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Published: 2006/08/18
by Randy Ray

Russo and Benevento Stop, Pause and Play

The Benevento-Russo Duo occupies a unique place in modern American music. They are an eccentric group with no bassist, guitarist, horn section, lead singer and, most critically, no sound like any other on the radio. In fact, the band has continued to hone their well-crafted curios with a fine Bonsai tree precision while attracting a growing flock of jaded and curious music lovers alike. What they do have is a genuine LARGE sound made by two musicians on a drum kit. sample pads, a Hammond B-3, a Rhodes, a piano and bass pedalsyou know, your basic economically feasible electronic symphony. Benevento and Russo call their music “instrumental rock” but it is more akin to three-dimensional ear candy lounge music played by really sharp and talented extraterrestrials.

The band attracts slavish devotion from his cult of fans, adoring rock critics and gaggle of guest stars. Recently, the Duo opened up a three-act tour from late June to July with Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon sharing the headliner bill with Phil Lesh and Friends. Also unique amongst this billing was the fact that the Duo got to play a thirty-minute set of their own original material highlighting songs from their recent release Play Pause Stop, their first studio album, Best Reason to Buy the Sun and other material. caught up with the Duo before the second leg of their 2006 campaigncleverly entitled the Pause’ portionwhile juggling topics ranging from Benevento’s hyperactivity, Russo’s quiet King of the Skins super cool aura, their recording process, Bonnaroo, the G.R.A.B. tour with Lesh and the fine art of selecting lifelong friends carefully, shrewdly, accidentally and diametrically opposed to your own persona. As Benevento points out: “It’s funnyJoe and I are like yin and yang.”

Prelude – The Mother of All Jams: Gordon, Russo, Anastasio, Benevento and Lesh

“Ah, yesh, the main event called the Super Jam, took place on Saturday and most fans did not know who would play. I figured my old friend Trey wouldn’t be able to play since he had a gig in another state opening for Sir Thomas Petty of Heartbreak Ridge. Alas, thankfully, I was wrong. Lesh played with the boys for a while and we had a wonderful prelude to the highly anticipated Trey/Gordo/Duo/PL&F tour.” – Notes from the Road,, June 2006

RR: Like many lucky folks, I popped up at the Bonnaroo Super Jam and that was the first time I caught the four of you together on stage. How did you feel? Were you nervous about things beforehand?

JR: Ummmslightly. A little bit more anxious, I guessjust not knowing what it was going to be like. We had four rehearsals before Bonnaroo and that was all of the rehearsals that we did for the tour, really. That was a week or two prior to Tennessee. (laughs) I was definitely a little apprehensive, I guesswondering what it was going to be like on stage. How is it going to sound? Are we going to remember the material? How are we going to play together? Definitely going into it, I was excited but, you know, anxious to get through the first one to see what it was going to be all about.

MB: The Super Jam was unbelievable. I felt really comfortable and excited because of the energy. I had never been around that many people. Also, there was the excitement that everyone knew we were going on tour in the summer with Trey and Mike. For us to be doing this secret show was very exciting. I didn’t even tell people until the day of the show. It’s like catching your favorite band at their last rehearsal before they hit the road. That really added to the excitementeveryone looking forward to the summer tour. For me, I was thinking “Is this what it is going to be like every night? This is going to be incredible.” I was just very high on energy. I only had like a half a beer. (laughter)

Part I – Play Pause Stop

“the platoon o’ two offered edible morsels of songs that are featured on their new album, Play Pause Stop and nuggets from their initial release without straying too far from the melodic canon. Quite frankly, the Duo appeared to want to familiarize the crowd with their material while, hopefully, offering something fresh and permanent in virgin B/R skulls. Benevento was polite and accomplished on keys and crowd quips while Russo played tight but loose and loud on drums. No jams, but a slice of what could be quite a cool little ride.” – Notes from the Road,, July 2006

RR: What’s your assessment of the new record?

JR: On our last record, Best Reason to Buy the Sun, we came out pretty close with what we had intended. We came as close as we could in our maturity and songwriting ability, at the time. I think we did a good job but even more so, on the new record, Play Pause Stop, we finally captured what we were trying to go for on Best Reason.

MB: We had been listening to a lot of Radiohead, Coldplay and Beck and I also remember listening to albums and albums of John Coltrane solos once and Joe said, “You know what really gets me off over a solo? A song.” I remember thinking, “Whoa. No, I get off over a solo by hearing somebody wail, rip or expressing themselves and turning themselves into nothing by soloing”which I do. I’ll always love that but when Joe said that I thought, “Why do we know the Beatles and Radiohead and Led Zeppelin?” It’s because of their songs.

So we had a little shift where we said let’s start writing songs as the Duo: intro, verse, chorus, outroa song instead of A-B-A which is “we head to the bridge, solo, do A again and then it’s out.” It’s been pretty cool like studying both worldsrock and jazz. We used to call our sound jazz love rock and now on the new record and when we perform live, its just rock, instrumental rock.

RR: That’s interesting about that shift in the Duo’s sound over the course of your last two studio albums because you just toured with Treya musician who has been refining his song craft in a very explicit manner over the last couple of years.

MB: That’s totally true. I agree. (laughs) We definitely did some serious jamming and explored many realms but, for the most part, Trey’s been opening up for Tom Petty and he’s been very influenced by him. He would say, “Listen to Tom Petty’s set. Every song is a hit.” I think I once owned one of Petty’s albums but at Bonnaroo I knew every lyric of every song. Trey’s also been listening to a lot of Elliot Smith’s music lately so he’s completely searching for that song as Joe and I are doing. Like Trey, we are also very much curious about sonically exploring what could happen with this insatiable appetite about songwriting, improvisation and learning more about harmony.

RR: You didn’t have guest musicians on this recording after loading Best Reason with Duo-plus performances. Any particular reason to the shift in thought process?

JR: Best Reason to Buy the Sun was stronger because of the guests. It got good reviews and people liked it so we said, “O.K. We can do whatever we want. Let’s not be afraid.” On the first record, there was a bit of apprehensionlet’s keep it a little jazzier and do things that we’re really known for live. On the new record, we just went for it. Yeah, I guess the songs are better. They have more depth, confidence and maturity so this one really hit the mark for us.

MB: I would say that we got more into melody writing and less rhythmic writing on the new album. For example, I would write a song that was more guitar-friendly so I would write a song in A, instead of A Flatyou know, just simple stuff like that. I would write a song in 1,4,5 and write using different techniques. I also got Pro Tools in my house so I had the ability to sort of mess around with the way things sound. Joe wanted to use his drum pad for more melodic materialracy, busy stuff so Joe took some keyboard samples and I started playing foot bass, which freed up my left hand to play chords, my right hand to play melodies. Joe could also double that stuff with his pad. Ever since we started the band, we’ve been simplifying.

Play Pause Stop is a lot simpler than our work in the past even though the songs from the album were some of the harder songs for Trey and Mike to pick up this summer. It is pretty complicated but it’s a lot simpler compared to some of the other stuff we had been doing.

RR: Let’s look at the Duo’s songwriting process on the new album. For example, who wrote “Something for Rockets?”

MB: Joe came up with the melody at the beginning and end of the song. I had the chord progression. I gave Joe a bunch of notes. I said “Take these notes and put them on your drum pads” so he had them on different pads. I then said, “I’m going to play this chord progression over and over again and you go ahead and write a melody.” After a while, he would play something and say, “this is the melody” so I would say that I wrote most of the chords and he supplied the melody; although, we agreed upon both. I wrote the melody in the middle sectionthat part came out of a jam that I had with Marc [Friedman], Andrew and Brad [the Brothers Barr] from The Slip. They had a gig in Rhode Island, which I played and I listened to the tape and heard it in one of our jams.

RR: On Play Pause Stop, is it an accurate statement that the majority of songs start off as simple ideas that get really complex before a return to a basic melodic theme?

JR: We definitely tried to make it as lyrical as possible. We tried to have that continuity of a song playing throughyou know, rock songs without vocals. You could sing something to it and still keep it in your head without the words.

RR: You do have that Valhalla Viking chant on the title track.

JR: That’s me, Marco and a couple of guys from Something for Rockets who we toured with in L.A. They’re absolutely incredible. We were just playing it and I said, “Dude, maybe we should just sing this part or chant it.”

*RR: I hear Zeppelin in the chant“Achilles Last Stand” meets “Immigrant*Song.”

JR: (laughs) Right. Alright. Yeah.

Part II – Who Needs A Bassist?

“Hap-Nappy” had Gordon on rubbery funk bass guitar and lead vocals with Benevento contributing sax sound effects on keys on this new number. Another Trey solo track “Spin” followed and was going down quite well until it hit a Gordon-led jam passage for another set peak as the band threw out their carefully-scripted notes and went for the edge of the universe and succeeded in their very trippy and exploratory journey. – Notes from the Road,, July 2006

RR: Jake Szufnarowski from Wetlands Preserve also booked artists at the Knitting Factory in New York City and got the Duo the residency in 2002. Is that how you and Marco got the ball rolling?

JR: We hadummmO.K. (laughter) This is how it was. I was doing a gig at the Lansky Lounge with a couple of cats from Bostona weekly/bi-weekly gig. We were playing one night and Marco was across the street in line at the Tonic to see Medeski, Martin and Wood. Marco had to use the bathroom so he came across the street into the bar with one of his friends from Berklee and that’s how we met again after not seeing each other since junior high school. Marco sat in that night with us and we exchanged numbers. He said, “Yeah, I’ve got this gig going on and you should come down.” He gave me a call and I started playing with Marco’s bandorgan, drums, percussion and sax. I don’t think there was a bass player.

RR: You guys hate bassists, don’t you?

JR: (laughs) Yeah, totally.

RR: And somehow you end up with Mike Gordon. “It’s Zeus or nobody.”

JR: When we were on the stage with fucking Gordon, Les Claypool and Phil Leshwe didn’t have a bass player and now we’ve got three of these fucking guys! (laughter)

RR: “Honestly, we’re not snobs. It’s just the way things turn out. They ask us. We’ll get back to you, Phil.”

JR: (laughs) Totally. It’s so funny, though.

RR: How did Mike initially get involved with the Duo?

JR: With Mike, we had met a few years ago through Andy at Ropeadope. Mike was going on tour and was looking for a drummer. Andy suggested that Mike should come to one of our shows, he checked us out and then Mike and me played together one day at his apartment [when Gordon still lived in Manhattan]. The tour thing didn’t work out so we decided to play again in the future. A couple of months later, Marc Brownstein from the Biscuits called and said that he was putting on a fundraiser for HeadCountyou know, the voter registration groupat the B.B. King and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I said, “I’ll call Mike” and Marc replied [Russo does a perfect Brownstein imitation]: “Dude, you gotta call Mike!” (laughter) I called up Mike and gave him the whole shpiel and he said, “Alright. Alright. How many rehearsals are we going to do?” I said, “None.” And he said, “Great. I’m in.” (laughter) From that first moment it was awesome. “How many rehearsals?” “None.” “Great. I’m in.”

MB: Mike would come and see us in New York when he had that pad near the Knitting Factory. He would show up and I would think “Oh my God, that’s Mike Gordon. That’s pretty cool. What’s he doing here? I guess he’s checking the music out.” I just went up to him and said, “Hey, dude, did you bring your bass?” I’m very outgoing and Joe likes to call me mildly retarded’. He says, “Dude, you don’t have to act like a retard.” And I say, “No, dude, I’m just excited.” I’m totally kidding and just loving life. I tend to open my mouth and just blurt things out.

So one of the first things I said to Mike was “Did you bring your bass?” Mike said “No.” I said, “Come up and play some bass lines. Come up and play some keyboards.” And he said “Allllright.” He was into it. It turns out that Mike was looking for drummers but Joe and I had just started the Duo and I’m still not sure what happened.

RR: That led to touring which produced a superlative version of Phish’s “Foam.”

JR: Oh, yeah. (laughs) A 52-minute “Foam” or whatever the hell it wasyou know what was so cool about that song which was so much fun to play was that we were at dinner before that setwe had to do two sets each nightand we were joking around and said “Why don’t we do a whole first set “Foam?” And Mike said, “O.K.” And then we actually did that and it was really really fun. Plus, we were having so much fun because we thought that we were fucking with people, too.

MB: Mike’s a bass player that is way into expecting whatever the hell happens. He’s also a great listener and he’ll go anywhere the music wants to go. Harmonically, he’ll surprise me. In the trio setting, I’m making the chords and harmony over his bass notes and it is kind of fun. He’s kind of a quirky dude and he’ll surprise me.

RR: The 2005 Bonnaroo show is a good example of that.

MB: Yeah. I listened to that again the other day. We stretched out a few Phish songs so they weren’t so Phishy.

RR: You also played a surprise Thursday night gig at Roo 05 out in the field of the Main Stage area for about a hundred people. I saw that one and it was fairly tight.

MB: Yeah, that was a great Duo show! I remember that as being really fun.

RR: Later in 2005, you raised further eyebrows with Mike on “You Enjoy Myself.”

JR: Yeah, treading on sacred ground. On the last tour, we just said, “Fuck it. Let’s just do it” because we do it our own way, anyway. If anything, we were paying homage to how good these songs are and putting our own spin on it. We played one of the “Foams” for Trey on the last tour and he said, “Wow, that’s fucking weird. It’s cool. I like it.”

Part III Benerusso Treydon Overdrive

Russo, as he would throughout the brief G.R.A.B. run, really kicked the collective group in the ass while pushing the tempo upstage front and center. Again, Anastasio and Benevento developed a solid rhythm rapport with their penchant for funk groove templates, and, well, writing about the brilliance and 2006 MVP status of Mike Gordon may appear a bit superfluous but Cactus was rock bottom brilliant. – Notes from the Road,, July 2006

RR: I was asked by friends about Trey/Mike/Duo activities earlier this year because of some interviews I had conducted and I was coy about details. However, the four cats are out of the bag so I can ask a few questions. How did Trey get involved with the Duo?

JR: Trey was working on his new album because I guess he had heard about the things that we had been doing with Mike and he kind of wanted to check that out. He asked myself, Marco and Mike to play on two of his songs on his new record [_Bar 17_for further details regarding Trey’s studio collaboration with Mike and the Duo, please read Mike Greenhaus’s June feature. We recorded in Brooklyn, ten blocks away from my house. We played on “Across the Potomac” and “Goodbye Head.”

RR: Was the chemistry between the four of you fairly strong at the beginning?

JR: Totally. The first thing we did was sit there and start playing and it was really fun. Trey was such a nice guy right off the bat. I had met him briefly before but you never know how someone is going to be and he was just a really sweet dude. We just played for a while and then did the tracking and played for the rest of the night and probably recorded an hour’s worth of stuff. That’s when “Dragonfly” and “Mud City” became tunes. It was this non-forced thing; just having funfour guys playing music together.

We started joking around at the end of the night and said, “We should go play a show in New Yorka secret show. It would be so much fun to do what we just did live and try to improvise together and all of that.” We left it at that and a couple of weeks later, the idea of a tour came up. At one point, it was going to be the Duo and then the Duo and Mike and then Trey’s band, without us being Trey’s band. That got switched around and then the Phil thing came and Phil and Trey wanted to tour together and then it became “O.K. Let’s just do it as the four of us being Trey’s band.” That happened and that’s pretty much how it went down. (laughs)

RR: I saw several shows on the Phil, Trey, Mike and Duo run and the Duo opened up in front of sparse crowds in a weird mixture of Wookies, older fans that are still enjoying a variety of music, jaded Deadheads and veteran Phish tour rats. Unfortunately, I probably fall into all of the above categories but what did you think of the crowds for the Duo?

JR: In that specific case for that tour, we were just so happy to be there. Even if we played at noon (laughter) or whatever time we startedit felt like we were playing at noonwe went on at 4 or 5 or something and the crowds were thin as hell but it was probably a bigger crowd than we normally play to because if you put all of those people in a club, we were still putting our music out there. If a couple of people walked away enjoying it, our job was done. The best thing was when it just became us, Mike and Trey. We were going on at a normal time and that was awesome for the Duo. The places were packed. People could check us out. The second half of the tour was just awesome for us. When we played at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, it was just a gorgeous room and we had such a good time playing the Duo set that when it ended, we said, “Thank you. We’ll see you in a minute” and we got a standing ovation. I think there were a lot of people there ready to check us outa really good opportunity for us. Marco and I are probably not going to be on those big stages again so it was cool to have that experience.

MB: I couldn’t believe it. We would start at 5 and if somebody comes in, they have to commit themselves to seven hours in one place, which is kind of a drag.

RR: Well, lots of music festivals have been like that. I’ve been to some beasts that have lasted over fourteen hours in a day. I don’t think that’s very unusual.

MB: We had some good crowds. I loved it, thoughto be opening up every evening with the Duo playing my music that I had been working on for a while with Joe and opening up for two bands, one of which included myself and Joe and also two guys from Phish and one of the guys from the Grateful Dead. I say the Grateful Dead twice at Giants Stadium. I saw Phish a bunch of times so it was kind of epic. I was hit with the emotions from my friends more so than myself. My friends would say, “We used to go see Phish, dude!” I guess just the way music and my life has been going and the way that the evolution of touring and just playing with people has been working with me, it doesn’t feel so “OHMIGOD!” It feels right. It’s another language that you can speak with other people no matter who they are so I wasn’t starstruck at all. They, obviously, were all just easy to get along with and it was great.

I think it would have been a different story if we didn’t open up with the Duo because at least the audience gets a chance to see what Joe and I can really do as musicians separate from the way that Trey, specifically, would want to lead a band. Joe, Mike and I have played as a trio and over the last few years, we’ve done little five-day runs here and there. Mike is a little bit like a let everybody lead type of guy.’ Trey is more like he called and hired us to be in this band so we played a lot of his music which was cool and we played three Duo songs which was great but, for the most part, if it had been just the quartet and Phil, it may not have been totally and completely rewarding. It was a great experience, of course, because we got a chance to do the Duo music, I feel that Joe and I really got a chance and, personally, I got a chance to cover a lot of bases.

I did listen to Phish; I did learn how to improvise and play for hours and hours almost like in the same key (laughs) by listening to Phish and the Grateful Dead and I love doing thatespecially when there is a big crowd involved. I also love to play jazz and intricate rock music and I got a chance to do that with Joe. That was awesome because I got to combine a lot of different styles that I like to play. It was great to play for a half hour and say, “This is the Duo. This is what we do. This is the album you can buy. We’re going to come back out with Trey and Mike and play some of their songs, a few Duo songs and some covers but here you gothis is a big part of my life with Joe and the music we’re making.” I remember that some night’s Trey would say “Something for Rockets” is my favorite song in the set!” And I would think, “Wow, that’s cool.”

RR: How did you deal with having a similar setlist with Trey, Mike and Marco when you toured with them from June through July?

JR: I don’t mind. We did do a lot of similar setlists. It doesn’t really bother me. I’m always happy to do that. From my rock n’ roll background, I don’t think people need to play a different show every night like the whole jamband audience thing. Not everybody has to play two sets or play an encore just for the sake of it. That whole system was basically the Dead thing, right, that got picked up by this culture. I would rather play an hour and a half to two hours of similar material every night. It never really bothered me that we were pretty much, in a sense, doing that.

RR: I guess the title track from Trey’s Shine would be a classic example of that. “Shine” had a controversial impact on the jam scene when it came out because of the pop song’ vibe. The Royal WE didn’t want that sort of thing from Trey. WE wanted electric superhuman innovation 24/7melodies be damned. But Trey, Mike and the Duo found a way to kick that number in the ass and spark heated jams.

JR: We played a lot of cool shit on the tour. So many people would say, “Dude, you’re playing “Shine”?!” There was a whole stigma about “Shine.”

RR: I suppose a few songs lost that stigma during the tour.

JR: Yeah, a lot of the tunes that I didn’t like when I first heard the recordings they sent us, I ended up loving after we played them. That was cool and fun to be a part of that.

RR: Did you get to spend a lot of time with Trey and Mike offstage?

JR: Oh, yeah. We were hanging out all of the time. It was the four of us plus Brad Sands [Phish and solo Trey and Mike road manager] on one bus. Besides the music on stage, just hanging out, listening to music and exchanging stories was a really fulfilling part of the tour. They are just really great guys and they’ve done so much crazy shit, you know, with an iconic band so it was interesting to learn things from them. They would talk about their experiences and it was really cool.

MB: Touring with such huge personalitiesthe two guys from Phish who have been such an influence in a lot of people’s livesand touring around with Trey was just awesome. He’s totally crazy. One dayI’m sorryone minute, he’s feeling a certain way and the next minute he’s feeling a different way and it was just great to travel with Trey and toss the ball in the bus whenever everybody left and it was just us and we’d start joking around and talk about music. We were all chasing the same thing. We’re all trying to write music that people will remember and that is true to our hearts. It’s just great to see how other people live their lives; meanwhile, they’re still going for the same thing. I’m still touring and trying to write music and Trey’s still touring and trying to write music and he’s doing it in this way. He also hit me with some bands that are really cool that I had missed along the way. Trey hit me with My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and The Pretenders’ first album. I listened to Loveless and thought that this is where all of the bands that I like right now got all of their shit frombands like Broken Social Scene. I love those guys.

RR: Joe, since you brought him up, I want to talk about the influence of a solid management structure. Sands is quite an amazing cat. When I met him, I was floored by his ability to see right through things and get to the truth of a situation.

JR: Totally. It’s funny. People think that Brad’s a total dick but he’s the sweetest guy. And that’s the thingif you meet someone at a show like Brad and think he’s a dick, you are meeting Brad at a time when he’s trying to sort out the billion things that he’s trying to sort out and he just doesn’t have the time to talk.

MB: I forgot to mention Brad. The amount of stories that I can’t tell anybody is amazing. I got so much from Brad. I didn’t know that he was with Phish since 1991. It’s a tricky job being a tour manager. You’ve got to keep the band in line but you can’t bring the band down. You’ve got to let the musicians be free to be freaks because that’s what we do. We always get inspiration at the wrong times so, in a way, a tour manager like Brad naturally knows how to be a good friend. You keep everyone in line; you don’t let them go over the edge but you make sure they have fun when they need it.

RR: I grew up at a time when Peter Grant, Zeppelin’s manager, was the figurehead and Brad definitely reminds me of someone who I’d want blocking tackle for me so I could get through the next show with a limited amount of bullshit.

JR: Oh my God, totally! Our tour manager, Bronco, makes all the shit happen. They are there to take care of all of the details that you don’t ever want to think about. There is so much shit and road managers are working their asses off. And our manager, Marc Allen came on and within a year, it was so much different. He took whatever the hell we were and made us into a band with his time, passion, energy and heart. For example, a lot of people wanted to do interviews with us because we were touring with Trey and Mike but Marc turned them down because, in the end, the Duo is our priority. That’s cool. He has the same vision that we have.

RR: When the tour news hit the streets in the spring, there was a bit of stress in the jam community that the combination wasn’t going to work. The Duo backing Trey doing his Shine material? Then, even the most jaded fans suddenly woke up and saw the potential. It is sad that sometimes the reaction to what one would consider good news is still riddled with doubt. Alrightthe tour went well. What happens next? Is it a situation that the quartet could work together in the future but for right now, the Duo is doing their thing and Trey and Mike are off on their own tangents?

JR: Yeah, pretty much. We left it saying that we had a really good time and maybe we’ll do it again. We weren’t putting any pressure on it. Mike’s got so many projects; Trey’s got so many projects and we’ve got the Duo. We all need to do our thing right now. I’m sure in some capacity, we will play together again. It might not be a tour; maybe it will be a tour but we all just left it open.

The first half of the tour for me was really hard. I was trying to figure out my role in this setting and I didn’t feel that the first half was very good. I thought the PNC show was probably the best [New Jersey with, incidentally, Phish lyricist Tom Marshall in attendance]. Once we got to Vermont, it felt like it just clicked and we became a band. The shows got better and better and the material was better and we were all playing together as a unit. We talked about the music a lot and Trey had a lot of really good critiquing and ideas. After 4-5 shows, we were all just saying “O.K. How do we make this a band?” Luckily, it did come together and once it did, it was just such a great feeling. We’d get off stage and we were proud of what we had just done. That was a nice feeling, for sure. The Hartford show was a pretty good one, too.

RR: Mike led a great jam in Hartford out of “Spin” into “Mr. Completely.”

JR: I remember that. I think that show was the first time we did “Uncle Albert”such a fucking good song to play. That was a good show; I remember Mike killing it that night.

MB: Playing in front of 20,000 people like at PNC and Jones Beach was such an honor.
I drive by those venues now and say, “Yeah, I played there.” Even though I only did it once, I have a better understanding of how to play a big room like that. We had four days in my apartment where we practiced for this tour and we’d all just hang out, eat food, play music and download albums. Trey said, “You’ve never played in front of 20,000 people. It’s a lot differentlet me tell you. In a way, you have to play less notes.”

Part IV – The Reverse and Forward Buttons on the Duo Machine

“During the second set opener, “Chicken Lickin,” Marco Benevento sat in on Rhodes while Walter graced the B-3. “Aqua Fresh,” had Joe Russo filling Moore’s chair as he manically smiled, not just keeping time but forcing the band to loosen up even further until everyone had the same madcap gleeful grin that he sported. Benevento returned on “The Switch” – an astounding B-3 and Rhodes dimension-altering jam that had the band reaching beyond themselves, seeking new groove terrain.” – Notes from the Road, Relix, May 2005

RR: How was the recent Fuji Rock Festival in Japan for the Duo?

JR: It was absolutely unreal. The setting of the festival was absolutely beautiful, the people were incredibledefinitely the best festival experience I’ve ever had.

RR: I’ve heard so many theories about the wonderful openness that the Japanese have about western music. What made it such a great experience for you?

JR: I think there is that complete openness. They’re really excited to see music. I think, maybe here, people tend to put musicians into certain genres. Out there, they are so excited to see music and be challengedthey just appreciate it in a different way. The energy from the crowd was unbelievable. We got on the stage, it was packed and raining and everyone had this really colorful rain gear on and it was amazing. People were freaking out and we were just smiling because it was such a warm reception. We played “Play Pause Stop” and everyone was singing the chant part. It was incredible. Our new album had just come out two weeks prior on our Japanese label and they knew all of our songs. We played at 5pm and it was awesome, so fucking cool.

RR: You speak of a band “sound.” Was the Duo’s direction talked about or did the band grow organically without a lot of verbal communication? What sort of conversations were you and Marco having at that time?

JR: It was completely organic. We still barely even talk about what is going to happen. (long pause) It was never supposed to be a band. We had a residency for a month and the response was really good so they had us for another month and it ended up being ten months long. At the end of that, we thought maybe we should go on tour and Marco called up Dave Margulies from the High Sierra Festival and booked us a gig there and then Marco booked us a coast-to-coast tour over two weeks to the festival and back. We had just started to hang out together at the end of the Knitting Factory residency so when we got into the car to head across country, I started thinking “Wow. I don’t really know this guy.” We started asking questions about each other’s lives and it was kind of interesting just touring with one guy. After ten years of not seeing Marco after junior high, he came back as this monster player. I never ever thought I’d be in a band with Marco and now he’s absolutely killing it now.

RR: I saw the Duo sit in with Frequinox in May 2005 in Los Angeles.

MB: Last year? Where was that? I vaguely remember that.

JR: That was the large room that had tables and chairs lined up in a circular fashion.

RR: Righta weird, old theatre converted into a concert venue.

JR: Oh, yeah. I totally remember that. That was fun. Absolutely.

MB: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Robert Walter and Stanton Moore. I remember that. Well, Joe was in Robert’s band and Stanton got the Duo to open up for Galactic so we became like an opening band for a while including opening up for Robert’s 20th Congress. Yeah, wowthat’s amazing. Robert and Stanton really helped us get off the ground and get around. Now, we’re flying! They’re kind of like our daddies

RR: When you do guest spots are they all unrehearsed seat-of-the-pants events, do you work things out ahead of time or does it matter?

JR: With those guysespecially with Stanton Mooreit is a seat-of-the-pants kind of a thing. That was kind of us, you know, kind of fucking with some good friends. Going out there and messing around because Stanton has come up and commandeered my kit so many times. We kind of mess with each other a lot. That was definitely like a playful kind of playing with friend’s kind of thing. It was not thought-out; it was “go out there and push Stanton off the kit.” Other times when you sit in, it is talked about or whatever but I don’t normally sit in a lot with people. Marco sits in a lot. I usually like to sit in with people that I’m really comfortable playing with like those guys.

RR: Bustle in Your Hedgerow is playing again this year; although, Scott Metzger will be missing due to family matters back home. How did that band get its origin?

JR: Well, Marco and I would always play a bunch of Zeppelin tunes in Duo sets back in the day. On Jake Szufnarowski’s birthday, he wanted us to do a Zeppelin band with Scott Metzger from RANA. Jake said, “Alright, put this band together. We’ll put it on the bill and it’ll be my birthday present. Fuck you. Shut up. Do it.” (laughter)

We called Scott and said, “So, what tunes did you want to play?” And he said, “You know, I never really went through a Zeppelin phase.” We said, “Seriously? What the hell’s wrong with you?” We were nervous and thinking, “This is going to fucking suck. It’s Jimmy Page. He’s not going to be able to pull it off.” We got together for rehearsal and he killed every song. He knew it backwards and forwards. He had the attitude and everythingI mean he plays like Jimmy Page, anyway. He wasn’t as familiar with it as most guitarists are but he took this thing on and he just fell in love with it. It ended up being amazing. You feel like such a kid playing your hero’s songs.

RR: I just saw another famous duo last weekSteely Dan. They were the Lords of the Studio in the 70s without touring too much. Do you ever envision a time when the Duo gathers together hot shit musicians in the studio for about two years and just hangs out and records great music?

JR: Marco and I talk about that all of the timehow great it would be just to do that, you know by sitting in the studio and creating things without worrying about the live aspect. At this point, we always say, “Hey, we need to do this live” so we keep that in the back of our heads. “Alright, let’s not overdub shit that we can’t do live.” I think it would be really fun to do a record that doesn’t necessarily even have to be played livejust us in the studio, letting loose. I think that will happen one day.

MB: It’s funnyJoe and I are like yin and yang. It’s a pretty good life that I have and it’s really awesome that I’m this much involved with music almost to the point of being a slave to the music. I can’t quit music. I remember my teacher at Berklee said, “Yeah, it looks like you’re stuck. You’re in this deep so don’t turn your back on music, now.” It’s kind of cheesy but she made me realize my never ending quest at that point. Every day is different and the music is going to sound different every day. Sometimes, people will like a show because they had a great day. Sometimes, people will hate a show because their car broke down on the way. Everyone’s attitude plays a big part in how the music comes out. Maybe at the Bonnaroo Super Jam with Trey, Mike and Phil, the music was great because the crowd said “I’m so happy!” and I said, “I’m so happy, too! This is great because we’re all happy! Now that we’ve got you on the same page, check this out.” I’m pretty psyched about life and the way things have been going.

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