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Published: 2010/11/21
by Dean Budnick

A "Completely Different Ballgame" for Derek Trucks

Derek Trucks is about to wrap up a brief tour with the Allman Brothers Band but his guitar won’t remain in its roadcase for long. Shortly after he returns to his Florida home, Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi will dig in on the studio debut from their new project, the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band. In late December the group will take time off from that endeavor for two Florida performances, including a New Year’s Eve gig in Jacksonville.

The following conversation with Derek, which focuses on the new band, among many other topics, draws on over 100 questions submitted by our readers.

Let’s start out with the most commonly asked question, which is when do you think the Derek Trucks band will perform together again, if at all

I really don’t know. It’s hard to tell. I put 16 years into it and I’m real proud of it but right now it’s really important for me to throw all my energy behind this new project and let it be what it wants to be. I really want to keep my focus on it. There were a lot of factors that went into this decision but a big part of it really was family consideration with Susan and kids, which is a totally different trip. So I can’t quite say. I’ve done more writing for this record than any other thing I’ve been a part of so I’m excited that I’ve taken the time and energy to do it. It’s important to keep moving.

”Since you built your own studio do you also have plans to form your own music label?” Jason M

Eventually. I’m still signed to Sony and there’s no telling what will happen in the future but I would definitely like to establish a sound down here and start putting out all kinds of records–things that we’re playing on and things that we’re producing. I’ve love to put out a label one day that has a sound you can believe in, kind of like the old days with Stax and the Muscle Shoals sound, with a handful of the same musicians turning out great music all the time. I would love to be a part of that kind of legacy at some point. So that’s something we’re definitely thinking about as we build and grow the studio. We’re always tweaking the way we work in the studio and the facility itself and that’s been a lot of fun.

Can you talk a bit about the learning curve with the studio?

It’s every bit as challenging as putting a band together. You’re constantly learning the sounds of the room and a lot of the gear we have is old vintage gear so all of it has sweet spots for everything. It really is a weird form of alchemy (laughs). We’re constantly honing in on it.

We’ve been fortunate to have Jim Scott come down here and he’s worked on hundreds and hundreds of records. It’s really astounding if you look at his Allmusic Guide list of all the things he’s engineered and produced from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Cash to whatever. He has his own studio in California and he has the same console that we have, I think the serial numbers are 30 or 40 apart so they were built within six to eight months in the 70s. He’s come down here and he knows that machine so well, it’s been great learning all the tricks of the trade from him a total pro.

So we’re learning as we go. A lot of it has been spending 15, 20 years in studios and picking up little things here and there. It really is fascinating to me. I can definitely see why someone like Hendrix or a band like the Beatles got so into the process of making records because there are things that you can do in that medium that you can’t do live. To me it’s just another side of music. I don’t think you have to recreate what you do in the studio, live and vice versa.

Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studio celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this year, which goes to show you that if you put in the time and effort to create the right vibe that a studio can have such a life and legacy.

If you take the Hendrix live tapes and put them up against his records, it’s a different world. His legend would not have been nearly the same had he not done that. He really pushed the medium. To me he was one of the handful of guys from that era who really took that on, making great records. There was Dylan and lot of other groups that wrote great tunes and pushed the envelope in other ways but Hendrix did it on a lot of fronts. He was pushing it in the way he made records and what was acceptable for a record. It was pretty adventurous stuff he was doing as well as playing like an alien and writing amazing tunes. I think that’s a big factor that people miss. I think the art of making albums has kind of disappeared for a long time, especially in our realm.

In terms of your own studio albums, is there one that stands out as a favorite for one reason or another?

I really enjoyed making Songlines with Jay Joyce, that was a blast. For me that was the first time I really enjoyed the process as something different than setting up and trying to capture what you do live. It was actually making an album, so I dug that a lot.

Doing the first one here ourselves [ Already Free ], that’s always going to stick out as a highlight for me, just the fact the fact that from the first idea to completion it was all hands on deck. It was really done in house and there’s something really gratifying about that. Also, by our standards it did really well, so that’s one that’s going to stick out. But it’s all a work in progress. I don’t feel that in any way we’ve had our peak album or peak moment.

A number of people had questions about your forthcoming album. In terms of the material will it be a blend of originals and covers? Will it skew towards one or the other?

We’ve been writing songs with a handful of songwriters we’ve had down to hang with us. So the bulk if not all of the album will be original material. That’s a shift but as far as what kind of tunes they are, that’s really across the board. On this album I do want to really focus in on songs and support the best vocal performance we can get out of Susan, really showcasing that. I feel like with her last two records it was overlooked a little bit how a great singer she is and we’re really going to focus in on that. Obviously we won’t lose site of the fact that Oteil Burbridge and Kofi and me and the band are going to be on it, so there’s going to be room to hear everybody. Tyler Greenwell and JJ Johnson play so amazingly well together. It’s really a wide and deep soundbase that they put up, so even if the focus is on the songs, there’s still going to be a lot of ear candy.

On the subject of vocals, a few people were curious if Mike Mattison [Derek Trucks Band vocalist who is also in the new group] will be singing more leads

We’re trying to find more and more places for everyone in the band to step out, Mike included. This year the line-up was constantly in flux. The real core of the band has only done maybe 8 or 10 ten shows together, so a lot of it has been working in new musicians on the fly. When you have a band that big and you’re trying to put a new group together, you have 10 schedules that are constantly conflicting, so it was a lot of ambiguity and we didn’t really get to settle in. But next year will be a completely different ballgame.

You mention the line-up being in flux. Was that by design, harkening back to certain jazz combos? What exactly was your intent?

It was a combination. Before we decided, “Hey we think this line-up is going to be great, let’s lock it down,” we wanted to try different things out. It’s one thing to sit in a room and play and have it feel good and it’s another thing to get on the road and have it feel good. So for the first part of the year knowing that with the core being myself and Susan and the Burbridge brothers that it was going to fly one way or the other, we really wanted to try out different things to check out the chemistry. So part of it was by design and part of it was life giving us a lot of moving pieces.

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