Written By: Chad Berndtson
:: The Art Of The Sit-In - Marc Friedman ::
Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the
most adventurous players
and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Tom Hamilton, Rob Barraco, Eric
Krasno, John Kadlecik and others.
Marc Friedman picks his spots, and this year, those spots are a typically eclectic
mix of projects, from
Babies and work with Ryan Montbleau to the next phase of his ongoing collaboration with
Big Light’s Fred Torphy.
[Photo by Andrew Quist]
We’re no closer to another reunion of The Slip; Friedman’s Slip mates, Andrew and Brad
Barr, just announced a new
album and national tour as The Barr Brothers. But like the unspecific, yet reassuring
notes that appear on screen at
the end of every James Bond movie, Friedman is sure The Slip will return.
JamBase caught up with the much-admired bassist and guitarist to hear about what the rest
of the year holds.
JAMBASE: When we spoke with Tom Hamilton a few months ago, he told us he had the
same reaction I
think many folks did: surprise that you were freed up enough to take the American Babies
gig full-time. What
compelled you to join American Babies?
MARC FRIEDMAN: Well, the reality is I’m not that busy -- I have plenty of time on
my hands to do different
things. American Babies was a no-brainer. I’ve known Tom and appreciated his music and
personality for many years
going back to Brothers Past, and when I heard there was availability, I was like, sure.
I lead a pretty simple life out here in San Francisco and it happened that I plenty of
time to do a national six-week
JAMBASE: You’ve played with a number of bands and in a number of different styles.
What itch does playing
with American Babies scratch?
MF: That’s a good point: there is a style there that I was interested in getting
more into. There’s some free-form instrumental stuff they’ve been doing a little bit more
recently – the band has been
focused more on jamming
and guitar-based instrumental explorations out of songs, and that was really appealing.
But it was also that I hadn’t
been playing a lot of live shows and I hadn’t been playing a lot of bass – I’d been
playing more guitar. And I feel Tom
Hamilton’s songwriting is excellent and I was digging on the album.
I think it was a departure, though; I went from playing guitar and writing songs to
playing at least two hours of
electric bass every night. I liked getting in that zone of playing, and it all just kind
of fell together for me.
JAMBASE: Is that improvisational piece of it something you and Tom had talked about
much before you
joined? I know the shift in American Babies toward more live improvisation – beyond the
more song-based band that
it was before – happened fairly recently.
MF: It was actually something Tom had been injecting into the band six months prior
to my arrival, or
maybe even longer. The Grateful Dead is one of the earlier bands he ever got into, and
even the roots of his
songwriting and playing with Brothers Past…well, he had these cool apparitions inside that
needed to come out. I
think he’s been on that kick.
But, you know, music is music – people want to get involved in some different things once
in a while and change up a
format and that can be a very organic thing. Tom’s history, his playing, his involvement
with JRAD [Joe Russo’s
Almost Dead], these are good, symbiotic things.
JAMBASE: Is it safe to assume you’re into the Dead as well?
MF: It is a style that I’ve grown up playing and that I played in my high school
years. Brad and Andrew
[Barr] attended Grateful Dead shows; I never got to see them. I’d say Phish hit my ear
with a bit more of a calling
when I was younger. The Phish era – the younger jamband gods – that was very inspiring.
The Dead stuff I’m into because of their songwriting and where they come from. They’re an
Sometimes it can seem a little unoriginal to play like that because so many acts are
highly influenced by what the
Dead did and also play their repertoire. But it’s a natural thing – I always look for
progressions. It’s like church; I’ll
play any music that makes people happy.
JAMBASE: Is it important to you to focus more on original music and original
MF: That’s a huge, relative topic. I’d say I like a balance. But as a musician, I
see myself a monk – some
form of monk that if it involves Grateful Dead music or playing, I don’t know, the music
of Blondie in a bar in Korea
and if that’s what it’s about, then that’s awesome. It’s music. Sometimes it’s not the
most modern thing but
repetition can be a Zen-ful pattern – traditional folk or Dixieland music, stuff like that
is all about telling stories that
have been told before.
Music is storytelling. If the stories come from the past, well, fuck it, that’s where they
come from. When it comes to
my own songwriting, I lean a bit toward injecting something with more of a “2014, now”
feel. But I also write tunes
that have ska, or reggae feels. As a teacher, I would always tell students to be
comfortable getting their hands on the
roots of music, and to learn music chronologically to form your own voice in a modern
setting. It’s always a delicate
JAMBASE: Are you committing to American Babies long term?
MF: Well, I’m off for now. I did about half a year and I think I will come back to
it at some point in the
future. I loved being on the road, and being back in the Northeast and home state was of
course really cool. But I also
do have this newer vision of myself in San Francisco, focusing on things here. So I split
this year up and who knows
what it will look like next year. I like being a nomadic musician. My dwellings have ended
up San Francisco and this
West Coast existence.
JAMBASE: What drew you to San Francisco?
MF: First just kind of an inner yearning. I’d been an East Coast person my whole
life but always felt like the
Bay Area was a second home. Maybe it’s a slight mid-life crisis, and I can’t buy an
expensive car, so I guess I chose
to move to San Francisco.
I’ve been working for a while now with [Big Light’s] Fred Torphy and we have an ocean-side
apartment and studio
and we’re working and seeing what sticks. I’m sure we’ll be putting that on the burner and
playing some shows. But I
will be heading back to the East Coast, too, to do some shows with Ryan Montbleau. We’re
playing Gathering of the
Vibes and a few other dates.
[Photo by Rob Chapman]
JAMBASE: Well I was going to ask you about other stuff you have coming up, so let’s
start there. What’s
your history with Ryan? I know his longtime touring band broke up late last year and you
guys also played together in
Costa Rica a few months ago.
MF: My history with Ryan is that he seemed like a familiar face out there at
festivals, and we finally got to
know each other around 2009 or 2010. He was familiar with me because he had been to a lot
of Slip shows, and we
did one show with the Ryan Montbleau Band in New York at some point. But we got acquainted
on Jam Cruise and at
Jazz Fest, too, and I think it was last summer I poked him and I was like, if you ever
want to do something, let’s do it.
We’re both from Massachusetts and we’re homeboys. We’re starting to play together a bit.
Gathering of the Vibes will
be one, and I don’t have the exact details on the others. He’s a wonderful songwriter.
JAMBASE: Here’s a question I’m sure you’ve gotten before. What’s the future of The
MF: The Slip is in a long-form hiatus period. But we have a lot of love for each
other and for that music,
still. Do I see albums and tours in the future? For sure. Right now, we’re still taking a
break from hardcore touring
and work on The Slip. Brad just had a baby, you know.
We’re probably looking forward to something creative in the near future, and we talk about
this every year. We get
together, whether it’s for someone’s wedding or for a private show, and we talk a lot, and
whenever we get together
it’s like not a lot of time has been lost. On The Slip, the heartbeat is very slow, but
it’s still there.
JAMBASE: That’s good to hear. In hindsight, why did you guys decide to step away
from The Slip?
MF: At the point we stopped touring, we were all in our early 30s and we all
realized that we were
completely, umbilically tied to this thing, since we were freshmen in high school. How it
should develop beyond
where we were then was a little bit abstract to us. We simply wanted to say, hey, let’s
see what else is out there – let’s
see other people for a bit of time. That’s the state we went into and have been in.
We almost finished a record. We did get into this slow pattern of doing New Year’s shows
or festival shows, and we
did a lot of recording in Montreal, which is where Andrew and Brad live now. But there
were different projects being
developed, taking us in different directions. We all wanted those projects to get off the
ground and to discover other
sides of ourselves.
JAMBASE: So there will be a new Slip album at some point?
MF: Absolutely. Stuff is in the can. We’ve got about 25 tracks.
JAMBASE: What about Surprise Me Mr. Davis?
MF: That one in some respects is a similar discussion. Everyone is ready to do it
again when the time is
right. We’re all living out our solo project fantasies, and I’m sure when things come back
in alignment we’ll do it
JAMBASE: But in the short-term it sounds like you’ll focus on your work with Fred.
MF: We have 10 to 15 songs recorded in demo fashion, and I imagine our next step
will be a recorded
project, releasing an EP, and that’ll kind of be our debut for this. That’s not to be said
we won’t be playing around
San Francisco, trying out different things to see what fits. It’s a modern kind of
songwriting project. There are some
instrumental sides to it, but it’s very composition-oriented. There may be some shows
JAMBASE: Well before I let you go, I have to ask for a good sit-in story. You with
another band, or someone
with American Babies maybe, an old one, a new one: What comes to mind?
MF: There has been a lot of activity over the years, of course. Among the moments
that stick out: a person
we listened to a lot in high school was Oteil Burbridge when he was with the Aquarium
Rescue Unit. He was definitely
one of my favorite bass players, and there was a moment very early in our career when we
had a co-bill with
Aquarium Rescue Unit at the Living Room in Providence [in November 1997]. We were ecstatic
going into that show,
and Oteil heard what we were doing and he came up and sat in with The Slip. That was such
an energetic and
inspiring moment for a lot of us and to experience that when we were like 19 or 20 was
quite a gesture. Oteil is a
Zen master of the sit-in.
JAMBASE: I’m intrigued to hear Aquarium Rescue Unit. Phish wouldn’t be a surprise,
but ARU weren’t as
well known in the Northeast and don’t often get cited like that.
MF: Well it was definitely the Col. Bruce thing. Much like early Widespread Panic
and the Hatters and all
those bands, they got spread around the college circuit and you’d hear about Col. Bruce or
have an older brother or
something who would share that music.
Extending beyond that, John Scofield sitting in with us was a similar inspiring moment. He
was someone we listened
to for compositional and directional cues and so much influence.
JAMBASE: Two great memories. How about something more recent?
MF: I’ve been on the road so much this year, so it was exciting to sit in with Tea
Leaf Green at Brooklyn
Bowl. That was a real Johnny-on-the-spot moment, it was this freeform song, I think in the
key of E, and it was just
so fun. It reminded me of some of the old High Sierra and Berkfest moments of the past –
it was fun to tap into that
JAMBASE: I still miss Berkfest.
MF: Oh yeah. Those were a sacred few years where anything could happen, and did.
Here are some choice Marc Friedman performances since 2008, which is when The Slip more or
less went on hiatus.
Marco Benevento Trio, The Stone Church, Newmarket, NH, 5/5/2010
Marco was keeping his trio lineup fairly fluid for a while, and among Friedman’s stints in
the bass stead was this
potent gig from 2010, which also features Slip mate Andrew Barr.
The Slip, Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY, 7/14/2011
The Slip reunited for the briefest of East Coast reunion runs in the summer of 2011, and
this show in particular is a
tantalizing reminder of what we’re missing in a relatively Slip-less existence. The band
played several new songs, a
few rearrangements of older songs, as well as staples like Children of December and Get Me
With Fuji. The cherry on
top is a sit-in from Sam Cohen (Apollo Sunshine, Yellowbirds).
Jerry Joseph, Wally Ingram, Marc Friedman, The Jewel, NYC, 9/17/2011
Friedman joined Joseph and Ingram during pre-and post-Widespread Panic concert cruises
this night, performing as
a sit-in guest on the early cruise and for the entire show on the late cruise. Torqued-up
Big Light, The Independent, San Francisco, 12/4/2011
What was originally billed as a solo Fred Torphy gig opening for Marco Benevento became a
full-on Big Light show,
with Friedman, Jeremy Korpus and Bradley Bifulco. Not a bad place to start if you’re less
familiar with Big Light music
and the band’s later lineup.
The Slip and Surprise Me Mr. Davis, High Sierra Music Festival, 7/2012
The Slip were a High Sierra staple, and that they weren’t on the bill in 2013 – and aren’t
again at this year’s
installment – is a little disconcerting. Still, we have several strong of performances
from 2012 to relish: the laid-back
afternoon SMMD set, a more intense SMMD late-night set featuring a sit-in from Josh Clark,
and an hour-and-half of
Slip featuring a standout Cumulus among other choice jams.
Ryan Montbleau, Jungle Jam, Docelunas Resort, Jaco, Costa Rica, 1/19/2014
Ryan Montbleau’s been keeping his options open since his longtime road band broke up in
late 2013, and Friedman –
along with several members of that former road band -- was among Montbleau mates in this
pickup group at Jungle
Jam back in January. This is a fun one – a festival pile-on that includes sit-ins from
Zach Deputy and Dopapod’s Eli
American Babies, River Street Jazz Café, Plains, PA, 4/18/2014
A nice representation of what the American Babies sound like in the Friedman era, weaving
in and out of Dead
classics like Scarlet Begonias and New Speedway Boogie with Hamilton’s sturdy originals.
Check out the progression
of “Boy > Scarlet Begonias > Red Eyes > Scarlet Begonias” to close the first set; “Red
Eyes” is a War On Drugs cover
debuted that night.
The Slipping Daylights, Higher Ground, Winooski, VT, 5/5/99
We try not to look too far back when compiling The Dossier, but with a boatload of vintage
Slip appearances having
turned up on torrenting sites in recent weeks, we’ll highlight an all-time favorite from
1999 in Vermont. The Slip play
a set of era-typical mindbender jams, steeped in jazz fusion, and then join forces with
all of The Living Daylights –
Jessica Lurie, Arne Livingston and Dale Fanning – to get suitably weird.