Getting Out There & Playing Again: Drummer Todd Nance Talks New Band Interstellar Boys, Life After Panic & More
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 Mihali Savoulidis, Marcus King, Chris Wood, Andy Falco, Bruce Hornsby, Nels Cline, Eric Krasno and many more. (A full archive of more than 50 The Art Of The Sit-In features is here.)
One of the most intriguing new band announcements of the year was news of a debut tour for the Interstellar Boys. It’s a six-man band anchored by Todd Nance, and serves as a return to the road — albeit briefly — for the veteran drummer, best-known for the decades he spent behind the kit in Widespread Panic.
Here, Nance is joined by old friends and collaborators, some of whom he’s been playing with for a quarter century, including Bloodkin’s Daniel Hutchens, Athens music scene staple Jon Mills, Outformation’s Sam Holt, former Drive-By Trucker John Neff and longtime scene iconoclast Jerry Joseph. All but Joseph play with Nance regularly in Athens as part of its thriving music scene, and several have been part of past Nance bands such as Barbara Cue, Romper Stompers and Todd Nance & Friends.
I asked Nance about what to expect from the Interstellar Boys, which plays four shows in Colorado in mid-July and then an additional six dates in the Southeast, including stops in Asheville, Raleigh, Charleston, Atlanta, Birmingham and Chattanooga. Here’s Nance on the Interstellar Boys, on memories of some of our scene’s recently departed legends, and on staying close to fans in his post-Panic era.
JAMBASE: So how did this band come together?
TODD NANCE: I’ve been playing with these guys for 25 years in most cases. We’ve been together before in different formations but it seems like everyone’s schedules just opened up, so we decided to go out and do a tour and see how it does. If it’s a positive thing, we’ll keep doing it. For me, I basically wanted to get out there and play again.
JAMBASE: Was it difficult to assemble this lineup?
TN: It was super easy, actually. Jon Mills and John Neff and Danny all live here in Athens and I see those guys constantly. We all hang out together and play music, and those three guys and myself have actually been in a band called Romper Stompers, doing children’s songs. Jerry had played with me as well, a year before, as part of the Todd & Friends tour, and I thought that went pretty well, and that included Sam Holt, also. So we have a lot of songwriters out there, and we can have kind of a multifaceted musical personally with all of them.
JAMBASE: Is the stuff you’ll be playing with Interstellar Boys from all over?
TN: It’s from all over. We’re trying to write new songs as much as we can, but we really try to rehearse the ones we all know to make sure we have a really good show. We will be bringing new songs, too — we might make an EP or something.
JAMBASE: And you’re all contributing?
TN: Oh yeah, definitely. Those guys are like fountains.
JAMBASE: Are you a songwriter?
TN: I am.
JAMBASE: Have you always been?
TN: Yes. I played guitar before I played drums and I write songs on guitar.
JAMBASE: Do you have plans to bring the band beyond the Southeast?
TN: I would hope so. If it goes well, we’ll go other places and also maybe try to go over to Europe. This summer’s really going to be kind of the acid test. If it goes well, we’ll bring it out.
JAMBASE: And everyone’s on board?
TN: Yes, and that’s a rare thing to have: everyone on the same page. We seem to all be willing, able and available.
JAMBASE: Is this going to be your main band going forward?
TN: It definitely is for right now.
JAMBASE: It’s amazing to think about the history of Athens as a music town and that it’s still so vibrant now — you don’t have any trouble finding people to play with. And you’ve been there for a long time.
TN: Over half my life. I don’t know what the deal is, honestly. Usually, it was cheap food and cheap rent, though it’s not like that any more. But there are more musicians than you can shake a stick at, and a lot of good, young bands.
JAMBASE: Do you get out a lot to see new music?
TN: Not really, no. The last show I went to was actually Camper Van Beethoven — they had a reunion in Athens. I’ve kind of turned into a homebody [laughs]. I don’t go out much unless I’m working.
JAMBASE: Todd, it’s been over a year since you played your last with Widespread Panic. Is there anything you want fans to know, particularly those who wanted to hear a bit more from you about the parting of ways?
TN: Well, I miss the fans. That’s for sure. I miss the music. I don’t miss the lifestyle. That’s about it. The fans have been great — unbelievably great. I really appreciate that. When I do play, there’s always folks who come and say hello.
JAMBASE: Do you talk much with your former bandmates?
TN: Occasionally, yeah.
JAMBASE: So I often close this column with a sit-in story: you with another band or someone with one of your bands. What comes to mind?
TN: This year, especially, I think about playing with The Allman Brothers. Jaimoe and I have become pretty good friends over the years. I remember sitting there at one point watching him play, and then he came down and gave me his sticks and said, “Go up there.”
JAMBASE: I’m trying to remember what show that was but I know Panic played a bunch of dates with the Allmans in 2009 and it happened a few times, right?
TN: Yeah. That really sticks out in my mind. And then playing with the Colonel, all of the different years we did that.
JAMBASE: What do you remember about Col. Bruce?
TN: Oh, when he first came to see us, we didn’t know who he was, we didn’t really know anything about him. I don’t know how old you are, but when I was in high school, the P.E. coach always wore these kind of net shorts. That was Bruce. He’d show up and like have softball gear on — here’s this guy again, who looked like he’d just been playing softball, and he kept coming. We finally met him, this strange man. He looked like a P.E. coach.
JAMBASE: And that grew into the friendship, of course.
TN: Oh yeah. Any time he played in Athens, he stayed at my house. I heard so many wonderful stories from him, it’s crazy.
JAMBASE: As a musician associated with Georgia, I’m sure it’s been an especially hard year so far. What do you think of when you think of Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks?
TN: The Allman Brothers Band. That’s who they were. They were people I grew up really admiring and appreciating for their music. And that I got to play their music with them.
JAMBASE: And you keep in touch with Jaimoe, of course.
TN: I do. I always see him at shows.