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Eudemonic For The People: A Conversation With Steve Kimock

As part of commemorating seven years of Jambands.com, in the months ahead, we’re going to re-introduce the collective interview. On occasion, we will enlist our readers’ assistance in posing questions to particular artists. In the case of Steve Kimock we received more than two hundred such queries. While time certainly did not permit the guitarist to address all of these, he offered some forthright responses regarding the current state of the SKB and he did answer the two most-suggested questions, both of which appear towards the end of this interview.

Kimock, who along with stalwart drummer Rodney Holmes, just released his long-anticipated studio effort Eudemonic will take to the road later this month for a series of shows with a new high-octane incarnation of the SKB that also features Reed Mathis and Robert Walter.

The Eudomonic artwork and packaging emphasizes yourself and Rodney Holmes. Can you talk a bit about the process by which you came to realize that the two of you are the core of the band? (Question submitted by Kevin Urtz)

SK- A relationship with working musicians or songwriting collaborators isn’t that much different from any other relationship that you have. People will partner under these circumstances because it’s beneficial. It shows some commitment to the thing, it allows both parties to be freely giving of their intellectual property to make the thing go. There are a lot of benefits to it obviously and on some level when you’re trying to do a project, the whole thing personnel-wise can be so mercurial. People have other gigs, they move away, they have monkeys on their backs, they have other interests in life or careers to pursue. Sometimes you’re just the last two guys standing and you go okay, can we huddle up a little bit (laughs).

Do you prefer having new ears and approaches to your music or all things equal would you prefer to have a core group of four or five players in the SKB? (Question by Sara Roth)

SK- I would much prefer to have a set group where you can bring people in siutuationally to do stuff. I think to have a core, to say “We need somebody to play acoustic twelve string on this” or “We need three singers with tamborines or this won’t work…”But that’s more related to the level where your production and budget is functioning rather than your musical vision.

I think four people is probably the perfect number for the small-band improvisational aspect of it, that’s probably the best. I think above that it gets unwieldy in terms of being able to identify the influences going into it.

The reality of the musical life that I’ve lived anyway has pretty much been survival mode at times. You could wish you had three guys, four guys, five guys, the same guys, that will want get married to the project and be there for life. Think about this though, where are your friends from when you were a teenager? Where are your friends from when you were twenty? I’ll be fifty in October. That’s a long time to be with somebody and keep them on a path with as much sacrifice and hardship, going out like I did, kind of taking a vow of poverty to keep the thing going.

“I’m just going to keep playing no matter what.”
“Okay, you don’t have a house.”
“Well I’ll just play outside
“You don’t have a car.
“Well I’ll just sit here in the woods.”

At that level where you’re in the situation where you can afford to hire somebody you’d like to play with, then you do. Sometimes though, they have other commitments or people’s lives change. I’ve played with people who have stopped playing. I’ve played with people who have gone on to become famous doing other things, have greater success with other acts and so forth. That’s just the way that goes. That’s why people come in and out, you need somebody who’s available but if they have something else to do, you find somebody else. That’s just the reality of it as the thing kaleidoscopes across decades. Life just takes people different places.

Can you talk a bit about Reed Mathis and what led you to bring him into the group (Question submitted by many)?

SK- In terms of Reed, I’m still nibbling around the edges of what it is that he’s bringing to the thing. He has so much to offer. Obviously an incredible musician. Great compositional, improvisational chops, great ensemble chops, great sound, great energy in terms of his vibe and outlook towards the thing. Plus he’s a great, great guy. I’m really so fortunate to be working with him. We’ll have to keep checking back in on that one because that’s a work in progress that I have great hope for.

How about Robert Walter, what would you say he brings to bear? (Again, question by many)?

SK- In a lot of ways just like Reed. Great soloist, the clarity of his thought and his good humor, the sound that his instrument has is his stamp on the thing. It’s unique and wonderful as well.

Is it your expectation that the current four players will comprise the Steve Kimock Band for the foreseeable future? (Question by Dave Nevins)?

SK- For the foreseeable future and I’m very excited about that. We just finished a rehearsal out in the woods together and it just sounded so good. I was just thrilled. Both of those guys are great players and to my ear play with great humor which I really love. They’re both playful players which is kind of delightful.

This studio disc was a long time coming. What led you to decide that this was the right moment to record and now that it’s complete is it a task you intend to revisit in the near future? (Question by Mike Hill)

SK- I totally intend to record Rodney, Reed and Robert as soon as possibly can because it just sounds so good. This is right time but it was the right time to make to record twenty years ago, it was the right time to make a record ten years ago, five years ago, two years ago. There’s so many schedules that require working around to get that together. So it’s, “When can we take a month off to do pre-production?” It’s kind of a challenge to take the time out to make a record that has any hope of sounding like a professional commercially available product at the level where we’re doing it in-house ourselves and it’s not something we can just whip out every six months.

Can you talk a bit about the process and philosophy of taking songs that are rather expansive in the live setting and presenting them in the context of this studio recording? (Question by Henry Ferald)

SK- There are giant piles of files. Open-ended examples of all these tunes because we play them live and go on at great length exploring this aspect of the energy and people can pick those up. Digitalsoundbaord.net has all our shows multi-tracked and available for download if people want to get into that aspect of it. But that’s kind of inside and part of the mission statement of the record was, let’s make something in bite-sized chunks so people who aren’t familiar with the band can get a grip on some of the directions it goes. Then if they want to pursue looking into it further, there’s plenty of beautifully recorded and mixed stuff available for downloads.

Can you talk about your favorite songs or moments on the disc? (_(Question submitted by many)_

SK- There are different tunes that have different elements that I like. The opening track “Eudemon,” I didn’t really know what it was going to be when we started and it turned into a steel guitar kind of romp and I like the way it goes, it just sorts of flows along.
There are some beautiful moments on “Bronx Experiment” with the acoustic instruments and the general shape of the composition, that’s one of my favorites. The solo on “Ice Cream,” I had intended to cut that as a basic. I just scratched in a solo on there to hold the space so the band would have something to react to and I was going to overdub and in the end I decided to leave it on. Every song has a little moment like that where it’s cool. Trying to figure out how to tune a twelve string so it more or less comes back off the tape in tune on “Brother Mike” was a real chore but I wound up liking the sound.

Have you ever considered adding lyrics and vocals to your music past, present, or future? (Question by Alex Zivian)

SK- I’ve written a bunch of stuff that has lyric content and some of the songs, probably better than half of the songs, start with melody ideas that come from singing.

I’d like to sing more but I’m really very shy, especially as a singer and I have difficulty singing without getting kind of choked up. It’s emotional. I do the same thing when I read poetry out loud, I start to cry and stuff. It’s very embarrassing but eventually I’ll get it together.

I’ve kind of fallen off the wagon a little bit but for a long time I’ve been singing every day just to learn the modes. It’s part of my musical work It’s just not something that I’m comfortable performing.

In my head “Brother Mike” has words. I always wanted that half time melody portion of “Ice Cream,” to be sung. I wanted to see somebody sing that melody up an octave. I think it’d give them a rash, it’s so operatic.

Can you explain what led to your departure from Phil Lesh & Friends? (Question submitted by many)?

SK- (Pause) At one point I took great offense to my perceived treatment of some of the crew and having my own sense of loyalty to the whole process of being on the road, I elected to leave the band and still be on the crew. So I left the band but I’m still on the crew…

Beyond that I don’t want to point any fingers at people. People come and come and go from bands and they come and go for their own reasons. I love all those guys and it was a great experience and I wound up in a good place.

Do you anticipate that in the future you will perform again with Bobby Vega? (Again, question by many)?

SK- That’s up to Bobby Vega.

If you could go back and play one show again which one would it be? (Question by Stephen Clare)

SK- I played in a salsa band a long time ago called the Underdogs. Martin was in that band and we played at the Sleeping Lady Cafthis was in the middle 70’s, maybe 76 and Zakir Hussain came in and played timbales with this salsa band and played so good that everybody stopped. People stopped dancing and just went, “Good grief!” (laughs). It was really amazing. I wouldn’t mind going back just to hear those jaws hitting the floor again. It was so cool.

How do you feel about your hard core fan base following you around from show to show? Does it every freak you out? (Question by Alex Zivian)

SK- No. It doesn’t freak me out. There have been people who have coming to shows since I was twenty. I’m so happy that they’re there and I’m glad that they get something from it. I think the social aspect of the whole community and fellowship of people coming to hear music makes me feel safe to be in that place making music because they’re as much a part of the dynamic of creating the music as any of the players. So no, I’m not freaked out, I feel blessed. Thanks guys, who you know who you are.

I have read numerous comments on your appreciation of North Indian classical music. During your time living in and near the Marin area, were you ever able to spend any time with Ali Akbar Khan? (Question by Eric Kinner)

SK- No, I never did, although I got the doing monitors for Ali Akbar Khan at the Sebastopol Community Center or something like that when my friend was doing the sound there. I got to sit on stage for an entire performance three feet away from the guy and that was fantastic for me.

What has been the musical highlight of your career? (Question by Ted Novicki)
SK- The musical highlight of my career? That’s easy. My son John Morgan is a drummer and he’s been playing on stage with me since he was like two. The musical highlight of my career has been playing together. There’s nothing that’s cooler than that. That’s the coolest thing.

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