Jeff Coffin: Into the Air and Away From the World
Can you give me a timetable on the recording process on this Mu’tet record? I know it’s coming out a week before the new DMB album- was there any overlap?
They were done at separate times. I wasn’t even sure when the Dave record was coming out when I picked the date for my release. I’m just glad they’re not on the same day (laughs).
With that we can transition into DMB a bit. Can you compare the recording processes between the two?
I actually can, because with the Mu’tet we had five days in the studio, which is fairly a long time for an instrumental, improvisational record. With Dave we were in the studio for two months. It’s a very different process because you’re dealing with vocals and more traditional song form and that kind of thing. So, it’s a very different process. For us, with the Mu’tet, we would start late morning and go to whenever we could go until. Whenever we couldn’t play anymore. With Dave, we would start early-mid afternoon and go for six hours maybe? And we would do that maybe every two or three days. There’s a luxury of time when you have a big project like that that you don’t usually have with the kind of music that I put out.
Are there any similarities with how you and (DMB trumpet player) Rashawn Ross created for this album compared to how you created for the Mu’tet?
It’s a bit different because the role is different. With the Mu’tet the horns take the lead line- we’re basically the singers. With DMB, what Rashawn and I are playing is more partial to support of the singer, so it’s a different role of course. As far as creating the lines- it’s similar in a sense that they come out of an improvisatory nature. With the Mu’tet, the lines, they aren’t really punctuations- they’re more like the vocal lines where with DMB the lines are more punctuational of what’s going on vocally and around the vocals, and supporting that. It’s hard to compare the two, but the process is similar in a way.
Obviously, Big Whiskey was a bit of an unusual recording session, particularly for you. This time around, you had a full recording process. What was your goal, along with Rashawn, as it pertains to the horns?
Rashawn is a great arranger, and he has really great horn ideas. I tried to defer to him a lot in writing the parts and figuring out certain things. He has this ability to really put things together which is really fantastic, and I have the utmost respect for that and how he plays the trumpet and how he views music. So, I wanted it to be as organic as possible, and I think we both kind of felt it out and I basically tried to stay out of the way as much as I could and if we came up with really great parts we’d work on them and see what made sense to the both of us. Again, I look at it as, he’s coming right from the source. He was under Roi [Late DMB sax player LeRoi Moore] for a number of years, and I would never try to put my foot in front of that, so I think that what he’s coming up with is brilliant, and I learn a lot from him every time we play. He’s also respectful to the things that I come up with too, so it’s a really great working and personal relationship.
I see you guys over on the side of the stage, and it’s like you’re in your own little world sometimes. It feels like anything can be played at any time with you two.
That’s what it feels like to me too, which is really great. We can try some really unorthodox thing and we can both execute it. So it’s really fun, it keeps it challenging and it keeps it interesting, I think.
LeRoi always envisioned a “horn section” with DMB, and that’s what I think we’re seeing right now at it’s best.
I think it’s been really great, and it keeps escalating every night. Honestly, I don’t think the band has peaked yet, I really don’t. I think it’s continuing to grow and continuing to form, and it’s really exciting.
You went into the studio with producer Steve Lillywhite, who has a storied past with Dave Matthews Band. Were you familiar at all with that history?
I was. I had never met Steve, but, I mean obviously he had produced a number of those early records. I heard The Lillywhite Sessions also, so I was familiar with his work with DMB and other groups as well.
What was your overall impression of him coming out of this session?
I loved working with him. Again, you talk about chemistry and familiarity- to me he has both of those. He has this ability to, again, allow people’s personalities to come out through the music, and when he hears something he’s like a little kid. He’s so giddy about it, and he’s so excited, and excitable. If he doesn’t like it- that’s okay too. He’ll just say, “eh, it didn’t work, let’s try something else.” And I just think he has this particular ability and particular virtuosity in the same way we have virtuosity as players and as composers and as arrangers. And it’s interesting, because I don’t feel like he ever told anybody what to do, I think he just advocated doing what they do and bringing it out, and sort of unlocking that creativity in somebody and saying, “hey man that was beautiful, let’s go back and do that again!” Again, rather than telling somebody what to do, when somebody would do something, he would go, “oh, I love that- do that again- take that idea and work it.” He’s like a great encourager.
And I would say that encouragement breeds great results in the end.
Well it does, because everybody wants to feel good, and so when you have someone encouraging and someone lifting you up and being an advocate, then it makes you feel good. That’s a similar approach I take in my education stuff also. I’m not negative at all, and I can always find something good to say. I can always find a way to lift a student up, and I feel like Steve has that similar constitution also in that- I just found him to be very positive and very light, very airy. But focused also. Intensely focused.
That focus that you talk about is what us fans have always heard about Steve- and I think that’s what partially drove them to produce three great albums in a row in the 90’s.
Someone coming in with a different perspective can always help, especially if you respect them. He never tried to take control of it, and he just sort of skewed it and gave directions.
I want to touch on the drummers for a second- you play with two of my favorites in Carter Beauford (DMB) and Jeff Sipe (Mu’tet). They are very different from each other, though. What is your approach and style of play with each, and how do they differ from each other?
Those are two of my favorites too! My approach isn’t very different, quite honestly. The way I play is fairly different, but my approach is to try to get inside what they’re doing. I try to be a very rhythmic player also, so I’m trying to find places where I can jump in between their rhythms and, I wouldn’t say enhance what they’re doing, but sort of feel like it’s an organic natural growth out of what they’re playing. And I try to be as malleable as I can be rhythmically with what they’re doing but really try to get inside where they’re coming from, from a rhythmic standpoint.
I can hear elements of that particularly when you first started with DMB in 2008. I think we really got a good glimpse of how you and Carter were going to interact right off the bat, particularly with the way you two push each other during a jam.
I think with Carter, we’re both very strong players, and very strong personalities as well and that comes out with how we play, and I think Rashawn and I are getting to get to that also, which is really great. When we’re trading back and forth on certain tunes, I think there’s a real push that’s going on during that and I really enjoy that.