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Published: 2010/11/11
by Randy Ray

"Don’t Mess with Mister In-Between" Travels with Particle’s Steve Molitz – Part II concludes its two-part feature with Particle’s Steve Molitz as the keyboardist discusses the future of Particle, his time playing with members of the Grateful Dead, and his work with new bands who now look up to Molitz as a member of the generation which helped pioneer music that continues to defy categorization. In Part I, the musician was quite expansive about the past and present of Particle, and in Part II, it is especially interesting to see how the strands of time continue to color his perspective.

RR: Let’s talk a bit more about the dynamics of Particle.

SM: Different people have different strengths. We’ve come to know each other and know what are strengths and weaknesses are, and who should be doing what. But I love that process within the dynamics of a band—even the hard times. It’s really a union or a marriage, and with a quartet, it’s a four-way marriage. Think of how many different layers of communication and interpersonal dynamics—it’s almost infinite with different people’s talents and needs and perceptions all constantly bouncing off each other. It really is a subjective experience. But I love that process. I love walking on stage with these guys and I love walking off stage with the band. And as a musician, I just like the process, the anticipation of an event coming up. I like the planning. It’s fun for me. (laughs) It’s cool lining things up, then it happens, and in the blink of an eye, it’s over.

I don’t know. That’s what I was telling you earlier about a leap of faith. It’s really what a band is—you’re just getting together with some other people, and you’re saying, “You know what? We share enough of the same vision and we want enough of the same things, let’s just take this leap together and see what happens. Let’s sail into uncharted waters together.” It’s a cliché, but it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. It really is. Some of these cheesy (laughs) cliché quotes that get thrown around—they start to lose their meaning, but if you think about it, it is really still true. It is definitely, for me, about the journey, and not about the destination. I like being on stage playing a concert. I enjoy that as much as I enjoy being in the studio writing or recording or any of these other things. Or, even just the traveling. I love mixing it up with the guys out on the road, different meals, different towns…it’s good.

RR: Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh are two musicians that you have played with, who, like yourself, are obviously very well-traveled. You have looked up to them as mentors from a prior generation, and now rising new bands like Quactus are looking up to you as a godfather of a particular scene. How does that make you feel?

SM: (long pause) Well, first of all, I just want to say I’m really thankful that I have gotten the experience to play with Phil and Mickey, and have them as not only brothers in music and collaboration, but also as mentors because they have so much knowledge and experience to share. I’m really thankful that I’ve gotten to learn from those guys. Being on the road with Phil, I’ve learned so much musically, but also personally. He’s an amazing and brilliant musician, but also, an incredibly knowledgeable and brilliant

person, as well, so there’s a lot of information and knowledge that he has to share. I think it’s an amazing thing that he’s done, incorporating all these different musicians from different bands and genres and finding a common thread.

That passing of the torch is a really important thing. It’s a really special thing and it’s hard to think of myself in that way. It’s generous of you and I’m flattered to be considered that way. Really the way I look at it is that I look back at when Particle was starting. We were so hungry. We were so full of passion. All we wanted to do was play and tour. There was nothing more important in the world. And to have that recognized by people like Phil and Mickey and Robby Krieger and all the other amazing people we’ve gotten to share this ride with was the most meaningful thing in the world to us because it was not only a validation and encouragement of “hey, you’re on the right path; keep this up,” but even more than that, it’s the fuel that keeps you reaching for the next level. These shared experiences, everybody is passing knowledge and when you collaborate with a different musician, you sometimes might help them see things in a different way. You may not even know that you’re helping them.

Particle played two shows last weekend in Santa Cruz and San Francisco with this great band On the Spot Trio. Their guitar player [Danny Mayer] texted me a couple days after the shows and said, “Thank you so much for having us on the bill. It really reminded us that we want to broaden our horizons within our songwriting in the genre we’re tackling, and we can’t wait to get into the studio on Monday and write a bunch of new songs. Playing with you guys just reminded us that Wow, there’s this whole other side of music that we all love that we haven’t been exploring, so let’s get in there and explore that.”

For myself, I experienced a lot of that playing with Phil. I was exposed to genres and ways of thinking that I wasn’t exposed to before that. I went from playing these twenty minute improvised electronic psychedelic synthesizer jams in Particle to “Stella Blue” or “Cumberland Blues,” and tackling all these different styles within Americana music. It really just gave me access to more colors in my palette, which can only (laughs) brighten and broaden my art. So it’s a really special thing when people get together and everybody is giving hands and receiving hands at the same time. Everybody is climbing from one level to the next, and when you get there, you reach down and help the guy under you because that’s the right thing to do. Somebody gave you a hand to get where you were.

Bands like Quactus or Roster McCabe or Big Organ Trio—I’ve recorded and played on all three of those bands records this year and I just think it’s really important to stay in tune with the next generation of bands that are coming up and support the scene. It’s a give and a take and I just feel like Particle has a lot of great opportunities because people shared their time and talent with us, so I’ve always wanted to make sure that I was doing the same thing and trying to stay accessible if other people asked me to get involved with their projects and try to work together with them.

I don’t see it as much as…I forget what words you used for something like I’m…I don’t

see it like I’m helping a smaller band in the scene like I’m some bigger entity. I just see it as hey, what’s peaking my curiosity and what’s catching my eye and ear at that moment and what cool people have I met whose vision I believe in and want to collaborate with? But I guess it does help sometimes to have somebody give that vote of faith and vote of confidence.

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