy…....I
learned that there are a lot of people that desire that.
*DG: Its funny that you say that, because jambands.com did an interview with
Les Claypool a while back entitled "All the things I was told nobody wanted
to see", and what you’re saying is very reminiscent of his feelings when he
had first been exposed to this whole culture.*
TC: Really? You know, when we play certain shows in certain venues, we
kinda feel like we have to play certain songs. Like the BB Kings show we
just did which you were at. I don’t know at this point how many people want
that (the jamming), and…..
DG: Well, at the same time, The Machine has never been constrained by "the
hits" or anything. You guys have always covered the Pink Floyd spectrum. I
still tell people about the first time I ever saw you guys at Wetlands like
seven or eight years ago and you opened the show with "Lucifer Sam", which
if any readers don’t know, is off the very first Pink Floyd album Piper at
the Gates of Dawn, which is an album of anything but hits. And at the BB
Kings show you just played, you guys played a song off of "Final Cut" and it
wasn’t "Fletcher Memorial Home", perhaps the most widely known track on a
very unknown album.
TC: You know, it’s a tricky line. There are people that come to the show and
want to hear "Comfortably Numb". You know, as an artist, you want to
express yourself and we want to jam, but there are people that want to hear
"Comfortably Numb". Then there are people that come and want to hear more
obscure Floyd tunes. We’re cognizant of all that stuff, and Bonnaroo was a
chance for people that want to hear us play. And that’s what we were looking
to do, and that’s the concept behind "DeadFloyd". It was a perfect vehicle,
because this isn’t about the hits, this isn’t about playing "Comfortably
Numb". This is about jamming and having fun, improvising, jamming and
stretching things out.
DG: Did you play "Comfortably Numb" at Bonnaroo?
TC: No. No we didn’t.
DG: Was there a conscious effort to avoid that?
TC: Well yeah, we went down there all about jamming. We soundchecked with
"Echoes", the whole thing jam and all.
*DG: Which I always say might be your best song to play because the jam
section is less "Pink Floyd cover band" and way more "The Machine".*
TC: I love when we start off sounding like a Pink Floyd cover band, and then
go off into this huge middle jam section that’s totally "The Machine" before
we bring it back to the familiar guitar riff or keyboard solo from the song.
*DG: Being that you guys have been doing this for thirteen years or so now,
is there going to be a conscious effort to jam more in the future? Both in
an effort to keep things fresh for you guys and to appeal to this scene?
Because there are the standard jam songs like "Echoes", but then there are
other songs, like "Another Brick in the Wall" which, while having a fixed
guitar solo, can certainly be expanded in the live setting.*
TC: You know, Pevar is really looking forward to…....he wants to rip this
thing apart. We all do, but him specifically. He really wants to jam this
DG: Who wouldn’t want to jam this thing out?
TC: I know!! You know with the Dead stuff the jamming
takes care of itself. The Pink Floyd stuff, we’re going to have to figure
out. Pevar keeps saying "You guys can sound like the Machine, let’s just
really go stretch things out."
*DG: Speaking directly to you, are you looking forward to drumming with Matt
Abts, someone I consider to be among the top drummers of our generation?*
TC: Definitely. Its going to be a thrill. You know, we were out on the road
together for the BeatleJam, and its always fun to play with other drummers.
It really changes your approach, by being exposed to other styles.
*DG: A lot of the questions people have been asking about "DeadFloyd" have
been about the additions of both Johnny Neel and Matt Abts, two players many
know participated in Blue Floyd. Basically, people want to know, other than
the Dead songs, how this is going to differ from Blue Floyd?*
TC: Quick point, our keyboard player, who originally wasn’t supposed to be
part of this is now doing it, so its going to be both keyboard players.
About Blue Floyd, I don’t think they ever got as close to the original version
as The Machine did and do. We’re much truer to the original version. DeadFloyd is going to be….....HERE is the song you love, here is the
guitar solo you love, but HERE is a jam that could be five minutes or it
could be thirty minutes and then here is the guitar solo or keyboard solo
you know and love. The difference is going to be that we aren’t a "blues
interpretation" like Blue Floyd. The Machine "know" Pink Floyd and that’s
what we play, and we want to remind people of that.