This conversation with bassist Reed Mathis took place in October 2005 when Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey were about to release The Sameness of Difference. Excerpts from this conversation were used in the November 2005 State of Mind cover story on JFJO. For your reading pleasure‚ here's the full transcription.
"Why now?" you might ask. Mysteriously‚ this interview popped into my head when I woke up abruptly at 4am one night last week. I said to myself‚ "That interview I did with Reed Mathis… yeah‚ yeah‚ people should definitely read that. I remember it being really good." So‚ here it is. Subconsciously‚ I believe that this came about because I haven't seen JFJO's improvisational magic in about a year or so. Don't let this happen to you! Nobody likes to wake up abruptly in the middle of the night due to a lack of JFJO in one's life.
Mike McKinley: You're in the middle of a tour playing with Steve Kimock. How's the playing been?
Reed Mathis: It's a whole other world for me as a bassist. There are all of these skills that I was excited about when I started playing‚ but then Jacob Fred happened when I was seventeen; from then on I developed the skills that were pertinent to that music. So now‚ I'm getting to explore stuff that I haven't delved into since I was sixteen. It's really cool. Like bass "for real." In Jacob Fred it's not even really bass. None of the instruments have traditional roles-mine to the extreme due to how Brian (Haas) and Jason (Smart) let me play.
MM: So what do you think this brings back to JFJO? Does it have a significant impact?
RM: It's huge. All three of us have been doing other stuff for the last couple of years and it really broadens our scope. You're playing in new situations faced with new challenges and you have to grapple with them. It breaks your habits. When you get back together it's like voila! Your habits are broken. You do something you never did before without even trying. Ideally‚ you want to break your habits yourself‚ but for lazy people (laughs) you go play with some new people‚ and then you don't have a choice.
MM: Right‚ you're removed from your comfort level.
RM: Exactly. It's so fun. I mean‚ the guys we're getting to play with-me getting to play with Steve‚ Rodney Holmes and Robert Walter. Then Brian's getting to play with Mike Dillon and Skerik. We're all getting to play with some of our favorite living guys. So it's not only a challenge‚ but it's a really pleasant one.
MM: That's great‚ man. I was talking to Brian the other night and he was talking about this whole experience making this new album (The Sameness of Difference) and having Joel Dorn there producing you-saying "Babies‚ babies‚ babies" to you lovingly when you were getting frustrated-and the freak-out you guys were having during the recording. And he was saying how he didn't think that day you recorded felt right at all.
RM: No‚ no. It was crazy. In fact‚ I was just looking at some pictures from that day‚ which I hadn't seen‚ and we all look totally freaked out‚ like this deer in the headlights look. I remember playing there (at Sear Sound Studio)‚ and part of me was so psyched. And the studio was just amazing‚ and all of these favorite records of mine were recorded in there and stuff. We're in this awesome situation‚ and then there was this other part that was just like‚ it just felt so weird. I don't know… I don't know what was going on. But all three of us were just in a funky space.
But at the end of the day‚ Joel was so stoked that we had three days booked at the studio that he cancelled the other two. He was like‚ "No‚ babies‚ it's done. Don't worry about it." And we were like‚ "Are you kidding?! No‚ we need to come back tomorrow and redo all this shit." He was like‚ "Are you kidding me? You guys nailed it and made a great record and don't even know it." And we were like‚ "That's bullshit. Whatever." But in the end we went with him‚ because why else do you have a producer? You need somebody that doesn't have his ego wrapped up in it to be objective. We made all our other records ourselves with sort of me as producer/non-producer‚ and it's always just been us doing our thing. Having somebody else there was really a different thing. That part we were comfortable with. I don't know what was weird‚ but being in the studio is always weird for live bands. You're lucky if you get some good shit‚ if you get inspired. It's so weird that you don't even know you're inspired. I listen to the record now that it's all done and shit‚ and it's like‚ to me‚ we sound really on. It's like‚ wow‚ we really nailed those tunes. It's so crazy that it didn't feel like that. But that's how it goes. That's life.
MM: Definitely. Brian was talking about that‚ where it just didn't feel right and you had to be kind of removed. I think he was talking about it the same way as playing live‚ when you hit something…
RM: Yeah‚ yeah. The first thing you learn playing live is to let go of your perceptions. Your perceptions will trip you up so quick and 99.9 percent of the time they're totally inaccurate‚ especially when it comes to being part of a group. Because your little head can never account for the total picture if it's thinking at all. So if you're having opinions‚ you're automatically blocking yourself from hearing the whole thing‚ and then you don't even know what it sounds like. I used to get so bummed out-Brian and I both-I was 17 and he was 19 when we started the band‚ and we both used to just stay up all night after gigs and fucking dissect it. "I played this‚ I played that. You played that‚ and that sucked." Get all crazy nitpicky because we were so attached. And you really learn over the years. You kind of get beat into submission by that habit‚ and then eventually you're just like‚ eh‚ fuck it.
MM: That's the whole trip. He brought up‚ like 1995 when you guys still had horns in the band‚ opening up for Medeski Martin and Wood. He called it "Medeski's Law." It reminded me of something I read where the same thing happened with the Grateful Dead one time‚ where Garcia pushed Phil Lesh down a bunch of stairs‚ pissed off at the end of the show. And then they went back and listened to it and were like‚ "Whoa‚ we were really doing some innovative shit."
RM: Isn't some of that shit on Live Dead?
MM: Yeah‚ I think so!
RM: Which is a classic. (laughter)
MM: Right! And at the time‚ he left the stage and was like‚ "You fucking asshole…"