Dragon Smoke & Galactic Travels with Robert Mercurio
RR: On that note, Dragon Smoke doesn’t play too often, so when you do show up in a rehearsal room together to play, how is material chosen? Is it improv-based, where you setup the framework, and then the band sees what is going to happen?
RM: We probably have 30 or 40 songs that we’ve played, and every time that we’ve had a run of shows coming up, we try to pick another five, six, seven tunes. That is what we
are running over today. Eric has introduced another five of his original songs and Ivan has a couple of new tunes. Through that process, something else might come up—Ivan may say, “Oh, yeah, I forgot about this tune; let me show it to you.” So, he shows it to us, and we’ll add it to our repertoire. And then, within those songs, once we know the structure, there’s a lot of room for improvisation within it, or something else might happen, or we might go into a different song. We keep it as loose and open-ended as we can, but also within a structure, having some sort of focus.
RR: Is that still exciting for you as a musician—the unpredictable possibilities?
RM: Yeah, it is. There are so many because we don’t play that often. I don’t know what Eric has been doing. The last time we played was JazzFest. He was funny. I was just talking with him this morning, and he said, “I’ve become a lot better guitar player.” (laughter) He said, “I’m pretty good now. Get ready, man.” So, I don’t know. He’s learned some new stuff. If you look at music as a conversation, it’s like getting together with an old friend and “let’s talk about all the stuff you’ve learned over the last six months,” so that filters out throughout the show. “Oh, man, Eric’s learned some new licks, and Ivan’s got a couple of new things up his sleeve.”
It’s different when you see something every day. Conversations are a lot more immediate, and you don’t really notice how much growth there has been. It’s exciting in that way. We all get along so well. We try to make it a very low-stress environment and very healthy: “Let’s just have fun and make the most of it.”
RR: Nothing past these dates in California and Nevada until the spring?
RM: Yeah, next one would be at Jazz Fest. I try…I’m the guy that books and manages the band, and I’m constantly trying to get the band together whenever I see a window in the Galactic schedule, but it’s just super difficult because Eric and I also have really busy touring schedules, so (laughs) it’s almost impossible to get us together.
RR: With the status of the schedules of the current quartet, would it also be nearly impossible to say, “Why don’t we spend two weeks and bang out a studio album?”
RM: It’s not impossible, but I’ve tried and it’s just become something really hard. Every time we get together, everybody says, “We’ve gotta do this. Why don’t we do this? We’ve got to record an album.” And it would. It would come together quickly, I think, because Eric is a really prolific songwriter, and I think the rest of us are quick players that can help sculpt the tunes. We all would love to do it, but it’s just so hard with our schedules. Sadly enough, it’s a side project, and everybody has to put their main projects on the front burner. It’s hard to find the time. It’s a bummer.
RR: Let’s talk about those conversations you have with musicians you don’t always see all the time. What’s it like to have a conversation on stage with Corey Glover?
RM: (laughs) He is awesome to have a conversation with. He is completely entertaining, and he is having a conversation with each one of us throughout the show. It’s hilarious. Lately, he’s been having a lot of conversations with Stanton on stage. (laughs) He’s an amazing singer, and he is probably the singer that I really never know what is going to happen when he gets on stage. He has moments where we leave complete improvisation up to him, which rarely ever happens with a singer where they feel comfortable enough to make up whatever they want. Every night, he comes up with something uniquely different. He just blows us all away. He’s just a beautiful soul and an amazing talent.
I am amazed at how egoless he is, as well. I didn’t know him before working with him. He’s reached a lot higher levels of achievement over his years, and he could be somebody with a much larger ego, or a been there, done that attitude, and he just shows up every day like he’s excited, and it’s like it is his first gig. It’s really cool to see that. I’ve recorded and performed with people that are way lower on the achievement level, and have way bigger egos.
RR: Speaking of unique perspectives, Galactic is about to return to Japan again for a series of dates. What has been your experiences there, and how do you feel your music goes down in that particular culture?
RM: Oh, it’s the best. I don’t want to dismiss America at all, but it really is an amazing audience over there. They are so listening. You can play a festival for 40,000 people there, and they are all paying attention. The percentage of them paying attention is so high compared to other countries. They really come to see a show. They want to be part of it. I think in the States, they are coming to a party. They are coming to see their friends, and they are coming to catch up or whatever. Over there, they see it, and they want to be a part of it. But it’s not too sterile. It’s not like they are very quiet. After every solo, and after every dynamic, they are so with you on every musical wave that you go through. I think that there’s something extra special—you’ve traveled that far to people 10,000 miles away, and they know the music. We might start playing a song from our first album, and the people cheer. Just to have people from this totally different cultural knowing your music feels so special.
RR: The band also played at Australia’s Caloundra Music Festival in September.
RM: Crazy. Crazy year. We were in Japan in July, too.
RR: Right, the Fuji Rock Festival.
RM: Yeah. Yeah. So, we’ve been really bouncing around. Australia was also super cool. I think it was our third or fourth time going over there, and this was a smaller, regional festival that we played last time, but we played three shows, so it was really nice to be over there and really settle in and meet some great people. We met some great musicians. It’s just such a beautiful environment over there and very inspiring to have a good time.