1, 2, 3, 5…A (Nearly) Linear Confab With Jon Gutwillig
The Disco Biscuits require no real introduction, do they? Wella lot has changed since late 1995 when the Biscuit machine hit the scene and slowly made its way up the jamband totem pole playing a mixture of rock, dance, reggae and trance fusion music.
2006 marks their eleventh year as a band with only a single major change in their lineup. Last year, after what will prove to be the final Camp Bisco with its classic quartet intact, drummer Sam Altman left the band to pursue a career in medicine. His education begins later this year; meanwhile, the Biscuits have been very active getting the gears into a high gear beyond the obligatory transition mode. Allen Aucoin fills the potent drummer seat vacated by Altman and his presence in the band has produced equal parts joy, enthusiasm, confusion and bewilderment in the Bisco community. To lessen the blow, a new double live album was released this month, The Wind at Four to Fly, which features the classic lineup in one last victory lap around the live sonic highway.
The album is a glorious amalgamation of everything that has been pure and grand Bisco for over a decadefrom the seasoned chestnuts of “Voices Insane,” “Morph Dusseldorf” and the tour-de-force definitive jam of “Basis for a Day,” the band has crafted a timeless portrait of a group mind that is always questioning and probing under the rhythm surface and what Jon Gutwillig describes as “[an album that] captures the ability of the band to create different soundswith a really cool, old school vibe.” Jambands.com sat down with the Bisco guitarist and vocalist on the occasion of the album release and just prior to their spring tour. Gutwillig has a golden gift for dyslexic song inversion, set list anti-linear design, improvised film scores and rock operas. He also has a lot to say and while he [like this writer] can tend to veer towards Transition Land with a stop in Segue City, he always seems to circle back to his point with several fascinating examples in tow. Get the mental scissors out for a wee bit of Bisco cut, slice, paste and tape or read the article as one straight non-linear shooter. Dig in.
PART I The Epic Tale of Corrinado the Wise
“I saw a medley of haphazard facts fall into line and order“But it’s true,” I said to myself. “It’s very beautiful. And it’s true.” – The Search, C.P. Snow
RR: Does The Wind at Four to Fly capture a solid overall view of the Disco Biscuits?
JG: I think The Wind at Four to Fly has a really cool, old school vibe to it. There’s a certain wildness about the album that just happened because, I guess, we were just playing a little wild on that particular night. I don’t think that the shows that we were playing at that time had that same wildness. There are a couple lines played by me and Aron that are sort of out of the box. I really like them and it makes it a sort of spicy album. That’s what I like about it. I really think that it captures a lot of the essence of the band’s ability to play. It doesn’t really capture the sound of the band; it captures the ability of the band to create different sounds. It’s not really a trance fusion feeling.
RR: How close was the Duo’s Joe Russo to joining the Biscuits?
JG: [Marc] Brownstein was talking that up like it was going out of style. Joe’s one of the best drummers I’ve ever met. If you have the opportunity to hire him then, you’re pretty much going to be O.K. if you can hire the best. I don’t think that Joe is really that willing to not be fully dedicated to the Benevento/Russo Duo. Marco and Joe go back to childhood; they have that band and that band is always Joe’s number one priority. I don’t really think that there was ever a time that Joe was actually going to join [the Biscuits]. We had done gig after gig after gig with Joe while Sammy [Altman, original drummer] was doing his own thing. The side projects went up with all of the other band members and (laughs) Joe happens to be in most of those side projects. When you get off stage with Russo, commonly what you say is “GODthat guy is good!” It’s hard not to walk up to him, punch him in the stomach and say, “Heyya wanna join another band?!” There’s always room for Joe in the band. He’s a great guy to be around, too.
RR: Which songs have you dropped from rotation since Allen joined?
JG: We didn’t really drop anything, per se, because when Allen walked in the door, everything was dropped. We are just adding songs. Name a song that you don’t think we’re playing that you want us to play.
RR: You’ve got the frame, the new canvas and you’re deciding which colors to use?
JG: Yeah, I guess so. The songs are coming out differently. We are playing a lot of the Biscuit songs that people really like. There are some songs that are going to take a while to put back in because I don’t know how much time I want to spend in 2006 relearning stuff that I wrote in 1999. It just doesn’t appeal to me. At this point, we’re pretty much moving onto new stuff and keep pushing the old songs in but it could take us as long as 2008 to get all of the old songs back. There are just so many other things going on.
RR: How many new songs are waiting to be debuted?
JG: (long pause) There are ten or fifteen songs in general forms and in one or another form of disarray. I don’t know how long it is going to take to get them in; I don’t know what form we’re going to play them in. I honestly think that we could just sit in the studio and just pump music out for six monthsnew song after new song.
RR: When did you know that the band was back?
JG: Pretty much right away. I thought we played a great first show. I feel like it was sort of a “the band is back” type of vibe. It was that quick. It feels good; we rehearse every day. It’s different, you know? I’m sitting around and you ask, “What is it to put a new song in? What is the concept there? What are you doing? How can you have ten or fifteen songs in relative disarray? What is that?” I think what it iswe have a song that Aron pretty much entirely wrote himself that I had rearranged a little bit for him. Now, it has a nice form to it and a good feel and, yet, it doesn’t necessarily have a meaning. What’s the purpose for it? Why does it exist? I’m actually finding myself sitting in front of a pair of speakers asking that question. That to me is being back in the art game.
RR: Is that similar to the desire for a complete album experience with each song telling a small story that helps flesh out the greater whole as opposed to tacking on a whole bunch of filler songs? It’s very interesting that you said it like that because sometimes I think a musician never asks those sort of questions because they know that only three songs on the album are any damn good.
JG: Yeah. I know exactly what you mean. Even though Aron’s song is pretty much ready to go, we may not even play it. Sometimes it’s hard to realize when you actually have the meaning and you don’t or you do and you just don’t realize it. Sometimes it’s hard to play the song without [the meaning] because when you go and add it, you can no longer hear the song as a work-in-progressit sounds like a finished product. If I don’t want the song to sound like a finished product, I’ll shelve it. It makes the music changeable. I feel like a musician when I’m sitting around wondering, “Why the hell the music that I’m listening to has to be written? What would be the context that would make sense?” We’ve accomplished that in a lot of our music. “7-11” is a great example of that. The Biscuits are Back’ thing is more of a fan thing. To me, am I sitting around thinking: “What am I going to do with my life?” or am I sitting around thinking: “What am I going to do with this music?”
RR: What are you going to do about The Hot Air Balloon film?
JG: Uh, you knowI don’t know what they’re going to do with that. They started making it. We threw a little party and we took the money and donated it to those guys to make a trailer. We were writing a script for it and it ballooned into a much bigger story. There are a lot of things happening in the Hot Air Balloon that aren’t in the music and that need to be happening to make the plot events occur. We started scratching on that surface and it started turning into a bigger project. We’re working on it but it is not on the front burner. It’ll be fun when we get it done. The rhyme scheme [in HAB] is A-A-B-B-C-C-D-D or something like that and the scheme is weird and was inspired by Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate.” It also has a different and weird rhyme scheme but I figure if Bob’s using one, why don’t I? It inspired me to write a cool little poem that eventually turned into a rock opera. You can almost thank Bob Dylan for the whole rock opera. I also like Robert Hunter. “Wharf Rat” is an extremely special song. Bright Eyes is also a great lyricist. There are less good lyricists than there are good musicians.
RR: The Disco Biscuits were the cover story for the April/May 2005 issue of Relix. In the article, you mentioned that as soon as you became the Jon Gutwillig that you always wanted to be, people like your father still wanted you to get a real job.
JG: What I meant to say in the Relix article is that when I became the person I wanted to be, everybody turned on me. It wasn’t just my father. He was just telling me to get a job because I wasn’t making any money. Everybody else in the whole worldexcept for some random friendswere mad at me and angry. Basically, that’s how it seemed from my point of view. I guess now I don’t really know who I want to be, anymore. I stopped asking that question. I really have no idea. In those days, I had a very good idea and I know who that person is and it’s not that I forget who I wanted to be back then. I don’t know if I have that same intangible desire. But, I seem to doing the same things and those are things that I’ve only been doing for a month or twomaybe four months at this point. It takes a while to really get yourself to where you are living in the music. You have to work at it. We’ll see in a year from now if that is where I’ll be living.
RR: Does your dad still not want you to pursue art?
JG: My dad comes to shows, now. It’s a little easier to say, “Come to my show. There are 5,000 people there.” (laughter)
RR: “Come down to the bar, dad.”
JG: Yeah. Every once in a while, I don’t leave him tickets and make him stand outside. (laughter) You never know how the parents are going to look at what you do or, sometimes, how my grandparents look at it. It makes no sense to them. They still think I’m running around with Duke Ellington. (laughs) They don’t know what’s going on. I can’t even imagine what is going to be the same thing for me when I’m their age. They look at me and say: “What do you even do? Do you do anything? Do you play piano in a ballroom?” They don’t even understand anything about it. They’re too old to go to the concerts. The whole parentstrying tothere is really no question that it’s my father’s fault that I’m doing this. I really don’t doubt that, at all. The guy beat classical music into my head for the first seven years of my life. There’s no question that I’m at least going to have some appreciation for itlet alone an affinity for it, an innate understanding of music on a very base level. If he had sat there and put financial charts in front of me or a yo-yo, who knows what would have happened? Maybe I would have become a musician, anyway.
RR: Are you fairly content right now?
JG: I’m definitely not content. Content is not a good term. I don’t know if I’m moody or what. I get very emotionally attached to what I’m doing, how I’m doing it and what is being accomplished. Definitely content is not a good word for me. I would love to be content but
RR: Are you still artistically curious?
JG: What do you mean? Curious about what?
RR: Are you still assimilating influences and finding new ways to produce results? Do you still have interests so you’re not in a rut concluding that it’s just a job?
JG: Well, no. I definitely don’t think it’s just a job. I wish it was more like a job but it just can’t beit’s too personal. The other day I wrote a song in 1,2,3,5 and 8. Does that qualify as artistically curious?
JG: Frankly, it’s very musical. It took me a while to make it sound like just some goofy music because it’s in 1,2,3,5 and 8. It’s not in 4. It’s very hard. Eventually, I’ll have the whole song done. People will think it’s weird and crazy but I’ll be done with that. Yeah, I think I’m still artistically curious. The one thing I have an issue with is that I don’t feel like I have as much time as I did in the old days. I’m not sure if that’s a growing up’ thing or what that is.
RR: I hear ya. Pisses me off. I don’t even have time to be bored anymore! I don’t have any time to stare at the walls; I’m always moving from one thing to another and that feeling of “What happened to the time?”
JG: I don’t understand it. I sit around and wonder where the time goes and, you know what? I remember what it was like because I live in the same city. I’m so different than I was ten years ago when the band started but I just
RR: I think, somehow, suddenly, the laws of physics have been manipulated.
JG: I think you’re right. It goes by faster. Time to a younger person is infinitely longer. If someone is a year old and they’ve lived from age one to age two, they’ve doubled their lifethereby, if their perception of their own life is one year then, by living a second year, they’re living double their perception of what life is and, therefore, that’s HUGE, you know? Meif I had one more year, it’s a thirtieth of how long I’ve been on Earth and not as big as a deal. Maybe, there’s some truth to your physics theory in there.
RR: Well, I’m never bored anymore and maybe that’s a good deal.
JG: Is it the computer? Is it the Internet? There are other facets involved here. There are a lot of changes from the old days. We used to hang out on porches and smoke weed and I used to go home for seven hours and sit with my guitar and then I used to go out and drink. Yeah, there doesn’t seem that there’s that kind of time, anymore. I’m going to blink and it’s going to be June 30th. I don’t understand. That’s really what I’m trying to get my head around right now: “what happened to all of the time?”
PART II Home Again
“The question is: How does it end? The answer is: It doesn’t. Ask any scientist and one will tell you. It keeps going. At the same beat. On. Off. On. Off.” – The Politics of Ecstasy, Timothy Leary
RR: I just sat in on a Relix Cold Turkey podcast with Mike Greenhaus and Allman Brothers Band archivist, Kirk West. I asked West about Duane Allman’s background because he, obviously, had classical music influences. I also compared his work with some of the classical music structure you have brought to the Biscuits. How did this structure give you a new way of presenting either a song, set list or an entire show? It became almost like a trademark of the band to subvert your music.
JG: Thank you. The classical music thing is interesting because, basically, that is all my
father ever listened to. I had such a detailed classical education without even realizing it. It was sort of like Tiger Wood’s dad having his kid on the golf course at the age of 4. By the time I was 4, I had heard music from pre-baroque all the way up through the romantic era and a ton of neo-classical stuffnot too much of your Bartoks and stuff like that but I would eventually find that stuff and your Dvoraks and all the way back to Carelli. There was a whole world of music in there that I just thought was normal. Yeah, I heard Eddie Rabbit on the radio and “The Windshield Wipers Slapping Time” and all of your standard radio stuff. When I got home, the whole catalog of classical music that I was being exposed to was fairly intense.
When I went into college, I studied it a little bit just because, you know, musicians like to study music. I really learned a lot about the musical foundations behind that and why things were the way they were but I knew all of that music, already. It was interesting because it gave me a whole other look at something that I really knew well inside and out. I think that what it did was that it allowed me to learn how the music felt before I learned why what they did made you feel that way. I knew how the songs felt as a three year old would feel the song but there was no reality to actually creating that sound until many years later when I actually became interested in finding out how to create that sound. I already knew the feeling I was going for when I decided to put music down and create music that was based upon that feeling. When people mention that there are a lot of classical music influences in my music, it is just undeniable.
The thing that you’re talking about is how does set list changes come about and the form and structure changes come about
RR: I almost parallel it to Stravinsky’s work because people were outraged when he redefined how a piece of music could be presented.
JG: Yeah, no harmonies, really. If Stravinsky did anything perfectly, he hit the nail on the head when it came to what the most evil harmonies were. (laughter) His orchestra is darker than Korn. With all of their electronics and all of their tattoos and all of their nose rings, they cannot be as dark as Stravinsky because he invented the darkest harmonies. A lot of times they do a lot of things that he does like tune the low E string down to a D which gives you a fifth on the bottom and that fifth Stravinsky uses on the bottom. Simply because it is what it isa fifth on the bottom sounds a little more evil and anyone trying to make evil music is probably going to discover that, eventually.
Why do we change our songs and structures around? It was a solution to a problem and the problem was that I really love this set we’re about to play except it doesn’t have an ending. I want to jam into “Above the Waves” right here but we haven’t played “Above the Waves,” yet and I don’t want to put it at the beginning of the set because I love the beginning of the set. A lot of good ideas in the world come out of solutions to problems and all of our set list madness was just tiny little pieces of inspiration on how to solve the problem? How do we end the set without having to change the beginning of it? Then, it became obvious. Let’s just play “Above the Waves” and then we get to the end and the end is exactly the same as the beginning and end at the beginning when we’re therejust like in a jam, let’s go somewhere else. From that point on, the fans immediately recognized it as its own thing and gave it a name and, at that point, sort of language cropped up behind it. You’re saying it’s some sort of trademark of the band and I don’t know if other bands do that sort of thing. I really don’t know that much about it.
RR: Was that the same thought process that went into the live scoring of films? Was the band looking for a different way to approach a show or set list?
JG: I wouldn’t necessarily connect those two but I see how you can connect them. I never thought about it that way. (pause) You knowthe reason behind the film score thing was that a lot of times we sit around and wonder why we’re doing what we’re doing. “When we play something on stagewhy? What’s the point?” Sometimes, we’re sitting around and saying “why are we actually thinking these thoughts while we’re playing?” The whole idea of the movie was to have a source to create the thoughts from and we said, “Let’s use a movie.” Originally, we thought we’d have a conductorlike Bret Maxwell. Let’s get a conductor so we can change the essence of what everybody’s thinking about but we decided upon a movie. I think it was Sam’s idea. I’d like to do the movie a little deeper instead of just improvising ithave more sections inside of there. I think improv is better when you have chances to lay off the improv and play together a little bit and gel and then get back into the improv.
RR: Are you planning on any more shows with film scores in the next few years?
JG: It is very open right now. Absolutely. It’s interesting that you mention it, though; because those are the only times that we’ve done sets of just pure improv. That’s what I sort of think Miles Davis’s music sounds like. I’m trying to figure out how to capture his recklessness in our music. I can’t quite figure out how he did it. I’m listening to Bitches Brew and some other stuff and he’s got some serious players who seem to be tight and together but then there’s a total reckless looseness to it. I’m trying to sort out how to translate some of that to the band. I think right now we’re sort of stumbling into a new sound that is an extension of our old soundan even deeper form of electronic music, a more hardcore dance music with a deeper electronic vibe, which has less harmony than most music. It has less melodyI don’t know what you would call itan excitement created more by sound than by actual music. The best approach to playing it right now is to stumble into it and then don’t think. The second we start thinking we’re not playing beyond where we’re supposed to be, anymore.
RR: Jon, I’m sure your mind covers around eighteen different levels while you’re playing. How do you turn your thought process off?
JG: I’m up there just focusing. There is no playing without focus for me. Maybe, in the early days it existed but not anymore. That is not true for everyone in my band. Aron [Magnor, Biscuit keyboardist] can really let go and go into another planet altogether and he can really lose himself in the instrument. I think Allen [Aucoin, new Biscuit drummer] does that pretty well, too. I feel like I have a harder job because of the guitarit’s not 1974. The guitar soloist is what it is but you’re never going to be breaking new ground with a guitar and distortion. You can’t break new ground if you’re just going to run over the old ground. As a guitar player, I have to be extremely careful to stay away from what is the old ground. It means getting lost in a giant guitar solo is not an option and I haven’t felt like it’s been an option for six or seven years. People have accused me of not playing enough but that’s pretty much why.
RR: I’m usually listening to the arc of the story being told when I dig really deep into a strong musician’s workedgy tune with an emotional arc is everything to me.
JG: You have to have the arc in every single jam. I don’t necessarily think that a lot of musicians agree with that. In a way, I’m a man on an island in that particular department. I think that there are other guitarists that do that sort of thing but I don’t think that there are a lot of musicians that agree with me. Especially outside the guitar player world, it gets few and far between with musicians that are really consciously trying to keep a musical conversational voice consistent from the beginning when they start using the voice to the end. That’s why I never lose focus because I’m always trying to maintain that consistency. I might not be successful at it but I’m always trying.
RR: Are you always trying to modify your level of restraint on guitar?
JG: Yeah, I’ll sit on stage for fifteen minutes and not play a note. I don’t have any issues with restraint. (laughter) I did that in Amsterdam two weeks ago [Jam in the Dam]. People asked, “Why didn’t you play?” There was nothing for me to play in the space. That happened to be one of those jams where the other guys in the band were out in this new kind of techno that we’re playing that is very dark and lacks harmony and melody. My primary job, you would think on paper, is to add melody. I feel like my primary job is to add harmonyto enrich the harmonic content of whatever we are playing. There’s really no room for it in this kind of music that I’ve figured out, yet. Sometimes, I’m sitting there and there’s not really a line for me to fill in. I could pull a keyboard up and fill a keyboard line in because it’s that kind of world where you can have 17 or 18 keyboards lined on top of each other. I don’t think you can just throw a guitar note in there without being responsible for what it’s going to do. A lot of times, I don’t throw the note in if I’m not sure I can be responsible for the effect of that note.
RR: You mention Miles Davis and there were a lot of times when he wasn’t playing.
JG: Yeah, he’d sit out for fifteen minutes and then go “doo-da-DAH-DAH” and, then, BOOM, everybody would change. He’s gota lot of those guys, especially Chick [Corea] is playing beyond any kind of thought process. I think it is really Miles framing this super talented group of people in whatever a musical scholar would call that kind of music [Musical Scholar’s Note: “Outrageously Bitchin’ Genius”]. To me, it’s just unbridled shredding by people that are thinking about nothing else except how am I playing and let’s just play. Then, you have this one guy in the middle of it that is sort of dropping street signs in the road for these guys to play off. That’s a lot of the way that I feel about our new kind of music. I’ve transcribed enough of Miles’s solos and learned enough from him over the years that I definitely think that there is still other stuff for me to learn. A lot of times I turn to him whenever I have a question of how to approach this kind of music. What we’re doing now immediately reminded me of Bitches Brew. I’ll sit there for ten minutes and then go “da-da-da-NAH” on guitar and see if it works. I’ll trust Miles’s instincts in what was his similar situation.
RR: Is that based on the drummer transition from Sam Altman to Allen Aucoin?
JG: Sam is going to be a doctor and he’s a real thinker. The band started as me and Sam. I guess it wasn’t the band then, but the first member of the band that I ever played with was Sam and that was for a good year before I played with any of the other guys. Me and Sam go way back and we have a lot of similar musical roots. When I’m able to communicate with someone about music, a lot of times it is because we have similar roots. Sam and I were able to communicate a lotespecially, in the early formative years when we were trying to figure out what not to play. Really what you do in the first couple of years is figure out what not to play, how to not sound bad and, then, you figure out how to sound better. First thing you’ve got to do is cut out the terrible stuff.
Allen is coming from a whole other world and he’s coming from a world that is very similar to Aron. He has such talent on his instrument that he can play beyondhe can play and probably shave at the same time because it doesn’t take that much thought for him. Aron sat down at his keyboards when Tiger Woods sat down with his golf clubs. Aron is the most natural keyboard player I’ve ever seen. He can literally play on his keyboard and hold a conversation simultaneously and what he’s playing on his keyboard will make sense and be good. It is a different part of his brain that developed at such an early age because it’s like a Mozart-type of thing. For me, I don’t really have that. There’s an aspect to the way those guys play that I respect but I don’t necessarily enjoy the same perks and qualities in my playing. It’s like someone with perfect pitch; I don’t have perfect pitch. I have to actually figure out what kind of note I’m trying to hear. Someone with perfect pitch has an advantage; these guys have something different; they have a virtuostic connection with their instruments. I don’t really have that and I don’t really think that Marc [Brownstein, Biscuits bassist] has that, either. The two of us have to do a lot more thinking about what we do because we can’t go on autopilot. I guess, at this point, my autopilot is probably better than most because I’ve been playing guitar for so many years, played so many concerts and it’s been my day job for long enough that, after a while, you’re going to get good at it. But with these guys [Magner and Aucoin], there was no issue about getting better at it. The connection from Aron’s subconscious to his fingers is there.
RR: When Sam left, he took part of the rocker’s mindset awaycoupled with your own. As the lone rocker with three electronica band members, do you feel that the Biscuits are shifting back towards electronic beats?
JG: I’m actually shifting the band on purpose towards electronic beats and I’m the rock guy. The reason I’ve been shifting the band towards electronic beats and pushing that directionwhy am I doing that? That’s a good question. (laughter) Well, I don’t know why. (laughter) I’m just doing that. I just think that the rock n’ roll stuffI used toI could take a song like “7-11” and it’s rock n’ roll and the same old shit but it just works for some reason. It sounds like the lyrics are dictating the changes in the music and they have to happen because they are natural and, yet, goofy as hell at the same time. I feel like that style of songwriting is something that comes at a little bit of a different stage in the process than we’re in right now. I think it is groove-oriented stuff. In essence easier but, it’s also leaves a lot more room for experimentation. Bitches Brew is an entirely groove-oriented album and leaves the players a chance to play giving everybody a really comfortable, cool and reliable feeling with each other. We’ll get to songs like “7-11” in the future but, right now, I think it’s just fun to get on stage as a band and gel and the band gels so well over electronic music. I’ve been sort of pushing us in that direction and it hasn’t really been the other guys because I’ve been putting in the electronic songs. Well, that’s not true. Everybody’s been putting in electronic songs, actually. I think you have to think which songs I’ve brought out so it’s going to go a little electronic.
RR: How did the Amsterdam dates go for the Jam at the ’Dam?
JG: They were great. We played great at all of the shows. We hit that one night where we really played what I think is a totally different kind of music. That was wild and I’m still waiting to hear the tapes because I’ve got to hear what the hell it sounds like.
RR: What part of the run was that show?
JG: That was the middle nightlast half-hour of the show. I was standing there not playing but the rest of the band was just killing it. I was just looking from my little Miles Davis spot because I didn’t want to interrupt. They’ve got something going on and let them play and wait until they need help and be right there at that point in time. In those situations on stage, I’m still very focused; I just don’t happen to be playing anything. A lot of times there seems to be something going on in there and I’m the one in the band trying to get to the bottom of it, trying to harness it a little bit and figure out what it is that’s going to give people that feeling and then be able to control that a little bit better.
RR: Did you get a chance to check out the Benevento/Russo Duo in Amsterdam?
JG: The Duo? I actually spent an evening hanging out with Joe Russo and Umphrey’s McGee, which was one of the more hilarious nights I’ve had in a long time. We didn’t share the stage with the Duo so I ended up seeing [Sound Tribe] Sector 9 twice. We also shared the stage with Umphrey’s McGee once. To get through to the other stage, I have to go into the crowd and walk through the crowd and get to the other side and sometimes that takes me a long time because usually people want to talk with me. It takes me a good 25 minutes to move politely through the crowd. It takes me longer to get back so, typically, I’ll just stay on my side. We’re very close with the guys from Sector 9.
RR: Are they considered your second generation?
JG: Of Biscuits? I think they started out that way but I don’t necessarily think that’s the case, anymore. When they started out, I remember when we played the first show with them in Atlanta. They were all Biscuit fans and they were all cool. The amazing thing was that we were talking about “Little Betty Boop,” and at that point in time, they were just a talented group of young guys. Now, they’re just a talented group of older guys. They are a lot of different bands at once and they switch from one band to the next extremely flawlessly. I want our band to do that, as well. Regardless of Sector 9, we’ve been discussing that for years. We want to go from jungle to rock to reggae and we want to keep our environments that we’re working into. Those guys are really at the top of the heap when it comes to pulling that shit off.
Part III Gimme Three Steps
“However Moliere himself is not there. The sarcophagus that bears his name does not contain his body, but rather the remains of some Parisian nobody.” – After the Funeral, Edwin Murphy
RR: In the metal world according to Spinal Tap, bands lose their drummers to vomit, overdoses and spontaneous combustion. However, in the jamband world, what is with the recent loss of drummers to medical school?
JG: (laughs) I think it has a lot to do with the longevity of the average jamband. A band like the Grateful Dead or the Beatlesone was a jamband, one was not. One was around for eight years and one was around for 40 and, arguably, still going. If you’re in a band for six years, no one has time to leave. You go out, play some concerts, get into the scene a little bit, you have a great time and then, BOOM, it’s over. I think a lot of times it was over because somebody died like in Led Zeppelin’s case. I think the Biscuits have been around longer than the Beatles.
RR: Oh, yeah. What was it1995?
JG: Yeah, end of ’95a little over ten years. I think it was eight for the Beatles. I’m not a big expert on the Beatles but somebody told me eight and I could be wrong.
RR: Yeah, eight. 1962-1970. Although, emotionally, I think it was more like three years. Later on, they were so detached from the group concept.
JG: I think a lot of times people start physically pursuing the band thing at the age of 15 or 16. At age 18 or 19, you get a car and a job whacking weeds down the street or whatever to make enough money to buy an amplifier. Then, you’re in the band at 20 and you find a couple of other guys that also bought amplifiers. Then, you find out two or three of them have only been doing it for the music. You fire those guys. The rest of the guys are all there for the chicks and you know you’ve got a band. You write some songs and as everybody seems to like those songs, you meet a fat guy who puts you on the road.
For me, I bought the amp in ’93; we fired the guy who was into it for the music in ’94; we hit the road in ’95; we met the fat guy in ’96; he put us on the road in ’97 and ’98; broke up in ’99, right on time; 2000, we had our reunion; 2002, we had our Senor Boombox album; 2003, Sammy leaves the band, right on time.
RR: So you fired the guy that was just in the band for the musicthat’s pretty funny.
JG: I was just joking. (laughter) It seems like when bands fire people, they are always so convinced that they are firing people for the right reasons. The most stoned people in the room are convinced that they are doing things correctly. It makes me laugh when other bands make decisions including my own band.
RR: Speaking of decision-making processwhen did you start noticing that the fans had created a community around the Disco Biscuits?
JG: I actually remember the day. We were playing this pancake house of January ’99 or ’99 in rural Pennsylvania. It was a black square, white square linoleum floor restaurant. A guy owned a restaurant and put a band in there to sell some beer, too. Of course, we played there because we played everywhere. Bret Maxwell Daltonour early archivist before he was our archivistwas at that show and he was a very unmistakable tall guy with a headband. He used to compose like a conductor; he would conduct the band while we played. The last time he did it, we met him and said, “What’s your name, dude? You’re crazy.” We were at this pancake house in rural Pennsylvania and there he was again and, at that point, I thought, “Oh my god. These guys are following us.”
PART IV Koyaanisqatsi Now!
“His eyes lit up, as if they were opening for the first time, and I had a glimpse of some demonic intelligence at least glancingly in residence there.” – Gun, With Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem
RR: Historically, 1999 was a huge year for the Disco Biscuits. Looking back, to what extent was the influx of fans and notoriety a disruption to your work?
JG: (long pause) The day you realize you have fans is a double-edged sword because it makes you happy that people recognize what you are doing but from time-to-time it makes you bite your tongue. It makes you hold back, sometimes. The day before that realization you thought you were writing songs for you and the band and playing them. The day after that realization, you’re writing songs for you and the band and playing them but you are also writing songs for unknown person, number x. It really makes the job a lot harder. With every new fan, comes more responsibility. It is like the pressure on professional basketball players to behave in a certain way and lead a certain life because they are under a microscope. It’s harder to perform under those conditions. You’d think that you’re just out there playing basketball but when 20,000 people are watching you take a jump shot, it’s a lot harder to take a jump shot.
RR: This generation of fans has easier access to live music than any prior generation. I think as a musician that is also a double-edged sword. Three hours after a show, before you’ve even had a chance to digest your own work, some fan can hear and nitpick the performance. In the past, there was a mystique about a live performance that wasn’t so thoroughly analyzed which created a legend.
JG: Well, you know, it’s interesting because I sort of equate it to baseball. Babe Ruth. Best baseball player in the world at one pointat least, the best home run hitter in the world. How do you think he would do in the big leagues, today?
RR: Every woman, hot dog and beer would be written about 150 times in the press.
JG: Do you think he would hit the ball, today?
RR: UmmmI think he would but he’d have a sense of distraction and pressure that he couldn’t have comprehended back in 1927.
JG: I don’t think he’d even get a bat on the ball. He’d be lucky to get a single. The conditions he was in as a person and the life that he lived and was able to still succeed in has completely and utterly vanished through heightened competition. I don’t think the pitchers of today are going to let a guy like Babe Ruth get a bat on the ball.
RR: Do you think the music gets better because of that heightened attention?
JG: I don’t know. I don’t have an opinion about it. I try to stay away from it. I’m sort of from the old guard. I was into bands where we found people whose older brothers went to college in the towns where bands played. We tried crafty ways of getting the music and that sort of aspect of it is gone. It’s much easier now; it’s much more convenient and I do enjoy that convenience, as well. I miss the way that it was but, you know, it doesn’t really matter to me. People do like to nitpick stuff and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand it. When I would nitpick stuff, I would nitpick stuff for different reasons, entirely. I don’t hear people nitpicking stuff for the same reasons that I rememberthinking about what was being played. I don’t really read the nitpicking so I don’t necessarily know what they are talking about. I do read stuff but it doesn’t seem to be coming from the same angle and that’s sort of why I don’t read it. I don’t quite understand what they are getting it. I used to try to figure out harmonically what bands were doing. I don’t see a lot of that kind of nitpicking; I see a more Americana style of nitpicking; a reality TV style of nitpicking. I don’t quite understand that because I’m from a little bit more of an older guard.
RR: I share a bit of that old guard’ kinship. I used to listen to live versions of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” and question Robert Plant’s echoed sexual scat after Jimmy Page’s riffs during the violin bow sequence.
JG: Jimmy Page is my favorite guitar player of all time. I know exactly what you are talking about when they would [echo a riff between singer and guitarist] back and forth. I like “I Can’t Quit You, Babe,” though. I’m a big fan of it, there. The “Dazed and Confused” oneit is a little weird. We’ve played “Dazed and Confused” as a band and we did not do that. (laughter) We cut that part out.
RR: You’re even more macho than Robert Plant?
JG: He’s more macho than me by doing it and not caring. (laughter)
RR: Sure. I’m going to have an orgasm on stage and you’re going to like it.
JG: You can’t be much more macho than Robert Plant. (laughter) He’s as close to the definition as you can get. It’s funny you mentioned that because we didn’t do that part. Jimmy Page is my Beethoven. The Beatles are my Mozart. History repeats itself. Elvis is like Bachvery prolific and a lot of the same shit over and over and over again but extremely influential. He was sort of a man on an island in his time. Then you have your supernatural talents who are melodic geniuses and are going to be around longer than Bach and Elvis and that’s the Beatles and that’s your Mozart. You also have your pure unadulterated powerful genius that is angry because he can’t be as melodic as the melodic genius that came before him but has just as much talent and ten times the fire and that’s your Led Zeppelin and that’s your Beethoven.