Joe Russo: Many Chapters, Many Volumes
RR: Let’s talk about some of your recent projects. You recently played with your old buddy, Erik Deutsch, from Fat Mama, in a new band called Rumble Dogs.
JR: It was a kind of a thrown-together project with myself, Erik Deutsch, Andy Hess, and Scott Metzger. All of us have talked about trying to do something. As friends, we all live around New York, so it’s always that classic thing, “Oh, man, we should do this, we should do this,” and, in the end, no one gets around to actually doing it. I guess Erik and I were on a gig somewhere, and we started chatting it up more, and finally, actually made it happen. It was so much fun—a really cool group of musicians, very pocket-driven. Any time you play with Andy Hess and Scott Metzger, they just have such a great groove and rhythm thing happening. It was definitely such a treat for all of us to get together and do it. We did a Big Joe Turner cover and a lot of other songs. It was definitely a pocket-driven thing, and not like a lot of crazy solos—more like a groove hang. But, yeah, it was super fun, and we are definitely going to do some more shows with that because we had such a good time. It felt like a band. We did one little rehearsal and got some material together, and it definitely felt like it could have some legs to it, so we’re probably start looking to book some stuff early next year around New York and elsewhere and who knows? Add another project to the fire because we all don’t have enough. (laughs)
RR: No, I guess you don’t. I love the variety of material that was played at that show in September, and if you were going to play a Dead tune, you played a somewhat obscure one at that, which I really respect, “New Speedway Boogie.”
JR: Yeah, that was awesome because Andy suggested that we do it. He had done the stuff with the Rhythm Devils and I had my involvement with Furthur, so we thought it would be a fun thing to do something different. We did it in this almost soul…we straightened it out and this was all Andy’s call and it was awesome…kind of done like that song, “If You Want Me to Stay,” and it also had this really great pocket, so it was almost like just touching upon the song enough to know it’s the song without it being the song. (laughter) I remember Hess turning to me at one point: “Nobody’s fuckin’ doing this. ” It was just really cool to take an attempt at trying something that is completely different from something. Obviously, that band has been covered by every single person out there, so it was fun to take a different adaptation of a song, that both of us had played with actual members of the Dead, and have it sound absolutely nothing like anything that had, most likely, been done to the treatment before. It was really fun, and I love playing with Andy. He’s a wonderful guy, and like a monster monster player, as are all of those guys. Yeah, it’s a total pleasure, and I’m definitely looking forward to doing more with those dudes.
RR: I wanted to ask you about the Joe Russo Quartet, which also includes Jonathan Goldberger, Todd Sickafoose, and Frantz Loriot. You played with them as recently as last year. Any chance of gigs in the future, or was that a one-off type of thing?
JR: It was kind of one-off. Goldberger, Sickafoose, Deutsch and I are like the rotating cats always talking about doing things together, so I’m sure there will be something again. Unfortunately, it’s always named after me for a lack of a better name.
RR: It’s very catchy.
JR: (laughter) The classic quartet, or whatever the hell it’s called. But, yeah, I’m sure we will. Todd is living back in the Bay Area again, so it’s a little bit more difficult than when he was living here, but we’ll definitely definitely do some more stuff. I can’t wait to play with those guys, again, too. Goldberger and Sickafoose are two of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met, so it’s a treat to have those guys be the core of that situation, and I can almost just sit back and listen to what the hell they’re doing just by themselves. It’s such a treat, so I’m sure we’ll do some more of that in the future.
RR: Timing, again, is the key issue in your life.
JR: (laughs) Yeah, totally. Timing is interesting, yeah.
RR: Let’s talk about the timing of your work with Shpongle. Obviously, you go far back with that group and with Simon Posford, specifically. When you do a short stint with Shpongle, like you are doing on October 28 and 29, how do you get back into the mindset of that type of music when you are juggling so many different acts?
JR: We usually all get together as a group. When we did the [Camp] Bisco thing this past summer, we did one day of rehearsal as a group. However, my friend, Jon Shaw, who is now the bass player when we do dates in the States with Shpongle (an amazing bass player, and he’s also the bass player for the band, Wolf!—a trio with Scott Metzger, Jon Shaw, and Taylor Floreth on drums—great band)—and I got together a bunch leading up to that—five or six days—just running the show front to back and playing along to the click track and the digital files of the show. This time, however, the honeymoon is getting a little bit (laughs) in the way of that. I was actually just listening to Shpongle before I called you to try switching the brain back without having to listen too much on my honeymoon because I think I get home, and the next day is the full band rehearsal. This time may be a little bit different, but, also, as I’ve done the show a number of times now, it’s way more adrenalized than it was definitely the first couple.