The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Salmon with Drew Emmitt
RR: I noticed that. Do you plan those late night recording sessions for tracks like that, or was it just a happy accident?
DE: It was a happy accident. We’d had a long day in the studio, we’d had a few beers, and we were feelin’ loose, feelin’ real good, and it just happened at that time of night. It really helped the whole vibe—we were a little tired, a little relaxed, and feeling good and comfortable, and it definitely lent itself well to that track.
RR: The record does have a loose yet focused spirit. Is that something you spoke about as a band before you recorded the album—a loose spirit with an emphasis on songcraft, as well?
DE: You know I think so. We really wanted this to be a different project. A lot of times when you get into the studio, it’s easy to get too focused, too into the project, and lose the side of just having fun and playing music together. I think our overall goal was to have fun, and just let it flow. And, at the same time, really craft some songs, but do it in a fun way. There have been times when we’ve been in the studio with this band, and it has not been as much fun as it should have been. I think after all these years, after the other projects we’ve been doing, we had the experience and the wherewithal to go in and have a good time with it and make a good record. And I think that is how we approached it.
RR: Along that line, you’ve got something like “Stop All Your Worrying.”
DE: Yeah, that’s the only song [on Aquatic Hitchhiker ] that comes from before. That’s the song that I wrote years ago with the Left Hand String Band. We just started playing it again, and Steve Berlin really liked it, and he suggested that we put that on there. It’s a little bit of a remake. We changed it up a little bit, but, yeah, it just seemed to fit.
RR: I love the way the album closes with its final four tracks—“Walking Shoes” and “Kentucky Skies,” both written by Vince, and then you’ve got “Gone for Long” by Greg, before Aquatic Hitchhiker ends with your own “Here Comes the Night.”
DE: That was a late comer. I had started it and wasn’t quite finished, and I brought it with me to Portland. I just kind of got it out and started playing it, and thought, “Well, this might be good.” I brought it in the next morning, and played it for everybody and everybody really liked it. Then, we messed with the arrangement a little bit, changed chords around here and there a little bit, and went in and recorded it. I think that was our first take. We just played it all the way through, and it felt really great. Everything on that is pretty much live, except for the overdubbed vocals—all the solos are live; the guitar and banjo solos went down completely live. It just kind of laid itself out: “Well, O.K., there you go.” It had a really good feel to it.
RR: I’m impressed with how well Steve Berlin captured that feel on the entire record. Obviously, the band was bringing in a lot of positive and really warm baggage, but, at the same time, he nailed that feel. It’s almost one of those situations where he had to occasionally stay out of the way of himself.
DE: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. He was a really good objective ear, too. He really had good suggestions, and he could tell when we really weren’t hitting it like we could. But, yeah, I think he was really good at facilitating that and helping us relax and have a good time. I think the album definitely has that feel to it. It has a very organic, rootsy feel.
RR: Leftover Salmon is out on the road for an extended period of time with a deep focus on festivals. What were the discussions like when you were planning a tour? Did you want to cover America, hitting certain spots and festivals where you knew you’d get some new fans, while also seeing some old friends?
DE: Yeah. I think right now our goal is just to cover the whole country. We’ve come close to doing that now. There are just a couple of regions left. By the end of the year, we’ll have definitely covered everything. We’re going to try to do that again next year, and, then, we might think about pulling back a little bit. Right now, I think the goal is just to cover the whole country, get in front of new audiences, as well as getting in front of our longtime fans, as well. So far, it’s been working out really well. We’ve been to the Northeast, we’ve been out West, we’ve been up through the ski towns, up into Montana, into Idaho, and, now, we’re in the Southeast, which is one of our hotbeds, for sure. It’s been really fun hitting all these regions again because people have been waiting. We’ve been doing just festivals here and there the last few years, and a lot of people around the country have been really anxious to see the band, so we are really finally fulfilling that by getting in front of those audiences again.
RR: When all the members get together after all of these years, and you look across the room at each other, is the new material the key to staying fresh?
DE: A big thing that is helping is playing these new songs. Not only is it fun to have a new album coming out, but it’s really fun to have these songs to play. We are also really digging into the repertoire, and we’re digging up songs we haven’t played for years. The more we play out, the more we realize that we’ve got (laughs) a huge pile of songs to choose from. It’s just really fun to bring out some of those old songs, and bring them out live again, and give them some new energy. I’m think just, in general, the band just has a whole new energy. It doesn’t feel like the same old thing that we did for years. Everything—even the older stuff—feels like it’s got a new tint to it. But, the main thing, like I said, is that it’s just really fun to have these new tunes to play. I think it has really inspired everybody, and really made us want to write a whole other pile of new tunes.
RR: I love the new media outlets that are available for bands in the modern era, too. The band has a five-episode documentary coming out about the making of Aquatic Hitchhiker called Salmonlandia. Are you trying to reach a broader audience with that project, or does it give fans a closer view into the band’s inner workings?
DE: Yes, I think it is all of those things. I think it is reaching the newer fans, but it’s also giving longtime fans something to check out, and giving people a little bit of an insight into what it takes to make a record, and what the band is like off the stage. I think it is fun for people to check that out, and get kind of an inner look at what Leftover Salmon’s about, and what we are like as people. And, yeah, it’s great to have that kind of outlet these days. Years and years ago, when we started doing this, of course, there was nothing like that, even remotely. The way that media has changed the record industry and the touring industry is a double-edged sword. It has made it that it is very difficult to sell records anymore because of all the downloading and all that, but, at the same time, I think that you can use it to your advantage, and I think that is really what we are trying to do with the lemons being thrown at us, we’re trying to make lemonade out of it. (laughter) But, yes, it’s challenging, especially growing up in a world where albums really meant something and were the most important thing, and, now, they are not so important anymore. They are still important, but not like they were. So, now, it’s just all about the Internet, and using the media, and we’re just trying to get up to speed with all of that and use it as much as possible to help the band and help our fans enjoy the band.