MM: One of things I've always found interesting about Raq is the work ethic you guys have. It amazes that you guys practice all the time (laughter). Considering how much you guys are on the road‚ and then when you're home all you do is rehearse.
GS: My girlfriend‚ Jackie‚ thinks I'm crazy and my family probably thinks I'm nuts and that's most likely true for all of us. To us it's just second nature‚ and for me‚ that's just the way I am. I can't sit around on the couch or just go out and chill. I think all of us have this desire to get better‚ play better together‚ and to learn more to give us the tools to be a better band. We came up against so much opposition and so much scrutiny that...well‚ we're not the guys that come home from tour and go out and party. We're nerdy band guys that come home and rack our brains trying to learn "Inca Roads" by Frank Zappa or work on John Petrucci guitar lines (laughs). It's like we come home to beef's like cross-training time (laughs). Time at home is crucial; we do so much work‚ by far so much more work than we do when we're on the road.
MM: I remember talking to Chris a long time ago; I called him up and a statement he made always stood out in my mind about how this band works. I asked him in general what he was up to and his response was: "My pentatonic pinky." I always thought that was great - like "what's up" in general or "how's life‚" and that was his answer (laughter).
GS: You weren't ready for such as specific answer. Yeah man‚ don't be deceived by our looks‚ we're nerdy techie guys when it comes to music (laughs). We care a lot.
MM: Well‚ one of things you mentioned was the opposition and scrutiny that you guys face. It seems like a recurring thing with you guys‚ where some people are not happy about you guys (laughs)…
GS: Oh go ahead‚ you can say it dude (Implying the Phish comparison.)
MM: Well the reason I bring it up is because I was reading about you guys on a message board and the dismissive Phish comparison was discussed. My response was a Duke Ellington quote‚ "If it sounds good it is good." But that's the shit you have to deal with. So how do you feel about that?
GS: I couldn't give a shit! I do not give a shit...I'm the last guy that cares. Even early on when we started and it was just me‚ Chris‚ and Jay‚ and the early days with Marc Scortino when the comparisons were probably true‚ I didn't care. The reason I didn't care was because I knew that wasn't what we're after. We're not out there to rob your friend's band. We're looking to do what this band has already done - we're looking to make good music. The great thing about being a musician is that it's an ever-evolving experience. Something that sounds great to me today‚ I couldn't even comprehend five years ago. Some of the most intricate and complicated music by say‚ Frank Zappa...I bring him up because I've been studying him recently...
MM: Sure‚ Zappa's drummers...
GS: Yeah‚ Zappa keeps me on my toes. It keeps me ready for what these guys are going to throw at me musically. That's a whole other topic. The media or kids who say we sound like Phish - I can't care what they think of me. I love playing the drums‚ I love making music‚ and it sounds good to me. I think music was created to unify people‚ and I don't understand why someone is going to look down on me or spit on me for making music. I don't understand it. It's very much like the Duke Ellington quote‚ "If it sounds good it is good." Well‚ this sounds good to me and I'm having fun making music. I'm not doing anything wrong or dishonest‚ and I know in my heart that our music is always going to change and evolve. It already has since we started two years ago. Early on we sounded like Phish. Now we have elements of it‚ but we don't sound so much like it‚ and as we go forward we're going to continue to evolve. I think we started with that template of learning through our predecessors‚ and more of developing our own sense of self. I think that happens naturally. People will be there with us or they won't. I would love for them to be with us; I mean that's why I started playing the drums - I love playing for people. I love seeing people happy when we're playing music. I love to bring some happiness to people and remove them from their everyday shit and have them think about something else. But if people don't respond to it then that's fine - I'll continue to play music and do something else as my livelihood. I mean we are trying to make this work‚ but it hasn't been predetermined or anything like that. I think it's just because we all are workaholics; we care so much about our music and we're extremely analytical about it.
MM: I've been around for a while so I've seen the evolution already.
GS: To some degree. But I'm not going to be the guy that tells someone that thinks differently to say‚ "Yes‚ they don't sound like Phish anymore (laughter)." We all grew up with that.
MM: That's one of the oddest things that I find because you're influenced by that and it's not okay‚ but if you were influenced by something else it is okay. It's really this odd thing.
GS: Well‚ it's a lot easier for me to deal with the Phish comparison. Nobody has come up to me and said‚ "Man‚ you sound just like Fishman." I can't even imagine what Chris went through with the comparisons. I mean‚ Christ! What an amazing guy to just plow through all of the comments and snickers he has had to deal with. I hardly know anything that's floating out there...I mean shit. Nobody has said really anything like that to me. Man‚ there was a period where I was really into Phish. You know‚ where I saw like sixty shows in two years or something. Three of them I was on crutches - crutching my way up the hill at Sugarbush‚ tripping on acid and...I fell‚ and it was a scene (laughter). But that was definitely a memorable part of my life. I'm older now and‚ you know‚ people change to some degree and tastes change. I went through UVM's music program and was exposed to this whole world of classical music that just had so many subsidiary genres - it's just endless. With all of that exposure and influences you can't help but want to evolve because there's so much to take in. There's so much you want to bring to the table and turn people on to through music. Ironically enough‚ Phish turned me on to Zappa‚ am I thankful for that. I mean‚ that stuff was going on in the 1970's‚ and in the 60's. And before that you can hear those elements in jazz music. You can trace all this stuff back to a lineage of musicians - back to Bach playing his inventions.
MM: I think you're right. Let's be thankful. I mean the Grateful Dead and Phish opened up a world of music that became accessible to me. That made Bluegrass accessible to me and someone like John Coltrane became accessible to me. I think that's what it's about: evolving.
GS: Yeah‚ and I am thankful. There's not a day that goes by that I don't thank the powers that be that I'm doing what I'm doing. I love to play drums‚ I love to play music‚ and I think I have something positive to contribute to larger masses of people. I'm thankful that I'm able to do it on this level. Who knows‚ tomorrow it could fail‚ but I wouldn't be upset‚ I would be so psyched that I did it at this level. Of course I want to take it to another level because that's my nature and I think that's just the nature of musicians. There's not a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for what we're doing and what we've been given.
MM: Well‚ let's talk about some of the experiences you had this past year. One of the shows that really opened my eyes quite a bit was the Bonnaroo show - I thought that was awesome.
GS: The show was awesome or the opportunity to play the show was awesome?
MM: Actually‚ not only the opportunity‚ but the way you guys came out and played. I've seen you play a bunch of times and I thought that set was ripping and so did everyone else based upon the reaction. Here we are in hippie heaven and you guys are playing on this small stage and people flocked over to hear it and they got it - it was like this magnetic force.
GS: That set went by so fast; we had like an hour and fifteen minute set. It felt like we were on stage for five minutes. That was just one of those gigs where we were psyched to be there playing and the cannot deny the affect that crowd had on us. That was one of the gigs where I could feel the energy come up through the drum seat and you just wanted to go for it. That's the place where you know the music stands by itself and that people would dig it. I think we gained some fans that day. That was one of the best concerts I've ever been to (laughs). I mean that's definitely a vivid memory. I mean shit‚ I can remember the way the grass felt under my feet walking up to the stage‚ the way that it smelled. Yeah‚ that was a good one.