JAMBASE: Let’s stay on that for a moment. I remember around 2010, 2011
American Babies shows were
very song-based, and you were just starting to introduce some of the jamming element. So
with what you’re saying, it
seems like it was a gradual move toward the more improv-inclined band it is now.
[Photo by: Andrew Blackstein ]
TH: This band, you know, really started as a reaction. It was a reaction
to what I
saw in the scene in 2007 and
2008. The jamband scene, I don’t know, it just felt so fucking diluted. It was a bunch of
dudes not writing any music,
but saying, hey bro, I got a laptop and a van and a Click Track, and we’re going to go out
and play this lowest common
denominator electronic bullshit.
It was hard watching that because the Brothers Past guys and I sat in a basement for years
really spending time making
that sound and trying to get it right, and so many of these bands sounded like shitty
versions of us or other bands that
had been trying to work on that sound. Imitation is a big form of flattery, sure, but it
just didn’t feel right. I didn’t want
to be part of that or be the asshole that was telling them it sucked.
So I think it was a reaction. The Dead came from songs – the whole Dead thing came from
songs. I started writing, and
you know, all the stuff on the first Babies record, I was writing for Brothers Past
originally. We didn’t see eye-to-eye
necessarily on what those songs should be like and the feedback I got was, well, hey, if
you want to play that stuff it
should be with another thing.
But now it makes sense again. I love to improvise. It’s freedom, and when you’re on that
stage doing it, nothing else
matters. That stage, that piece of real estate – it’s ours, it’s our space, it’s our time
to do whatever the fuck we want.
And I just think it would be a shame to play album-faithful versions of the same songs
every night. How am I going to
conjure up the same emotions night after night for a song I wrote three years ago? It’s
almost insincere to play in the
same. I want the version of the song we played in Boise on Wednesday or whatever it is to
be that version of the song.
You know what I mean? Let’s go in and play it that way, that night.
JAMBASE: Do you think the scene has shifted back toward song-based
do seem to be more
younger jambands in the last few years that have embraced it, particularly Americana and
TH: I’d like to think so. I don’t pay that much attention to what’s going
on in the
scene and I don’t know a lot
of the younger bands now, but there’s a band from the northeast a lot of people are
talking about. Twiddle? I don’t
know much about them, but I saw a minute of them at something we were at and it was
definitely not electronic and it
was definitely not just four dudes trying to play house music poorly. They had songs, they
had some rock ‘n’ roll to
what they were doing, and I was like, OK, cool, and kids we’re fucking loving it. So
that’s good to see.
And I don’t know if it’s that so much as I just got sick of hearing younger bands worrying
about wobble bass and what
they’re taking from dubstep and all that. And hey man, whatever. I love electronic music:
smart, good, electronic music,
not just the stuff where any jerkoff can do it.
JAMBASE: You talked about the thrill of improvisation and you collaborate
lot of musicians. Tell me a
favorite sit-in story or jamming story from the past year.
TH: I’ll go with Jam Cruise here. Brock Butler was not able to get to Jam
and they had this slot open for
him and they asked me, hey man, do you want the set? And I asked about the stage, but I
didn’t just want it me playing
my songs. I wouldn’t want to watch just me and my guitar, you know? [laughs]
So I took the set but I was asking around to see who was available and if we could get
together to do a thing. I was able
to wrangle Magner, Steve and John Kimock, and George Porter Jr. And dude, fuck, was that
fun. Porter, man. I did an
acoustic set some years ago opening for 7 Walkers, and they did "Sugaree" and George sang
and I remember, it blew my
fucking mind, man. It was a gospel song the way he sang it – it was amazing. So I knew
he’d play Dead tunes and would
know that stuff, and obviously Kimock knows all that shit, and me and Magner have been
playing Dead tunes together
for a long time, so we were like, let’s see if we can get Porter to come up and do this.
We put the word out and we didn’t know if he was going to show, and then he arrived and he
was like, hey guys, so
what are we gonna play? And I told him about "Sugaree" and seeing him do that with Billy
Kreutzmann and all that. And he
smiled and he was like, OK, count it off.
It was a ridiculous set. We crushed it. It was a long "Sugaree," like 20 minutes. And then
he was like, let’s do another one.
And I said, what do you want to play, and he says, "Lovelight," go! And he’s just fucking
going and killing it and we’re all
just trying to keep up. I remember looking across the stage, and Magner’s looking at me
and we have this look like,
what the fuck are we doing right now?
JAMBASE: That’s Porter’s reputation though, right? He just loves to play.
TH: Yeah, and let me talk about that. I’m from Philly – we’re a blue-
and all the musicians I know
here work their dicks off and have no airs about it, and I mean everyone from Questlove to
the Dr. Dog guys. The best
musicians in this town are insane workaholics. There’s no vibe of entitlement like you
find with a lot of people in New
York. I lived in New York briefly and I got disheartened running into people, usually in
their late 20s or early 30s, who
just had that vibe.
I mean, you see a guy like fucking George Porter who’s almost 70. That motherfucker just
loves to play. He’s like, hey
man, I get to play music, that’s what I do. There’s no jadedness or taking anything for
granted. It was the real deal with
him. That’s perfect and how it should be. I don’t ever want to be a jaded asshole that’s
pissed because something’s
wrong in my tour rider or something. None of that shit matters. If your eye isn’t on the
prize – music – it’s not worth it.