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The Todd Nance Interview Series: Volume 2

Todd Nance Interview Series: Volume 2
December 29, 2009
By James Calemine

So, at the end of 2009 it was time again for Widespread Panic drummer Todd Nance and I to continue our ongoing Interview Series. This interview took place during the evening of December 29 after the band finished rehearsing for the next two evening’s New Year’s performances in Atlanta.

I met Todd back in the early 90s when I lived with Danny and Eric of Bloodkin in the Daville Apartments off Grady Avenue in Athens. Todd used to stop by and hang out with us. Back then we talked, laughed, played music and kept the same hours that cemented our friendship.

Now, years later, Todd’s band exists as a major-league rock and roll machine. Todd always makes sure to shine a light on his friends in one way or another. His generosity is well known among his circle of friends. What music fans should realize is besides being one of this generation’s most talented drummers, Todd is also an accomplished songwriter and guitarist. In Volume 2 of our Interview Series, I ask Todd about the NYE shows, Panic’s new studio album, the recent passing of Vic Chesnutt his sideband The Romper Stompers.

James Calemine: So, you guys were rehearsing for these New Year’s shows today?

Todd Nance: Yeah, we ran through some stuff today for the New Year. We had the guests come in today.

JC: I know who they are, but I don’t want to spoil it for everyone…so maybe I’ll hold the interview back for a few days.

Todd Nance: Yeah, that might be best. Yeah, we’re having some guests and we’re piecing it all together…there’s about four or five guests.

JC: Can you talk about the new Widespread record y’all are about to start recording?

TN: I can a little bit. In January we’re going back into the studio to work on songs and record.

JC: I saw the date today for the New Orleans show, which is April 29, 2010. So, I’m sure y’all won’t fool around long on the recording process. Y’all never really drag that out too long.

TN: You’re right. As a matter of fact, we’ve got a tight little schedule. We’ll start back with some shows in April and then probably be in full force by May or June.

JC: So, less than a week since he died, I’ve got to get you to talk about Vic Chesnutt. I’m sure you have many memories of him. Today I was watching The Earth Will Swallow You, and there’s that part in there with Vic talking about how he first got hooked up with you guys. Then I think y’all played “My Last Act”…

TN: Man, I love that song. I came home after the funeral and watched that same scene James, I sure did…

JC: I transcribed it…

TN: We were fortunate enough to make two records with Vic—the Brute records. He played on one of the Barbara Cue records. Most everyone in Barbara Cue has backed him up one time or another. I’m sure William Tonks would have a line on most of those recordings.

JC: I also watched Billy Bob Thornton’s video of his song y’all recorded “Aunt Avis”. Then Billy Bob’s directorial debut, Live At The Georgia Theatre

TN: Yeah, Vic wrote “Aunt Avis”. We went out to Arkansas to film it right after Billy Bob made Slingblade. Laura Dern and Vic were in the video—where we filmed it was where they did some of the scenes from Slingblade. As far as videos, it looked great. I don’t think a lot of people saw it, but we’re very proud of it. And, of course, Vic was in Sling Blade with Col. Bruce. Hey, Danny (Hutchens) told me he wrote something about Vic on Swampland. Another interesting fact—I don’t know if you remember, but when they are sitting on the porch playing and they take off to go get some beer or something. And they leave Vic and he’s saying, ‘Is anybody going to come get me?’

I’m not proud to say, that actually happened with us one time. We walked off stage and forgot him. It was at The Georgia Theatre one night. You remember how it was set up…it had steps to the floor or steps up to the dressing rooms. We had been offstage for about five minutes before any of us realized what we’d done. That’s art-imitating life…

JC: Let’s travel back in time…to what’s changed about Athens over the last 20-25 years?

TN: Hell James, as you know it’s gotten so fucking big. When I moved to Athens in February of 1986, I think the population—including the University was about sixty thousand. Now, it’s double that; it’s a huge town. Certain things have changed. I mean you could live between downtown and Normaltown and you could find big multi-bedroom houses for 500 bucks a month. It was super easy. Now, they have all the new district rules and they have to be single-family dwellings. They’ve eliminated having a cheap place to live within walking distance of downtown. There are more places to play. But, the thing with Athens is the original attitude is still there…

JC: Reel off a couple of favorites…

TN: Well, as you know, The Drive By Truckers, Bloodkin and Vic were pretty much the trinity for me as far as locals. With the Vic records it was just great. We did the first Brute record and Scott Stuckey produced that and I think John helped a litt bit. The second Brute record we did with John Keane, Scott wasn’t available so John did the engineering and produced it also. There was an album Vic did at John’s after the Brute record and you can hear the carry-over.

JC: What is the latest on the Romper Stompers? I know you’ve been busy, but…

TN: Well, you know Barbara Cue is in kind of hibernation. We’ll get together somewhere down the road to play, but Neff is playing with The Truckers and I’ve been so busy it’s been hard to get together. Danny and I started writing these songs from a kid’s perspective that we would have liked when we were kids. I’ve been on the road for the last four months so nothing has really happened but we made a demo. The demo has six songs on it. Scott Stuckey—again—was one of the people we approached previously because he’s in the children’s entertainment field. He’s very successful with that and he has a show in Washington D.C.

We were lucky enough to be on the show one time. He’s a huge partner now with a company out in California—so it’s the next step for a national awareness. We sent the Romper Stompers demo to him and he thinks he can find a place in the world. We’re really happy with it. Danny and I were talking about it. We thought it was really good. I don’t know if kids will like it but it turned out better than we thought it would. We weren’t sure how it would turn out. We were pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

JC: It will be something that is always around and retains a timeless quality…for every generation of kids. Anyone who has kids will want to pick it up and just try it out on the kids.

TN: Exactly. Part of the idea was to have a middle ground. If they both could dig it, that’s a pretty big wish, but that was the goal…

JC: Well, in a couple of months, we’ll do our volume three interview series…

TN: I’m always up for this with you…

JC: I have to say I’m still really honored you guys asked me to write your induction into the Georgia Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

TN: James, you’ve been writing about Athens music as long as I’ve been here. You’ve got to see a whole generation of Athens bands come up. You’ve been around long enough where you can see the children of musicians you grew up with playing music. When you read some of these music publications you can tell the writers have about five years of history. Your depth goes way beyond that. Your background is very heavy. Like I’ve told you, you’re one of my favorite writers. You can’t fake your perspective. Or try to write like you. As far as we were concerned, we felt honored that in such a short deadline that you had the talent and time to sit down to capture the spirit and give the Panic perspective, and that was a big thing for us. You have your own history. And people need to read what you write on Swampland or even those links on Facebook…

JC: Coming from you, that’s a high compliment. Our appreciation for the other’s talent is mutual. So, let’s do the next series in a month or so when you guys finish the record.

TN: We will. And we’re all looking forward to seeing you tomorrow…

JC: Should be memorable…

Associated Links

Widespread Panic: Six Degrees of Swampland (includes all Panic-related content from reviews to interviews to features including the first volume in this interview with Todd Nance.  This page is updated regularly.)

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