Eric Gould Of Pink Talking Fish

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Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Tom Constanten, Col. Bruce Hampton, Jennifer Hartswick, Karl Denson, Reed Mathis and many more.

Bassist Eric Gould made a tough choice in 2013. Particle, of which he was a founding member and anchor for more than a decade, was finally coming back to life after a few years of lineup changes, kinda-sorta-hiatuses and some weirdness. But Gould was a new dad at that point, and the idea of setting out for weeks at a time for nightly Particle ragers just didn’t seem feasible. He amicably parted ways with Steve Molitz and the rebooted Particle lineup, and continues to make appearances with his former livetronica mates.

It might have been a harder transition for Gould had he not had other plans. But it was also in 2013 that Pink Talking Fish arrived and has since become one of the jam scene’s most-buzzed-about curiosities, playing to bigger and bigger rooms and before thousands of people at festivals.

Pink Talking Fish is obviously a different animal than, say, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, another ostensibly tribute-focused band that arrived in 2013. But the two share something fundamental: they very quickly transcended “awesome tribute band” status and have forced new conversations about the ways in which they celebrate musical catalogs for which many fans thought they knew everything there was to know.

PTF, as they’re increasingly known, does something especially interesting. It might be enough to slake fans thirst for interesting jams around Talking Heads, Phish and Pink Floyd tunes and call it a day. But the “there” there – what Gould is after with bandmates Dave Brunyak (guitar), Zack Burwick (drums) and Richard James (keyboards) – is how those tunes connect, thread, jam and progress in and out of one another, connected by improvisation that goes deeper than mere transitions and segues Gould told us a little bit about how that works and what’s to come from this fall’s Pink Talking Fish tour:

JAMBASE: What do you remember about the beginning of Pink Talking Fish? I know it wasn’t that long ago, but you guys have grown so fast that you already have history.

ERIC GOULD: I went into it without expectations. I wasn’t shooting for the moon by any means. The whole idea of it was a passion project where I took the music of three of my favorite bands that I thought would mix well. It was such a fun idea for me personally that I really wasn’t thinking about this meaning so much to so many people. And now that we’ve been up there doing it and seen that, I’m like, wow, of course, of course they would like it.

JAMBASE: There’s always that point in time when a jam or a side project becomes a priority pursuit, and then some of those even become full-time pursuits. I know it’s not quite easy to pinpoint it …

EG: … Actually, there was an exact moment in this case. We had done a few shows in the beginning, and people loved it. And at that point it was a revolving cast of people.

But just to backtrack, so I founded Particle in 2000 and had a great ride with Particle. The most exciting part of that was being a part of a music scene and something groundbreaking going on in that scene, in this case livetronica. We weren’t the first but we were part of a scene introducing livetronica to the masses – it was more than just the making of the music.

I was going strong with Particle but for various reasons we scaled back a bit for a time, there were changes, and I wound up becoming a dad. I adopted my first child from China and now I have two adopted children from China. Right about the time that was happening, Steve [Molitz] really wanted to tour-horse Particle again.

JAMBASE: I remember.

EG: Right, and this would have meant four- and five-week tours across the country like we used to do. We were a tour-horse band, man, and I loved every second of it. But becoming a dad, it wasn’t going to happen. I also wasn’t going to hold Particle back. It’s that whole, “if you love something, set it free.”

After that, I had this idea of Pink Talking Fish and wanting to create it on my own terms, and on my schedule, and it will be what it will be. I was just moving back East [to Massachusetts] at that time and I wound up using a revolving cast of players, and booking shows when I wanted to book shows.

So to get to the moment, the first time I realized that people really had a lot of passion for this project was at the Wanee Music Festival in 2013. We wound up on the festival – I have a great relationship with that festival – and they gave us a shot because they loved the concept.  We were handed a 12 noon slot, and at a festival like that, you’re expecting maybe 1,000 to 2,000 people tops – a lot of people are still getting up or just not quite in the mood to go for it at that time of day. But we wound up having between 6,000 and 8,000 people who were curious to see what this was all about.

Two of the guys who have since become permanent members were there with me then, and they felt that too. To see a large crowd like that, I realized this could be something and that we should focus on it. It felt like the beginning of Particle, and I think it’s partly because there aren’t a lot of bands yet doing what we’re doing like this. Dead Fish Orchestra is another one I can think of, and we have kind of a brotherhood with them – they’re like the grandfathers of the hybrid tribute fusion thing. But what’s been fun is that four or five other groups who do this have gotten in touch – Wed ZepWeen is another one – and said, we formed this because of what you guys are doing in Pink Talking Fish. There’s a lot of positive reinforcement around this band.

JAMBASE: You make an interesting point about “hybrid” and “fusion” in that the point of the band isn’t just to tribute these three bands but come up with interesting combinations and jams among the common threads in their music. Is that about right?

EG: Playing other people’s songs, particularly three of the most influential bands in music, is a tall order and a big responsibility and we need to honor it. But yeah, we’re utilizing the songbooks of these three bands and creating a fresh experience – it’s between the lines where a lot of the individual creativity comes in. I generally write the set lists but we all work together on how to formulate this stuff, and what kinds of melodies can seamlessly transition into others. We’re trying to constantly innovate and set a very high bar for improvisation, and we’ve been able to do some unique things.

Some of it’s actual mash-up, but in other cases we’ve actually written out some transitions and added some chord structures into parts of the tunes. We’ve done “Makisupa Policeman” with “Brain Damage.” We just got a version of “Wild Wild Life” together, and we designed this synth-led electro jam out of that. All of it’s been helped by solidifying the lineup to David, Zack  and Richard. We all live in close proximity from one another so we get to rehearse on a regular basis and treat this very seriously. Personally and professionally these guys are just top notch, and we all want to push the envelope – working hard and playing hard.

JAMBASE: What are some other examples of how you’re playing with the tunes?

EG: We’ve done some nice sandwiching around “YEM” and “Divided Sky.” We’ve had some songs that are just seamless with “Divided Sky” when we get to that ambient middle of the section of the song, and sometimes it’s before the guitar melody and sometimes not. “Fearless” is a perfect sandwich in there. We’ve done “Pigs (3 Different Ones)” in there too. We’ve shifted the pause part and busted into a more danceable tune like “Girlfriend is Better.”

“You Enjoy Myself” same thing. The middle of the composed section might get us to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” we’ve done a few “YEM” > “Shine On” > “YEM” transitions. “One of These Days” is another one that works great. One of my favorites that’s been there since the beginning is “Slippery People” – that’s such a good funk groove, and the bridge there we can move, and have moved, into “Tweezer” or “Sand” or “Young Lust,” and found our way back to “Slippery People.” We’ve done “The Wedge” in there. We’ve built stuff around “The Curtain.” These have been good rides.

JAMBASE: What are the next steps for Pink Talking Fish? What’s the two-year plan?

EG: Well after that Wanee show, we played Wanee again a year later [in 2014] and had more than 12,000 people. We’ve gotten going and we’ve come out of this saying, OK, we’re going to do this, and so we are more fully aligned. If we play our cards right and keep innovating like we know we can, we’ll put ourselves in a really nice spot.

I grew up in and will forever be involved in the jam music scene – I think it’s the best out there and I just love it. It really is a family, and I don’t use that word lightly, because it’s so meaningful to me. Magnaball just happened. I couldn’t make it this year, but that level of people getting their extended families together and celebrating a band they hold so dear – that’s amazing. On a smaller level, I see some communities forming around Pink Talking Fish. It happened in Particle. Particle People come up to me all the time. Around Pink Talking Fish is a collection of people out there who want to make this experience with us.

Specifically we’re going to get into some more concepts too. Dark Side of the Moon that we did went great. The Pink Talking Fish Are Dead concept also went great, and we reprised that once already on Jerry Garcia’s birthday. So there are going to be what we might call classic Pink Talking Fish shows where you don’t know what comes next, and then different concepts here and there that enhance the experience of what we do.

JAMBASE: Talk about the fall tour – what’s in store?

EG: This is going to be the best we’ve done to date – it’s just action packed, and we’re playing some of the best venues in the country. We have some real strong and unique support acts too, some of which haven’t been announced yet. It’s not as fun for me to have straight-up tribute bands support Pink Talking Fish; I’d rather have a band that primarily plays original music come up with a tribute set, or a band that’s doing interesting hybrid things. We have one band joining us in New Haven that’s mixing Ween and the Beatles. We have another band in Madison that’s going to do The Beatles’ final performance from the rooftop [in London 1969].

Then comes Halloween. On October 29 we’ll be doing the Pink Talking Fish are Dead concept, and then Halloween will be something phenomenal – we’re actually spending a lot of our time preparing for the Halloween shows, which we’re labeling Where the Wild Things Are. On October 30, it’s an animals theme – we’ll be doing a hybrid tribute version set intertwining Phish and Talking Heads tunes, and then the next set is Animals-based concepts. And then on October 31 we’re doing Gamehendge, intermixing Talking Heads and Pink Floyd songs within that. I haven’t been this excited for a musical event I’ve put on in some time.

JAMBASE: I can feel your excitement for sure. Switching gears a bit Eric, you do continue to hop up every now and then with Particle. Is that strange at all, when you sit-in with Steve and the band?

EG: It was at first, and mostly because I hadn’t yet gotten to that place with Pink Talking Fish where I saw a long-term vision. It’s really hard to let go of something like Particle. It was my baby and something I put a lot of attention into over a decade of my life. I let it go so it could keep going and it wouldn’t be me that held it back. I love those songs and I’ve got so much love for Steve and so glad he’s doing it – I know they have an album coming soon. It’s been a bit now since I was last up there with them, but when we do it, it’s all OK. There’s nothing but positivity.

JAMBASE: Do you stay in touch with your fellow Particle alumni, including Darren and Charlie?

EG: I’m in good touch with Darren for sure, he’s doing great. He’s a dad as well, and he’s in SoCal and doing his thing out there. Charlie lives in China. It’s funny, I have two adopted children from China but he lives in a different region so it made it hard to connect. With him being out that way, we’re not really in as close touch anymore. I have a great relationship with Ben Combe. I consider him one of my best friends and he lives in Massachusetts as well. He was a big part of Pink Talking Fish at the beginning. So there’s all of those guys. We’ve been through something special together, and shared a big piece of our lives together in Particle. That’s undeniable.

JAMBASE: I have to ask you for a sit-in story – you with another band or someone with one of your bands. What do you got?

EG: I’ll talk about George Porter. Can’t go wrong there. We did a show down in Florida at this amazing room called the Funky Biscuit – that place is like the jam scene place to be in southern Florida. We were down there to play Biscuit Fest and George was also there, doing his thing. Billy Iuso and a few other people were there too.

So we wound up having George come up and we hadn’t decided whether or not we were going to do double basses or whether I was just going to hand off to him. But we did “Houses in Motion,” which I sing lead on, so I gave George the bass and wound up getting up in front and singing lead on the tune – that’s not something I really ever get to do. And then I popped off and got to watch George just freak it with the boys. Richard especially is very, very New Orleans and the two of them were completely vibing off each other – a deep pocket and really thick jam. Ron Holloway was up there blowing horn as well, Billy was up there for a bit, the energy’s up, the room is going bananas. What a treat to watch your band do that. There were only a few times with Particle where i was able to get off stage and actually watch something like that happen, and this was the first time with Pink Talking Fish.