John Medeski: Word On The Word & More
Supergroup The Word recently concluded their biggest tour since 2002, including stops in Colorado at The Boulder Theater, in Chicago at Concord Music Hall on Chris Chew’s birthday and in Boston at Paradise Rock Club among many other cities. JamBase reached out to keyboardist John Medeski, who along with sacred steel specialist Robert Randolph and The North Mississippi Allstars makeup The Word, to get his thoughts on the supergroup’s latest tour and shed some insight on his and the band’s future endeavors.
JamBase: It had been some time since the band played together before the tour started. Did it take a while to get your feet under you?
John Medeski: Not at all. Whenever we get together, the music just starts happening, like a faucet is turned on. The reason we got back together at all was because of what happened at the few gigs we did over the past 10 years.
JamBase: How did the material from the new album translate to the live setting?
JM: Our songs are vehicles for creating and transforming energy in the moment when we play live. The same tune will have a completely different feeling each night depending on where it pops up in the set. It’s exciting.
JamBase: Can you pick and describe a few of the more memorable moments from the tour?
JM: Robert loves the endless encore we did in Denver. house lights went up, house music came on, and people started leaving after our first encore set, but we came back out and kept going. People all came running back in and the service continued.
JamBase: How much did the setlists vary from night to night?
JM: They’re never the same. We repeat a few tunes each night, but they pop up in different places, which changes how we play them. But to be clear, this is not an intellectual decision to make every night different. It’s just that every night is different. That’s what we tune into.
JamBase: How have you been killing time between performances on this tour?
JM: There’s not a lot of time to kill when you’re touring. It’s just another sort of groove, driving from show to show. We get to see friends a little, get a few good meals, listen to some good music, work on new tunes, and squeeze a little sleep in there too.
JamBase: What’s next for The Word?
JM: We’ve been recording the shows on this run. Hopefully we’ll get some sort of live recording out of it. We’ve been talking about recording some acoustic tracks of old hymns featuring some of our favorite singers. Hard to say what’s next, The Word has a life of its own – no point in trying to control it – we just have to let it be the perfect storm.
JamBase: Is there a favorite song or two you particularly look forward to playing with The Word?
JM: I look forward to the new spontaneous creations we come up with every night. That’s always the most exciting for me.
JamBase: Do you have a different rig for The Word shows as opposed to say MMW performances?
JM: My keyboard set up always is a reflection of what the music might need. I use a simpler paired down set up with the word. There’s a lot of sound coming off that stage. [I have a] Hammond organ with two Leslies (it’s the only way i can hear myself with these guys!), Wurlitzer electric piano and Moog Voyager. I used a Mini Moog on the recording, but the Voyager is much easier and user friendly on the road.
JamBase: What do you take from playing live with The Word to your other projects?
JM: I do so many different things and they all interweave. They’re just different sides of who I am.It’s hard to put into words what music gives us. That’s why it’s music.There is a certain positive vibration and uplifting energy that The Word is all about. It helps feed that side of me.
JamBase: How does playing live with Robert Randolph influence the way you perform on stage?
JM: It makes me play louder! [laughs]
JamBase: 2015 has been an extremely quiet year for Medeski Martin & Wood, will that change next year?
JM: Next year is our 25th year together. That’s a long time. The amazing thing is that when we play, the music still feels fresh to us. Still growing in the same ways it always was, which is not something that most bands as old as ours can say. It never feels like we’re just going through the motions. We thought we’d just see what it was like to take a year off. We had talked about it for a very long time. its given us each a chance to do other things and go deeper with different music. That has always been what fueled MMW, our individual growth. It’s all part of the endless MMW experiment. We’re planning a few releases next year and some gigs to celebrate our 25th.