Lo Faber: From Gots To Rewind to God Street Wine
Over the next two nights God Street Wine will return to the stage in New York City. Over the next two nights God Street Wine will return to the stage in New York City. The band will perform at the Gramercy Theatre on Friday and Saturday, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their first live gig. In addition the group has released a box set, which features a 90 minute documentary on their history, along with six additional discs: a remixed version of Bag the band’s first release, a remastered Who’s Driving, GSW’s 1993 live album, a live performance of the 1994 album $1.99 Romances from Bob Weir’s TRI Studios on August 1, 2012 and Gots To Rewind, a double-CD compilation of unreleased studio material (the title references the band’s original name). On the morning prior to the Gramercy run, God Street Wine’s Lo Faber took some time to reflect on the band’s history and potential future plans as well.
The first thing that struck me about the new box set is that you finally officially revealed that your original name was Gots To Rewind. I could be wrong but had you ever formally announced that? Was there any conversation about it?
No. I think what it was, we really broke up in ’99 and it was pretty much final. It was not a hiatus. It was, “we’re done.” Over the years, after that, we didn’t think this big secret was such a big secret. We would casually let it drop a lot of the time when people would ask us. We saw no reason to maintain the secrecy so eventually it became a pretty widely known secret. It was one of these things that anybody who was a fan of the band tended to know.
Did you have a company line about it back in the day?
We would say a drunk girl mispronounced our original name into God Street Wine. We just wouldn’t divulge what the originally name was.
Were there ever instances when someone would just browbeat you about it?
Oh yeah, all the time. I remember Aaron, who gets very stressed about things sometimes would say, “Do we have to keep this secret, people are torturing me.” (Laughs) They worked on him, but he kept it a secret. Our fans would guess, there would be hundreds of proposals of what it could have been. Very creative ones. It was so stupid. I think the whole reason it became a secret was that we were so embarrassed about it.
This weekend you’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of your first show. Was it billed as Gots To Rewind or God Stream Wine?
It was billed God Street Wine. Gots To Rewind was never really our name, it was something in that three month period where we were jamming, learning a repertoire, thinking that we were going to be band. We didn’t have to decide on a name. We had a list of names on the wall. Most of them were like triple X rated as you would expect from a bunch of 22 year olds who listen to Frank Zappa a lot.
But Gots To Rewind was one of the peak easy ones. As we were chatting up this girl we said, “we said we’re Gots To Rewind,” and she said, “God Street Wine.” That really happened.
Was that an epiphany when she said that, like, “Damn, that sounds pretty good.” Or was there more of a dialogue in terms of selecting a name?
No, I think it was more of a, “Whatever, that’s good. We need a name. That’s good. Let’s do that.”
What are some of your memories of that first gig?
I remember that my dad was there which was really unusual since my dad lives really far away and he’s only seen me play music a handful of times in my life. But he happened to be in New York during that gig. It was cold and there was a decent crowd, at least for The Nightingale. For The Nightingale it only takes 50 people to look crowded. It was all our friends.
You always get all your friends out for the first gig. It’s once you start gigging regularly, all those people who came because they were your pals stop going. That’s when you find followers, who are willing to pay money to see you. I’m sure we were horrible. We were god awful during those first two years. When I listen to the tapes of us live, it’s just excruciating.
Do you have a recording of that very first show?
I don’t think it was taped. Pretty early on after that people began taping a lot of our shows. I shouldn’t say right away. Maybe it took six months to a year before we had that kind of people coming to see us and taping shows.
What were your expectations at the beginning? Was it that you were going to be a full-time touring band? What were your intentions?
I don’t think we would have ever said touring band, because as I explain to people over and over again and you know this well, there was no such thing as a jamband in 1988. There was none of this scene. A band was a touring band if they got successful at a certain level and then their record company put them on tour. That was a touring band. I think the same thing is true of Phish in the very beginning. We had a traditional music biz idea of what a music career should look like. You write songs, you build a local following, you attract the attention of a record label, you have a hit song on radio or MTV and then you go out and play arenas with amazing lightshows. That was pretty much the progression.
When I was a kid, I read biographies of The Beatles. I was obsessed with The Beatles. That was the model of my music career. Be The Beatles. I didn’t have a Plan B for anything short of The Beatles. The whole jamband thing evolved naturally and organically because we were all training in jazz at music school. The same improvisational ideas we were learning in jazz we applied to our own rockish genre.
Of course, stretching out, playing long solos, that was nothing new. Everyone listened to the Grateful Dead’s early albums and the Allmans’ early albums. That didn’t seem like anything too strange too do.
Unlike many other jambands at the time, you guys actually signed to a label and put out a few albums. Looking back based on your own expectations, how would you characterize that experience?
First of all, it took a long time. We didn’t sign until 1993, when to that point we had already put out two albums on our own that sold pretty well. We didn’t make a record on our major label until 1994. There was a period there that we had really big audiences, Irving Plaza sold out audiences and we were still unsigned. It certainly felt like we had gone further with it than we originally intended to before getting signed.
Getting signed was the only way to do a music career in our minds at that point. We didn’t start thinking differently until both deals went sour. The first record deal was with Geffen through the McGhee brothers—Doc and Scott McGhee—who managed Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Motley Crue and The Scorpions. We were really psyched about it. They gave us a $250,000 advance, which is nothing to scoff at. Then we made the one of the stupidest decisions we made through our own career, which was to turn down T Bone Burnett to produce our first album.
I didn’t realize that.
Yeah, because I was just an ignorant cuss and I didn’t know anything about T Bone Burnett at the time. You have to understand, we were so into the jazz thing. That was the music I knew. T Bone Burnett coming out of the folk, Americana, roots music, I was just not hip to that until later.
Instead we went with Jim Dickinson, who had a punk/rock alternative vibe, which was not our vibe at all. We picked Jim because we felt connected to him and he wasn’t the record label’s guy. We just wanted to do our own thing. In retrospect, I would kill for the chance to work with T Bone Burnett now (laughs) because he very much represents what we would like to do. We just didn’t know that at the time. We were kids who knew a lot about jazz and scales. We listened to Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. That was what music was to us. We made the album $1.99 Romances, which was excruciating ordeal because I butted heads with Dickinson the whole time. At one point, he threatened to throw our multi-track masters into the Mississippi River. We recorded it down in Memphis.
Then he started mixing the album and shut me out of the mixing room. I came in once and it was a haze of pot smoke and it sounded so incredibly awful that I begged and pleaded with the record company to take the mix out of Dickinson’s hands and let me do with it with this other guy that ended up working out really well.
It was a huge headache and hassle when all we wanted to do was make records on our own. We were perfectly capable of doing it, but it’s not the system when you sign up with a major.
With hindsight have you re-assessed Jim Dickinson’s contributions?
I would never say I didn’t learn anything from Jim. Jim was amazing in different ways. When I say we butted heads, it wasn’t that I disagreed with him all the time. I really did learn a lot from Jim. He schooled the band on a lot of technical stuff. We learned to play a lot better as a unit over the course of making that album.
One of the best things Jim did was bring in a vocal coach named Sanchez Harley. He was a black, gospel choir director. He taught us over the course of two weeks, of twelve hour days, four part church harmonies and apply it to all our songs. It made a huge difference in the sound of the band.