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Published: 2011/12/06
by Justin Sachs

Rob Mercurio Shares Some Dragon Smoke

After a superjam set up by a local club promoter during Jazz Fest 2003 led to unexpected chemistry, Dragon Smoke—made up of Galactic’s Stanton Moore and Robert Mercurio, as well as New Orleans funk legend Ivan Neville and singer-songwriter Eric Lindell, decided to take their act on the road. Despite only playing a few sporadic dates, (including every Jazz Fest since 2003) Dragon Smoke has decided to enter the studio to record an album. This past Friday Dragon Smoke appeared in New Orleans at Tipitina’s, and on Wednesday the quartet will begin a four show California tour with stops in Los Angeles (The Mint, Dec. 7), Santa Cruz (Moe’s Alley, Dec. 8), San Francisco (The Independent, Dec. 9) and Sebastopol (Hopmonk Tavern, Dec. 10).

Jambands.com sits down with Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio to discuss the recording process, the upcoming tour, and goals for both projects in the future.

JS: Let’s start with the basics. How did Dragon Smoke get their start?

RM: A San Francisco promoter named Alex [Andreas] from the Boom Boom Room put it together as a Jazz Fest nighttime concert, kind of in the classic super jam format. It was made mainly to give it a better title than just a super jam, we titled it Dragon Smoke. The other reason is because it was happening at the Dragons Den, which is a super tiny bar over in New Orleans. It was in 2001, and it was one of those super jams that actually works out. Afterwards we were all like “Damn man, that was kind of cool!” so we kept it up as an annual event every Jazz Fest on the same evening, we always do it on the Tuesday evening between the weekends. Every once in a while we get together to do some extra shows.

JS: So how did you guys decide on the lineup of the group? Did the promoter set it up, or were you guys friends who decided to play together?

RM: It was all the promoter, I have to give him credit. [laughter] I mean we were all friends before but he seems to really have a knack for that. Some promoters do things that look good on paper but don’t actually translate live that great, while others know what their doing when they’re picking bands. Just because a person is a great musician doesn’t mean that they’re going to perform well with other musicians. But that’s not always the case, and we felt really good about it, so we decided to keep on doing it.

JS: What made you decide to get back on the road this month?

RM: To tell you the truth, it’s something we try to do as often as our schedules will allow it, but with the four of our schedules, we’ve been trying to get together to do this since last December! [laughter] It would be more frequent if we could, but with four different peoples’ schedules it’s hard to accomplish. It’s a nice time of the year, December seems to be kind of a down time for people on the road and it’s easy to get everybody to get out and do some gigs on the west coast, it’s so nice out there.

JS: Is that why you chose the four California dates instead of any other part of the country?

RM: Yeah I mean, we seem to have a following from there. I think there’s a strong connection between the west coast and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, California in particular. We’ve already gone there a couple of times and we know that it’ll do well. Someday we’ll make it up to New York and do some gigs on the east coast, we’d love to that.

JS: So going along with that, do you guys have any more future touring plans beyond these four dates?

RM: The next gig we’ll all do is the Jazz Fest gig at One Eyed Jacks, with Galactic we’re about to release an album and tour behind it, so it’s not something that I like to do. I don’t really like to add too much to my tour beyond what Galactic does, it becomes too many weeks on the road. We’ll probably get together again around late May.

JS: How did you decide what songs will get played? Is it a group effort or do each of you guys pick a song to play?

RM: It’s kind of a group effort, there’s some suggestions but since Ivan [Neville] and Eric [Lindell] are the guys that are going to have to sing the song, we mostly leave it up to them. It’s a lot more vocal-oriented, I don’t think we have any instrumentals. They have to feel the tune and feel that they can internalize the lyrics. We’ll do some of our originals as well, but another thing they said was that they wanted to do a Galactic song so we might be figuring out one of those to do on the upcoming run.

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