Interview & Concert Recap
On Thursday June 27th I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing the Greyboy Allstars headline a concert at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. The opening act Lance Herbstrong was joined by special guests from Thievery Corporation, See-i, and Fort Knox Five.
Herbstrong raises the stakes for artists looking to mix the old with the new. Kamal Soliman and Bill Sarver have an unprecedented ear for music and are able to translate that well in their production techniques. They’ve also incorporated an incredible lead guitarist, Pete DiStefano, who played in Porno for Pyros and has recorded with vocalist Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver) among other notable musicians. The mix of top notch production complimented by Pete’s rock inspired licks brings energy that is sure to make you dance and rock at the same time, something many electronic artists are missing in their live delivery. Whether they are remixing reggae legend Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” or a classic rock tune such as Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine”, all three seek musical exploration in expanding upon the foundations of the original songs. (Kamal discusses in greater detail in the interview) The highlight of the concert was definitely Karl Denson sitting in on sax for Herbstrong’s remix of “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS.
Ashish Vyas (Bass), Congo Sanchez (Drums), and Rob Myers (Sitar) of Thievery Corporation, See-i, and Fort Knox Five played an integral part of the highly successful set that night by rounding out the sound of group, filling the void of any empty space. With their backing Peter had some more room for improvisation.
There are few groups that walk the line so well of being a jazz act that captures emotion with funk while incorporating intense technical progression, and at the end of the day leaving room for some ole fashioned live improvisation. It is an act of balance; they’ve mastered that art which is why they’ve continued to be successful for nearly two decades. The tour was in support of their recent release titled Inland Emperor.
The night was a creative mixture of old songs and the new, starting with a tasteful rendition of “Right On” before moving to a tightly played version of the title track to their 2007 release “What Happened to Television”. One of my favorite tracks off (Inland Emperor) is “Breaking Blood”. The track reminds me heavily of New Orleans inspired funk reminiscent of The Meters, which was pulled off live even better than in the studio. Soon after, Elgin led the band into a relaxed jazzy number “Jack Rabbit” a fine tune that fleshes out with Karl Denson’s sax improvisation. Some personal set highlights included “Inland Emperor” the title track off of their newest album, as well as “Left Coast Boogaloo” which was one of the first Greyboy songs I heard years ago. The best piece off the most recent release is “Profundo Grasso”, executed with perfection, Robert’s B-3 organ soaked soul creates a pocket for Chris, Karl, Elgin, and Aaron to fill. They wrapped up the night with two encores with “Don’t Chin the Dog” and the new “Toys R Us” to an ecstatic crowd satisfied, yet yearning for even more. Be sure to check them out as they tour in support of their most recent release.
Interview with Robert Walter
of the Greyboy Allstars
Robert Walter was kind enough to speak with me on the phone a few days after the show to discuss a variety of ideas ranging from the group’s song writing process, the changing dynamic of the music industry and how he fits in, his own individual career pursuits and other commentary on his career.
Q: Karl, stated of the Greyboy Allstars most recent album, Inland Emperor, “We do in one week what would take me two months to do in any other situation.” Could you expound a bit on the group’s songwriting process and factors you all believe contribute to such an expedited song writing process?
Robert: Everybody writes music and everyone has got a lot of ideas so the process of writing is you just start passing it around the room… Usually someone else has an idea of what to do, things fall into line quickly. Also have good shorthand with each other since we have been together with each other and listened to a lot of records… you just recognize it… it’s very easy to put together… in other situations you have to explain the genre… we can work quickly and without much discussion.
Q: In addition to your accomplishments with The Greyboy Allstars, each of you have achieved a great deal of success with your own individual music endeavors. What has proven to be the most effective means of allowing you to pursue your individual career in the midst of recording and touring as The Greyboy Allstars for nearly two decades?
Robert: We just get together and do it when we feel like it, there’s not a lot of pressure. We sort of own it ourself, we don’t really have a record deal, don’t have a bunch of business people telling us what to do… Try to get things right for the right reason, rather than for the money… We still all come together ya know every once in a while and it feels the same as it ever was.
Q: I know at one point you decided to move from San Diego to New Orleans, what exactly led you to make this decision and what was it like to be playing with such an esteemed drummer like Stanton Moore?
Robert: I’d been working with Stanton before I moved to New Orleans and then we worked Jazz Fest, and he had played on some of my records, had been working together before. Also I’m a big fan of Johnny Vidacovich who taught Stanton Moore and Brian Blade who are an important part of the scene there, and I just had always been a fan of the music, and felt I could never really learn it unless I sort of got immersed in where it was coming from. The difference with day to day life there is there are so many venues for live music and so many gigs, there’s so many places to play… In San Diego you may play a gig and wait for week until the next one… NOLA you can be playing every day. Playing with a variety of players and a variety of settings on a real casual basis.
Q: Yea I know there’s a lot of collaboration that goes in New Orleans in particular…
Robert: Yea, a lot of it is kinda a jam session, good way to get together… Good way to think on my feet.
Q: What are your plans in the near future with the 20th Congress?
Robert: 20th Congress just came out with “Get Thy Bearings” which was released with Royal Potato Family Records last Tuesday that was produced by Mike Andrews and featured Aaron and Karl on a couple of tracks and some others from the Greyboy Allstars, Elgin Park played guitar on it.
Q: What came to draw you to one of the most soulful instruments out there, the Hammond B-3? When did you first become fascinated with the B-3?
Robert: It was in Greyboy Allstars. At first had a Fender Rhodes ya know, organ was in some records we were interested in, and as we got into more funky records, a lot were organ based. So I figured if I was gonna play keyboard I should figured it out…. Greyboy Allstars was what brought me to playing organ, before that I was a pianist.
Q: The rapid changing dynamic of the music industry over the past few decades has changed how artists deliver their music and how fans receive it. Certainly we are at a time of exponential growth in these technologies with the emergence of applications such as Spotify, Pandora, and subscription radio.
What industry changes have you experienced as a musician over the course of your careers for better and for worse? I know the internet has assisted in the live music circuit, being able to be successful under the radar of mainstream commercial success, but allowing an avenue and a fan base that’s loyal enough to let you create the music you want without that overbearing infrastructure of the modern music business model?
Robert: The internet has moved everything along in all communications. When we started we had self-released records. We were touring with no radio play, we were successful before trading music on the internet…Before that were was some CDR tape trading through the mail.
There’s pros and cons to everything… There’s so much junk out there that’s still available because now you have to go through that to get it [good music]… The act of trading [CDR tape trading] takes some work and you’re gonna pick up stuff that’s happening… I have trouble negotiating….When my mom would take a picture of me on my birthday, there would be one picture of me on my birthday and now you’ll have like 100 pictures of you on your birthday… Not everything needs to be preserved forever. It has made it easy for people to easily release music, easy to record, you can make music on laptop without much trouble… Half the stuff on the radio now has been made on a computer…I have been sentimental about doing things…. Vinyl… Mics the in studio… there’s no fighting progress, just finding where you fit into it. I enjoy turning over the record…Going through the album….You may have to wait through a boring song, but it makes the next one better, it shouldn’t be what you want exactly all the time, it should tell you a story, and go thru ups and downs emotionally.
Robert Walter’s 20th Congress will be touring in support of their new album. (Tour Dates)Greyboy Allstars Official
Interview with Lance Herbstrong
Kamal Soliman, Bill Sarver, and Pete DiStefano of Lance Herbstrong sat down with me before the show to do an interview. Also backstage before the show were Ashish Vyas (Bass) and Congo Sanchez (Drums) of Thievery Corporation & See-i as well as and Rob Myers (Sitar) who performs with both Thievery & See-i as well as The Fort Knox Five. Everyone in that room has been in the music realm for quite some time in various capacities so getting to hear them tell me about it was a unique opportunity.
Q: After you all having a good time at Lollapalooza in 2010 you thought maybe you could take it more to the national stage in terms of touring. Exactly how did this all begin?
Kamal: Bill and I started doing remixes just for fun, and we did a Thievery remix, a mashup with Manu Chao, they really liked it and we ended up doing a couple more for other artists on their record label. We sold those and so we never really intended to be a live act.
Bill: This isn’t supposed to be happening.
Kamal: Yea and then so Lollapalooza, we got the opening slot on the DJ stage and I knew Pete and we had remixed the Porno for Pyros song and asked him to sit in with us.
Pete: And I heard it and I became a calculated creep. Got myself in the band. I even have a Lance Herbstrong card with my name on it.
Kamal: He was jocking to get in the band since day one, we didn’t let him in until we found out he only had one testicle.
Pete: (smiling) It’s true, it’s true.
Ashish: That’s the Lance Armstrong
Pete: And I died my hair blue black.
Kamal: It’s true I overheard him talking about his one nut and I was like you’re in! (laughs across the room) That’s the cosmic sign!
Q: You tend to bring in a lot of influences from the Great Era of Rock n’ Roll (Classic Rock) that’s not typical of some of these artists to really be able to take the song, keep its original integrity and make it into something new. I’m sure that presents a challenge…what is your process when you work with those songs?
Bill: Listen to the radio (sarcastically)
Kamal: We all have diverse taste and musical influences and classic rock is just something that we all have in common that we love and respect. How could you not with some of the great people we’ve remixed. But there’s no real rhyme or reason to it. It’s just about what song or songs we really like and love and think that we can make and modernize and put our spin on and make it something intriguing or danceable or whatever… and like ya said that’s really what it’s all about is paying homage to the original song, keeping its integrity, ya know we don’t remix just for the sake of remixing it. We want to make it better.
Pete actually commented that some of the stuff he’s done with Herbstrong is some of the more challenging stuff cause when he records his guitar parts I mean he’s got a duet with Pink Floyd, The Who, and all these great legends…
Bill: And I try to match the tone of the original song…
Q: Pete I know you’ve played with Porno for Pyros and done some collab with Scott Weiland (Ashish: “Really?”) of The Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver correct?
Pete: We had a band called Action Girls… We practiced and got ready and were ready to go on tour and then he went to jail and that band was over. We made a record called 12 bar blues, a solo record.
Ashish: Got a great Scott Weiland story for ya later…
Q: Obviously you’ve played in some more rocked based outfits, but this avenue is sort of rock with electronic, with reggae influences, it runs the course of all different genres. So how does the guitar fit in there and can it sometimes be a challenge?
Bill: Very bad (laughs throughout the room)
Pete: It’s been super fun I mean I love Kamal and Bill, but it’s really ya know it’s… there isn’t like Jimi Hendrix or Pete Townsend or Jimmy Page that I can look at who’ve done this. It’s never really been done for me to look at how to do it. So I rely on Bill. Ya know Bill what’s cool?, he’ll tell me to go “da da da da da” (motions intermittent guitar strumming) “space space space” “da da da da da da” and I’ll just copy what he does so he really produces me and then I improv a lot, I get to improv a lot, but usually it sounds terrible (smirks)… Stuff that works good it’s a lot of a learning process, how to learn how to play with space, and there’s a machine that’s the meat and potatoes, when I’m with Porno for Pyros ya know it’s just… easier cause you are the thing so you can just play, this you have to be clever and find out where you fit in… it’s just different thinking
Q: For you all not being the typical one man DJ act how has your onstage chemistry improved and in what ways do feel you are connecting more naturally at this point…How has the sound developed itself both onstage and in the studio?
Bill: Well it’s all on tape so we’re not actually doing anything (everyone laughs)… the same thing every night, it’s just varying degrees of how fucked up we are.
Kamal: No it’s good, it’s interesting, you know after the first year we did about 40 shows… we have a usual drummer that usually plays with us the majority of the time. More often than not traveling it’s just the three of us, and we have opportunities like having Jeff sit in on drums since our regular drummer isn’t here… after about 40 shows we’re gelling a lot better… Ya know it’s interesting, I’ve added some percussion to my position at the DJ table as well… Bill hates it (laughs)… it’s all on the job training and I have fun.
Pete: Our favorite tour was with Morcheeba right, that was a good tour, cause it was serious… and then Bill and red wine.
Kamal: Red wine vomit
Bill: I used to in my old band, I used to have a bottle of Jager in a cooler next to me and I’d chug it then vomit on the crowd.
Lance Herbstrong Official
*A very special thanks to the Howard Theatre, Katie Harvey, and Andy Cerutti