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Published: 2005/11/14
by Randy Ray

Wrapped Around the World with Umphreys McGee

The sextet from Chicago has had a very busy year. Indeed, as you will find out in this BIG Umphrey’s Classic of an interview the band has traveled many roads in 2005geographically, musically and emotionally. After the critically-acclaimed release of 2004’s Anchor Drops, the band won a Song of the Year Jammy for “In the Kitchen,” played their first headlining festival in Amsterdam, another rousing Bonnaroo set, a late night Roo gig featuring their two guitarists in masks and costumes, a spot on the summer’s biggest touring festival and managed two shows at the inaugural Vegoose festival over Halloween weekend.

If that wasn’t enough, the band has just released _Wrapped Around Chicago_their second DVD release and the first to showcase a monumental New Year’s Eve performance. The band captured two sets of music and a host of other entertainment on a landmark release that raises the bar again for the seven-year-old band. As befits an improv group that has more than paid its dues logging tons of live gigs throughout the United States, structured this interview like a three-set show that befits their extraordinary year. We sat down with four of the six members of Umphrey’s McGee: guitarist/vocalists, Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, keyboardist Joel Cummins and drummer Kris Myersthe band’s only personnel change who replaced original drummer Mike Mirro in late 2002for a long and entertaining discussion through various locales from Amsterdam to Vegas. To round out the talented crew, Ryan Stasik fills the potent bass guitar role and Andy Farag plays percussion.

PRE-SHOW: Spain, Portugal, Indonesia & Beyond

RR: What was it like when you took over on drums with the band?

Kris: When I first started in January 2003, we rehearsed for ten days straight for about 6 to 8 hours a day. I learned about five or six tunes per day, which was a total of about sixty songs that I learned before my first show. That was probably the hardest feat that I had to do in my life. I used to work with some pretty heavy fusion and contemporary jazz players back home in Chicago. The only thing was that we had everything written out and charted out so that when we came to rehearsal we sort of expected to read down something and work it out that way.

With this band, it’s different. Nothing is written out. Everything is learned through muscle memory and repetition and through working out all of the sections in the song together with the band. I wasn’t quite used to that mentality, formula or environment so that was a little difficult to adjust tolearning and memorizing all of these songs in just a short period of time. I listened to about six months of live shows on discs, too, for at least three weeks, trying to understand the formula of how they segued from one section to the next, how they changed the song that they wrote and make it different every night. I had to figure that out ahead of time.

Before all of that, I auditioned with the band the first week of November 2002. I learned “Hurt Bird Bath” and from there, another song. They seemed more interested so they asked me back to hang out at rehearsal. Once they finally offered me the gig, I did a lot of thinking about financial matters and all of that stuff and being on the road. I jumped on board and I’ve been living and breathing Umphrey’s for the last three years.

RR: Had you been to Europe before the band’s first trip in March?

Kris: I played some past jazz festivals there with a college band that got asked to do some headlining at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, a festival in Italy, a couple in Spain and Portugal and a festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, of all places. Amsterdam, though, is just a beautiful city. It has a lot of perks and a lot of cool things happening there. I felt very free theremore free to roam in that area. I thought everyone played great. We were in the right mindset. Everyone was just relaxed. I think we pulled it off despite the jet lag. (laughs)

SET I: Amsterdam & Are Ya Big in Japan?

RR: How was the first Jam in the ’Dam in Amsterdam in March?

Joel: Amsterdam was something that our booking agent conceived for us and wanted to do something festival-style but unlike anything else that had happened. He did a great job putting that together. Really exciting to be able to go over to Europe to do it. We’re going to do it again [in 2006] and a few more European dates. We hadn’t played Europe before so to be able to do three nights at the sold-out Melkweg was really special.

Jake: Starting with Amsterdam, that’s when everything seemed to be kind of spinning like a big snowball downhill and it kept on growing. We felt the momentum gain like, “Oh, they’re playing Europe.” We made it across the pond and, then, it was a complete success where it spawned next year’s Jam at the ’Dam. It went so well and totally created press for us over there in Europe that we would’ve never had. You’ve got to get over there to be appreciated. If you don’t go, you might sell a hundred copiesmainly in England. By going over there, we scored a record deal with Inside Out, which is the big distributor for progressive rock CDs in Europe. They kind of considered us in the prog rock genre, which is greatYes, King Crimson, Genesis and ELP. To be looked at as a prog rock band and not a jamband was kind of interesting. It’s weird like a band like Spock’s Beard or Porcupine Trio just to do great over there. Hopefully, in the future, we may be able to do some shows with those guys at larger venues. They’ve helped us out and we’ve talked about it so one of these days.

RR: You’ll be going over again in March 2006.

Jake: We’ll go over a couple of days early just to get settled in, do the shows and hang out for about five or six days and kind of soak up as much as possible. We plan on hitting England for a couple of shows, Germany, and, hopefully, Belgium. [Amsterdam] runs completely different than a city in America. As a pedestrian, you don’t have the right away. You’ll get killed instantly either by a bike, a car or a bus or a train or whatever. You have to constantly be on your toes. There’s a bike path and a walk path. [This past March] the first couple of days we’d go out in a group and be roaming the streets rather than a single file line and you’d hear “Shing! Shing! Shing!” (laughter) “BRUDOMOUHDLDRAH!” which was “Get the fuck out of the way!” You can’t lose a drummer from a bike. You can’t do that.

RR: Not to sound like a clichut I’d think that you’d also be big in Japan.

Jake: Yeah, that’s also coming out on the chopping block. It just costs so much to tour that it really has to be etched in stone or solidified before we say, “O.K. it looks like we can do a four-day run in Japan.” You usually break even or run into costs the first two trips because they don’t know who you are. They can instantly find out but you have to go over there at least three or four times to create that trust. “Yeah, we’ll be back. Don’t worry. Look out for us and tell everyone you know.” We’ll kind of rely on that and the fact that I think Inside Out will be distributing over there. Other labels could pick up the album so we can get the whole exchange of currency thing that has to do with labels.

SETBREAK: Brazil, the Jammys in New York & a Side Trip to Indiana

RR: How was the whole Jammys experience?

Joel: I actually flew in after being the best man at a wedding in Brazil two days before that and it was completely surreal. (laughs)

Kris: I think it was very exciting because you had all of these celebrities that you grew up listening to just walking around. I happened to talk to Bruce Hornsby a few times that day. I shared a drum kit with ?uestlove. The deal was that he really wanted a specific setup. I was the only drummer that was cool with his setup, which was, basically, kick, snare and hat. He’s one of my favorite players. I bumped into Les Claypool who is a friend of the band. We met Ryan Adams and other great performers. Aside from musicians, we met the real Dude that the Dude from The Big Lebowski was based [Jeff Dowd]. (Laughter) He’s a friend of Huey Lewis’s, was backstage roaming around and really cool.

Jake: That was the first time we had been nominated for anything like that. We kind of went into it like, Wowwe’ve got the Best Performance of the Year, Best Song and Best Album nominations. To win Song of the Year is kind of crazy, you know, because that song was just an improv live which morphed into this song that had a great hook and all of these other things. Good songs can be summed up in three hooks. If you can find three hooks in a song, “Hey, that might be radio material.” We went in and chopped it up a little bit so you could radio edit, you know, like, 3:40you can’t go past 3:30 or they won’t play it. So, take out the damn guitar solo. (Laughter) The Jammys were a star-studded event. I remember warming up backstage and Ryan Adams walks in, kind of aloof, checks out what I’m doing and nods and said, “Hey, man, what’s happening?”

With Huey, we ended up becoming great friends with him. We played with him at the Star Plaza in Indiana and he invited us out so we took a big bus limo and piled up our girls and our friends and we all went to the show. At the end of the night, Huey wanted us to come out and play with him on the encore so we did a couple of songs with him and the News. It was a gasto be blowing through Huey tunes on his turf was definitely great. It was just the three of us because there was no other room as he already has like a 20-piece band. Can you imagine five guitarists, you know, with Huey?!

Brendan: That was sweet. It’s close to where we went to school [Notre Dame]. That’s where Farag grew up. We walk backstage and said, “Hey, how ya doing?”

And Huey said, “Uh, so what do you guys wanna play? You wanna play at the end of the show? The encore? What?”

“Good to see you, too.” [Laughter] “Whatever you want, man. You tell us.”

Walking out was likehe introduced us because when we walked in, it looked like we had won a radio show. We looked like kids. We walked out and it was like, “O.K. Let’s do this.” By the end, we were all laughing. We played “Bad is Bad” and “Heart of Soul.” He made me sing a verse of “Heart of Soul.”

Joel: Andy’s [Farag, percussionist] father is in the music business, as well. He books a lot of shows and his office is actually at the Star Plaza where Huey Lewis was playing. So, we knew they were coming into town and we said, “Hey, we want to come down to the show.” It was really, really cool. We got to meet the rest of the band, hang out with them for quite a while and Huey wanted to bring us out there and play with him. To be honest, that was the most nervous I’ve been to perform in the longest I can remember. It was very funny. When Huey went to introduce us, he said, “These are a few of the guys from Umphrey’s McGee. These guys remind me of ourselves when we were their agefrom the jamband-kind of genre: UMPHREY’S MCGEE!” And it was like dead silence. (Laughter) By the end of it, I think they liked us but it was really funny. It was like wow, we better not blow this.

SET II: The BIG Summer Classic Hits Red Rocks

RR: How about the BIG Summer Classic?

Jake: It was our first outing with the whole String Cheese crew and getting to know them. Those guys are just a ball of fun as far as creating in the moment and on the spot. They’d say, “We want you guys to come and sit in on this tune at the end.” They really went out of their way to make sure we were all welcome on their stage since they were headlining the tour. They were very gracious in that regard. They could totally do their own thing and do the encore themselves but they chose to bring us all out, all the bands. At times, there were around 20 people on stage. I felt sorry for the soundman at that point. (laughter) We’d talk beforehand and they had a little rehearsal room setup in the back where even we could go back and rehearse our stuff on their rehearsal gig. There was a rotating room where all of these musicians could get together and work out

Bayliss and Keller Williams could work out a Tenacious D song and get it tight so that they’re not going out in front of 10,000 people and blowing it. That was really a key to have that communication if we were to sit in. Sometimes, I don’t like to go out and not know. Sometimes, I hate that feeling of not knowing what’s coming up next and playing it safe when I should know it and perform the way I should be.

RR: Did you meet and form a bond with anyone during the tour?

Joel: I hadn’t met a lot of the guys in String Cheese [Incident] before. Kyle [Hollingsworth, SCI’s keyboardist] and I had a really good time. One night, he let me know: “Man, I was over in the hotel and there were these two grand pianos. We should go play them tonight.” (Laughs) So, after the show, we went and pushed these grand pianos from one side of the hotel to the other. I hurt my knee really bad. We got busted by security and I had to sweet-talk the security person and it turned out to be a real fun thing. We ended up playing for about 45 minutes to an hour just rockin’ out on two grand pianos. That was a night that kind of stood out for me. We played a lot of golf, too. Michael Kang, from String Cheese, is a big golfer so he would come out with us.

Brendan: It wasn’t that difficult. We all said we were going to be stuck with each other for a month so we better enjoy this. We all started opening up to each other right away and hanging out. After a week, we were all talking shit to each other, slapping each other’s faces, pulling pranks and it was kind of like summer camp. Right away we kind of fought for an open environment where everyone was comfortable so that really helped. What stood out was how close we all were by the end of it like “Wow, there’s only three shows left!” Whereas in the beginning, we were like “Dude, how long are we going to be out?” (laughter) I’m not sure if that was the goal of whoever put it together but I’ve maintained good relationships with a few of them ever since.

RR: Any favorite BIG Summer Classic venues?

Joel: Definitely Red Rocks. That was my first time and I was absolutely spellbound.

Brendan: There were bigger venues, technically, but that place was definitely on my Top 10 of things to do before I died. The second night we were on stage and it was sold out and I think I might have even said something to crowd like “do you guys have any idea how cool this is for me?” (laughter) Not like selfishly but matter of factly.

Jake: It’s one of the landmarks for any group to play. More or less, the way it feels and looks is that when you’re on stage it’s almost like a 90 degree shoot, a perfect slope and all of these rocks at the same anglefrom the stage it looks ridiculous because you’re perfectly even on the ground and everything else is on a tilt. There’s the aesthetic that you’re the only one grounded and the crowd is tilted. (laughter) The way it’s shaped is really freaky. What I did notice is that I thought I was going to be really nervous when I went out but there was a vibe that music is supposed to happen here. Right when we all went out we felt very confident like this is obviously what we’re supposed to be doing rather than nerves getting in the way. Red Rocks was definitely the highlight of the tour.

Kris: That was my introduction to the String Cheese Incident. I hadn’t really checked them out until that tour. First show I ever saw of them was opening for them at Red Rocks, which I thought was really cool. They have a pristine sound and their crew are consummate professionals. They’re great to hang out with and learn from. I felt that the whole tour was very therapeuticartists coming together, a communion of players, having fun, eating lunch and dinner together, sharing stories and keeping it chill. The party atmosphere was just right, people would come back to meet us, our friends were there and [the tour] was the way it should be. The food, the cateringevery day was the bomb. It cured any hangover. (Laughter) Red Rocks was my all-time favorite. The environment is pretty extraordinary. You don’t normally get to play on the side of rocks in the mountains of Colorado. I know a lot of touring fans consider it to be a Mecca for them. I never knew anything about any of these places or festivals going on in the last few years. This was just a whole new realm of possibilities that I just dove into.

SETBREAK: The Masquerade Ball at Bonnaroo

RR: You and Jake played with Marco Benevento from the Duo and Darren Pujalet from Particle wearing costumes during a late gig at Bonnaroo in June.

Brendan: People really liked it. That was very very off-the-cuff. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if it would suck. We really didn’t know what to think. I didn’t even know Marco that well and, now, I talk to him frequently. He thought Jake was the bass player for Umphrey’s. Which I think was awesome. I think that’s great. That shows how disconnected we were and yet how well we were connected musically.

Jake: It was kind of last minute. “We’re going to assemble you four together but you guys can work it out.” We were all really busy at the time and there was no way we could have found the time to get together and rehearse. Luckily, the show was like at 3 in the morning. We were all kind of hanging out back at the trailer backstage going over some of our cues with Marco and Darren because Bayliss and I could, obviously, definitely communicate. We threw this out [displays various hand signals] which means stop or turn on a dime or no organ or no this or no that or no drums so we could create some continuity with the four of us jamming. It really ended up great because Marco and Darren are obviously telepathy players. We kept it simple and groove-oriented. It was fun for me to play bass all night and break out my old Rickenbacher 4003you know, wear that hat for a while. We literally played over two hours straight and didn’t stop. It just kept on goingwhatever song was coming, we just looked at each other, counted off and made sure it morphed into the next idea. We ended up calling our group Ultimate Mexico. (laughter) That was the official name of that lineup. Marco took his shirt off and Darren took his shirt off and we said, “We can’t be Shirts vs. Skins” so we all went shirtless with the capes on. It was rock n’ roll.

SET III: Wrapped Around Chicago Filmed at Rivera Theatre 12/31/04

RR: How do you feel about the new 2-DVD set?

Joel: I’m thrilled about it. This is something we always wanted to do. We did one a couple of years ago [at Chicago’s Navy Pier in July 2002] and we learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. We came out with a product that we’re all really happy about. I’m thrilled with the editing and everything that those guys did to make it a great product. The DVD is becoming more of a legitimate form of music for peoplethey want to see that visual element of what happens. To me, this really captures the vibe of our New Year’s experience.

RR: How do you prepare for a gig like that? You’ve got the hometown crowd, it’s New Year’s Eve, the cameras are rolling, and the DVD has a very organized feel to the music plus that great level of band humor and spontaneity.

Joel: That’s the thing. We will spend a lot of time beforehand planning out the music trying to get all of the little details right. So the trick is to put a lot of time and effort into something and, then, when it’s actually happening, to be relaxed about it. I think if you had seen us play a New Year’s Eve show three years ago, it probably wouldn’t have been quite that smooth. (Laughter) I think it’s like you saidwe’re in our home environment; we did our best just to relax and not think about the fact that there were cameras.

Brendan: You know I was really against it. I remember saying that I don’t think it’s going to be very good. It’s New Year’s Eve; pressure enough, what if they capture us collapsing? And a couple of guys were for it and the argument was let’s just do it. We did it and we listened to the tapes and we were really, really happy with the performance. It’s good that we filmed it, then. There are some mistakes in there. There’s some that we left off the DVD. It’s a live gig so by nature you can’t control things. I, personally, was like whatever you guys want to use this for is all rightit’s a good show. The cameras were very unobtrusive. I wasn’t thinking about them. We were just excited to see our friends and family. We’re throwing a party on New Year’s Evethe best party in the area. Even if we didn’t film it, the vibe and the atmosphereeverybody was just excited to be there so we just walked out and said let’s do it.

RR: What was the problem that was fixed after the initial release of the DVD?

Jake: What I noticed when I got the first package was when I put on my headphonesthat’s the truest way to hear stereo in 2.0 mix and hear any phasing problemsthe finalized disc was out of phase. The right channel was fine but the surround channel was now the left side and that was the 2.0 mix. The echo from a rear channel was part of the stereo mix and it wasn’t working. It sounded kind of mono and I think it was just miscommunication with the way it was finally dumped digitally to the main master disc. Luckily, we found it so early that I got on the horn and fixed it as quickly as possible.

RR: How do you select a setlist for a show like that and, then, insert spots where you can go off on your usual tangents?

Joel: It’s sort of a mix and match of things that we feel are strong, things that maybe we haven’t played in Chicago very much and things that we want to do that are special for New Year’s Eve. You know we’re kind of in that process again right now for this year’s show [two shows at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom with Keller Williams opening on both nights]. To me, it’s about figuring out all of those elements and leaving room in there for improvisation, which is obviously a big part of our show, as well. A couple of those we felt turned out pretty well for what was on the DVD. That’s something you can’t always count on. (laughs) That’s always a crapshoot.

Kris: What I loved about the whole night was the humorous, circusy sort of vibe, which I thought was a milestone to our whole formula, our whole aura. I think that was what I loved the most about it. It was a high pressure gig but mainly (laughs) it was because we
had no choice. We were surrounded byour crew, management and everyone around us was all stressed out beyond belief and we were just like, “hey, it’s all good.” (Laughter)

Jake: We had suits on. We were all feeling good. It just felt right. We could just stand in one spot but we had these wirelesses on and if someone was going to buy this and watch three hours of us, we better move around and have a good time. That’s the professional side of itthe rock n’ roll of it and to be somewhat pretentious and have a good time up there; therefore, the crowd will react. That’s the part that sort of echoes with the DVD. It’s a good performance and we’re all in top form. I can barely listen to shows before 2005 because we’ve changed so much. Every three months I hear where we jammed differently and where we pulled back on the reins. I’m just completely biased from even a two-month increment of this band by the way we sound and the way we are perceived. As far as the New Year’s Eve performance goes, it was stellar.

RR: Brendan, I noticed that your Yoda figure returned to your amp that night.

Brendan: It was stolen about a year and a half ago. This guy was in the crowd and he was holding it up. I don’t think it was the same one. I think he just got a match and he made eye contact with me and I was just like no way. He just threw it up and it was perfect and beautiful and it was captured on the film, too. I have a backup now at home in case it gets stolen again. The original one was the one I got for Christmas in 1983.

LIGHT A MATCH: Beer and Jamming in Las Vegoose

And, now, Vegoose over Halloween weekend in Sin City?

Brendan: The festival overall, I thought, was fan-fucking-tastic. Beautiful. You know everythingthe lineup of artists they had was so smooth, everything was run so well, it was so easy to get from stage to stage. They did a really job with that. All of the musicians at all of the shows I saw were just a step up because I think everyone felt like this was just a really good time to be there and bring your A’ game. Every show I saw was great. Our late night show [at the Hard Rock Cafn October 28] was really good. I don’t normally think that we do well but I thought we did well. The day set at Vegoose was kind of rough [Sunday, October 30]2 in the afternoon and our schedule’s are a little askew so we were kind of thrown off but, you know, we did what we did. I thought it went well. Could have been better; could have been worse; I’m overall happy with it.

Jake: I really had a blast at the late night House of Blues gig. That was the best of the two. Because we played during the day, it’s like sometimes rock n’ roll shouldn’t be played until 7 o’clock at night or later. (Laughter) Sometimes those early slots at festivals, you know, I’d rather be playing at night, of course. As far as the late night was going, we really worked up a bunch of new stuff like a King Crimson cover, “Red,” and an old Asleep at the Wheel song “Let Me Go Home, Whiskey.” We did Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy,” Motley Crue’s “Wild Side,” and a couple of others. We tried to cater to the event and do a bunch of special songs that we might only cover once.

The Vegoose Festival as a whole I thought was a keen idea. Everyone loves to go to Vegas and have more to do than just lose your money. It seemed more up my alley since I’m not a huge gambler. I thought it was really put together well because there were so many stages and areas and theatres. Aside from the actual festival, we could sneak in and do a late night show along with the actual festival ground’s shows. All of the bands that were there reaped those benefits and got to get a lot of playing time. Normally with a festival, there’s just that one slot. You knowyou get your one show and, then, move on.

RR: I spoke with Michael Franti a few days ago and he said it was great to see the freaks descend upon Las Vegas for a little while. (Laughter)

Jake: I’m sure all of the city officials were saying, “Oh, what the hell’s happening in our town this weekend? We’ve got enough trouble of our own.” It was really nice because we had so many friends flying in and we all stayed at the Mandalay Bay. You’ve got 50 or 60 of your close friends flying in for a huge fest and we were there for about five days. You don’t want to spend more than five days in Vegas. (Laughs) It was a good time.

ENCORE: Backstage in Arizona, the New Studio Album & Beyond

RR: Umphrey’s McGee began work on the new studio album in January. When I talked with some of the other band members they said that it was a particularly difficult year for the band and a lot of that emotion went into the record.

Jake: The whole album’s fairly conceptual because a lot of the songs were written during a pretty dark time this year. A lot of the lyrics and subject matter tend to spill over from the last year from losing friends and people that are close to you. There’s some of that reflectionnot leaning too far into the negative but definitely in that tone on the new album. We didn’t just want to put a bunch of songs on it that we’ve played live on the new CD. That would be so predictable for the fan base. We really went out on a limb and saved a lot of songs for the release date. Around six or seven songs will never be heard until the release date. It’ll probably come out in February 2006.

Brendan: It’s not like it was ever a conscious decisiona tragedy and then another tragedy all within the course of writing all of these songs and then trying to record them.

RR: You’re still the chief lyricist.

Brendan: Rightand there’s a gray cloud over my head. The lyrics are still kind of vague but it’s not like sunshine daydreamy. Shit happens; this is what happened to me; this is kind of what is on my mind. I wish I could write a happy song right now but I can’t help it. You can’t really dictate what comes out because that’s just not a cool thing. It just falls out. It’s heavy and not in like the metal’ sensesubject matter and tone and vibe. It’s all kind of linked up with that idea. Hopefully, this is just a period of time that could be cathartic, as well. It’ll be like that was a blip on the screen of life. Maybe the next record’s going to be like a dub record that’s recorded in Jamaica. (Laughter) Who knows? It was a captured moment and it happened to be a pretty dark period.

RR: Is the new record a different sound technically, too?

Brendan: Yeah. We went to two-inch tape and, actually, punching instead of cutting and pasting. Just wanted to do it right. It was crazy because, just as we were doing it, the factory that produces two-inch tape went under and the price skyrocketed. The bulk of it was done at Gravity Studios in Chicagoabout 90%. Jake did a guitar track at The Barn in Vermont. We did a little bit of recording in New York City.

RR: Can you sum up the year for the band?

Jake: It’s all of our hard work that’s gotten us here. Looking back through the years and the baby steps and the plateausit seems to be really consistent. We’ve never sat still for too long. We’ve been progressively moving towards the next goal. As long as we stay true to the fans and the music and what we believe inyou know, I think that we’ll be around for a while. We’re really happy that we can play what we want to play and no one will tell us otherwise. We do listen to criticism like “you play too damn fast; you need to slow down.” “Why didn’t you tell me that five years ago?” (laughter) We wouldn’t be able to evolve if we didn’t get on each other.

Brendan: It’s crazy. I was nervous going into New Year’s last year. I didn’t think we could sell out two nights at the Rivera. We’re stupid. And it totally sold out. It was great. The jump that we madewe don’t do smoke-filled bars anymore. I remember years ago saying we’ve got to get to larger venues. We can’t just do this. We’ve got to do it right or we just shouldn’t do it. So, we get to that point where we’re doing rooms like the 930 Club [Washington D.C.] and selling them out and Irving Plaza [New York] and now’s it’s kind of like the year we’ve had what used to be a goal is now an expectation. We’ve raised the bar to the next goal and will that become an expectation? It’s crazy. I expect to do well.

RR: How do you handle that sort of pressure?

Brendan: It’s all self-imposed. And when we don’t do wellwe’ve had a couple of shows where we said, “Damn, we sucked. Are we maxed out? Are we on our way down, already?”

RR: Does it take the enjoyment out of it?

Brendan: Yeah, it sucks! It’s deflating as hell because this is my life, you know? When it’s going well, it’s boring. When it’s a bad show or a bad turnout, it’s crushing.

RR: How do you handle all of the traveling on the road? For example, you flew home from Florida last Friday. This morning [Tuesday] you flew from Chicago to Phoenix for three gigs before Vegas on Friday. That has to take its toll.

Brendan: It’s just part of what you have to do to do your job. How ya gonna get there? You gotta fly. You gotta fly. A day like today we all got up at around 6am. We’ve already been up for 16 hours [the interview took place an hour before the gig]. Once it’s GO time (claps hands), it’s “Let’s go.”

RR: It’s all worth it?

Brendan: Right now, yeah. (Laughter) None of us want to get a real job and we do what we have to do to make this happen. We all feel like it’s totally worth it.

RR: Brendan once told me that he couldn’t have a huge ego because he gets a guitar lesson from you every night.

Jake: (Laughs) He’s being modest. I have a huge record and CD collection. I’ve always felt that how big your record collection is tells how good of a musician you are. If you’ve spent the time in researching, collecting and really understanding what you’re listening tothat instantly goes into your style. It’s like a catalyst or a vortex. Once I’ve heard it, it stays inside. If I hear Jerry [Garcia] too much, it will directly influence my playing. I’m really scattered across the board with what I listen to and I try to teach these guys the same way. Really broaden what you listen to, what you take in and what you really get into and that will reflect on your tightness, imagination and your ability to change colors as quickly and as often as possible. As far as Bayliss’s comment, I probably just bring that wide palette to the group.

RR: Keller Williams is opening for you this New Year’s Eve in a much larger room than last year’s Rivera Theatrethe Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.

Brendan: We were talking about what each of us were going to do for New Year’s and to our surprise he was totally into the idea. Shit, this is the Aragon. It was just basically coming out of factors like we knew each other and that this was not going to be work because we’re friends and we’ll look forward to seeing each other. It’s going to be good.

Kris: I’ll tell you thisthe Aragon is a special place that I grew up attending concerts all of the time. In the past, I would think: “Someday, I’d love to play here.” As a teenager, I’d look around and think how great it would be to play in this place and, now, I finally get to play there. That’s my own hometown where I grew up and it’s really something. That, to me, is the biggest thing. We’re going to make it a very worthwhile event.

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