The Sound of One Hand Drumming: Breaking News from ekoostik hookah’s Eric Lanese
ekoostik hookah drummer Eric Lanese is currently enjoying a nice little summer vacation, although not exactly by choice. While the band's schedule happens to be fairly light this month, Lanese is out of action due to a dirt bike accident that left him with a broken wrist. His spirits remain high however, and he expects to be back behind the kit when the group hosts its 20th hookahville on Labor Day Weekend. It’s been a busy year for the band, as they released a quality studio album, Ohio Grown, performed at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in June and will tour nationally again this fall. We caught up with Eric the day after he had surgery on his wrist, and just minutes after his pain killers had kicked in.
EL: I need to let you know up front, I had surgery yesterday and I'm on three Percocets right now. So if I get a little weird, we may have to start again tomorrow or something.
JW: Okay, well just let me know if it’s getting too weird for you.
EL: [laughs] I think for the most part, it's fine, but I do have a hard time concentrating with this stuff, so…yeah.
JW: Tell us about the injury.
EL: Well I broke my wrist. I was on my dirt bike and hit some clay in the woods on a hill and the whole bike just went out from underneath me.
JW: The first thing that went through your mind must have been whether or not you could still play the drums.
EL: Yeah, I was thinking about drumming pretty much while I was still out there in the woods. The primary thought was, "that fucking hurts really bad" and then "I wonder if I'm going to be okay." I was on the phone with the doctor immediately, as soon as our phones would work out there. It's all looking pretty positive right now though.
JW: Didn’t you play a gig or two with one arm, sort of like the Def Leppard thing?
EL: Yeah, okay…107.
EL: I'm keeping track of how many times I've heard the words "Def Leppard." [laughs]
JW: [laughs] Right, of course.
EL: I played one acoustic gig one-armed and used a high-hat and a bass drum, which was a learning experience because I couldn't play the way I was used to. Some good ideas actually came out of it believe it or not. I played two gigs electric, with the full kit, when I just thought it was sprained like three days after the accident.
JW: With both hands?
EL: Yeah and it hurt really bad. I had gone to the doctor and he had said that it wasn't broken so I just took a bunch of Motrin and drank some beer and played. Then I found out about three days later that it was indeed broken and I shouldn't have done that [laughs].
JW: So how did the surgery go?
EL: It went pretty well I think. I was in there for about an hour or so. They put a screw through the bone to hold the two pieces together. So now I'm going to be in a cast/splint for two weeks and then I'll have two weeks of physical therapy and at that point I should be able to start playing again.
JW: And you’re going to have some guest replacements while you’re out.
EL: Yeah, well Shane Frye from a band called The Shantee here in Columbus, he's subbed for me in the past. He's the cat that usually sits in during the encores at Hookahville while I sing.
JW: Is he going to do all the dates? I heard there were going to be various drummers.
EL: Well so far he's doing them all. There might be one day actually with another drummer. There was actually just a call on the other line that was probably him. I haven't met him yet, but I need to talk to him about sitting in. It's difficult to try to find someone that knows our music since it's all original music for the most part. Finding someone that's familiar with the songs is key, so that the rest of the guys can play a fairly normal set and enjoy themselves.
JW: So let’s talk about Hookahville. This is the 20th, which seems like a huge number, but how big of a role do the band members play in selecting the acts?
EL: We've always picked who we were gonna have there because Hookahville is our event. It's us and our manager and our booking agent, so between the eight of us, that's what we do. The way it works is we'll come up with a short list of bands that we'd like to see and then we sic our agent on the other agents and see if he can get those folks in there. Between budget and availability, that list either gets filled or we go to the second round and see who we can get. As far as who comes, we always try to make it a blend of someone who is obviously going to draw people somebody that we think our fans are into and is in the jamband scene but also we always try to have some diversity; a band or an individual that maybe wouldn't necessarily catch the eye our typical fan.
JW: The upcoming line-up looks pretty strong with P-Funk and Kimock.
EL: Yeah Kimock's fantastic. We've shared a bill with them before in West Virginia. C.J. Chenier would probably fall into the category of the band that most people aren't familiar with. So having an authentic Zydeco band I think is really cool, just like having Old and in the Gray last in the spring. A lot more people are hip to them because of the connection with Jerry [Garcia] and so forth. That's about as authentic bluegrass as it gets and it's really cool to turn people on to stuff like that.
JW: You’ve worked with Chris Kuroda in the past as your lighting director for Hookahville.
EL: Yeah he's done at least four I think.
JW: Does having such an elaborate light show affect your playing?
EL: Well to be honest, it definitely has a huge effect on what the people in the crowd see and their experience. I can't speak for everybody, but generally lights are something that when you're on stage playing, you really only notice them when they're bad. So that has never happened with him. There have been some things that you can just tell by seeing the lights on the crowd or maybe the reaction of the crowd, that something really cool is going on. Unfortunately for us, you have to watch videotapes to.
JW: Because you’re right in the middle of it.
EL: Yeah, it's one of those things. Hookah's always been one of my favorite bands even before I was in the band. So the catch-22 is I never get to go see my favorite band anymore [laughs] or the light show.
JW: So tell me about the encores at Hookahville. You’ve done some pretty interesting things.
EL: It came about several years back. I had the idea of singing a song for an encore. I can't remember how it came about, but the idea was to do something and then have one of the drummers from one of the other bands sit in. Typically my musical taste is more rock and roll in the sense that my favorite bands have always been like AC/DC and Aerosmith and bands of that nature. So I've kind of got that slant going in. That's the kind of stuff that I really enjoy doing. Although I'm limited by my range [laughs]. Obviously I can't go out and sing like those guys, so I try to find a song that fits my range but is something that people would not expect ekoostik hookah to play. I just think it's a gas that a band that you would not link with Aerosmith in a million years would come out and do an Aerosmith song. I always like that. I think it was the second year I did "Momma Told Me Not to Come" and I put on drywall stilts under my pants so that I was really tall. It just sort of took off from there. From that moment on people were like, "What are you gonna do next time?" So it's kind of become a curse to try to figure out what to do as far as a stunt along with a song. Something always seems to come up at the last minute.
JW: Even if your wrist isn’t ready to go for this year, I assume you’ll still sing.
EL: Come hell or high water, I'll be out there at some point.
JW: Do you expect to be back by that show?
EL: Yeah, I really do. I'm keeping really close tabs with the surgeon and other specialists. If it's only a matter of pain then I'm gonna be able to do it. If it's a matter of pain and maybe fuckin' up my hand in the future, then we're gonna have to look at an alternative, but the encore would still happen.
JW: Tell me about the 30-mile motorcycle ride, "The Bugs In Your Teeth" event that you do every year on the way to Hookahville.
EL: Well, that just kind of came about because ever since the very first Hookahville I've ridden my motorcycle. I still have the same bike. Over the years, I started inviting other people and when Johnny [Polansky] joined the band, he had a motorcycle. We were talking about how we'd both like to raise some money for charity and we realized we could combine the two and have a motorcycle ride. We make up T-shirts to commemorate the ride with some cool original art on them. The bikers buy them and some other folks buy them and we split the money up between a hospital and the Humane Society. So it was just a way of doing some good and having fun, but it's never been very large. It's maybe twenty folks, ya know? We would love to pull into Hookahville with a hundred bikes.
JW: So the injury hasn’t changed your passion for riding motorcycles?
EL: Not at all. I've ridden to every Hookahville and I've had to ride home in torrential downpours. It's just one of those things that I've done so many times that I feel like if it doesn't happen it's bad luck.
JW: What were your impressions of Bonnaroo this year? It was certainly a big gig for you guys.
EL: My impression was that it was unlike anything I had ever seen. It did kind of remind me of Jazz Fest. That's probably the closest tie I can think of. I think it was fantastic. We had a blast playing. We were really psyched to be invited to play and we can't wait to do it again. Hopefully we'll be able to go back and do it. The range of music that they have there was really exciting. It was great to be able to see Neil Young and then also folks like Sonic Youth and Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons.
JW: So you got to hang out for most of the weekend, as a fan?
EL: Got to hang out as a fan for a little while. We ended up coming back because we had obligations back home. We came back on Saturday, but we stuck around for a while. Johnny, our percussionist, actually sat in with The Wailers on the big stage so we hung around for that and then he and I and Steve [Sweney] headed back.
JW: Improvisation is obviously the link between all of the diverse sounding bands at Bonnaroo. What’s your philosophy on improv? When do you personally find it works best?
EL: I find that it works best when you trust your instincts and you play from your gut and you don't over think it too much. I think when it comes to improvisation, for us and for me personally, you really have to be willing to go out on a limb and see what happens and not be afraid that it's not going to work. Saying that doesn't mean that you just go with reckless abandon and do something that common sense would dictate is gonna be bad. I've always found that if someone in the band is sort of going off in a different direction and you latch onto that and trust that, it's not necessarily great musically, but you're gonna expand…um…okay this is where it's happening [laughs]. I'm having a hard time concentrating on what I'm trying to say.
JW: Well don’t over think it. Just go with it from your gut.
EL: Yeah "Go with it from your gut" [laughs]. You know, sometimes the bow breaks and it's still not the end of the world. You can still glean something from the experience. Even if it's learning, "Hey, we don't want to do that again." More often than not, it ends up being fun. Improvising doesn't necessarily have to mean improvising your particular part. I mean the whole song, as a unit, we can improvise. All the sudden we could make a sandwich out of two or three songs in a way we've never done before without planning it out.
*JW: So you’d rather take a gamble and risk failing *
EL: Yeah. Sorry to interrupt, but that sounds a lot like a line from a song Ed [McGee] wrote called "The Risk." The words are "I'd rather reach and maybe miss." I don't know if he was talking about improvising music at that point, but that's kind of the philosophy. We've been doing this for a while and we don't have any plans to not do this so we might as well try whatever comes up. What's it gonna hurt? If it sucks, well then it sucks. But if it's good then it's good. It is what it is. How boring would it be if you never tried anything different?
JW: Have you noticed a difference in the band’s sound since you joined? What’s the evolution been like?
EL: Yeah, with different players and songwriters throughout the years it's definitely evolved. It's harder for me to tell because I'm in the middle of it, so an outsider would notice things a lot more.
JW: Like the lightshow.
EL: Yeah exactly. It's more subtle for us because it's happening naturally. It's kind of like I don't notice myself getting heavier or my hairline receding as much as somebody that only sees me once or twice a year who might say, "Damn, you got fat." You know [laughs loudly]? If it's happening to you, it's harder to be objective about it.
JW: So I hear you’re buddies with Luke Perry.
EL: Yeah I went to high school with Luke. He moved into my neighborhood and I say "neighborhood" loosely because we lived in a really rural area so he was my neighbor, but he lived two-and-a-half miles away. One day I was riding my mini bike up the road and this kid runs out and we struck up a friendship. We were both into motorcycles. We started hanging out and after high school and we ended up being roommates together with some other friends out in California. We've really staying in touch pretty much ever since. It's cool because actually the friendship has grown closer again recently with him and with some other friends from school. There was a time when everybody was doing their own thing and not staying in contact, but we've been staying in touch a lot better lately. I was just down at his place this weekend actually.
JW: Maybe you could bring him out for one of the pranks at Hookahville.
EL: Well we were actually just joking around about that because he's actually a pretty good singer and has an interest in singing. He's done some Broadway. He was in "Rocky Horror Picture Show" on Broadway. So he's got talent when it comes to singing and he enjoys it. We shoot the shit about him coming out every once in a while. I thought it was cool that he wore the [ekoostik hookah] shirt on TV. He called me to let me know that it was gonna happen. I thought that was cool. I would never ask him to do something like that. It just wouldn't be comfortable.
JW: And then you wore a 90210 shirt on stage.
EL: Yeah, kind of a tip of the hat. I don't think as many people saw that as watch television.
JW: So you have all of this time off now. What are your plans? Are you going to do anything musically or will you just sort of take a vacation?
EL: Well, unfortunately I'm convalescing so I can't do much of anything. I've been working with Shane a bit on some of our music. The band, as a whole, isn't playing as much during the summer, which actually worked out well with this wrist being messed up. It means that we don't have to cancel gigs or play a whole bunch without me. I'll tell ya, it is frustrating to go and see your band playing with somebody else.
JW: But at the same time, you were saying before that you don’t get to see the band as a fan anymore. So maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.
EL: Exactly. That is the one cool thing. Cliff and I have that in common. Our bass player, Cliff Starbuck, he broke his arm one year. He fell off a bicycle when a dog was chasing him. He had to sit out. So we were discussing how odd it is. It's just weird. Sitting back behind the drum set, a lot of times you're unseen. It's always funny because sometimes people come up to me and say, "Hey, do you know when these guys are playing again?" I go to concerts and I notice that sometimes you just can't see that that cat is back there, you know? That's always a little bit weird, but I would much rather be in that position. I'd rather be looking at the back of these guys' heads then the front of them. [laughs] And you can take that however you want. I didn't realize how uncomfortable I'd be sitting out and not being part of it. It's like everybody's playing and you can't. It's like if you were on a football team or something.
JW: It will make you appreciate it more when you come back.
EL: Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it being a good time when I get back.
JW: So you seem to have done fine with the pharmies today.
EL: [laughs] Dude I'm telling you, my brain is like…I'm seeing double.
JW: Well you’re speaking fine.
EL: Thanks. I can't tell.