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Published: 2013/03/30
by Dean Budnick

Grahame Lesh’s Family Values

You mentioned Deren Ney earlier. I live on the east coast where I finally was able to see him with Nicki this last summer. He’s a heck of a player. Who else comes to mind from the Bay Area that people out here would be excited to learn about?

That’s a good question. Let’s see, Deren just because he’s in the Gramblers with Tim and Nicki is getting some notoriety. But you know I mentioned Alex Nelson, who happens to be Jackie Greene’s little brother and very much looks like it. He’s a fantastic guitar player and singer, who’s been playing with us a little bit with the Family Band. His band, Walking Spanish, has done a couple shows with Grahame Lesh and Friends.

Some other bands, I haven’t met these guys but they’re from San Francisco, I think, a band called the Brothers Comatose who are also opening for Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers recently. They’re just a super fun, super catchy bluegrass band. They write really, really catchy songs and they’re all great string instrument players. There’s a band Acacia who also happens to have a Nicki Bluhm connection. Their guitar player, Mike Pascale, has played bass for the Gramblers a few times and they’ve come to Terrapin occasionally, as well. They’re great, sort of slower, more atmospheric rock songs. Really catchy, great harmonies, kind of like My Morning Jacket in their more chilled out moments.

One of my brother’s favorite bands from a while back is a band called the Deep Dark Woods, who just completely, unbeknownst to us, just opened, or co-headlined a tour with Jackie Greene in England, or the whole U.K. I guess. That led Jackie to invite them down to Terrapin, and my dad became a fan of them. They’re sort of slow, really melodic folk/rock music. Again, big harmonies, it’s another trait I seem to like in all these bands. We’ve had Ryan Boldt, their singer, come down and hang with us and sit in with a couple of times. They’re super cool. They’re from Saskatchewan in Canada. Very, very good band.

We’ve had a local guy, Tommy Odetto, he shreds. He’s from Fairfax in Marin. He plays a lot of Stevie Ray blues with his bands but he’s come and sat in with us, and he’s like, “What key is this in?” We’re like, “E-minor” and he’s like, “Okay!” and shreds over it. I’ll give you one more. One of my oldest friends, I told you about going to Red Rocks in ’03 and ’04 and having some friends come and join us. One of those friends is a guy named Ryan Lerman, whose actually based out of L.A. right now, but I went to high school with him and he’s currently the lead guitar player for Nataly Dawn’s band. I went to see them open for Ben Folds at the Warfield and they were incredible. Nataly was half of Pomplamoose, who are YouTube sensations, and she went to Stanford with Jack [Conte] and I. Jack is the other half of Pomplamoose and he went to Stanford and high school with me. So there’s a personal connection there, even though they’re no longer based in the Bay Area.

Growing up, to some degree you were isolated from your dad’s fans, that whole community of people. Now that you’re a performer, I’m curious what it’s been like for you, playing for a group of people who are certainly quite opinionated?

It depends. People have been nothing but supportive of Terrapin and us playing at Terrapin, at least from what I’ve heard. I don’t go seeking out those opinions, especially on the internet. But you know, we just do the best we can and play the best we can. I would disagree a little bit that we were sheltered, because we met a lot of people. I would go to my dad’s blood drives, we’ve been on tour for so long that I’ve had plenty of interaction with the whole scene.

I meant it more as a musician. It’s a whole different ball game when you present yourself as a performer.

That’s true. Well yeah, I would say that from what I’ve heard, everyone’s been extremely supportive. I’m very happy for that and you know, at Terrapin it is such a community. People are just hanging around us and we try to talk and hang out with everybody afterwards. I think that blurs the lines between being a performer and being a part of the scene, especially at the bar shows. We’re part of the community, but we just happen to be the ones with the guitar. It is different and mentally challenging in a way to wrap your head around playing in Phil Lesh and Friends, which we’ve now done three times at festivals. But, you know, through the channels that I do check, everyone has been very supportive and I’m very happy that people seem to like it so far. We just are going out there and playing as well as we can and hoping that people enjoy it, and we do want to continue the sort of blurring of performer and audience lines at Terrapin and I hope that extends to future concerts as well.

Is there a night that stands out for you as an exceptionally profound experience on the stage over the past couple years?

Well, both of the Rambles-I should say all three of the Rambles-but the first two with Levon there were pretty special for various reasons. I mentioned that I love “Standing on the Moon,” and during the opening run at Terrapin when John Kadlecik did that it was pretty stunning. I was on stage, sort of strumming along, being like, “Holy shit, this is incredible.” There have been tons of bar shows…there was one, I think the first Wednesday after New Year’s this year, which was just great with the Family Band, just the five of us playing the best we can. There are special moments for all kinds of different reasons. I think the music, especially with the Family Band, is just getting better and better because we’re playing more together and we’re playing so often and getting those reps in. I guess those would be the mains ones. And playing with Phil and Friends at Gathering of the Vibes was pretty incredible too.

You’ve grown up exposed so many world-class players that I imagine you’re not stage struck when you meet them. As a performer though, have there been moments when you’ve been overwhelmed by the caliber of a particular musician that is on stage with you?

My brother and I, Ross and those guys, we’ll sort of look at each other and be like, “Is this actually happening? Is this really our life?” And it’s with the people I’ve mentioned before: Warren and Jimmy and Jackie, and Ryan Boldt from the Deep Dark Woods, it was awesome to have him come and join us. I’ve now sat in with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers four times, and each time that’s just fantastic. Those guys are the coolest and the nicest. There’s a million…I mentioned the festivals with Phil and Friends, playing with Warren, and Larry Campbell and Teresa, Joey Russo. It doesn’t stop, they’re all the best, it’s hard to pick one.

What’s on the horizon for yourself and the Family Band over the coming year?

Really just playing as often as possible at Terrapin, that’s at least Wednesday night and Sunday brunch with the Family Band and whenever else they ask. I might start joining American Jubilee on Tuesday as well, or the occasional Tuesday at least. With my band we’ve got a few shows in the Bay Area coming up but we’d love to leave the Bay Area to expand our reach a little bit. We also have an album coming out, that we’ve already recorded and is mostly done, with Grahame Lesh and Friends. I just heard the most recent mixes of and it’s sounding great. Those are all my originals and Elliott’s originals. We’ve got ten tunes and it should be really cool. It might not come out as Grahame Lesh and Friends because we are still constantly thinking of the band name, which is my least favorite part of being in a band. It’s so frustrating, all of our ideas are so terrible. It’s fun to shoot the shit and come up with them, but they are not good band names.

Did you produce that yourselves?

Yeah, we took a day and went up to a studio up North by Sebastopol in Sonoma Country and we laid down all the things you need to do in a studio. Drums, bass, lead vocals, and a big grand piano, those are the things that sound really great when you do them in the right studio with the right people. So we nailed that out in September and since then we’ve been overdubbing everything and making it sound as good as we can. Connor also mixes, so we go to his house and work on it as much as we can and it’s very close to done.

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