"Don’t Mess with Mister In-Between": Travels with Particle’s Steve Molitz
Particle continued its tenth anniversary tour last night with the run hitting Colorado for a series of shows, and stops in Arizona and Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Café in November. The Colorado dates include a Pink Floyd tribute gig with special guests at the Fox Theatre in Boulder in celebration of Halloween on October 30. Earlier this month, Jambands.com sat down with Charlie Hitchcock, Particle’s original guitarist who left the band in late 2005, and returned to the quartet for this anniversary run of shows. Next, we catch up with keyboardist Steve Molitz who expands upon what it means to be in a touring band for ten years, and how his experiences have shaped his rather exploratory ideas of what it is like to be a musician on and off the stage in the early 21st century. Molitz has played with a wide variety of players in various contexts, including Mickey Hart in Hydra, and the most recent Phil Lesh & Friends lineup, and his engaging insights about his art are often a source of inspiration, and an original point of view for a man who has been to the mountain top and, then, had to take that interesting walk back down.
RR: Let’s begin with your thoughts on the gig at the Roxy on October 7, which was the 10th anniversary of Particle’s first show.
SM: I always feel like musician’s years, or really probably anybody in the arts, is kind of a different scale like dog years or something—maybe, a year on the road is three years in reality. (laughter) I’m not really sure about the ratio and how it would work out, but ten years seems like it was yesterday and a lifetime ago all at the same time. The passage of time both in terms of musical and personal growth is hard to limit, it’s hard to quantify. Looking back on ten years, it’s almost an irrelevant number because you could be a band for ten years and hardly tour, or you can be a band for two years and tour non-stop with the amount of shows and experiences you would have. Time in show business is all subjective. Some of my favorite musicians and some of the most lasting bands of all time were only bands for five or ten years. So time can be a tricky thing when looking back on a band. It’s just hard to gauge. Really, for me, it’s not as much about how much time has passed as it is just about the ride, the feeling of the voyage, the relationships along the way, all the good times and experiences.
It’s definitely one of those things where, looking back on ten years with Particle the other day, somebody asked me what I thought and the first words that popped up in my mind were “what a long strange trip it’s been.” (laughter) You know what? I’ve got to defer to that quote; it really says it better than I could…because, you know, it’s a milestone, it’s a decade, so I definitely feel that.
RR: It’s interesting you would say that. I never really thought about that idea in terms of time span in a career for an artist, musician, or filmmaker. For instance, at that Roxy gig, on October 7, Robby Krieger sat in with Particle, as he has done in the past, and you have to look back and think of how much of a temporal impact those original Doors had in just a four-year career.
SM: Honestly, it’s almost unbelievable. I mean I believe it because I know it’s true, but it’s almost unbelievable. Think of some bands that have just been pushing their careers up hill for 20 years and haven’t even seen 1% of the success that the Doors did. There are posters of the Doors hanging on 17 year old kids’ walls in Asia and Europe right now. They are kids coming of age, 17 year old kids in Paris, growing up, not even just casually walking, but running to the store to buy Doors records 40 years later. It’s really an incredible thing. For somebody like Robby—of course, he’s defined partially by who he was in the Doors, but, within the passage of time, that’s just one piece of his journey. So looking back on 40 years in the Doors for him is a much different experience than looking back, for instance, for a member of the Grateful Dead who have been active this whole time with that band.
When I look back on ten years of Particle, obviously, there have been a lot of changes over the years, so for me, it’s a ten-year experience, but it’s really a bigger picture that’s made up of a lot of smaller puzzle pieces. I’m thankful that I can zoom out on a macro level and enjoy the Particle experience as a whole. But I think it is just as important to zoom in on a micro level and look at all the individual experiences and phases that made up that ride. A lot of different lineup changes and different guests, traveling to eight different countries, putting out records—those are all points in time that I cherish.
You mentioned the filmmaker. People make movies anywhere from three months to three years, so, for them, the process of just doing a gig…I can show up and play a gig in one night. I could record an album in one night if I really wanted to like the jazz guys used to do—get in a room and play. So, the passage of time is all relative and all subjective. To me, it’s not as much about the time as much as it the experiences and what you’re doing with the time. Looking back, I’m really just so thankful for the experiences we’ve had.
I went to dinner with Charlie [Hitchcock, original Particle guitarist]…actually (laughs), I think we went to dinner just about every night before the shows. (laughter) We room together, too, so we had some good hang time. But, yeah, we were sitting there in L.A. at dinner before the show, across the street from the Roxy—we went to this little sushi place—and we were looking back on it, looking back on memories, and we had a nice moment where we shared our love and respect for each other. I remember one of the earliest songs I ever knew—I don’t even know who wrote this song; I should look this up—I remember my music teacher in about second grade sang this song, “Accentuate the Positive (Eliminate the Negative).” And then it says, “Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.” And, man, that’s bad ass. That’s a cool children’s song. Looking back, on any situation there’s going to be good times and bad times, but, overall, I’m happy to say that I think—and I think I speak for everybody—but we’re all at a place where we just cherishing the good times, and looking back with positive feelings on this adventure we’ve all shared together. It was a leap of faith that we took. We all took the same risk and rode the same wave.
You never really know how it’s going to turn out. Obviously, when the four of us were getting in a van to go play 150 shows a year, drive ten hours to the next gig, eat Taco Bell, and sleep on a motel floor ten years ago, I couldn’t have predicted where the ride was going to take us. I would have told you that you were crazy if Charlie wasn’t always going to be our guitar player. A lot of things change and go in cycles. We really had such a blast playing together on this California run, and can’t wait to get to Colorado. It was such a great time getting together, and it felt really good to play with Charlie again.
He and I have actually always kept in touch. Even during the years that he wasn’t playing with Particle, we were in touch, and went out to dinner a couple of times, and I invited him to a studio session I did a couple years ago, so even though we hadn’t publicly patched things up, the truth is that I never lost any love for him, and have always had nothing but the best things to say about him as a friend and musician.