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Garage A Trois: Ever Happy, Always Evil

A few weeks we ran John Patrick Gatta’s interview with Mike Dillon, which focused on the Dead Kenny Gs. Here is the second part of that conversation, which explores Garage A Trois and the band’s latest release, Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil.

JPG: When did the four members of Garage A Trois get together to make Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil in relation to the writing and recording of the last Dead Kenny Gs album?

MD: Dead Kenny Gs was December and this was the end of January. It was pretty cool. I had that whole fall time getting ready for Dead Kenny Gs/Garage A Trois recordings, as far as the writing. Some of the stuff was already composed, but as far as my writing style, they’re very similar.

JPG: Besides you and Skerik being in both bands, there’s a musical connection between [The Dead Kenny Gs’] Operation Long Leash and [Garage A Trois’] Always Be Happy. What do you see as the similarities and differences?

MD: The Dead Kenny Gs is more rooted in the bombastic punk rock and adds elements of instrumental music. Lately, we’ve gone into more songs like “Devil’s Playground” and “Black 5” that resemble the rock instrumental stuff that Garage A Trois has become. Stylistically, Dead Kenny Gs moved over…because Dead Kenny Gs, when it started, was more of an improv band. We made up songs. We had one or two songs and we played for three hours a night, and it was all improv, whereas now we have songs. I still think that a core element in the Dead Kenny Gs is that at any given time the songs can be demolished and go straight to craziness, whatever we’re feeling at the moment.

Garage A Trois is more about playing the songs and just rockin’ super-hard from that angle. When you’ve got Stanton Moore playing drums and I’m playing vibes, for me it’s really different. Stanton’s driving the car with Garage A Trois and I’m driving the car with Dead Kenny Gs.

Stanton’s whole thing is power and groove. While I think Stanton’s a fan of improvised music, I’ve never known him to play in a band where they’ll do a whole night of just improv. He likes to have songs and play ‘em well. That’s where Stanton’s coming from. In Dead Kenny Gs I’m completely the opposite. I have to get talked to on a regular basis, ‘Hey man. Stick to the song.’ And I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, but I want to destroy things…’

JPG: When you’re playing with Stanton is there a sense of freedom because you’re coloring the music rather than providing the foundation?

MD: When I’m playing with Stanton I’ll be in tune to what he’s doing and what he brings to the table. He comes from this thing where the Meters-meets-Led Zeppelin. He grew up playing heavy metal, and he’s really into jazz now as well. I’m playing vibes mainly in that band now and I really enjoy my role in that band, writing songs and getting into it.

And then you’ve got Marco and the stuff he writes and his musicianship. And Marco is really inspiring to play with and he’s fun to be around.

JPG: This is the second album with Marco. Has there become a better understanding of what he contributes and how to work with it on this album?

MD: Oh, yeah…I love looking at Marco during the gigs and just laughing. I feel like there is a communication and, honestly, right at the end of Charlie [Hunter’s] tenure with Garage A Trois I had a feeling that, perhaps, the band was done. And then we started getting these offers to play a gig with John Medeski at JazzFest and that was fun. But that was like, “Play these a few of these Garage A Trois tunes you did with Charlie and let John Medeski have his interpretation on ‘em, and watch he and Stanton go crazy together.” And that was a fun night.

But when we started playing with Marco the first gig we did we got together in his basement the night before or something and I had a few ideas and he has some ideas, and immediately it was just like being in your high school garage band again. You get real excited about writing a song. That’s been the frustration for me. My favorite band that I’ve been in it was always like band practice was just as important as your gig because practice is where you wrote new music. It might have been because my first few bands were mainly playing in three or four markets in Texas. You didn’t want to be playing the same music all the time, so there was always this pressure, “We’ve gotta come up with new songs for the next gig.” We didn’t want to be playing the same stuff all the time. So, that was ingrained in me at a young age. That’s what I like about Garage A Trois and the Dead Kenny Gs. That became just as important as going out and playing and getting paid and doing all that crap that everyone does every night when the music becomes a job as much as it is an art. I think that’s really what keeps it fresh, and most bands will you that.

The bands that are banking and can afford to do two tours and the just hang out and write a record for six months, of course, that’s a non-issue. That’s what they’re doing. They’re hanging out. They’re writing music every day in their studios and they’re crafting. That’s what I think they would be doing. That’s what I would be doing. In this day and age when there’s no record company budgets anymore you have to make time. A lot of guys, and a lot of gigs, there’s just not time. Everyone’s working every day just to survive. So, it takes an effort. If you played seven nights that week, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a gig this weekend, let’s get together Thursday or the day before and go over some new music.’ I think that’s what happens to a lot of the guys who are good musicians and who play all the time. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just that they’re just too busy. That’s my personal experience. ‘Hey, can we get together? I’ve got some new songs I want to show you.’ And then you run into that.

With Dead Kenny Gs and Garage A Trios, Skerik really spearheaded, “Hey, we’ve got to practice before the tour.” Sometimes it’s only a day or two but that makes all the difference because then you feel like you’re in the moment and you come up with a few new songs. You don’t have to sound like you’re repeating yourself still. And that’s when Garage A Trois really rose from the ashes of this supergroup theme to where it was really cool. We made a couple great records with Charlie and then we’ve got this new thing with Marco. With Charlie it was a cool instrumental funk soundtrack band, and now it’s this weird rock ‘70s instrumental [Ennio] Morricone…Like the new record, the same guy who produced Operation Long Leash, Randall Dunn, he just keeps calling it a ‘70s soundtrack record. Have you heard it yet?

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