Let's talk about the your new album, Already Free. It's an impressive piece of work. It's interesting to talk to you today about the record because I was lucky enough to talk with Mike Mattison last summer, and at that time he was talking about how the record was evolving. Based on his perception and what I've heard since, it just started as something loose and informal, and slowly but surely developed a momentum all its own. Is that how you experienced it?
Yeah, it was a situation where the studio we were building, it wasn't finished, but it was in a state where we could actually use it, and we had a break, an extended break, which is really rare for us. We had a little over a month, which happens about once every decade. [laughs] Originally, it was, let's get comfortable with the studio; let's figure out how to get some sounds and see how the room sounds. It was really about getting acquainted.
The first day we wrote and recorded the song "Already Free," and it immediately hit me that it sounded great and it felt great. So, we said let's abandon this idea of writing and doing demos and let's pretend we're making a record. It's not going to be high stress because no one at the label or management knows that we're doing a record. We're just going to do it ourselves and see what it leads to. Over the next two, three, fours weeks we just started having musicians and friends come and go, and just trying to keep the flow of the ideas going. It was a really enjoyable organic process. It's the most satisfying and the most enjoyment I've ever had in the studio. It definitely felt different as it was happening.
What a great concept -- recording stealth albums without letting the label know.
[laughs] I know, I know.
It's interesting you talk about that, because it's sound like almost the absolute ideal in recording for the band you have and the friends you have. When the decision was made that you were making a record, did you see foresee yourself as the primary producer?
Not really. I didn't even think about it at first. It started with two or three of us and then we had the full band there. It was more nature taking its course. I think after all the records that I've been a part of making and all the producers I've seen at work, I have a good handle on what you need to do. And I think when you have a sound and idea in mind, as long as you can convey that to the musicians in a way that you can get the performances out of them, I think that's the name of the game. I feel completely comfortable doing that. I know everyone that played on this record really, really well and there's enough mutual respect where it's not an issue if I'm asking for something, because it's not some producer they've never met asking them to play a way that's uncomfortable for them.
It doesn't sound any different than working out material with the band on a routine basis.
Exactly. It just happened to be in the studio with a different set of aesthetic rules that you could use, where live it's much more about immediate impact for people. In the studio you can be a little more subtle and you can do things that would never make sense live -- like a marching band tracked throughout an entire tune. There are certain things that just don't quite translate unless you have twenty musicians onstage. [laughs]
I had a funny thought as I was listening to the album the other day. It probably occurred during one of the solos you were playing. I wondered if at any time during the course of recording the album, when you found yourself in the role of producer, you thought to yourself, Oh, I'm the guitar player in this band. I should play more or I should play this or that.
[laughs] I found that the one thing that did happen when I was in the producer role is that the last thing that I would think about is the guitar solo. It would just appear out of nowhere. I would think, "Oh shit, I have to go play that." Sometimes it took a few people to needle me and say, "Wait, it's almost done."
Let's talk about how your year looks. I know you're doing a tour with your band later this spring. In March, I'm planning on seeing you at the Beacon with the Allmans. What about the [Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi] Soul Stew Revival? Any plans of taking that back out on the road?
I don't think it will happen this year. Susan has a record that just came out, so she's touring behind that and we're obviously touring behind ours. It's the Allman Brothers 40th anniversary, so it's going to be pretty full. My band is going to Europe and Japan, and there's a wife and two kids as well. [laughs] Our plate is full this year. One of the ideas this year is when we are home and we do have a little down time, is calling up a few friends, like Doyle [Bramhall] and Mike [Mattison], and getting together to write some tunes and even record some tunes for a Soul Stew record.
I would like to spend a long time on that project, because I think if we spend a good six months or a year writing and recording when we have little breaks, than I think we can get a really great record out of those musicians.
Well, giving the positive atmosphere you've already created at the studio you have, it must be tempting beyond belief to stay there all the time and work, work, work.
Yeah, and someday I'm going to cash in on that! But doing what we do, you realize that part of our destiny is touring for a long, long time. There'll definitely be breaks along the way.
Well, it feels like with Already Free, if I'm not mistaken, you're taking a more active role in composing new material. Do you feel like you hit a new plateau in your career?
If anything, it was the first time I time I didn't feel like I was running a hundred miles a minute. For me, writing tunes comes out of either the desire to play and create or having time to really reflect what you've gone through the last decade. I was really surprised how easy it was once I took a deep breath and had time to think. It was nice. On the previous records, there were always two or three tracks that I'd written or co-written. I think it was six or seven that ended up on this record. We ended up with 25-plus tunes when we finished recording and a good majority of them were originals. There are another six to eight originals that are either 90 percent finished or just didn't quite fit with the record.