Oteil Burbridge is one the most influential and versatile bassists of the past ten years. He plays in the Aquarium Rescue Unit‚ the Allman Brothers‚ Vida Blue‚ and his own ensemble‚ Oteil and The Peacemakers.
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Mike McKinley: I remember reading you saying something along the lines that you play rock 'n' roll for your retirement and the Peacemakers are for your soul. Let's talk a little bit about the freedom involved playing in that setting‚ and the chemistry and communication that's happening.
Oteil Burbridge: [laughs] You know‚ I have fun with everything I do. The Allman Brothers‚ Vida Blue‚ the ARU…everything that I've done‚ but the Peacemakers gives me more freedom. We write all of our music. I write most of it‚ my guitar player writes and contributes as does the singer and the drummer. So it's our thing. You can't get better than that when you're writing the stuff for yourself.
I've known Mark [Kimbrell]‚ the guitarist‚ probably fifteen years. It takes a lot to find the right guys. Chemistry is chemistry. Sometimes you have chemistry with people you don't even like [laughter]. But you get on stage and it's bigger than you. I'm very fortunate that we found each other‚ and we really like each other. We're having a great time playing together. That's really a gift. You can't force that. I've been to all these different jam sessions‚ you know‚ where they put together these all-star jams…with all these guys that I know and love‚ but it doesn't necessarily mean that chemistry is going to be there. I'm really‚ really lucky that I found it with this band. It's taken me a long time -- I started doing this around '95. Finally‚ I think in the last two years is where I really found it. It's taken on a life of its own. Almost where you sit back and watch it. Sometimes it's like 100 percent where you are doing it‚ and then there times when you are doing it 50 percent of the time‚ and the other 50 percent it's doing itself and you're just watching. That's when you know you have an amazing chemistry.
Right‚ where you can watch it unfold and spill out spontaneously.
It's like reading a book -- you have no idea what's going to happen. Even if you think you know what's going to happen‚ something just sparks…it's amazing. It's really a great gift. You wait your whole life for stuff like that. It's like meeting the girl of your dreams [laughs].
Yeah‚ that's a gift. What about the Aquarium Rescue Unit -- you're doing some of those gigs?
Yeah‚ we've done a few shows here and there. It's been great. It's been a lot of fun.
It's really funny about that band. I remember reading how you felt you got more popular after you stopped playing. It amazes me how influential that band is. A lot of musicians have mentioned how influential you were‚ especially a lot of musicians who were just starting out in the mid-90s.
It's weird because back then we were so young and… I guess it's like anything in life -- you can never really see something clearly except in hindsight. But we didn't really think that we were influencing anybody or anything [laughs]. We certainly had no evidence of it monetarily or even with our crowd size or anything. The critics loved us… so we always felt vindicated in that sense. At least the people who were more critical loved us. I thought that was great. And bands that were really popular‚ like Phish‚ Widespread Panic‚ Blues Traveler‚ and Dave Matthews‚ they really loved us. But that's all that we really ever got…. praise [laughs]. We never made any money or saw any physical fruits of it. At the same time‚ that would be the last thing that we ever thought about…you know‚ getting popular and making a lot of money. We didn't expect that to happen. We were shocked that we got a record deal at all and that we got to tour all over the country. That was a group that said‚ "To hell with all of that and let's just do what we love." We actually went against that whole grain… and then we got signed to a record deal and started touring the entire country. That was crazy. But I was too young to really see it for what it was.
Well‚ there was a certain magic with that band.
Well‚ it's the craziest thing in the world: you can put me‚ [Jeff] Sipe‚ and Jimmy [Herring] together‚ but Matt Mundy? No. And Col. Bruce? Uh-uh. When you have that combination of elements in it… I mean‚ no one could ever have thought to do that. And certainly‚ no one would have thought that it would work [laughs]. It was what it was… it was an amazing time. It's something that we can't even reproduce now. I really feel sorry for people who didn't see it then. It's like‚ you know‚ I wish I could have seen James Brown in the late 60s‚ and Hendrix‚ and the Allman Brothers with Duane and Berry in the late 60's‚ early 70's. I just missed it. You know what mean? James Brown is still around but it's not the same now. You had to see it at the time it happened.
Right‚ but at the same time‚ even today when you guys get up on stage together…
Oh yeah‚ the chemistry is definitely still there. Without Matt Mundy there‚ it's not quite the same. But definitely the chemistry is there. We're all just a little bit older and slower… well I'm older and slower. Sipe still has every bit of energy and versatility he had back then. I don't have it like I used to‚ but I'm better in other ways and I've matured more. I have some other ideas. I don't have to play as fast. I cannot do what I used to do then though [laughs].
[laughing] Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I think it's good… I guess if I drank the amount of liquor I used to drink I might be able to do it [laughs]. But at my age‚ I think I would keel over now. There's a time in your life for that. You know‚ when you were a kid and ran track‚ you probably can't do the same distance in the same amount of time as you did back then. And that's okay… I'm all right with being old and fat [laughter].
It's like you've mastered shortcuts.
Oh man‚ I'm forty-years-old not twenty-six anymore.
Well‚ the good thing is you have all of that experience under your belt and that adds wisdom to your approach and playing.
Oh yeah‚ there's no bad side of it. Life is about stages. You have to be happy with the stages you're in‚ and more than that‚ to just to be as eager and grateful as you can. I wouldn't want to go back to be twenty-six-years-old for anything in the world. Not for all the money in the world.