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Thunder On The Mountain: Interview with Widespread Panic's Dave Schools

Dave Schools Interview: Thunder On The Mountain
By James Calemine

"Will power. With strength of will you can do anything. With willpower you can determine your destiny."
                     --Bob Dylan

Dave Schools serves as the thunderous bassist in the band Widespread Panic. Panic exists as one of the most talented and hardworking bands in the last 25 years. Dave's inimitable bass style render his playing a vital ingredient on anything he records. Dave's a serious musician...he's got a sharp sense of humor and he's very friendly, but he's the fearless guy you want on bass when the lights go down and the amps begin to buzz. He's a seasoned professional...

Panic plays an integral role in the Athens, Georgia, music community and until his recent relocation to Northern California, Dave's music presence always rippled through his local musical collaborations, accomplishments and friendships. Dave's quite articulate, and he's always kept his interests in some very 'artistic' territories. In this extensive interview Dave talks about his musical childhood, attending the University of Georgia, music influences, early days of Widespread Panic, success, side projects, the Archive Series, literature, songwriting and film. Dave and I have decided this interview will serve as Volume One to our ongoing interview series and "to our continuing saga." So, pull up a chair, and settle in...

James Calemine: Hey Dave…how’s it goin’?

Dave Schools: I’m sitting at home on a sunny California day. How about you?

JC: Not bad. It’s cool in Atlanta today…only about 70 degrees.

DS: Hey, by the way, great interview with Horace.

JC: Thank ya man. So, let’s get it on. You were born in Richmond, Virginia, right?

DS: Born in Richmond—capitol of the Confederacy.

JC: Talk about the first musical instrument you got…was it the bass?

DS: No, we had a stand up piano. It was a middle-class family from the 40s and everybody had a piano to sit around and play. It’s what my mom liked to do. We had a piano bench full of sheet music from the 40s, 50s and 60s. There’s a picture of me at about six months old playing the piano—or playing with the piano (laughs). Progressively, they encouraged my music. I remember they would take me to Standard Drug Store—it was an interesting kind of drug store. Records were so big in those days every store sold them. Standard Drug had a bunch of vinyl 45s and of course LPs. I guess I was intrigued by the picture sleeve of Deep Purple’s “Kentucky Woman”, which is amazing and a great song to begin with and I’d like to take this opportunity to say a great song is a great song no matter how you frame it.

I think I wore the grooves off of that one. I still got it—it’s gray now, but my dad got pretty tired of that, so they put me on a steady diet of what they deemed acceptable music to listen to which was Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was around that time Creedence had number one singles every month it seemed like. It was a really great time to be a kid. I always bring this up, a son of a friend of my grandmother’s went to Vietnam and he left me a box of 45s. I was four or five years old. Things in the box were The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”, all this Sly Stone stuff and anything really that was at the top of the charts. This is like 1968-69. I just loved it. I loved all that stuff because it painted such vivid pictures.

I was an only child and I really loved listening to records. I got a better stereo and I listened to a lot of those. I loved the drums. How could I not? “Pinball Wizard” was my favorite song and the Sly Stone stuff. So I guess the first instrument they bought me was a little paper drum kit that had “The Who” on the bass drum. Even though I probably didn’t know it at the time that Keith Moon was known for destroying his drum kit—I pulled a Keith Moon on my drum kit because I couldn’t play (laughs)! Then piano lessons started about two or three years later.

JC: How long did you take piano lessons?

DS: Two years. I got really tired of it. It was a little too academic. I remember my mom loved to tell this story so on her behalf—the piano teacher told my mom I had no musical talent. So then I wanted to go back to the drums, but we lived in an apartment complex so that was out of the question. I picked the next best thing, which was the bass. It was very rhythmic—it was kind of cool. A lot of my friends at the time—I guess I was about 13—and everybody wanted to play drums and guitar. Nobody wanted to play bass and I thought maybe I could get in a band. So, I took bass lessons. The funny thing is, going back to what the piano teacher told my mom, the bass teacher I had kept saying, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go back to the piano?’ So, I guess I was just unorthodox and was not acclimated to academics, so I just started playing along to the records I was listening to at the time, which ran the gamut from Black Sabbath and Zeppelin to Blue Oyster Cult. I tried to play along with something like Steely Dan, but it was incredibly frustrating. Way too deep.

I could play along great to a Ten Years After record. I learned the one-four-five blues changes. I was in a band with a bunch of friends from high school called Midnight Jam and that band morphed into a band called Broken Cheri…spelled C-H-E-R-I…we thought we were being clever…being sophomores (laughs). That band played parties—we made a little money. We were playing The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, The Cars, The Clash…

JC: You played when them until when?

DS: Until I was about 18—the end of high school.

JC: Somewhere along the line you became interested in reading because you went to college as a journalism major, right?

DS: (call drops)…I had Fear & Loathing hidden inside my geometry book, but there was one of those passages that cracked me up. I couldn’t bite my tongue hard enough not to laugh. So, my geometry teacher commandeered my precious copy of Fear & Loathing, and I was removed from the class for disturbing the class. I can’t blame my geometry teacher for saying Fear & Loathing is not the best place for reading Gonzo journalism.

JC: What brought you to Athens and the University of Georgia?

DS: A couple of things—one was that I could get an early acceptance, which meant by Thanksgiving holidays my last year of high school I was going to college. I preferred to take exemptions on classes. The school I went to was a 13-year prep school. I was there from kindergarten until I was supposed to be launched into the Ivy League world, but I didn’t want to be a doctor or lawyer or a stockbroker or anything like that. I wasn’t a good enough musician or have a guidance counselor who pointed me in the direction of maybe if I worked a little harder I could go to Berkeley or something like that. So, I didn’t really know any of that was out there for me. I knew I despised academics. Georgia had just been named by Playboy the Number One party school. I knew I could piss off the rest of my senior year after Thanksgiving knowing that I was already in. So that’s pretty much what I did. I went down with the intent of being a good little journalism major. I was on the high school yearbook and I was on the high school newspaper staff oddly enough doing a sports column. I intentionally left my guitar at home. I left it at home until I couldn’t take it anymore. I got there and I was partying a whole lot—just blasting through my allowance and skipping classes and taking Incompletes and Withdrawals. I know I got one A in an English class. But it was too much fun to go see the Grateful Dead—it was too fun to play hacky sack than to read (laughs).

There were too many music opportunities in Athens in 1983 and 84. It was a very creative period for the music. R.E.M. was poised on the launch pad. They hadn’t quite made it out of really sort of being a college favorite. They were still five or six years away from international, massive acclaim. There was a lot of creativity—the punk thing was really cool. There was a lot of diversity in Athens. It was an incredible time it seemed to me. School was secondary so I dropped out. I dropped out after meeting John Bell and Mike Houser. I changed my major to English. It was easier than all the weed-out Journalism classes.

JC: JB was also an English major…

DS: He was an English major and Houser was a chemistry major oddly enough, but now it seems perfectly fitting about Mikey now (laughs). What happened was we started getting gigs so I’d go to night school to placate my mother. At that point I still—I knew what I wanted to do. I was playing in a band.

JC: You three already solidified a collective commitment…

DS: We’d already gotten together. We really hadn’t had what we considered to be the first gig until the first time Todd played with us. We were playing parties.

JC: The band played frat gigs, backyard parties and bar gigs…back then was songwriting an obvious ethos within the band?

DS: We were all about having fun. We were writing original songs. We were playing covers we all thought were pretty cool—sometimes it was the Grateful Dead, sometimes it was Spirit—it was whatever we enjoyed—it was all about fun. We started making a bit of money—we never really stopped to think about what was going on. We got lucky meeting Gomer (Bill Jordan) who ran sound for us and taught us a lot. We were able to pull off remarkable things like cobbling together a PA system at the last second in Atlanta when we showed up and there wasn’t anything to put vocals through or fixing my bass with a pencil eraser and a piece of chewing gum.

JC:…Five minutes before show time…

DS: Exactly. Or even in the middle of a show. We were known for taking breaks—not because it was break time, but because something was broken (laughs). It was usually my bass or JB’s amp. I remember JB fixed a speaker-cone with pruning tar and Club rolling papers.

JC: Necessity is the mother of invention sometimes…

DS: Very true.

JC: I’ve always appreciated that the band agrees to split the credit; it all goes under—Widespread Panic. It adds a little mystery…I mean Beatle fans know if John sang it, he wrote it. They know if Paul sang it, he wrote it. But in Panic that might not necessarily be the case…obviously that was intentional from the beginning.

DS: Um, I don’t think it was an intentional omission or intentional collective pooling of everybody; it just seemed like the right way to do things. We weren’t hippies, but we espoused to that collective ideal. One thing that was really important to us in those days was the fact that we really made a conscious attempt to let things evolve organically. As far as lyrics went, it was fairly obvious in most cases if someone was singing a song they wrote the lyrics, but there was a lot of interplay. There were times when Mikey had lyrical ideas and didn’t feel confident singing those ideas and he would hand them over to JB and let him put them into a form he thought he could sing. JB was always very adamant about singing things that were true to him. That way he felt like he could really stand behind and sort of own what he was singing. I think that’s an incredibly important and salient point when it comes to any discussion about John Bell.

JC: Well, even copyright-wise it keeps internal conflict down, right?

DS: We knew what we knew about the music business even in those days The University of Georgia was kind of ahead of the curve. A lot of these colleges didn’t have any music business classes available, but UGA did; a guy named Bill Ramal taught intro to music business. I don’t think any of us took it but we were aware of it. We were friendly with the R.E.M. guys and that’s how they were doing things. They just said, ‘if you think about it, everybody has input.’ Especially in a band like Widespread Panic everybody has a lot of input. We could have separated out the lyrics from the music. The other important thing to remember, history has shown that a lot of times those song splits will split up the band. This way we all felt comfortable. We manage to maintain the collective—and we still do to this day.

JC: That’s a vital element in the band. So, let’s go back to the very first record. Wasn’t something recorded before Space Wrangler?

DS: There was. There was a 45 we recorded before Todd was even in the band. It probably came out after Todd was in the band. We recorded it with a drummer named Joel Morris. We recorded it in a studio in Winterville. A guy named Wind engineered that recording. The single was “Coconut” and “Space Wrangler” on a 7-inch 45, big hole. I think we recorded three or four other songs. I remember “Stop N Go” was one of them. Maybe “Dear Mr. Fantasy”. Um, possibly the song “Driving Song”. We put that single out on our own label called Space Baby Records. We had this material and we wanted to record it well so we went to the top dog in Athens, which was John Keane. The studio was his living room at the time. We would record as much as we could until the money would run out and then we would go do some gigs, save up money and go back and we put it together. Landslide Records put it out. That was another fortuitous meeting when we met the blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis who put out a record with his band The Heartfixers on Landslide. He introduced us to the President who was Michael Rothschild who in turned also introduced us to Bruce Hampton…who was a whole ‘nother can of worms…

JC: That was an important meeting…

DS: It was—this was a really fertile time for us. We were playing a lot of regular gigs. We had a regular gig at the Little Five Points Pub in Atlanta. We had our Uptown Lounge Mondays. We were expanding our turf—we’d go to Macon and we’d go up to Greenville, South Carolina. If we really pushed it we’d get over the mountain to Nashville. We were co-opting a rehearsal space with White Buffalo and Bloodkin.

JC: I remember that place well…

DS: It was a great shit-hole of a recording space. It was party central. The bands that were like that who seemed to all hang out together—White Buffalo and Bloodkin and The Gravity Creeps and then there were some other more sort of, let’s just say not hard rock or punk bands. We had a lot of parties—we played a lot of gigs together—house party fun-type gigs on a Sunday. I think we all shared going against the grain in Athens and that gave us a lot of fuel. There were a lot of collaborations…a lot of hanging out—a lot of good feeling.

JC: The stakes were raised a little when Capricorn Records came into the picture. Panic was the flagship band of the resurrected Capricorn records…

DS: Yeah, we were the first signing. It was an interesting position to be in. I remember we got our Burrell Press Packs, which is sort of like every 6 months your publicist hands you something from this company that would collect all the publicity nationally and make copies and send it to you. I remember thinking maybe one out of every ten articles was about us. The other nine were about Capricorn being back or Phil Walden, the riverboat gambling soul of southern rock. It would reference The Allman Brothers more than us. It was our first real lesson in how publicity does or doesn’t work. It wound up being an important thing because we basically didn’t get the publicity blitz—we never did. It made us even more determined to press against the wind and keep going. Hype was becoming such an overwhelming unreliable source for any kind of musical information at the time. We felt it would be nice to get a four star review in Rolling Stone, but look at all the crap that is getting five stars! It’s always been that way. In some respects, it’s convinced us even more we were doing the right thing.

JC: Widespread serves as a vital link in a chain of historic southern music…recording with Johnny Sandlin, who recorded with Johnny Jenkins, Duane Allman…

DS: …Percy Sledge, all those greats…

JC: You guys were in the middle of all that even though it was another era…you guys carved your own niche…

DS: It was, and I’ll tell you a little anecdote—this may have happened at the end of our Capricorn years. I was doing a college interview with some girl in Connecticut. She was balking at every answer I gave, like she knew the answers to the questions better than I did. I was trying to explain to her whatever sound she was considered to be classic southern rock doesn’t necessarily have to do with where a band physically emanates. I’m like, R.E.M., is a southern band—do they sound like southern rock? Marylin Manson is from Florida—does that sound like southern rock? Gloria Estefan is probably from far south as you can get—does she sound like southern rock? She goes, ‘Look, I know plenty of southern rock. My brother went to college in the South, and I said “ Really? Where? And she said, ‘New Mexico’ (collective laughter). I said, ‘Point proven’. We don’t like labels. What you said earlier was probably right—we carved our own niche. That was our plan. It wasn’t necessarily to make our own way in the world, but we were supposed to be.

JC: Once again, a thread of storytelling goes back to an old tradition which is inherently southern of course, but that always kept you guys ahead of the curve.

DS: We had the influences we had when we got together and we were young. I don’t know how much emphasis on what the craft of songwriting was about until we met people who we considered to be great songwriters like Vic Chesnutt, Danny Hutchens and Jerry Joseph—once we were exposed to those guys the studio experience became something totally different. Our objective in the studio became—it was two-fold; one, we wanted a snapshot of the band at that time. The more important thing was work on the songwriting. Doesn’t necessarily mean writing hooks and hits and sort of easily digested commercial music. It is answering the question, which is—what is songwriting? What’s important to us? How does our experience…um,

JC: Resonate?

DS: Resonate…you know, we were lucky to have those three guys I mentioned earlier as peers, friends. We knew they were head and shoulders over anything we could write as songwriters, but that influence pushed itself through. Houser became known for writing sort of every-man sort of irony plays. John Bell pushed himself farther with allegorical picture painting. Todd began to write. Todd began to write songs—his experience with Bloodkin and hanging out with Danny and Eric had a huge effect on him. Jojo entered the band and his sort of blues and ragtime sensibilities and his warped sense of humor.

JC: Well, you’ve not done so bad…

DS: I’m not a lyricist—it’s unfortunately one of my shortcomings. Every time I tried to write some words it looks like bad eight-grade poetry and the rhyme scheme is similar to bad sixth grade poetry (laughs). It wasn’t fitting to the music. What I had to offer was more counter-punctual bass lines or contrapuntal, if you want to use the real word, and some good arrangement ideas and really trying to use the bass guitar as something different than in the traditional sense. Occasionally I would get lucky and come up with the song because we were sitting around talking about. I come up with something that works is rare, but the situation I did enjoy being in—maybe providing the impetus for an instrumental piece of music. Having John Bell come up to me and say, ‘I’d like to come up with some words for this, do you have a picture in your mind?' One of the things I always think about is “Rebirtha”. It’s like, ‘Okay, how about a big fat lady standing on the corner in New Orleans raising hell. Can you run with that concept? And JB says, ‘Yeah, I can run with that concept.' That’s what collaboration is all about. It’s a team effort and it doesn’t mean that everybody has to be strong in the same way. In fact, it’s better when everybody has different strengths.

JC: You mentioned those three songwriters—the thing Panic always had was a loyal following. It’s a mysterious element that nobody can explain how a band or a song affects people. By the time of Everyday and Ain’t Life Grand, you could feel the ascent of the band…a real momentum was on the way…as the band began to master what they do.

DS: Yeah, you know, if anyone could explain how that happens the music business might be a totally different thing. I think it’s maybe equal parts hard work and material and luck.

JC: A sportscaster might say luck is the residue of design…

DS: They may be right. Being inside the bubble I could never explain it. I’m one of the six people who have never seen the band. I might be at the back of the room with my arms crossed, saying ‘Huh, I could do that.’ Thanks to the Intranet there are a lot of people out there who love to take that attitude. The thing is—they’re not doing that. That’s kind of the key is that we chose to just soldier on. Of course, the ascent that you mentioned definitely bolsters with hindsight. Then again, there are plenty of people who labor years and years in relative unknown….

JC: Total obscurity…

DS: Yeah, they have no choice. We don’t have a choice. Some people have no choice.. they play music. That’s the only thing they can do to complete their lives.

JC: It’s true for any painter, writer, poet—welder who has to work a real job…

DS: Yeah, he’s still at home welding sculpture after work. Some of the greatest musicians I know make their daily bread in sound libraries. They come up with commercial music and they go and play the most out there jazz you’ve ever heard. It’s their outlet; it’s what they love. That’s the vision they made. People make decisions to sleep on floors and play for whatever spare change they can on the corner. They feel like they have to…

JC: What has been the most difficult thing to learn after 20 years of building the band up to become what it has now?

DS: You know really for me, and that’s the only way I can answer that question is trying to figure out how not to be so goddamn uptight all the time. To let things go and because after success you know it’s really easy to lose sight of the principles that guided you in the beginning. You have to work pretty hard to get back around to get back around from your elbow to your ass so to speak and make sure those principles stay in place because a lot of things change over two decades. Success changes things. People around you change. Generally, you don’t really change that much, you’re just doing what you do. For me, it was always hard to keep that stuff in mind. I would get bogged down in ‘How do we maintain this?’ In reality, we never thought that way in the beginning—it was always…what’s the most fun option?

JC: That’s really the only answer. The level of success you guys have achieved…I could see where riddles would appear out of nowhere. Well, you’ve always kept interesting side projects. What’s going on right now? I know you’ve got that blog going on.

DS: Yeah, I’m trying to get back the writing personally because it’s a good exercise for me and sometimes I think I’m okay at it. It’s something that disappeared for a long time and then it came back thanks to John Bell giving me a black and white laptop in 1995. It hurt my hand to hold a pencil. When I got a hold of a keyboard—not even an old typewriter—it changed things. As far as the side projects go—they were always opportunities that started as something fun and casual to do that sort of grew. The Slang Project was just me and Layng Martine having some fun with loops and sending tapes back and forth and adding things and then sending them back to the other guy. He’d add something and then send it to me. That’s fun. We were doing it for us and then Terminus Records comes in and says, ‘Hey—this is pretty cool stuff. We’ll finance you to finish the record.' So, that’s what happened and then we made another one. My relationship with Jerry Joseph was always like, ‘I don’t have a girlfriend, I’m bored, what am I going to do for six weeks? He was like, ‘Why don’t you come play Europe with me and we’ll play duets in little weird smoky nightclubs. That’s how Stockholm Syndrome was born. It sort of grew. The Gov’t Mule thing—Woody was a great friend of mine and when he passed away Warren knew that and knew that I shared a lot of sensibilities with Allen as a bass player. Warren called and said, ‘Come join us for this Memorial thing we’re doing in New York City. I said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want.’ He said, ‘We want you to play bass for Gov’t Mule.’ I said, ‘What?’

JC: We hung out for a few minutes at the Roseland that night. Do you remember that?

DS: Not really because I was really really nervous as hell. It was a situation where I did something to help out some friends. Warren called me and asked what I thought about doing a tour for a couple of months. I had the time off and I told him it sounded like fun. He goes, ‘How about if we have Chuck Leavell play keyboards?’ I was like, ‘How much can I learn in two weeks?' Some of these opportunities were fun or they helped some people out.

JC: You had a lot of work to do…

DS: It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun. I really learned a lot. I love working with other people because every time I do I learn something that helps me as a musician, and in turn I can bring that back to Widespread Panic. Even when T Lavitz was in Widespread Panic I was always priming him for information. I don’t know anything about modes. What are these modes you speak of? What is this mode I hear Frank Zappa play? And he would do his best to show me, which is another great thing about having Jimmy Herring in the band. He’s a consummate learned musician. He’s probably the best teacher because he’s not a method teacher. He’s a practice teacher, by that I mean, he’s like, ‘Alright, here’s what the teacher is going to show you in the classroom. Does that make sense?’ And I say, ‘No Jimmy. It’s kind of confusing (laughs). Then he’d pick up his guitar and start playing chords. He’d say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna play this chord and you play this scale against it.' That’s what I mean—then the light bulb goes off and I can hear what he’s trying to teach me. Then all of a sudden it makes sense. It’s out of the classroom into the front lounge of the bus. All these opportunities to work with these great players really served me well. I get to bring it back to Panic and it means I can be better at what I do in Widespread Panic. It’s expanding the musician I could be.

JC: That’s always the intention anyway.

DS: Yeah, heaven help me if I decide it’s time to stop growing and learning as a musician…

JC: You’re satisfied at what you know at 46…

DS: Yeah, (lazy voice) I think it’s time to coast and play the same thing over and over and over.

JC: So, let’s talk about the Archive Series. I really dig the Valdosta show. Just the fact Jim Oade recorded it from the back of his car is worth the price of the package.

DS: (Laughs) Yeah, all those gigs. When we put out one of those archive things, I flash back to the gig. A lot of it makes sense and I’m sure it’s hindsight. The Carbondale show, I remember that was a really really long fall tour in a really really busy year and it was the last show—probably a week or so after thanksgiving—I can’t remember the exact date—I want to say December 1…

JC: That’s right…

DS: Usually we would end with Thanksgiving weekend…

JC: So tired at that point of a tour…

DS: But see, you’re beyond tired at that point because you can see the barn. So generally, it’s like if you had a choice to see the third to last show or the last show of a tour, go to the last show. I just remember how I felt that day—we all walked off stage and said that is how you end a tour and a year. So, that made sense. The Valdosta show—I knew there was a good quality recording of this show out there somewhere. I remember Jim being there. It was a new era for us. We had all that new material which wound up being the first Capricorn record. It wasn’t derivative material at all.

JC: No, powerful stuff as a quartet.

DS: And pretty bizarre arrangements and time signature changes. Very interesting record. That Valdosta release isn’t about ‘Check us out’—it’s here’s a band on the historical cusp of becoming what they were known to be—which is important.

JC: Any clues for Volume Three?

DS: I’ll say the second set of the Third release in the Archive Series is widely circulated. A lot of people think it’s one of the best shows we ever did. The first set has never really been available.

JC: So, this summer you guys are going out with The Allman Brothers…

DS: I’m so excited. Can’t wait…

JC: It’s 40 years for them. It’s a great one-two punch. Both bands share the bill…

DS: If it was up to me—I’d say it’s a situation like Jimmy Page inducting Jeff Beck in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in that people complained that whenever Jimmy sat in with him that night he didn’t solo. Jimmy did that because it was Jeff’s night. They’re friends—granted they’re peers and Panic and the Allman Brothers aren’t peers necessarily—they’re more like father figures to us. The point is—it’s their 40th Anniversary tour. I’m sure they’ll always convene at the Beacon Theater and there will always be gigs. It’s a 40th year tour and that’s a lot of decades as a band to log together. If it was up to me, I’d just assume we’d open for them every night and let them do their thing, but there’s a demographic thing and a numbers thing that the business people go into and I guess in some markets, it’s pretty equal. It’s a co-bill in the truest sense of the word—we’re playing for the same amount of time. Shows when we go on first people just need to leave a little early to get there because it’s going to be four and a half hours of music every night. But, to me it was a no-brainer. Buck Williams (Panic manager) called me some months ago about this and I said it sounds like the most fun I can think of and I’m really looking forward to it. One of the things about touring a lot you don’t get to necessarily see bands that you’re friends with unless you play with them because their on tour on the west coast and you’re on tour on the east coast. You don’t even really have time to email each other. So, when you’re on tour together a real cool dynamic happens. I’m sure there will be sit-ins and stuff, some experiments will happen. Being a fan of music that would be a show to go see.

JC: Volume Three of the Archive Series should be out before the tour starts, so there’s plenty of fun on the way. Give me a list of writers off the top of your head who were influential to you. Novelists…anything that leaves a mark. What are you reading now?

DS: You know, I’m trying to think of some novels I’ve read lately—I read too many novels. It’s a lot easier for me to read short stories. So, I have a subscription to McSweeney’s, which runs the gamut. There’s a theme for each issue from stories that are collected from unknowns and well knowns.

JC: Kind of like Zoetrope

DS: Exactly. It’s a loose thread of a theme. They cherry pick stories that seem to apply to theme of if they contract these writers within the guidelines. I like short stories. I had a brief fling with Augusten Burroughs who wrote Running with Scissors—which is the sickest, laugh out loud, self-depreciating memoir I’ve ever read. So, I went through a couple of his books.

JC: You ever read Cormac McCarthy?

DS: Oh yeah. I love Cormac. I’ve tried to get my wife to finish The Road, but she says it’s too depressing she can’t finish it.

JC: Well, she shouldn’t read Outer Dark or Child of God…

DS: I’ve read Suttree.

JC: That’s probably my favorite.

DS: It had me running to the dictionary more than I care to. What I like about Cormac is he coins words, but you know what he means. You look up the word and it’s not in the dictionary but to me that is true creative innovation. A big influence on me has always been Mark Twain. You want to talk about art form that also has social conscience then read Huckleberry Finn. I think what I’m getting at here is other than McCarthy—there is some humor in his work but it’s very dark—I love the humorist essays. They make me giggle. I can’t remember what it’s called, maybe a “Trip To Niagara Falls” that is blistering hilarious. Those are some things I’ve been reading lately. I’m glad you brought up Cormac McCarthy—I really enjoy that. He’s getting way up there and he’s a strange author. I hope he can crank something out—what I found so appealing about The Road was that he’s known for run-on sentences and extremely embellished descriptive terminology…

JC: Especially the early books.

DS: But what he did with the way he wrote in The Road matched the bleak scenes in which the characters lived.

JC: It’s sparse prose.

DS: Sparse minimalism.

JC: He’s very economical in the book with his word count.

DS: Yeah, it’s distilled—that’s the hardest thing ever. He’s gotten out of the trap of writing like Faulkner and now he’s using language to make the reader feel colors when they read the words, and paint the picture—it’s bleak, it’s gray, it’s covered in ash and it’s about survival and not being someone else’s dinner (laughs).

JC: Which always makes for good drama.

DS: Exactly. I really like the cyber-punk William Gibson stuff. I’ve always been a big science fiction fan—Ray Bradbury.

JC: Here’s a tangent, you’re a good guy to run this by…I’m reviewing a book about Tom Waits called Lowside of the Road. Panic did a great version of “Goin’ Out West”…

DS: Ah, well I think we always really liked the darker side of songwriting. Warren Zevon is someone we always really liked. I like Tom Waits on a humorous level because “The Piano Has Been Drinking”, "Heart Attack And Vine” and that stuff. But, between Todd and our friend Jackie Jasper the girl I was living with at the time—Big Time, the live record, just blew my mind. The word clever can’t be used--it’s artistic soul. Then when Bone Machine came out…

JC: I lived with Danny and Eric when that came out, and Eric just wore it out. When we’d want to run people out of the apartment at the wee hours of the morning, we’d put on Black Rider…

DS: Yeah, that’ll do it…

JC: I’m sure you’re a big Jim Jarmusch fan?

DS: To me, I love Jarmusch. Todd really likes Night On Earth and Down By Law and I really like Dead Man. I also really like Ghost Dog because JoJo and me have a close friend John Tormey—his father plays the lead in that. He’s got a great sense of humor. The Indian who shows up in Ghost Dog and he says the same thing he said in Dead Man—“Stupid White Man”—it’s a central theme—the fucking white man. I love Jarmusch stuff. I’m fond of Apatale and his show Freaks & Geeks, which was my era of high school. People from the Sixties have The Big Chill—those a little older than me have…uh, not Fast Times At Ridgemont High…uh…

JC: Dazed & Confused?

DS: Thank you. I was a little younger than Dazed & Confused—it’s not my era—that’s a California public school. Judd Apatow did the 40 Year Old Virgin. He did Pineapple Express

JC: Is there anything coming up we should keep an eye out for?

DS: The Stockholm Syndrome record just got finished…

JC: Where did you record that?

DS: In this town about 10 miles away from where I live called Cotati called Prairie Sun Studio, which credits are on Bone Machine and Black Rider being recorded there because Tom Waits is a denizen of West Sonoma County just like I am. That was really good. We had Danny Lewis from Govt Mule on keyboards. Eric McFadden contributed a couple of songs and Wally Ingram is bouncing back from his near death experience with grace and beauty on the drums. I’d have to say Jerry Joseph rose to the occasion. We wrote some of the best songs we’ve ever written together. His vocal performance, which we recorded in Nassau with Terry Manning is some of the best work I’ve ever heard. His vocal—his singing—the tonality of his voice—the emotion he put into it is first class. It blew me away. It blew Terry Manning away. In fact one of the songs we recorded Terry almost started crying because it reminded him of an Al Green session that he worked on. When I asked him what it was, he said “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart”, which is a pretty heavy song.

JC: When will that be out?

DS: Well, it’s just getting mastered now, and we’re gonna shop it around and see what the music industry thinks and the sorry state of affairs its in—well, I guess on one hand it’s in a sorry state of affairs and on the other it’s a world of opportunity. We’re trying to look at it as a world of opportunity if anyone bites. If not, we’ll put it out ourselves.

JC: That’s what everyone else is doing right now…

DS: It’s wide open. It’s like we live in the Old West again. You get out there and see what you can make for yourself.

JC: Well Dave, we’ve covered some ground. We’ll just make our interviews an ongoing series…

DS: …to our continuing saga…

JC: Why not?

DS: Yeah, man. We can do it anytime you want James. I always love talking to you.

JC: And I you sir…

DS: Well, let’s end Volume One with this…California can cook meat on a grill, but it ain’t no damn barbecue…(laughs)

(Photo credits James Calemine, Brad Hodge, Dave Vann & Eric Adkins) 

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