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Published: 2009/11/25
by Michael Berkey

Dead Ahead for Rob Barraco and Dark Star Orchestra

MB: You have to feed off of what their bringing to the table.

RB: You do, and it’s really hard to fight against those two drummers. You have to kind of fit into their thing. It was a challenge. I can’t really say that I actually met that challenge. I think I was a little disappointed in my own playing during that particular time. It was hard coming out of that Phil and Friends line-up. It was looser – it was stronger. It could turn on a dime. I think someone said, “It was the difference between Ferrari or a freight train.” I won’t attribute that quote to any one particular person.

MB: How would you say playing with the two drummers in Dark Star now would compare?

RB: They are not as rigid in their styles. I think they’re influenced by other music and they bring that to the table and it makes you be able to play differently. If you want to get into a funk groove into the middle of something, you can. It’s not overtly funk but it’s way more funky than probably Billy and Mickey would play it. They’re a lot older, they’ve been playing a lot longer. So playing with these guys [Dark Star Orchestra drummers Rob Korvitz and Dino English], lends itself more to trying different things out. That’s the other thing about playing with these guys in general, they have never said to me, “You can’t play like this.” It’s always been pretty open and I discovered a lot of the stuff on my own just by listening back. Like I said before, you have to cut what you’re doing or you have to do a little more here.

MB: So here’s another Dark Star question, what do you when you’re asked to do shows with two keyboardists, like something from the early 90’s?

RB: We don’t do shows like that. What we could do is a setlist from those shows, but we would never call it a show. They’ve been very strict like that. I’ve always wanted to do some of the Europe ’72 stuff and it’s been always been pointed out to me by various members of the band, “Well there are two keyboardists there, so unless you’ve got four hands, I don’t see how you can pull it off.” What we have decided to do though is – Dino, one of our drummers’ wives is having a baby, and he will probably miss the first couple of shows in the February run – so we decided that we’ll do some of the Europe shows, but we won’t call them shows. They’re recreations of a setlist – I mean it’s semantics. And it’ll be great because those are great setlists and playing in that style just suits me perfectly because that’s my first Dead experiences.

MB: That’s a really creative way of putting out some of the most forward reaching Dead music. In the early ‘70s, that was a prime time for experimentation.

RB: Oh yeah.

MB: So you also got a chance to work with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing the songs for your album When We All Come Home with him?

RB: Well he was just such a friendly guy and so open. I approached him backstage at a show when we were playing at the Greek in Berkeley when I was playing with Phil. He basically said, “Hey, send me your stuff, and let me see if it speaks to me.” A couple of weeks went by and I got an email from him and he goes, “This stuff is speaking to me.” So I had his phone number and he said, “Give me a call one of these days.” I called him and he said, “I’d like you to come down, if you can, and come to my house and we’ll sit down and I’ll give you the stuff.”

It turned out at that time I was going on a little vacation out to northern California so I stopped at his house. I sat down in his living room and he handed me the sheets and, I mean, I almost burst into tears. He captured the emotion of my music so well. I didn’t really have to do any editing to the stuff he did – it was perfect. I did not have to move a syllable and it really worked. So we started with three songs, and I looked at him and said, “Are you up for some more?” He goes, “Sure.” So I sent him three more, then I sent him a few more. That’s really how it went. I don’t know the kind of relationship that he had working with Jerry. I think he gave Jerry a little more leeway in changing his lyrics and stuff. I never wanted to step over that boundary. So I basically just took what he gave me and made it work. And it did, and worked perfectly. What a thrill, because I’ve written many, many lyrics of my own, but I tend to be more self-indulgent and Robert speaks for “everyman” – all his lyrics are like “everyman” lyrics and I don’t write that way. I wanted to present songs that were more about everything and everybody than just me. There are so many singer-songwriters out there talking about me, me, me and I just didn’t want to be another one.

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