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Published: 2012/08/24
by Brian Robbins

The New Riders’ Michael Falzarano & Buddy Cage: Cruisin’ Down 17 Pine Avenue

How are you balancing your set lists between the New Riders’ massive back catalog of tunes and this growing batch of new material? Between this album and 2009’s Where I Come From, you have a bunch of great songs that begged to be jammed out.

Well, every night we try to strike a balance between songs from the back catalog and the new ones. We try to keep it as close as we can to something that we feel people want. Sometimes it leans more one way than the other; it’s never right-down-the-middle 50% old material/50% new material … but we try to maintain a mix of classics and new. As long as it’s good quality music and people are getting off on it, you know?

A lot of the new, younger fans are starting to come out now and they really, really love the new material – as do the older fans. It goes both ways. If we went out and played nothing but new material, people would be disappointed – and if we went out and did nothing but the old stuff, then we’d be a nostalgia act and wouldn’t last a year or two.

We do what we do as if we were in a new band … who happen to have a history, a legacy, and a catalog to play. (laughter)

You also produced 17 Pine Avenue. How do you handle being on both sides of the glass in the studio? I’m thinking it has both its advantages and its challenges.

I’ve been doing it for so long … (laughs) My first studio date was when I was 16 years old – I’m in my 60s now, so it’s sort of become like second nature. I know how to do it and how to get the job done; I know how to stand back, take a listen, and go, “I think this is good” – or, “I think this is bad.”

My theory has always been – and almost always is – get everybody in the same room together, playing at the same time; live in the studio, playing off of one another. A lot of albums these days are made piece-by-piece: put on another guitar part, put on another vocal part, put on this, put on this, put on this … but I like to go as live as we can. And get the early takes, before it has a chance to get into that studio-sounding thing.

Right down to those off-mic yells you can hear on the album when you’re starting the jam or trying to reign things back in … (laughter) It’s happening right then.

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. When you’re listening to it, you get that feeling of being there while it’s happening. Often times what you hear is me directing traffic – you want to the jam to go on longer or you want to get back to the verse … it’s just part of the live performance and you leave it there.

When I go into the studio with any band, what I want is for everyone to have the same mindset: this is a moment in time – that’s what we’re gonna capture today. It might not be the version of the song that we develop six months from now or the version that we played two months ago … but we’re going to capture the best version we can today.

But that’s what happens with music – it’s constantly developing. Even a song that we’ve played a thousand times – “Panama Red”, for instance … we play it differently every time. A song develops as it goes along. You can’t wait until it’s just exactly the way you think it’s meant to be, because it’s always the way it’s meant to be – it changes as you move forward.

What I want to do in the studio is just capture that moment – capture that performance – and move on.

How many of these tunes were road-tested before you recorded them?

I think we’ve played the majority of the Hunter/Nelson songs live. And we started playing one of Johnny’s – “Down For The Ride” – last year after we recorded it. My songs and Ronnie’s song we haven’t yet.

In a perfect world, though? I’d prefer that we didn’t play songs out live first.

Really? How come?

Well, in the old days when you played a song live for the first time, you could try it out on that audience that night, you know? Now, when you play a song live, the whole world hears it. (laughter) You’ve got people with iPhones or whatever … it’s just instantly out there. Sometimes before we get back to the hotel after a gig, it’s up on YouTube. (laughter) Which is great, you know? Don’t get me wrong. But sometimes you just want to be able to develop something.

It’s interesting that both 17 Pine Avenue and Where I Come From have songs coming from different writers – yet everything meshes together as, well, New Rider tunes. For instance the Hunter/Nelson tunes are like big, grown-up fairy tales, with scenes or names that always remind you of something from the past … some old folk tune or Dixieland number.

Right, right. That’s the genius of Robert Hunter. To me, he’s one of the greatest songwriters/lyricists of our generation … maybe one of the greatest, period. He’s able to capture these great visions – and very few people out there are able to do it as well as he does.

And it’s a tribute to you all that he’s pumping these things your way.

Oh, and we really do love and appreciate it. God bless him – Robert has been pumping this stuff out for us and writing so much … at this point in his career, you’d think he’d just take it easy. (laughs) And none of it is filler – everything is great.

And then you have Johnny, who I think of as a “master of the singalong.” The tune on the new album that he wrote with your sound wizard ScareKrow – “Down For The Ride” – is a classic example of that.

MF: Oh, yeah – Johnny‘s a really great songwriter. We joke about it, but you give Johnny two chords and a drum beat and he’ll make up a song … and before the night’s out, the audience will be singing it. He just has music in his blood.

As does Ronnie.

That’s right.

Ronnie described himself to me once as having “graduated from the college of the Grateful Dead.” His tune “Shake That Thing” is truly the trippiest song on 17 Pine Avenue.

And I love that song – it’s one of my favorites on the album. We were arranging it in the studio and I had Nelson come in and play some 60s psychedelic guitar … it just kind of fell into place. It’s a cool little tune and a lot of fun. Having graduated from the college of the Grateful Dead is a great thing, you know? (laughter)

And your stuff always tends to hit me right in the heart. “That’s The Way It Goes” has this sweetness about it, but there’s a big “fuck you” in there, too.

(laughs) Things just come to you when you’re writing songs – sometimes you think it’s going to be one thing and it turns out to be about another. A lot of people write in different ways … I’ve never sat down to write about this, that, or the other thing – they just sort of come to me when they come to me. A little thing will pop into my head and turn into something ten minutes later … or ten years later. (laughs) You never know.

I guess it’s just a matter of being receptive to them when they show up.

That’s right.

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