G. Love: Still Hangin Around
Garrett Dutton, better known as G. Love, began slinging his unique mix of blues n’ hip-hop over fifteen years ago. Since picking up drummer Jeff Clemens and bassist Jim Prescott and forming Special Sauce, Dutton has crafted a unique niche in the live music scene, helping popularize rap in more rock-centric settings, as well as championing organic singer/songwriters like Jack Johnson. In that time, G. Love has also fostered a special connection with the jamband scene, appearing at core gatherings like H.O.R.D.E. and Langerado and opening for everyone from Widespread Panic to Sound Tribe Sector 9. This summer G. Love released his latest studio album, Lemonade, a guest-heavy collection featuring such notable names as Ben Harper, Particle’s Steve Molitz and Johnson. But, instead of a Supernatural spectacle, G. Love’s latest offerings feels like a college reunion, featuring some of the guitarist’s oldest companions. Below, G. Love gives Jambands.com the recipe for his latest batch of Lemonade.
M- Many of the songs on your latest album were part of your live repertoire long before you recorded Lemonade. When did you begin composing material for this disc?
G- I wrote the songs on this album over a long period of time. That song “Rainbow” I’ve had for quite a bit. I’ve been playing that live since around ’98. I’ve also been doing versions of that song “Let the Music Play,” which features Marc [Broussard] and Ben [Harper], for like six years. “Beautiful” me and Tristan [Prettyman] wrote like two or three years ago. But then, ya know, songs like “Still Hanging’ Around” and “Ride” are brand new.
So, it’s basically all material I’ve written over the past six years or so. I’m always writing, so my records never seem to be completely current [laughs]. I often find myself with a nice batch of new material I’ve written and then I throw in a few songs that never got recorded for whatever reason. My favorite two songs are “Let the Music Play,” because its one of our heaviest tunes, and “Free,” which is the original version of “The Hustle,” which was the title track of our last record. I put that on because I wanted this album to be a continuation of The Hustle.
M- Since this material was written over such a long period of time, to what extent did you seek to unify Lemonade’s sound?
G- Well, mostly, I was looking to unify the album by its rhythmic sound. I wanted to keep the beats groovy and hip-hop oriented—-so, that’s where I tried to keep the rhythm section. It’s actually a task because those guys can go in so many different directions—- it’s almost annoying to have to limit them to hip-hop. Also, I thought all the special guests gave the album a unified theme.
M- Lemonade is credited to you as a solo performer, though it features your longtime band. How much of the album features Special Sauce?
G- They aren’t on all the tracks, but they are on most of them. This past spring we were in a little bit of a creative rut, so we wanted to mix it up a bit onstage. The best way to do that is to bring in some additional musicians, so we brought in keyboardist Mark Boyce and drummer Chuck Treece. Right now, we are touring as a four piece, with only one drummer. It’s pretty cool: the trio is still the core of the project, but we were able to mix it up onstage with some new musicians and some guests. I definitely tried to balance the special guests, while maintaining the identity of the band and my identity as a singer/songwriter. I think we were successful in doing that. I think the cool collaborations enhanced our musicianship, but we still shined bright as a band.
M- One of the most prominent guests on Lemonade is Jack Johnson. You actually played with Jack long before he reached “It” status. How did you two first hook up?
G- We met through a mutual friend named Scott who does a lot of surf and skate films. We all went surfing and then traded songs back at my hotel. I traded him “Rainbow” for that song “Rodeo Clowns.” So, we were kind of vibbing and I was like, “Do you have a demo or something.” He had just graduated, but something in me was like “this kid is really good.” He was so natural and his style was so effortless. I had him play “Rodeo Clowns” like five or six times. I asked him if I could cut it and he was like, “can we cut it together.” So, I thought about it and said, “sure,” and it’s funny how shit works out.
M- Particle’s Steve Molitz is also featured on the disc. How did that collaboration come to be?
G- Steve and I met at a festival at some point and just exchanged numbers. When they came through Philly they were going on this California-themed tour. I came out and did “California Dreamin’” by Tupac and we just kept in touch. He sat in with us when we were out in California and he was like, “I’d love to lay down some tracks with you.” He plays organ on the single “Hot Cookin” and really brought the whole tune up to the next level.
M- Shifting to the live setting, how do you balance material from your various projects on stage?
G- We have been playing five to seven new songs live. We like to touch on the new songs and we need to touch on the classic shit, which is why we are still around anyway. So, we draw from all our records. The Hustle, our last album, didn’t sell that good, but it was a great live album for us, so, we hit a lot of those songs still. But, clearly, now we are on a record release tour, so we have been hitting a lot of those new songs.
M- Special Sauce has been on the outskirts of the jamband scene since its early-90s renaissance. How do you see your band in relation to the broader scene?
G- We’ve always been a part of the jamband scene. I’d say we are more than on the outskirts of the scene. I’d say we are really part of the community. We have played all the festivals, whether it’s Bonnaroo, H.O.R.D.E., the Hog Farm or Gathering of the Vibes.
We’ve played all the jam cruises like Xingolati or the Dave Matthews cruise. We’ve been with Langerado since the beginning. Along with Robert Randolph, we were also one of the few people to play all three of the first ACL festivals. So, I’d say we are actually an essentially part of the jam-scene. I say that in a way because I feel our sound really helps round out the festivals. There is definitely a lot of improv in our set—-our set is definitely more song driven, but there is room for improv, both of vocally and musically. The kind of music we play is hip-hop n blues, so we add a bit hip-hop to the festival’s flavor. I actually think we have every type of American music in our set, whether it’s folk, blues or hip-hop. So, I think there is a lot of stuff we can do onstage that a fan of Yonder or Widespread Panic can latch onto.
M- Speaking of influences, would you cite the Dead as an important part of your own musical development?
G- Yeah. In fact, in 1991, I got a miracle for a Jerry Garcia Band show by playing harmonica outside the show in Albany [laughs]. I was going to school up at Skidmore and went down to see them. I went to a bunch of Dead shows——I went down to the last Dead show down at RFK, where they had Live Aid, before they shut it down. So, I used to hang with the Deadheads a lot. I went to the Philadelphia Folk Festival. I used to jam all night.
M- In terms of your writing, how do you balance improvisation with song structure?
G- Although I write really free-form, I think I really need to think about my guitar and vocal technique when I am writing. It’s an unconscious drift almost. The best songs are the ones you blurt out. But when you give those songs some more focus and make the vocals jump out a little more, they really emerge.
M- Many of your early songs referenced drugs, partying and girls. Now, in your thirties, do you feel pressure to write about more “adult” themes?
G- I was just thinking about that the other day actually and I don’t think I have moved away from those themes. But, I am writing about some other things as well. It’s always like this: after you get your record done, it’s like you empty your cup, and as soon as it’s empty, you have to fill it back up again. So, I have recently been writing a lot. I think the new tunes have a lot of personality and, of course, I think my next record will be way better than anything I have ever done [laughs]. So, I was in the park the other day and was writing about both of my grandmothers who have passed away. I was writing about my Grandma Mimi who recently passed and all these different themes converged in this song called “Grandmother.” I was really, really feeling it. I feel like constantly my subject matter is changing with my life, but, I don’t really feel the need to grow up. My crowd seems to have been 18-35 the entire time I’ve been out there. And that’s a positive thing because there are more young kids in the crowd than people who are my age [laughs].
It’s important to grow up with your crowd, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun. And, getting more mature doesn’t mean you have to stop writing about more whimsical stuff, like blueberry pie or basketball. This one kid came up to me and said, “ya know, you sing about love, losing love and making love and it’s fucking awesome.” And, yeah, I like to sing about making love [laughs], finding love, lemonade, basketball, and power tricks. If you just sing about stupid tricks, your work doesn’t matter and, if you just sing about power tricks, it cheapens all that spirituality. So, I want to write about all aspects of life, from partying to some emotional shit I am going through to what I feel about our social-political state of affairs.
Contributing Editor Mike Greenhaus successfully convinced G. Love to come to a keg party at his house his senior year at Skidmore but, unfortunately, the party got busted before G. Love arrived. Read about his further social mishaps at www.greenhauseffect.com