AK: Do you find it easy to find a comfort zone with people you haven't played with before because you've played with so many different people?
DG: Well, I think it's like any other human relationship-some people click and some people don't. Musically, it just depends on the circumstances. But it's like a team sport-unless you're just playing solo, you want to make the piece of music sound good, not just you or your one part. You've got to help the next guy, and he's got to help you.
AK: Has there ever been anybody you've tried playing with over the years and it just didn't click whatsoever?
DG: Good question. I'm very eclectic and have broad tastes, and I try to incorporate a lot of styles into my own music. I try to be faithful to those styles and understand them. In other words, I try to play swing tunes in that style. I don't try to just destroy a lot of styles; I have respect for styles. At the same time, a style is very difficult to learn. You almost have to do it through osmosis. You can learn your instrument, you can learn technique, you can learn where the notes are, but a style is more elusive. I think the only way to really learn a style is by playing with great practitioners of that style. I got to work with Red Allen and learn bluegrass from hanging out with real bluegrass musicians, listening to them and what they said, how they played, and trying to pick up on the subtler things. Every style has that, so if there are many styles that I'm just pretty much alien to, that's a challenge.
AK: How much does that relate to the creation of Dawg music itself? Were you feeling that there was a cross-genre that needed to be developed and that you wanted to explore?
DG: Well, no. I wasn't trying to start a genre or anything, I was just writing tunes. And I started in a natural, organic way. They would just occur to me, and many of them weren't really bluegrass tunes. I started having ideas: "Well, I can write a bossa nova; I can write a waltz." When I got into the idea of having a band that was instrumental, I realized that you had to have variety-you can't just go out and play fast hoedowns. You do a Django Reinhart tune, do a Duke Ellington tune, do a ballad, do a shit kicker. That's my approach. Duke Ellington said, "There's only two kinds of music-good and bad." And I agree with that. I'd rather listen to a great bluegrass band than a mediocre bluegrass band. You know what I mean? I'd rather listen to a good classical string quartet than a mediocre bluegrass band. Some people are like, "I only like bluegrass music, I only like jazz, I only like this, I only like that," but actually, I think most people like everything-they're not really in little categories. It's like the music business tries to put that on, you know, like a marketing device.
AK: I went to this bluegrass festival you played in '99 in New York. I think it was called Winterhawk. It was the first time you guys had played there, and I was talking to some of the older people, who were actually somewhat skeptical because they did not know your music so well, but knew that you weren't necessarily classified as bluegrass music. I remember being a 19-year-old kid, listening to some of these people talk, and I was like, "Really? You're afraid of what they're going to play?" They're like, "Well, we heard it's not the traditional stuff." It's funny that some people get stuck in their niches so much.
DG: Well, I always used to say that all tradition starts out as heresy, you know? When Bill Monroe hired Earl Scruggs in 1946, that was a revolutionary sound. That was something people hadn't heard. That was new. And now it's hardcore traditional. It just depends on when you enter the picture.
AK: Do you think instrumental music can convey more emotion than music with lyrics, or is it the same-just "good" or "bad" music?
DG: Well, I think it's a different art form. When you combine music with lyrics, it's another kind of challenge. I actually have been listening to a lot of Richard Rodgers' music. He had two great collaborators: Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein, who were total opposites in their approaches. With Hart, Rodgers would write a melody and Hart would sit there all day long putting words to it. Hammerstein would spend two weeks writing a set of lyrics and bring them to Rodgers, and in half an hour he'd have a tune. The words were so perfectly crafted, they just implied the music. So, to me, that was the perfect marriage. I think that marriage has to exist.
Back in the 20s and 30s you had a songwriter, a lyricist, an arranger, a conductor, a band, a soloist-you had all these experts. Now you've got one guy with a little digital studio, and he's everything. He writes the songs, produces it, records it, plays all the parts, you know? And to me that is like taking a lot of the air out of the artistry of all these things. Hey, I think Bob Dylan is great, but what he unleashed on the world…. He didn't do it, but he was [pause] a guy who came along at the right time for that….
We're losing a lot, because we don't have experts anymore. Everybody's an expert, and they're not really experts. I mean, I think Bob Dylan is a very talented musician. His songs work, for the most part, in that perfect kind of way. But people have followed him, writing their own songs, doing their own thing, but they just don't have the chops to do that. For the most part, they can't write. Basically, everything they do lessens it, for me.
AK: Like he almost made it seem too easy for people, you're saying?
DG: Well, if you're ten things, usually that means you're one tenth of what you could be if you were one thing. Jack of all trades, master of none. There are very talented people that can do many things-I'm not saying there are not. But I just think that there are no more Rodgers and Hammersteins that I can see, because everyone does it themselves. And what you've got is Kenny Rogers, and you don't have...
AK: You don't have Garcia and Hunter anymore either.
DG: No, I don't. I just think that technology is providing great things, as well as ways for people with little or no talent to make records, to write books, to post their ideas on the Internet. Technology has given a podium to thousands of idiots, as well as a few geniuses. I guess that's the way it works. There are way more idiots out there; it's just that before they weren't allowed to create anything. They couldn't. Now you can buy a kit that will enable you to do all this stuff.
AK: Yeah, but maybe it's worth it if the one genius who we would have never heard arises from that process, you know?
DG: Well, you know what? They say genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. When that perspiration goes out the door, I doubt that we're going to see what I would call brilliant artists anymore. There's no reason for anybody to develop that, because nobody's buying it. What they're buying is crap, and that's unfortunate. What is an artist who takes the time to develop going to do? Suppose he's an oboe player or even a mandolin player. I know a lot of young kids that are amazingly talented mandolin players. Where are they going to go? Are they going to work for Clint Black? I kind of worry about that. I mean, I'm a lucky guy. I somehow ended up being able to do what I'm doing and make a living out of it, but that's against the grain. I don't get on the David Letterman show; I don't get on Jay Leno. But if I walked into a post office and killed a dozen people….
AK: In all the albums you've released over the years, you've definitely progressed, and gotten better, if you ask me. But at the same time, if you were to give them to an outsider, like any specific album, it would be really hard to pinpoint exactly what decade it was made in. Do you feel when you're writing music and recording it that you're away from it all, and you're sort of outside of all the surroundings?