Yeah, that's the thing I love about seeing you play -- you can tell how well you guys are listening to each other.
Yeah, we have to, man. That's what it's all about. That's the part of us that's the jazz, whether or not we're playing in jazz style or not. But the fact that we don't really know what's going to happen next, and it's all improvising on one level or another. We've got to listen to all the subtleties that the other guy's doing and be able to react to that.
Yeah, I really just love seeing that. That's the other thing; my own ears are maturing. I have seen you guys probably a couple of times a year since the mid-'90s, and it's just cool to see how I've evolved. I hear more of the subtlety. Even the last time I saw you play, I could hear when there are hiccups, or someone wants to throw something out and it didn't really work, just seeing someone stumbling around and how exciting that is.
Yeah, I think that's something you learn as you get older, too, where the mistakes are opportunities for something even better to happen. Even if it doesn't, you can take them lightly and it doesn't have to taint what happens next.
Was there ever a point where that used to bring you guys down?
Oh, sure. A youthful mind will definitely get caught up on that shit.
[laughter] The whole show is ruined?
Oh, yeah. At least in your head.
So right now, if it's not working out, you don't sense that the audience sees the fear in your eyes, or something like that?
Well, yeah, I think there's less of an attachment to things. We spent years learning the hard way, that when you are attached to a certain outcome it's going to be disappointing. Then through years of remembering how you felt on stage, and then listening to a tape of a show, realizing that what's going on in your head and what's happening doesn't really correspond at all. You could be having a really great time and the music doesn't sound so good, and vice versa. So it's kind of a useless endeavor to feel like you know what's happening. You kind of have to forget about all of that, pay attention, and do the best you can, whatever that means.
Do you still have discussions about that, like how you feel, what's working, and what's not working?
Sometimes we'll talk maybe about a moment in a show where there was a misunderstanding, because it's hard when you think you know what the other guy's thinking, and then it's fun to talk about. At least it's fun now. It's fun to talk about those misunderstandings. It's hilarious. Whereas when we were younger, we couldn't fathom how, or you get angry about it. You get frustrated it wasn't obvious that you're bandmates aren't psychic, you know? [laughs] But, I think we've also appreciated over the years how we are psychic. There are those couple of times during the show where there is a miscommunication, and now it actually the exception. It makes the mistake a little lighter, if you can even call it that.
When you're in that moment when you're improvising and it's really happening, and everything seems to be really working, kind of like that bliss state, what kind of things happen to you? Where do you go? Is it visual? Do you see things? Or is it like an empty void? Is it just pure music?
Kind of. I think in some ways you're just right where you are and everything comes into focus and it's very clear. You're just sort of where you are more than you usually are, and you just kind of see everything clearer and clearer, and there's a sense that everything is obvious, you know? It's like a very clear sense of what you should play. It's extremely obvious, which is a weird feeling and a great feeling. You just know, obviously the next note and the rhythm should be this, and this, and this, and it's as if Billy and John knew that I was thinking that. Because sometimes we'll all do the same thing, or we'll have that perfect counterpoint. But then because you're in that state and you're not surprised by it at all, you're like, "Of course that happened. It's completely obvious." It's a great feeling, and you feel very connected with your bandmates when you're like that.
Do you have moments where you feel like the audience is there, too?
Yeah, I think when you feel that, in general, it applies to everything happening in the universe. It all seems, yeah, of course this is just fine as it is, and the audience is a part of it. I mean, even if they are not paying as close attention as you'd hope, it somehow does make sense and it's OK, because ultimately for us, it's the music. I mean, for me, when the music is going well, I'm happy. That's sort of the bottom line. It would be great if people were paying attention and I got paid a lot of money for it; that would all be wonderful. But happiness comes from the music itself and if that's not happening, then it really doesn't matter what else is happening.
What about experiences with your brother? Is it the same kind of thing, but where there's less improvisation and it's more about just being in the thick of a song that's really working? Is it the same kind of sensation?
I think ultimately it is. When you're in that same space, even though you're playing a song that you play the same way every night, it's really ultimately the same feeling. When you can hear everything just right, and you can tell everything is blending just right, everything just comes out of you just right. When I'm playing with Oliver, a lot of times I'm singing at the same time, and I'm playing harmonica. There's a lot going on, so that sort of dance of having my brain split in three ways and having it all come out naturally, that's a similar feeling.
You mention playing, singing, and playing harmonica as well. I was thinking of your voice as a bass player. I think for as long as I can remember you've been using three different basses. Is that right?
I kind of settle on those. It's probably been a pretty good ten years now.
Are you still searching for another sound?
I really love this combination, because the Hofner has a certain thing that it does when I use a pick. I use one of the pickups that is almost guitar-like, in that sort of baritone guitar kind of way, and then also when I'm playing it more traditionally like a bass, it has a more round kind of sound to it that I associate with R&B stuff -- James Jamerson and stuff like that. Whereas the P-Bass, which ironically is the Jamerson year -- it's a '63 P-Bass -- but for me, the way I have it set up in the strings, it's a more edgier rock 'n' roll kind of sound. That's how I use those differently. Those kind of have different roles. Then of course the upright is a whole other world. Somehow between the three of those, they cover anywhere I want to go. The only other thing I can imagine maybe in my bass collection, the only thing that's sort of maybe a little unique, would be a Rickenbacker that has more of a specific sound. Otherwise, the Fender P-Bass is so versatile, in that whatever it doesn't have, the Hofner covers, and with a whole bunch of creative quirky things about it. Then I have the upright, and the bow, and there's just so much there to work with. I don't really like 5-string basses and 6-string basses. It doesn't get me excited at all. That covers it for me.