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Hymns, Harrows, Harvests & More: Chatting with John Hiatt, Gillian Welch and Umphrey's McGee's Joel Cummins

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A Conversation with John Hiatt

Mike Ragogna: Hiya, John.

John Hiatt: How ya doin', bud?

MR: Doing well, thanks. Your new album Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns kicks off with a pretty universally themed song, "Damn This Town." It's true, no matter what town you grow up in, every kid can't wait to get out of it.

JH: Yeah, of course, the character in this song is particularly twisted, but I thought it was something that everybody could probably relate to. At some point, we all think "If I can just get out of here, I know things will be better." (laughs) But of course, everywhere you go...there you are.

MR: And another one that speaks to the basics is "'Til I Get My Lovin' Back." I think you're saying, in a very sweet way, I can't get my life back on track until I'm done with my love for you. Man, it doesn't get truer than that.

JH: Yeah, I thought it was looking at a love story from a little different angle, you know? Sometimes, we don't get into relationships, we take hostages, so it's looking at love from that angle. The guy in that story is basically saying, "I can't go on. You got all the love out of me I had. I can't go on until you give me something back. I'm just dead in the water here." (laughs)

MR: Speaking of love songs, you do have that other angle with "Don't Wanna Leave You Now." That concept, to me, is like not wanting to even get out of bed and face the world--just wanting to stay with the person you love.

JH: Who hasn't wanted to do that? (laughs) Yeah, that one's just, "Babe, I don't wanna go to work. I just wanna stay here."

MR: Now, not to go too far back with older songs, but "Damn This Town" reminds me a lot of your classic, "Perfectly Good Guitar." It has the same kind of vibe.

JH: I really just keep rewriting old stuff, I hate to say it. (laughs) Trying to write something new out of the same three chords...that's pretty much me.

MR: (laughs) No, I just meant there were similarities, and another song on this album, "Detroit Made," reminds me a little of "Tennessee Plates," just the fun and the attitude. You love your car references.

JH: Well, you know, I grew up in the Midwest and that was sort of what we had to get our kicks with. Get a car, get going, and "get outta dodge." (laughs) That's sort of your birthright when you live in the Midwest--get going. You're in the crossroads of America, so you get on the highway and go.

MR: Plus you're originally from Indianapolis, so yeah.

JH: Yeah, so, of course, I was brought up on the Indy 500 and big racecars and racecar driving.

MR: And then there's "Memphis In The Meantime." The mood of that recording, it's like you're on that trip with you.

JH: That's great, that's great to hear. That's just another one of those--"I know life will be better if we just go. Let's take a roadtrip and go someplace else."

MR: That's also a good way to setup Bring The Family, your breakthrough album from '87 that you did with Ry Cooder, Jim Keltner, and Nick Lowe. That album had so many great songs on it--"Have A Little Faith In Me," "Thank You Girl," of course "Memphis In The Meantime," and "Thing Called Love," which Bonnie Raitt had a big hit with. Do you remember how Bonnie came across it?

JH: You know, I think Bonnie just heard the song, heard my recording of it, if I'm not mistaken. It was a big lift for me and Bonnie did such a great job, of course. That really opened up the door for me and got us going.

MR: You're considered the songwriter's songwriter, you know? It's always been so strong, right from your first album that included "Sure As I'm Sittin' Here," which was a big hit for Three Dog Night. And there were those covers by Rosanne Cash, your recording with Elvis Costello, plus your classic "Riding With The King" that eventually was recorded as a duet by Eric Clapton and B.B. King, Jeff Healey's cover of your song "Angel Eyes," and so many others. Whew. So, why did it take it until Bring The Family to get your own big break?

JH: I was a terrible, awful drug addict and alcoholic for many years, and I pretty much just got in my own way for a lot of my early career. I got cleaned up and was so much more able to focus on music that things started to come out better. I was able to do better, more focused work. That started to show, and things started to get better. It's pretty simple.

MR: You had a nice run at A&M Records, and then you moved over to Capitol/EMI. You also were part of Little Village, which revisited the same lineup as Bring The Family. How did that reunion come about--did you guys just want to do another project together?

JH: Oh yeah, it was just such a great band. You know, great and magic bands don't come around every day, so we just wanted to play together. That's why we thought, "Let's make a record as a band," and I still think we'll make another one...I just don't know when.

MR: Another Little Village album, or do you think it'll be a John Hiatt album?

JH: I have no idea. Anything's possible.

MR: So many have recorded John Hiatt songs, and there have even been compilation albums of that material. Do you view yourself more as a songwriter or a recording artist that's getting lucky as a songwriter?

JH: Well, I look at is as good fortune that all these folks sing my tunes. I'm doing the same thing I've always done--I write songs and I make records and I go out and sing 'em for an audience. Nothing's changed for me, I've always done the same thing and I've been fortunate. You know, I'm a slow learner, but I'm tenacious--I think Paul Newman said that about his racecar driving. I've been fortunate enough to build up an audience and be successful at it without having any huge hits or anything like that, so it's been great. I've been able to make records on my own for the last ten years and own the masters, lease the records to the label of my choice, so I don't have to deal with the record company. I can accept per-album and make the deals I wanna make. Everything's decided up front--who's gonna do what--so nobody's lying to anybody or blowing smoke up anybody's skirt. These are the best relationships I've ever had with the record companies. I'm free, I can do what I want. To me, that's successful.

MR: And New West really has that kind of attitude. They're so artist-friendly.

JH: They've been fabulous--we've had a great relationship.

MR: Let's talk about "When New York Had Her Heart Broke"--this seems like your tenth anniversary song for 9/11. What's the story behind writing it?

JH: I actually wrote it about two days after 9/11. We were in New York City, by coincidence, on 9/11. We were there to tape some sort of music show. We got out the next day, on a train, and I wrote it the next day as we were sitting in Philadelphia, so two days later. I never wanted to record it, to be honest with you, and never did. But I played it for Kevin Shirley--the producer of this record--and he was living in New York City at the time and had kids going to school in very close proximity to the towers. He got so emotional when I played it for him, and he said, "I want you to record this song," and I said, "Okay." So, we did and that was that.

MR: You've had an amazing career, John. What advice would you have for new artists?

JH: (laughs) Man, it's so tough these days. The only advice I've ever given out is just to be true to yourself. It's about the music. Don't pay attention to all this other bulls**t--just make your music. It's just about the music--it's about the music. It's the only thing. "Music is the only thing"...I think Frank Zappa said that.

MR: Is that how you live your life. Do you get up and just write, just make music?

JH: I get up and play pretty much every day. If a day or two goes by and I don't pick up a guitar, it's weird.

MR: There's a book called The Artist's Way that suggests you wake up in the morning and immediately write something. Is it like that for you?

JH: No. It's just something I've done since I was eleven, so it's more like what Flannery O'Connor called The Habit of Being. It's just me. It's just part of me. It's just who I am, to pick up a guitar. I've always picked up a guitar because I like to play. Where as other guys, when they picked up the guitar when they were eleven and twelve, they were copying Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton licks. I started writing songs immediately, as soon as I had two chords. So, it's just what I've always done.

MR: Do like recording or playing out better?

JH: I like 'em all. I wouldn't want you to take away any one of 'em.

MR: So, you're about to go on tour to support the album.

JH: Yeah, I'm rehearsing the band over the next couple weeks. We're coming out for a few dates in August and then starting in earnest in September. We're gonna run from September right through Christmas.

MR: Thank you very, very much for your time, John, and all the best with the new album.

JH: Thank you very much--my pleasure.

Tracks:
1. Damn This Town
2. Til I Get My Lovin'
3. I Love That Girl
4. All The Way Under
5. Don t Wanna Leave You Now
6. Detroit Made
7. Hold On For Your Love
8. Train To Birmingham
9. Down Around My Place
10. Adios To California
11. When New York Had Her Heart Broke

Transcribed by Claire Wellin

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A Conversation with Gillian Welch On Her Way To Canada with David Rawlings

Mike Ragogna: Hi Gillian, let's talk about your new album The Harrow And The Harvest. Personally, I would love to go through this record with you and explore each song.

Gillian Welch: We can try. I usually don't like pinning down exactly what a song is about because one of the things I'm most interested in is, you know, letting other people connect with the song however they choose to. Like, if someone comes up to me and says, "Oh I love your song about blah blah blah," I'm not going to tell them it's not about what they think it's about. Do you know what I mean?

MR: I do. How about this--can we talk about the inspiration behind a song or two?

GW: Yeah. Let's totally talk about them, and I'll tell you what I can--assuming that I know what they're about. (laughs) Some of them remain somewhat mysterious to me, even. Let's talk about them.

MR: Can we start with "Scarlet Town?"

GW: Oh, yeah. Well, that one--it's funny, people have heard a lot of connection to more, like, English folk music in that one, which was kind of accidental. Dave (Rawlings) and I have certainly listened to our share of, say, Richard Thompson and that type of stuff, but that one, for me, kind of came out of more of an old Joe Clark-type American storytelling tradition, kind of erring some grievances against your host. (laughs) So, that one...it's hard to remember exactly, but I know that one got written basically in order. The first verse came first, and the chorus got spat out, and that's about all I can remember.

MR: Okay, that begs the question what's your creative process like? How does the inspiration hit you?

GW: Well, this was one of the interesting things about this record. Dave and I had been, to some degree, trying to write this record for seven or eight years without a terrible amount of success. We kept writing, but no group of songs ever developed that really seemed to be a "record." We're pretty album-oriented artists, you know. I really care about the overall flavor or theme or cohesiveness of the album, and so does Dave. So, one of the things with this record was that a lot of these songs--most of these songs--got started in Nashville, where we live. And then, part of the process of writing this record was that Dave and I took about ten cross country trips in the car--just back and forth across I-40, across I-10, across I-70--and these songs got worked on in numerous hotels all across the U.S.

MR: So, the album was basically written on the road.

GW: A lot of it, yeah. It's funny. The songs...most of them got written in October, November, December, and January of 2010 turning into 2011. We do tend to work on stuff somewhat simultaneously. We'll have a couple songs going at any given time. But as the record started to come together and it looked like we had songs that were starting to actually kind of connect to each other, that's the really exciting moment for us. That's when it actually feels like we have a record on the line. We had one song, "The Way It Will Be," which is the oldest song on the record. It dates from around the time of Soul Journey. In fact, it got written before Soul Journey was finished. But we kind of knew immediately that it was for a different record. It had a different sound, and so we just kept waiting for the other songs that would sort of sit with it. Those are the songs that started to get written in the late fall of last year.

MR: So, basically, songs have been gestating since 2003.

GW: I guess. I mean, I feel like we did a lot of work on our song craft. Basically, because it wasn't working--we weren't happy with the songs we were writing. And so, I kind of feel like we sort of tore our whole thing down and kind of rebuilt it to see how it works. But it's a tricky thing. Our songs--when they're working for us and when they're satisfying for David and myself--I feel like they kind of strike a funny balance between, say, country and rock 'n' roll and bluegrass and folk and modern and traditional and narrative and confessional. They just kind of walk this funny line.

MR: You're very demanding of your songs. (laughs)

GW: Yeah. One of the things I've realized is that we definitely are perfectionists, because we're never really...I don't know that we're aspiring to great heights. I feel like when we're working, it's a constant battle against just hating the stuff that we do. We're just trying to have it not suck.

MR: You and Dave have been together for so long and the partnership has produced such a unique sound and body of records that I couldn't picture things otherwise. Yet, you were advised to leave Dave at one point and go another direction, right?

GW: Yeah. Well, it was somewhat understandable, the advice to not do this. In the mid-'90s, when Dave and I were just getting started in Nashville, you couldn't look around and point your finger at another acoustic duet. This did not have the earmarks of a successful recipe, if you know what I mean. And so people wanted us to do what was working at the time, which was, you know, "country-folk singer fronts a folk-tinged country band." This is what was working at the time and we didn't want to do that. I've never really had any interest in that. So, yeah. I think I've said before that we basically spent three or four years just finding our way in Nashville, just basically saying "no" to everybody. People were offering us deals and stuff and we just said, "no, no, no, no." (laughs) But, you know, there's no logical reason for it. We just had this inexplicable commitment to this sound that we liked.

We had a tremendous interest in this duet base, this acoustic sound that has a deep history in this country with famous duet acts like The Monroe Brothers and The Stanley Brothers and The Delmore Brothers and The Blue Sky Boys on to a slightly more uptown sound with The Everly Brothers and The Louvin Brothers. This was a very popular and interesting and innovative form, and then it largely got abandoned to the point where in the '90s, Dave and I were looking around and couldn't really find an honest-to-goodness duet act. I guess there were some, it's true. Dave just corrected me...there was Norman and Nancy Blake, who we were huge fans of, and there were Tim and Molly O'Brien, who we love as well, although they didn't perform strictly as a duet. They had a larger bluegrass band with them.

But, you know, it was great. When we were starting out, I think we felt like if we kept on with just two guitars and the two of us singing, we felt that it hadn't really been played out, you know what I mean? I think we had an immediate sense that there was more to be done, that there was way more work in the modern world to be done with the acoustic duet. We were excited, we remain excited about it. I still feel like there's way, way further to go.

MR: You've also recorded duets with other artists, like "I'll Fly Away," which you did with Alison Krauss on O Brother Where Art Thou? That album was so huge, and I think it kind of brought you to the public's eye. That album brought such a rise in consciousness towards bluegrass and folk. With all the hoopla that surrounded that album, it must have been a great moment for you as well.

GW: Yeah, it was really funny because that record--the O Brother... record--is, in a way, a one-record encapsulation of my record collection. (laughs) You know what I mean? And necessarily so, that's just how it happened. T-Bone (Burnett) came to me to work with them as associate producer on it, and so, you know, it ended up with the artists that I knew and loved, and that he knew and loved. So, the strangest thing about it was that nothing, in a way, really changed for me. I always held Ralph Stanley and Norman Blake in the highest esteem and regard, and all that happened was that suddenly ten million other people did also. (laughs) People ask if it changed me, and I'm like, "No, I think O Brother... changed the world more than it changed me." But it was a great thing, because it was just...for years, Dave and I have included some Ralph Stanley and some Stanley Brothers songs in our live show. They were a huge influence on our duet singing. They were one of the acts that really influenced the way we figured out how to sing as a duet, and early on, we'd say "This is a song we learned from Ralph Stanley," and we'd hear a couple people clap if we were in, say, Detroit. And after O Brother..., we'd say, "This is a song we learned from Ralph Stanley," and the whole place just screams. So, that's kind of what O Brother did.

MR: T-Bone Burnett is especially entrenched in your early career, isn't he?

GW: Yeah, he produced our first two records, and then, we worked with him on O Brother... that's a pretty sizable collaboration with T-Bone. It's much more common for him to work with people for one record and then move on. He's such a passionate producer. When he's working with someone, he just puts everything into it, and then I think he necessarily has to move on. That's not really sustainable, it's unusual.

MR: You followed those works with Time (The Revelator), which people refer to as one of the top classic folk albums of all time. How do you place that album in your body of work?

GW: Well, it's hugely important on quite a few levels. It was a big, big step for us as far as self-sufficiency goes. There's this crazy, staunch vein of self-sufficiency running through it, and it comes from a time when our record label got sold and so we kind of stepped away from the record business to a certain degree and started our own label. It's the first record that we self-produced in that Dave produced the record. We kind of went into RCA (Studio) B to make that record and built our own recording rig in there. We basically built our own studio to make that record. It goes on and on. It was like we were homesteading--we did everything. And it's interesting because over the years, I find that when we're put in that position where we are completely self-sufficient and feel like we're responsible for all of it, I feel like that kind of brings out the best in us. That was going on with this new record also, The Harrow And The Harvest. I felt like we'd been kind of out of it for long enough that once again, nobody was going to make us do it. Many people, in fact, had given up that we were ever going to make a record again. And so, here we were once again, adrift in the lifeboat, and if we were going to make it work, it was going to be us that were going to do it.

MR: And Time (The Revelator) was Grammy-nominated. It's so amazing, the territory it covers--it's like a course in American history. It's truly Americana.

GM: You know, it was a funny time for us. We were, of course, in Nashville, which is where we live and have been there for just about twenty years now, which is hard to believe. It's funny, because now I've had to be talking about this new record a decent amount, and be comparing and contrasting it with The Revelator record. I kind of think that Revelator is a headier record, like, if Revelator is a record of the head, I think this new record has sort of moved down a little bit and is a little more a record of the heart. I don't think it's quite as frenetically cerebral. With Revelator, I know all these crazy sort of collisions were happening at the time, and part of it was that we were living in Nashville and Dave and I are so nocturnal. Nashville is...in it's way, a pretty straight town, and it pretty much rolls up the sidewalks at about ten o'clock. We weren't really waking up until about four in the afternoon, so we felt like we were living in a ghost town. We never saw anybody. All I did was read and listen to music and sort of walk around the deserted streets of Nashville. And so I really thing that that definitely contributed to this kind of bizarre, outsider mood of Revelator.

MR: So, what advice might you have for new artists?

GW: You know, today I feel like whatever you're going to do, whatever your thing is, just do it to a crazy degree. Just do it more than anybody. I don't understand why people would accept any amount of compromise in their work. If you're going to be quiet and small and introspective folk, be the quietest, smallest, most introspective folk artist. Or if you're going to be confessional and completely excoriating emo-rock, then be the most. My feeling today is just, "Let your freak flag fly." There's no reason to play it safe. Ever. The greatest gains Dave and I have ever made were by complete and utter crazy gambles. And they pay off.

MR: Beautiful. What do you think is your major growth, creatively, since you were a woman taking a couple of songwriting classes at Berkeley?

GW: I just think--particularly with this record--I feel like there's a maturity in the work. You know, Dave and I have been doing this for about twenty years now and I just feel like we don't have to prove anything to anybody else. We're just trying to do good work. I'm just interested in doing better work. I just feel like we've dispensed with having to, you know, prove ourselves to any outside commentator.

MR: Nice. I really appreciate the time you've spent with me today, all the best to you, Gillian.

GW: Thanks. It's been nice talking to you.

Tracks:
1. Scarlet Town
2. Dark Turn Of Mind
3. The Way It Will Be
4. The Way It Goes
5. Tennessee
6. Down Along The Dixie Line
7. Six White Horses
8. Hard Times
9. Silver Dagger
10. The Way The Whole Thing Ends

Transcribed by Claire Wellin

INTERMISSION - Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion's "Speed Of Light"

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A Conversation with Joel Cummins of Umphrey's McGee

Mike Ragogna: How are you, Joel?

Joel Cummins: I'm doing great. I'm home in Chicago right now and enjoying the heat of the summer.

MR: And didn't you guys have this amazing rainstorm the other day?

JC: Oh, it was very exciting, I have to say, I'm into the weather myself. It's kind of been like that for the past three or four days, but I think we got seven inches overnight.

MR: It seems like everybody everywhere has the strangest weather right now. Wait, we're talking about the weather, we better quickly get into your new album Death By Stereo. Is that a wink to the old vampire movie The Lost Boys?

JC: Yeah, it totally came from that. Our album cover is a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek play on that. There's an outline of a body next to a boom box and you're not sure whether the music is the thing that killed him or it's just death-by-stereo--where the guy just died next to the stereo. We're trying to be a little silly with it.

MR: I love that you're referred to as "improg."

JC: (laughs) Yeah, for me, this is an album that goes in a lot of different directions very quickly, and certainly has some of our shorter recorded performances of songs. I think there are only one or two tracks that are longer than six minutes, and most are around four. So, we really tried to get a lot into these songs in a short amount of time. Much like our album Anchor Drops, it's got a huge variety of sounds from start to finish, with "Miami Virtue" being more of a synth-driven pop tune, "Domino Theory" being this kind of heavier, almost punky-edgy tune, "Booth Love" being this really laid-back kind of Hall & Oates-style dance party, and "Search For" being this really in-your-face heavy guitar-rock-riff tune. So, there's something for everybody here. We have a couple new songs on there, and then there are also maybe six or seven live staples that we've been playing for a number of years--some newer than others--the oldest one being "Hajimemashite." That one, I believe, we actually played at our first show in 1998, and this is the first studio version that we've ever put out.

MR: Your recorded output is amazing, it's like you've been releasing albums every year. Let's get into some history, you formed in 1997?

JC: Yup, at the end of 1997. We sat at the Mishawaka Brewing Company in Mishawaka, Indiana, and said, "Let's try this instead of going to work for an accounting firm." That was with Brendan Bayliss, Ryan Stasik, and Mike Miro, our original drummer.

MR: And you've been knocking out projects ever since with like thirty or so albums so far.

JC: (laughs) The definition of "albums" being in quotes. Some of these are a little bit less official than others. Yeah, we're all about trying to get as much material as we can out there. We probably have about 120 or 130 original songs that we've written together at this point. Some of those, we've let go by the wayside and we don't really play anymore, but there are at least 100 or 115 out there that we still play live. I think that's one of the things that keeps us going is that we have a lot of old songs that we love, and that we're constantly coming up with new things and working on new things at the same time. We probably have another five or six songs that are basically done that we just have to learn how to play live as a band. So, yeah--just keeping things fresh is something that's really important to us.

MR: "Miami Virtue"...what's going on with that topically?

JC: "Miami Virtue" is really a song about the perspective you get once you have the ability to reflect on your childhood--maybe it can be from the perspective of a parent, although it doesn't have to be--but it's about looking back and realizing that maybe somebody was looking out for your best interests but you were too stubborn or too convinced that you knew exactly what you needed to do, and so you didn't listen to them. It's about trying to put all that aside and then coming back to the present moment and really focusing on that idea of "it's okay to be a good listener and to take advice."

MR: Nice--I like that. I myself am just starting to understand that. You just have to let go of the mistakes while understanding that listening to others who want to help is also important.

JC: Yeah, it's no big deal.

MR: With "Search For," is that intro sequenced or did you guys actually play that?

JC: You know, that's all live performance there--that's really what we do live. Brendan and I are kind of doubling up on this mixed-meter figure that kind of flips around as the main heavier guitar riff goes. So, yeah, that's something that actually sounds harder than it is to play. It's all about making sure you start in the right place. That's the trick.

MR: Yeah--everybody is looping these days, so it's gotten harder to tell.

JC: Right, right. You know, I have an arpeggiator and I use that for a couple songs, but in "Search For," that one is a live loop.

MR: In "Search For," you have the line "...if the time couldn't be more perfect." Perfect for what?

JC: (laughs) We have to leave that open to the listener. I don't want to rule out what somebody else comes up with when they say, "This song makes sense to be because it means this..." I think, you know, for us, part of when lyrics succeed is when they're able to have that sort of vague open-endedness where it could be applicable to a lot of different situations for people. Yeah, it can be a lot of different things.

MR: My favorite song on this album is "Booth Love." It's such a soulful song, can you talk about how you put that together?

JC: Yeah, Booth is actually the name of the guy--he's a person. That one's a little bit vague too, but for us, sonically, that was really a fun thing to put together. We don't have another song where we have all four of us singing and covering three different octaves of range. I don't know how Chris sings those high notes, but he's the one that's doing that kind of Roger Taylor/Queen thing there, singing way up in the upper register. And then Jake's got the main one and Brendan doubles him, and then I'm singing the lower one. So, that's always a really fun thing for us and kind of a cool effect. I got to add--and this is something that we haven't really incorporated yet live--that little synth outro line there. That'll be a little bit of a surprise for the listeners when it comes out on September 13th.

MR: I wanted to talk about "Conduit" as well, which is more like the Umphrey's McGee sound that we're all used to.

JC: You're so right. You know, I was writing a couple lines about each song and what I said about that track was "'Conduit' is quintessential Umphrey's McGee." It's really a lot of the elements that I feel like we've come to embrace as a band, with fun, melodic, kind of weaving guitar lines. And there are vocal melodies happening, and then it kind of goes into this reggae-jazz hybrid, but with metal guitars. So, yeah. (laughs) For that one, we actually took from a guitar riff that Jake had written probably ten or twelve years ago and just had never done anything with. Then we got together and worked on it and created a few of the other sections to go with it as a band backstage one day before a show in Kansas City.

MR: By the way, one of my favorite album titles is Jimmy Stewart 2007. I love that.

JC: (laughs) You know, the Jimmy Stewart thing--we have a very funny history with that. We were actually performing at our good friend's wedding in 2001, he's now our webmaster. He was getting married in Pittsburgh, I think downtown in maybe the Renaissance Hotel--a nice old building. They set us up in the Jimmy Stewart Ballroom and we played the wedding. We didn't want to pack our stuff up that night because it was such a horrible load-in, so we convinced them to let us leave our stuff set up, and then, of course, about five hours later--who knows how many drinks we'd had--we were down there playing at three in the morning with the lights out, because we thought that maybe they wouldn't find us then. (laughs) That really taught us, "Wow. We can do this. We can improvise as a group without having to plan what we're doing in advance. We can do this. We can listen." So, that was really, for us, this major point of discovery for improvisation with the group. Ever since then, whenever we have something that's kind of an open-ended thing, it's become a "Jimmy Stewart."

MR: What advice would you have for new artists, at this point?

JC: Well, a couple things. I think first and foremost, work on your music. Work on your sound and take the time to invest in that before you go out there. There's no point in trying to come up with a brilliant marketing plan for something that isn't that great. So, I think that's the main thing. As an artist, focus on being an artist now. Don't focus on being somebody who tweets. (laughs) The rest of that stuff will come, it's very easy. It's great because once you do have something good, you have so many avenues to get it out there and to have people listen to it. You'll find out very quickly whether or not it's something that people are into.

MR: You know, we're going to need a progress report on all things Umphrey's McGee since you guys are always doing something. Speaking of that, what does the tour for this record look like?

JC: We're starting to tour in the beginning of September, and we're going up and down the east coast for the first couple weeks. We're going to be doing a couple Halloween shows down in Atlanta, and we just announced that we're going to be doing a couple of Thanksgiving shows in Chicago, so we'll have a little bit of touring going on around Halloween, and then Thanksgiving shows and New Years shows, and then a lot of touring in 2012.

MR: I really appreciate your time. Thanks so much, Joel.

JC: Your welcome, Mike--and I'd be happy to come back to give you that progress report in a few months.

Tracks TBA:

Transcribed by Claire Wellin

Umphrey McGee's "Miami Virtue"