"Great Music and a Great Hang" with Jen Hartswick
You recently received your own personal nod from Rolling Stone in their review of TAB at the TAB. That must have felt great.
Yeah, it was very sweet. I have a very proud Daddy and Mom, she’s just quieter. It was very nice of them to include me.
From what I’ve heard, the TAB direction seems to have changed slightly from the past years. In the past the band was more focused on extended jams, but recently it seems the focus is more along the lines of what you were just talking about, channeling energy into more of a rock-based sound. Was that something that was articulated when you guys got back together, or did it come about more organically?
It happened organically and I think it just comes with maturity. I mean certainly, for me, I go back and look at the first record I made, and the headspace I was in at the time – I was like 22 years old – and everything is sort of too long or too much, and it’s your own immaturity showing. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s to be expected. But as you grow you learn to hone things and you learn to consolidate and get deeper.
And I think that’s exactly what happened, we consolidated and we got deeper. And so, it’s not as meandering as it could be. Everyone’s on the same page where you feel it together, you feel like “Ok, we’re going to take it to the next level, or we’re going to end it.” It’s a consciousness now instead of so many people on stage that it becomes a free-for-all or nine solos in a row or something like that. I think with Trey being as focused as he is right now – and healthy, and amazing – that’s just naturally what would happen. So it was not something that we talked about, but it’s something that we felt together.
Would you say you’ve noticed a similar evolution in the band’s sound?
Are the trumpet lines you play in TAB charted out completely by Trey or do you have some input into the lines that you’re playing?
It depends on what it is. There are a few,“Valentine” and “Liquid time”, those two were actually done by Don Hart who does all the string arrangements for the orchestra stuff that Trey’s been doing. He’s a really brilliant arranger, and the two of them work really hard together. That’s pretty new. We’ve always written our own parts or had a hand in it and so for someone to hand you a chart that’s so beautifully and perfectly done, that they’ve been working on for the past six months while I’ve been doing my thing, to come in and have this pristine chart is entirely new to all of us. Because, usually it’s written in red pen or crayon on the back of a napkin. [Laughs].
So obviously a lot of the stuff we come up with on the fly, but some of the orchestrated things, lately the newer stuff, has been the work of Trey and Don Hart together.
I think it really shines through on “Valentine”, one of the songs you mentioned.
Yeah, and “Goodbye Head,” he did “Goodbye Head” too. All those things that are really composed, they just have that Don Hart stamp on them. They’re really beautiful.
So just to backtrack for a moment, can you talk about some of the songs on the unreleased TAB studio album that you mentioned?
To be honest, I can’t even remember what we recorded. Basically, it was just what we were playing on the last tour. We just wanted to document it and have it be really fresh from the road and get a good solid recording of what we’d been doing the last month. So it’s not very different from TAB at the TAB or what we had been doing on the road. So it’s all those new songs that I mentioned before, “Valentine,” “Liquid Time,” “All That Almost Was” and “Wanda” and all those kinds of things that had never been recorded before. So they exist. I don’t know if they’ll ever be released, but they exist.
So there are no plans for an official release?
No, I think he kind of released the live album instead of that. We have it, but I think he was more excited with the energy from the live album. In the last twelve years that I’ve been working with him, we’ve recorded lots of albums that just sit there.
Lots of people don’t know that Trey reached out to you while you were still in high school and that you contributed horn parts on Story of the Ghost and on Trey’s solo album One Man’s Trash. How did you first become involved with Trey and what was it like recording with Phish?
Well I met Trey through Dave Grippo, who was a member of the Giant Country Horns. Dave and I had been working together since I was sixteen and he heard me at a jazz festival and he came backstage and asked me to be in his band. When Trey was recording One Man’s Trash he had written this song called “At the Barbeque” and it was this really weird, offbeat, humorous, funny Trey thing. I was really confused when I first got the music, but now it makes perfect sense.
So Trey asked Dave, “Who should we get for a trumpet player” and Dave said me: “You’d love her, she’s right up your alley you’d get along great.” So, I, obviously growing up in Vermont had heard who Phish was but I had never seen them and I didn’t have any of their albums – I was not one of those kids. I mean, lots of my friends were those kids. So I went into the studio and met him and we had a total blast. We just giggled like total idiots all day and recorded and it came out really well – it was a fast little thing. And it kind of just blossomed from there. And so then I went off to school and he went on tour with Phish, that was in ’98. Then about a year later he had already done that tour with Russ and Tony and he wanted to add horns and he called me up and I said “OK.” And I’ve kind of just been on the road ever since.
So what did it feel like to be working with this big rock band Phish when you were so young?
It wasn’t that. It was just a couple of goofy guys from Vermont. I didn’t look at it as being a huge deal. I was like “Oh, cool I get to go play some music today” and I had no idea what would happen. Because I wasn’t a follower of their band I wasn’t in awe or intimidated it was more just a bunch of nice guys from Vermont. So had I been a fan I would have freaked out a lot harder. [Laughs]. But since I wasn’t, I was just like “OK, we’ll have fun.”
You also appeared with them in 2004 for a rendition of Jay-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
Oh God, do we have to talk about this? [Laughs]. I was in Vegas doing a show of my own and I went to the show, I took my band to go see the show, no big deal. And I wasn’t even going to go backstage and say hi, I just wanted to catch a couple tunes before our set started. But [Trey] dragged me backstage and he was like “We’re doing it! You have to do it!” And I said “OK, fine. Whatever.” And I got up on stage and he had 12 pages of lyrics taped to the stage. You couldn’t tell where he was or what verse he was on. I was tapping my foot to show him what verse we were on. It was a disaster. It obviously wasn’t meant to be seriously, it was meant to be a joke. It may not have been a funny joke, but I do not take the blame for that.
Are you still playing with Van Ghost? And what has the learning experience be like from playing in that project?
That’s very much a huge part of my life right now. I actually just recorded a record with them working with the most incredible producer that’s in Nashville, who’s responsible for every country record you’ve ever heard in the last 10 years basically. He’s an incredible, incredible guy. And we’re getting ready to release that in the early spring and I’m flying out to go do stuff on Sunday at 7AM. That’s still a very big part of my life and will be for the next several years I’d say.
You’ve also come out numerous times with Umphrey’s McGee, what do you think of those guys?
I think it’s an incredible band. I was a huge fan of their band before I met them; before I started working with them. I just think that there’s a lot of brilliant musicians in that band and I’m constantly in awe of their show and their musicianship. And, the first time I met them Trey was playing at Northerly Island in Chicago, and I called up Bayliss and I was like, “Hey, my name’s Jennifer I’m a huge fan of your band,” I totally fanned out on him. [Laughs]. I was like “I’m Jennifer Hartswick and I like your band and I’m in this band and we’re playing in the city and I’d love for you to be my guest” and so he brought some guys out. He was such a sarcastic bastard that we instantly hit it off and have been family ever since. But even though we’re family I still go to the show as a fan. They’re an incredible band. They’re an incredible show and I think it’s one of the best bands out there.
How did you meet your husband Wade, who was Umphrey’s tour manager? And what advice did you give him when he decided to become a full-time musician?
We actually just celebrated our five year anniversary last week. We met about nine years ago through a mutual friend, actually at a show at Great Woods. So we’ve known each other for a long time.
I supported his decision so wholeheartedly. This is a guy who’s always had a job and has always done the right thing and had three jobs at the same time since he was 14 years old. And I have been the exact opposite. So it was about time that, if he wanted to, he should experience what it was like from the artist perspective. He’s so entertaining as a human there’s no reason for him to be behind the scenes anyway. That’s what I’ve been telling him for almost a decade. So I’m really stoked for him and he’s about to go out on a tour in a couple a weeks and then there’s this great show, it’s actually going to be our first show together, on December 30th at Sullivan Hall, which is going to be great. It’s him and then me, Natalie Cressman and Peter Apfelbaum, so a live horn section with him playing records and it’s going to be incredible. It’s going to be killer. I actually just ran into a Peter the other night and we’re both super psyched about it.