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Published: 2013/05/31
by Dean Budnick

Warren Haynes’ Windows of Improvisation ( Reader Interview)

Photo by Ty Phillips

Quite a few people wanted to know if you still have plans to release the shows you performed with John Scofield.

Mixed, mastered, ready to go. We can only squeeze so much stuff into the pipeline, but it’s one of my personal favorites. We want to do something cool when the time comes, put it out and do a tour with John, something like that, and kind of recreate some of that vibe that we had going on at the time. I think the longer we wait to put it out, the more appropriate it is. I think if a lot of our fans at that time didn’t really get the connection between us and John’s music, all these years later it seems more and more and more obvious.

You mentioned your decision to perform “Dusk Til Dawn” with the Allman Brothers Band. On occasion Gregg has spoken about the possibility of a new studio recording with the Brothers. People wanted to know how likely, if at all, you think that might be?

It’s a possibility but I wouldn’t say it’s definitely going to happen. The excitement level about that seems to vary from member to member and if we could get everybody on the same page it would be fun to do, but at the moment I don’t really see it happening any time soon.

“You’re returning to Europe this summer as you did last summer. What particular memories, if any, sort of jump out from last summer’s Europe tour?” George T.

Well, the European audience is getting bigger and bigger all the time for us and we’re really glad that we made the decision to explore that and continue nurturing it. It’s very gratifying to be so far away from home and realize that you have seriously hardcore fans and a lot of them that you didn’t know really existed until you made that leap.

Here’s an interesting one: “You play in a lot of different contexts. To what extent does audience expectation influence your playing? What is the balance do you think an artist should strike between pure creative expression and audience expectation?” Len G.

Well, that’s for every artist, every musician to decide for themselves and even sometimes on a moment by moment basis. If you distill the concept of art down to the truest form, then you’re doing it strictly for yourself and the audience doesn’t enter the picture, which means a painter would do a painting and then burn it because they didn’t want or need anybody to see it. That’s not reality, that’s not what we do and if you’re playing for an audience that is supporting you emotionally and financially, then you kind of owe them the respect of giving them at least a certain amount of what they expect.

Now at the same time, we have made a career of pleasing ourselves first and building an audience that likes that. And I think that’s a little more true to form than the average commercial music formula but it’s not to mean that I’m going to go out on a particular night and just completely ignore what people expect of me and play in a way that is self-indulgent and challenging in some weird, dissonant, unpleasing way. But at the same time I feel like if I’m inspiring myself then that’s the best I can give someone. And so that’s what I’m trying to do first and foremost because if I’m not inspired, I don’t expect people to be inspired with what they’re hearing. But you can’t really think about that or second-guess it because one of the things that I’ve noticed is that if I think I had a great night, someone else might not think so, and if I think I had a terrible night, someone else might not think so. So everybody’s perspective is different. Again the best we can do is feel good about our own performance and then hopefully all is well in the universe.

That answer calls to mind the Grateful Dead. A number of folks had questions about your upcoming Jerry Garcia symphony shows. You’re going to be playing electric and not acoustic is that correct?

I may decide to play some acoustic guitar but it would be really hard to get an acoustic guitar over the sound level of a symphony. I mean, you have to understand how dynamic and loud a symphony really is.

“You’ve indicated that the Garcia estate asked you to participate. Had you ever contemplated performing with a symphony before this opportunity presented itself?” Tim J.

I’ve thought about it for decades. But this is a first for me, I’ve never done anything with a symphony on any level.

“Beyond yourself and the various symphonies will other musicians join you as well?” Jen W.

It’s myself, Jeff Sipe on drums, Lincoln Schleifer on bass and Alecia Chakour and Jasmine Mohammed as doing background vocals, in addition to the symphony.

“What sort of rehearsal will you have with the various symphonies on the tour?” Nick H.

The way it has transpired is several months ago I put together a list of songs that’s by far more than we could possibly play in any one show. And we picked three arrangers and divided those songs up among the three different arrangers. In Pittsburgh, we’ll rehearse for a couple of days with the Pittsburgh Symphony, where we’ll run through all the songs as many times as we have the opportunity to and fine tune, tweak, the final scores. Then after that the scores for each song will be exactly the same for each symphony in each city. It doesn’t mean the performances will be the same because some of the songs will have windows where the band improvises and the symphony lays out and then comes back in at a strategic moment on cue or whatever the case may be. But the symphonic part of the performances will be the same in each city other than the symphony’s own interpretation.

Someone asked, “I’m thinking about attending both shows in San Francisco. Will those setlists vary from night to night?” Ian L.

Yes, the intention is that the two San Francisco shows would have different setlists. I’ll definitely repeat some songs but some of the songs will change from night to night. And we’re not going to be able to vary the setlists as much as the Grateful Dead would, but it was important to me that it be at least somewhat different from night to night.

“Are there any songs that you really love but for whatever reason you didn’t think would work very well in this setting?” Ben G.

Oh absolutely. There were a lot of songs that some even my personal favorites that I felt like having the symphony wouldn’t add anything unique to the overall picture and that it just wasn’t the right fit. And there were some songs that I chose strictly for the reason that having the symphony interpret the songs is going to take it to another level.

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