MM: Right.
SO: And we were in Boston and before we went on we were brainstorming all the things that we wanted to get right for New York and Boston almost slipped our minds and became‚ like‚ who cares about Boston. And we went out there and it was just an amazing show‚ you know‚ for whatever reason. No one was even trying‚ too. It just kind of happened. The crowd was great‚ and it was just one of those shows. And in the midst of performing the show‚ I just remember‚ realizing like‚ Wow‚ in some ways‚ it's just out of your hands when those nights happen. And then they do.
MM: Yeah‚ you can't really plan for that to happen.
SO: I was thinking about the Grateful Dead. I grew up listening to them and‚ you know‚ there's something wonderful about going out every night and you try and the audience is there and hopefully they're trying‚ too. That approach. My feeling is sometimes the audience is really tuned in and really prepared for the music to be great and the band isn't quite hitting that night. Or sometimes vice versa-the band is ready to go‚ but the crowd sucks. And so you get that rare night where all the stars are aligned‚ and that's a great feeling. I don't know if it's transformative‚ in the way that you were asking‚ but there are definitely highs.
MM: Yeah. I mean‚ that's what you're going for.
SO: Yeah. When you talk about transformative or highs and lows‚ the way I look at it is a little more long term. The thing I've always liked about music is that it's been a good push-pull relationship with me through my life‚ where sometimes I feel like I want the music to go further. So I have to figure out ways in my own life to push it forward in some sense‚ whether studying music or studying other forms of music or even studying other forms of philosophy or whatever to kind of push it to the next level. And then sometimes I feel like music just shows up and it's like‚ this is what we want‚ and then I have to get my shit together. [laughter] Get myself dialed in to make that next step to the music. So it's kind of like a push-pull throughout my life‚ year to year‚ here‚ there‚ few years‚ you know‚ whatever. It pushes me‚ and I push it.
MM: What kind of stuff is doing that for you now? Like what are you surrounding yourself with to push to the next level?
SO: Well‚ there's a few different things going on for me. Musically‚ the band and me‚ we've gotten into African music lately. So I've been listening to a lot of
music from Mali. There's all this great guitar tradition from Mali‚ from Ali Farka Touré
and his student‚ Afel Bocoum, who's actually really amazing. My girlfriend turned me on to the record I've been listening to for a year. And we just playedin Holland‚ the first show of this tour‚ and it turned out his band was playing right before us on the same stage. And they all spoke French and we were speaking English‚ and they didn't really understand us‚ but we were like‚ "Oh‚ we'd love to play with you!" And they ended up inviting us onstage to play their last song‚ so it was really an amazing experience-just recently putting a lot of energy into listening to this music‚ you know‚ and then all of a sudden being onstage with Ali Farka Touré's main student and this guy whose CD I've been listening to for a year.
We also had an experience last summer where we were playing at Roskilde in Denmark and our drummer met an African drummer and invited him to play with us during our show. He ended up bringing his whole troupe‚ and there were like ten drummers and seven dancers and it was just this huge affair onstage‚ but it was spontaneous.
MM: Wow. That's awesome.
SO: Yeah. So I think musically‚ we've been inspired a lot by the singing and the drumming. And then the guitar tradition is pretty amazing there‚ too‚ just stemming from kora playing. A guy named Toumani Diabaté. He's kind of the more famous kora player from Mali now. So this musically has been a lot of inspiration to me recently. I also moved out of New York‚ back to where I'm from in Pennsylvania‚ and finally can afford and have space here to set up a studio and set up something that's a little bit more… You know‚ in New York it was always month-to-month‚ and I would go on tour and sublet my apartment and come back‚ and it just became really hard to have some sort of continuity creatively‚ outside of the band. We'd come home for a month and I'd have to reset up my stuff‚ and then I'd have to pack it up and go. And now I'm getting to have a bit of a studio location here that's going continually even while the band's on tour‚ so I can work on other projects. I'm starting to do other things outside the band and then also work on writing music‚ recording music.
MM: Yeah‚ that sounds good. A little more discipline‚ instead of the chaos.
SO: Yeah‚ exactly. I went to school for a few years and then dropped out‚ got frustrated‚ and have mainly been writing‚ performing on the road‚ and doing this. And I'm getting to another period where I want to get a little studious again‚ get some more information‚ learn some things‚ master some new ideas.
MM: Talking about the band playing live and how much touring you guys have been doing in the last couple years‚ how does it feel now‚ with Ryan [Vanderhoof] not with you?
SO: Yeah‚ Ryan just left this July. We played some festival dates in Europe without him‚ and those were the first dates.
MM: Did you play as a trio?
SO: No. In July‚ we ended up-because it happened so suddenly-we ended up… Our friend‚ Keith Wood‚ has a group called Hush Arbors. He's living in London now. He also plays with Six Organs of Admittance‚ Sunburned Hand of the Man‚ and Current 93. He plays with a lot of different groups. We had him fill in for the two European dates. And the second of those dates‚ we had all the 17 drummers onstage with us. [laughter] So it was kind of like an improvised 20-piece band‚ which was fun.
MM: Yeah‚ I bet.
SO: You saw us in September‚ when we had the seven-piece that we were touring with.
MM: Right.
SO: And then recently in Europe‚ we just did the trio‚ a three-piece for the first time.
MM: How did that go?
SO: It was interesting. I mean we all knew that we only had a few weeks to prepare between our October tour‚ which was seven-piece‚ and then this European tour. And so we just made the decision‚ and we were like‚ we know we're not going to have a lot of time to rehearse‚ but we'll just kind of make it up and force ourselves to try it. And it ended up being really good! We forced ourselves to write new material‚ and that went great‚ but there were ups and downs. It's definitely something that if we decide to go that way permanently‚ it's going to take some discipline and a reworking of ideas. But there's also some great things‚ just because the three of us have played together so long. We can be so much more spontaneous and take quick turns here and there‚ which is really a great thing‚ too.