By BissList contributing editor, Josh Danson
I recently caught up with Bo Carper and Dan Lebowitz – Bo and Lebo as they are affectionately known to their many fans and followers – in advance of the upcoming Guitarfish Music Festival (July 26th-28th, Cisco Grove, CA). Lebo is well-known as a founding member and lead guitar player of Bay Area favorite ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra), while Bo is the founding guitar player of another of San Francisco’s finest, New Monsoon. In addition to playing with their respective larger format bands at Guitarfish, Bo with New Monsoon and Lebo with his side-project, MagicGravy, the two will be playing together as the acoustic duo, Bo and Lebo. Over the course of an hour-long phone conversation, I asked Bo and Lebo - and they told - about what they’ve been up to recently, the history of the Bo and Lebo duo, and what folks can expect to see up at Guitarfish next weekend. Bo was on his way to catch a flight at SFO, and so joined us a few minutes into our conversation.
BL: Lebo, I heard -- from Bo actually -- that you had a pretty cool experience at Bonnaroo recently playing with Jack Johnson in the headlining spot on Saturday. How did that come about and was that biggest crowd you’ve ever played in front of? How was that experience?
Lebo: I think it was actually the biggest, although I didn’t realize that until a few days later. The thing with big crowds is at a certain point they’re just big crowds. I’ve played for big crowds before, it’s not something I get to do all the time, but I do get to do it sometimes and at a certain point it just becomes the category of gigantic crowd. Once you get over 20,000 or something. But that was the biggest because I guess it was like 80,000. We’ve done some other shows with Jack Johnson in Brazil that were like 60,000. And we’ve done some touring as the opening slot in big sheds where it was like 20,000 people… but it was definitely a blast.
I’ll tell you how it came to be. ALO was out there doing Bonnaroo - we were doing the latenight - and we’re friends with Jack Johnson. We’ve been friends with him for years. We’re on the same record label and stuff so we’ve had a long relationship. It goes back to college actually; we lived in the dorms together [at UC Santa Barbara]. Anyway, he’s working on his new album and he hasn’t been doing a lot of live shows, so he let us know that he was thinking of coming out and jamming with us and we were like, “Dude, yeah, come out. Hang out at Bonnaroo if you want to and we’ll have you up for a bunch of tunes and it’ll be fun.” So that was how it was going to be, he was going to come out and jam with us. And then he got a call after he got off the plane, he was driving from Nashville to Manchester, and they asked him, “Do you want to headline Saturday night?” basically, because sadly one of the guys from Mumford and Sons was sick. So of course he said “Yeah.” And so he came that night and sat in with us a bunch and it was a ton of fun and then he asked if I would stick around and play with him on Saturday. So I changed some things around and stayed and ended up playing the whole headlining set with him.
We’ve done so much touring with him and have known each other for so long that we have a good history of songs together, so it was fun. We just did a little review backstage, because we probably have 15 or so songs that at any given moment we can just do based on past experience. I love playing with him and his band is great. You know Zach [Keyboardist, Zach Gill] in his band is from ALO too. So part of the band is a guy I’ve been playing with since I was 12 years old. Yeah, Steve [ALO Bassist, Steve Adams] and Zach from ALO and I have been playing together since we were 12, when we were all growing up together down in Saratoga.
BL: Ahh, I did not know that. That’s awesome. So Lebo, you’re a member of a very small fraternity of lead guitar players who play almost exclusively on an acoustic, albeit an electric acoustic. As someone who also plays an acoustic, or at least tries to, it’s always amazed me the range of sound that you’re able to achieve. What was behind your choice to eschew a more traditional electric guitar rig and instead go with the acoustic? And what is the setup you use in order to achieve that signature sound?
Lebo: So the WHY part of it… I always played electric guitars growing up. I actually didn’t even own an acoustic guitar at first. I was always an electric guitar player through junior high and high school. And then at some point I got one, but I was still playing a Strat primarily for years and then I don’t know what happened, but I was supposed to do this gig that was supposed to be “acoustic-y” and I was playing with this drum kit player and we were doing rehearsals – this would’ve been right around when I moved to the Bay Area, right around 2000, I guess. But then we added an electric bass player, so it kind of turned into more of an electric thing, but the acoustic was what I had on hand, so I was just doing it that way and it was sounding kind of cool. But I didn’t think about it too much, until one day at a gig I was playing with my band Global Funk Council and I had my electric and then I had a backup electric and an acoustic also to just mess around with back on the RV. So it was our last tune and I end up breaking a string and went to grab my backup electric but someone had brought in my acoustic by mistake, and it was the middle of winter so instead of sending someone out to get my electric I figured I’ll just play the acoustic for this one last tune and I loved it. I was like, “Ooh, that was cool!” So the next night I brought the acoustic in on purpose and then started on the electric but switched over to the acoustic and yada yada, it just went from there. I just started using it more and more until now I use it like 95% of the time. I also play a lot of lap guitar. Slide stuff on lap steel.
BL: That was actually going to be my next question. I noticed you were playing some lap steel in photos I saw from High Sierra and at Bonnaroo. Is that something new you’ve been experimenting with recently, or is that something you’ve been playing for a while now?
Lebo: I bought a lap steel many years ago when I was in college still. And basically I got that and I was playing around with it a bit, just playing it on a couple tunes here and there. But then I went out and bought a pedal steel and that just kind of amped the whole thing up because pedal steel isn’t something you just mess around with. Either you go deep into it or you don’t touch it, because it can be the most beautiful sounding instrument, but if not done right it can be the ugliest sounding instrument. Because it’s just so lush sounding, but when it’s out… you know, with a guitar it can be a little out and still sound cool, but with a pedal steel when it’s out it just sounds painful and sickly. So anyway, I started playing a lot of pedal steel and I think that’s what got me into the lap steel and made me step my game up on it.
But about the acoustic thing, I was going to say, the way it works… For me it’s just having a good amp, you know like a tube amp. I pretty much use all vintage stuff, like a Fender tube amp. But then the main thing for me is to go straight into the amp. I go through some effects but then into the amp. So unlike most people who play acoustic who will go direct into the PA and then get themselves through the monitors and stuff, I don’t mess with that, I just go direct to the amp. And the other thing is I bypassed the electronics that were in the instrument and just wired my pickup straight to the jack. I think that’s the other thing that gives me that sound, because a Fender amp has a killer pre-amp, so using the pre-amp in the guitar struck me as kind of redundant. And two pre-amps would really just make it a little out of control and feedback-y. So with just the one pick-up going straight into the amp, it’s a pretty weak pickup, but then I can just juice up the amp and get the amp to really bite back a little.
BL: So you’re not just using the pickup that came with guitar, like the stock pickup on the Takamine?
Lebo: I was, but then I put a Sunrise pickup in it. Basically… I feel like all the cool things in life tend to happen because they just happen, you know, like how I started using the acoustic. And then second part of it all… part of the reason it worked was because of the pickup scenario. The stock pickup had broken. This was the acoustic that I had been using since high school and they didn’t make that pickup anymore. It was kind of a peculiar design, and at the time I was apprenticing with a luthier [guitar maker] and so I just took a Sunrise that they had in the shop and installed it and wired it straight to the jack. So with my current guitar, I still have the original Takemine pickup in there, but I rarely use it, it’s always just my pickup - that Sunrise pickup - straight to the jack.
Bo: I want to chime in on that and say the one thing that’s been different about the gigs that Dan and I have been doing together, is that in our scenario he does tend to go direct and go more for the acoustic sound. Because a lot of times what we’re going for is that more stripped down sound. So it’s been pretty cool for me because I’ve always known Dan as more of an electric guitar style, lead guitar style player. So I’ve been really psyched to share in a much more stripped down, pure acoustic space with Dan, because his playing really comes through in a very cool way. You know, there’s two kinds of electric guitar players, some guys who use effects and kind of lean on effects as a crutch and some guys use it more as almost another instrument and I think Dan really falls into that latter category. He’s a great player and I mean, I’ve heard him play on a little baby Taylor, a little backpacking guitar, and it’s sounded as cool as anything I’ve ever heard. So when Dan uses his effects and his amps, he’s a real tone-master and he’s kind of using the tone and the effects and everything… he plays that stuff and crafts that stuff, in my view, almost like another instrument.
BL: Well that’s great and that brings me to another question I had for the two of you. You guys recently got together up at High Sierra for a cool workshop on the roots music - folk and blues - that inspired a lot of the music of Led Zeppelin. Songs like, “Gallows Pole” and “When the Levee Breaks.” Tell me a little about that? How did that workshop come together and what does that kind of “roots” music mean to you both of you in terms of its influence on your own musical sensibilities, and in terms of its continuing, persistent influence on “modern” music?
Bo: The workshop came together through a discussion I had with Dave Margulies, one of the organizers of High Sierra. He had invited me to come as an artist-at-large and put on a “playshop” and we got to brainstorming around ideas that would be cool for a playshop. And I basically gave him a couple ideas. Something like, “The Country Blues Front Porch Workshop with Bo and Lebo,” and we could just do our thing and do some country blues flavored music, but then the one idea that really took hold was - realizing that Robert Plant was going to be there - wouldn’t it be cool if we did some sort of tribute to him and Led Zeppelin and came up with the idea of combining the two and doing the country blues things and using that as the way to explore the roots of Led Zeppelin and where it really came from. So that idea immediately grabbed hold and luckily Lebo was able to get free and come join and then this other great player, Scott Pemberton came and played. We were meeting him for the first time and it turned out he’s a pretty amazing player. But for me I’d say the biggest modern guy who influenced my understanding of the country blues, or delta blues roots of Led Zeppelin, was a guy named Alvin Youngblood Hart. I’ve been listening to his music for maybe 14-15 years and he covers “Gallows Pole” and he covers “in My Time of Dying.” And I didn’t even realize it until I started researching for this Led Zeppelin thing, that Alvin’s version of “Gallows Pole” was really just a very true cover of Leadbelly’s version. I always thought that Alvin’s version was probably just his interpretation of what the old version might be like, but then I listened to Leadbelly’s version and was like, “Wow, Alvin pretty much does it as a cover, really accurately,” which I thought was pretty cool. So that was a big part of whom and what inspired me and some of the ideas that I’ve had. And also Bert Jansch [Scottish folk musician/guitarist and founder member of the acclaimed British folk band, Pentangle] was a guy that I’ve listened to a lot. He and Davy Graham were British folk/blues guitarists that were both worldly guys who also had some elements of Indian music involved somewhere in there, with bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle. So I kind of brought those ideas to the table and then Scott and Lebo brought their own ideas. And Lebo’s stuff was really interesting because it covered the kind of Muddy Waters space and that was really fitting because Muddy was a guy who started out as a delta blues guy playing acoustic music and then moved to Chicago and turned electric and then everything changed. And Lebo’s kind of also that bridge between acoustic and electric, at least in my mind.
Lebo: Yeah, that’s funny with the story of Muddy Waters going electric. It’s just another example of necessity being the mother of invention, you know. He came from like a porch-style, farm setting down south and then when he came up to Chicago nobody could hear him when he was playing on the streets so he plugged in and went electric, just so he could be heard.
For me, the first blues stuff that I got into was like Muddy Waters and the guys who followed right after him. Guys like Albert King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and all those other guys who were like the first generation of electric blues players; they were all a big influence on me in high school. And of course everyone loves Led Zeppelin and they’ve always been a big influence on me. So when Bo got to talking about it, I was like, “That’s so cool, what a great idea!” We get to dig into the stuff that we’re into and that Zeppelin was also into and we get to present that music and help make those connections.
BL: Yeah for sure, it’s interesting. It kind of gets to why is that music so persistent and why does it have such long legs that generation after generation it gets its hooks into you? Just something elemental about that, I don’t know, obviously it touched you guys the same way. I think it’s just authenticity. When you hear something authentic, you know it and that’s what everybody strives for as an artist.
Bo: Yeah, you know it’s that elusive, perfect storm of talent and tradition and innovation and heavy power and great playing all combined into one thing. And I think Zeppelin really put that all together and why I’ve always been a huge fan.
BL: You guys go way back and have a long history of playing with each other in various side projects, and as special guests at each other’s gigs. Just how far back DO you guys go and when did you first realize that you had complimentary tastes and playing styles?
Bo: Dan and I go back to, probably, 1998 or 1999. Dan, when did you move up here to the Bay Area?
Lebo: 1998, I think. Yeah, it was somewhere right in there.
Bo: It’s a really interesting story because we really destined to meet and be friends and play music together. Our wives actually knew each other first. My wife MaryMar and Dan’s wife Jenna were working together at a club that is now the Brick and Mortar but it was called Butterfly. At the time, it was the height of the dot-com boom in the Mission and in San Francisco. So it was this really super-hip club where young twenty-something millionaires would come and eat great food and drink and do God knows what else with their money. But it was a super cool place and the people that worked there were great. MaryMar and Jenna were good friends and fortunately for Dan and me they’re also amazing women and MaryMar was always saying, “You gotta’ meet my friend Jenna, and her boyfriend Dan is a great guitarist with this band Animal Liberation Orchestra.” And right around the same time I met the guys who became Hot Buttered Rum. We became friends and this guy Brian Horn who was their bassist kept saying the same thing, “You gotta’ hear this band Animal Liberation Orchestra, they’re awesome.” Shortly thereafter, by chance, we ended up all with the same booking agent. There was a guy in West Marin, based out of Point Reyes, named Carson Bench. And I think most of us were introduced to Carson through Tom Montgomery, another big Bay Area music guy who’s been really supportive over the years of these bands that came up in the Bay Area. So at one point, Carson was booking ALO, New Monsoon AND Tea Leaf Green and he was doing it out of his little office above the Old Western Tavern in Point Reyes. And he put on an event up in Sonoma called Test Fest, as in “We’re testing the waters.” And he put all of us on the bill. And Lebo sat in on, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. I think that’s probably the first time we ever played together. Isn’t that right Dan?
Lebo: Yeah, I think that probably was. I think… I remember the first time I saw YOU play was at Verdigris.
Bo: Oh yeah. At the Verdigris Christmas parties that my wife had at her art studio in The Cannery. So that’s probably one of the first times that Dan and I played together, just the two of us. I was always the de facto entertainment for those Verdigris holiday parties and sometimes I’d get Jeff or Phil from New Monsoon to play and one time I said, “Hey Dan, why don’t you come and play?” And so Dan and I got together and the vibe there wasn’t like drums and electric bass and electric guitar, so what it became was just the two of us sitting there with acoustic guitars. And we just hit it off. We did a lot of very spacious, improvisational stuff and our styles blended. And at the same time that happened we became fast friends and over the years we just started spending more time together as friends. I can’t even remember when we first actually said, “Hey do you wanna’ sit down and actually work on these country-blues tunes?”
Lebo: You know what I think though; we had that little gig doing the music for that online ad thing…
Bo: Oh yeah!
Lebo: …And you came over to my house and we recorded and we were like, “Oh THAT was cool. We should do that some more.” And that’s when we started to do covers and bringing in songs and stuff like that. So I feel like that’s where it really started for us playing together.
Bo: Right, so then we ended up being neighbors and living half a block away from each other on 25th Avenue out in the Outer Richmond for a period and I got asked to write an acoustic guitar- centric score for this promotional video put out by this local video production company and I called up Dan and said, “Hey man, you want to do this thing with me?” And we did and it just worked out great. And being neighbors too it was easy to get together and work on tunes and we realized that we liked a lot of the same kind of stuff. I don’t know, Dan, maybe your orientation was kind of more around Taj Mahal and I was kind of into the older like, Mississippi John Hurt kind of guys.
BL: But of course Taj Mahal was all about Mississippi John Hurt. They all go back to that same wellspring right?
Lebo: Yeah, but I didn’t know about all that stuff until Bo started showing it all to me. Like I said, I went back like as far as Muddy Waters. I didn’t know much about the original acoustic guys. So that’s one of the cool things about what this project has done for me, it’s kind of turned me on to that. I mean, I guess we’ve been messing around with this stuff for a while now, because it’s not so new to me anymore. It’s something that I’ve been into for a while now I’m realizing. When was that that we started messing with this stuff? Seven or eight years ago?
Bo: It was probably like 200…4?
Lebo: Yeah, we’re getting towards 10 years.
Bo: I think just in terms of… Sorry… It’s fun to talk about this stuff. I think honestly this is the first time we’ve been interviewed together so it’s like we’re re-living our history through telling you Josh.
BL: I love it, I love it! I’m honored.
Bo: So anyway, to boil it down, I think the way to really describe it is, we ended up being first friends through our wives and then friends through our bands. Because ALO and New Monsoon in the touring days in like 2003, 2004, 2005 and even 6 and 7 we ended doing a lot of shows together, both in the Bay Area and on the road. So we would end up at the same festivals and on short tours together. So we did a lot of playing together, which was really cool. And Dan and Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth are the two guys who, by far, have sat in with New Monsoon more than anybody else. Like they’ve almost been like honorary members of the band. So what started to happen was, we would come home from tour and when Dan and I would find ourselves home together from tour, which didn’t happen a lot, but whenever it did we’d find a way to get together and play and maybe do a gig. So it started like that, the Bo and Lebo thing, it started like that to where we became a little entity where we could open a show and we had a good 45 minute set that we could play.
BL: That’s great. So for the people who are going to hear you during your Sunday slot up at Guitarfish, it’s going to be that country-blues kind of stuff. Have you taken it so far as to do some originals? Or is it all just more the music that’s inspired you, that rootsy kind of stuff, the traditionals?
Lebo: Yeah, we do originals too. And more and more actually that’s what we’ve been incorporating. When we started, like a lot of projects start out of necessity, if you’ve got gigs you just start grabbing common tunes and a lot of times those common tunes are covers. And of course that’s a lot of what we do because that’s the style, but I’d say these days it’s more about adding originals in and then we still add some new covers too as they come up. There’s definitely a couple of tunes that we learned for that Roots of Led Zeppelin workshop that we’re going to add right into our set. But I’d say more and more it’s the originals that we’re really put our energy into.
Bo: Yeah, I think what we’re doing now is adding a little more edge to the set. There’s a good hunk, a foundation of that “goes down easy” kind of country-blues, feel-good vibe. But I think what we’re coming around to now with some of the originals, some of the instrumental stuff, is bringing more of that edginess to it, because we both have that side to our playing as well. Obviously Lebo as a lead player can really bring a lot of energy and really bring the energy of the crowd up, and I have kind of a weird, percussive, two-handed approach to the guitar that I’m trying to incorporate more and more as well. So we’re looking to really stir it up a bit and stretch out a bit more.
BL: Lebo tell me about MagicGravy, the other group you’re going to be playing with up at Guitarfish. I gather that’s also a way for you to express that more expansive side of your playing and a way to get out there and do some more jazzy, improvisational stuff, as I understand it. Tell us a little more about that group and what it brings out in you.
Lebo: Yeah, for sure. That group is primarily improvised music. We have “heads” that we use - you know a way in and a way out - but there’s usually a good 40 minutes or an hour between that way in and way out. And the way it started was down in Mexico, this crazy guy threw this crazy party down in Mexico for his 30th birthday. And I was there and Garrett Sayers [bass] and Dave Watts [drums] from The Motet were there and the guy wanted a band, and… “There’s a band - drums, bass and guitar!” So we went down there with real minimal gear, just some amps and a real basic drum kit and we showed up and we didn’t know what to expect. We talked about a bunch of music and then we went to play and we did a little of what we talked about but mostly it all went out the window and we were just having a ball so we never really got to the stuff we talked about. So then we got into the second and third day down there and realized we’re all good, we just need to play together and react to what each other are doing. So that’s basically what we did and we were all just having so much fun doing it and the fans that were down there really seemed to love it, so we figured we should do this some more. Those guys live out in Boulder, so now we get together and do maybe a dozen shows a year together, between Colorado and the Bay Area and around. And it’s always really special when we can get together because we’ve got pretty full schedules with ALO and The Motet, so when we do get together, it’s always really special. So we’re excited to be doing it up here at Guitarfish. Those guys are just incredible as improvisers, they’re really just awesome.
I was going to say another reason why it’s really special is that we all play in bands with a lot of arrangements. Like in ALO we have a lot of tunes and things worked out and for those guys in The Motet it’s like 11 guys and big arrangements with lot of details to it. So I think we all have a lot of fun because MagicGravy is almost like the opposite of that, it’s like anything-goes and in the moment. So it’s a really good release. Kind of a counterbalance to all the music we spend all this time fine-tuning and then with MagicGravy, it’s just like throw it all out the window and play. But for some reason it always seems to come off really tight. I’m always amazed.
BL: That’s great and I bet a lot of your fans are like, “Man they must’ve spent months rehearsing that stuff!”
Lebo: Well it’s funny, it’s almost like, either you rehearse a ton, or you don’t at all. Or not very much. Because when you rehearse a medium amount, sometimes I think it’s worse because you try to do all these things that you don’t really have down. But if you’ve got good improvisers and everybody’s got good ears and uses them, then it can often come across as like the tightest thing because you’re just in the moment and reacting to what’s happening and so whatever happens is what was supposed to happen in that moment and not something that you conceived of months before and had to bend your head around to try and make it happen, it’s just sort of natural.
BL: ALO recently released its 4th album with Brushfire Records, “Sounds Like This.” You guys recorded the album here in San Francisco and it sounds like you took a more improvisational, collaborative approach on this one than on past albums. How did that work out as far as helping to capture some of the essence of ALO’s live sound and bridge the gap between the studio and the stage?
Lebo: I think in essence it’s almost like what you said right there, that was the intention with it. We felt like a lot of our albums… ALO’s a really song-based band traditionally, and we have a ton of fun working on that and being “craftsmen” in that way. But a lot of times live we do more improvising and it’s a higher energy thing and I feel like on our albums we were always excited about working on those tunes and working them out, but a lot of times we weren’t working in what we do live. But now we’re on our fourth album for Brushfire so we thought it would be nice to capture some of that live energy on an actual studio album so we decided that the best way to do that would be to track all together - which we actually did on the previous album, but we were still going for that more constructed vibe of the song-forms, really working them out beforehand. So on this one we had the song-forms but we kept them a little loose, kept some open-endedness in them. So we just set up, plugged in and hit record on the tape and everyone played and it was cool to capture the band playing together because a lot of times in the studio it can be more of an overdub-y kind of thing. And one of the things that I like about playing live in a band is that you get it there together. And to me that’s often a more enjoyable element in the process of making an album because you get what you get when you record. Whereas in an overdub process in a band with people with different ideas, because you can overdub endlessly and change every little thing minutely, sometimes that becomes more about discussion and less about playing music. So I’ve been appreciating the live element in the studio because you get to record and sound like the band that you are. Not to say that the overdub thing is bad because I love doing that, but I think it’s a nice balance to go for some more live-style stuff because you can actually just do the music and then afterwards you can always do some editing with ProTools, but it’s more vertical than horizontal, if you know what I mean. Like you can chop a section out here and there, but all the parts are still all melded together.
BL: Sure, the process is a little bit more organic.
Lebo: Yeah, also in the studio it also makes you more mindful of what you’re playing because you’re not just going to throw it down and it doesn’t matter. Like this matters because this is going to be what it’s going to be. So let’s really make sure we know what we’re doing right now and tie it all together since we’re all in the room together and come to consensus that way, rather than when people are three or four hundred miles apart.
BL: Bo, New Monsoon recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of a new studio album. First of all I want to wish you congrats on the success of the campaign, but I wonder if you could tell us a little about how that came about, what freedom you feel it may have provided you guys and how it reflects the current state of the recording industry?
Bo: It was very humbling and gratifying to get that kind of outpouring of support from our grassroots fans to help us pay for making a record so we really appreciated that. As far as being more free, I don’t know if that really plays into it. We’ve never really had a big record contract, we’ve had a couple small deals, but never anything that constrained us in any way creatively. We never had any kind of input from the label because that’s never really been our path. But I think for us what’s different about this record is we’re more aware of where we’re at as a band. We used to be more of a World Music, kind of a very large ensemble with the percussionists and that was a big part of our identity. But then we went through some other iterations after those guys had to leave tour and now we’ve really settled into a groove with our current drummer and great bass player that we have now, Michael Pinkham [drums] and Marshall Harrell [bass] and things have really jelled with those guys in the last couple years. So we’ve been feeling musically more satisfied than we’ve been in a long time and it was really good to get in the studio and put some of that on tape. And interestingly - I didn’t know anything about the “Sounds Like This” process, I’m learning about it as you are Josh, but it’s very similar to the approach we took on our album as well. We did it at TRI Studios. Did all our basic tracks in a day and a half for about 10 songs and we played all together in the big room at TRI and we’re doing pretty minimal overdubs. So I agree with Lebo, it’s great. As much of it as you can keep, it’s that much better. Inevitably you’re going to have to go in and do some overdubs. But there’s something about being on a limited timeframe that’s helpful in the recording process because it does keep you from endlessly overdubbing. Because at some point you have to trust that your first or second take is expressing your musical statement in the way you intended. Sometimes it doesn’t get better after each take. At a certain point it can start getting worse, not better. And like ALO, New Monsoon has always been a live-centric band. This is I think our sixth studio record and I think this is going to be our best studio recording so I’m pretty excited about it.
BL: As someone who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign can I get an update on the state of things. When am I going to be seeing that CD?
Bo: [Laughs] Hah, I think we’re shooting for an October release. That’s the goal.
BL: Well I won’t hold you to that. Let’s just say it’s slated for a Fall 2013 release.
Bo: Another thing I wanted to mention. You guys were talking about MagicGravy. With respect to Guitarfish and the crowd that comes to Guitarfish. I think the cool thing is the really voracious and sophisticated music listeners - the people that really love music and go to see a lot of live music. Like the people that come to Guitarfish, the cool thing is that they DO know the difference between stuff that’s been worked out and rehearsed and stuff that’s spontaneous, they can sense it. And that’s one of the great things about watching MagicGravy is you know they’re on a wire, without a net, you know? So it makes it a lot more interesting, for me at least, it’s kind of dangerous. Because even the best improvisers can train wreck at any moment. So every minute that it keeps hanging together and building and getting better and sounding cooler, it’s like you’re living on borrowed time. Because you just know it could come crashing down. But that’s what makes it cool. And I think a lot of people at Guitarfish - I was there last year in the crowd, watching as a fan - and that made it that much more exciting.
BL: Well that leads me to another question I was going to ask. You guys are both Guitarfish veterans, what appeals to you about a festival like Guitarfish which is smaller than a Bonnaroo, a lot of local acts, a lot of people that know each other. What does that kind of closeness engender? Obviously it’s a beautiful spot, but what else would you say about Guitarfish for people who haven’t attended? What does it have in store for them?
Lebo: Yeah, it plays like an intimate-style festival which is cool because you get to make deeper connections with people. There’s just that many fewer distractions. And the other thing I like is it keeps people real centered around the music. Often at these giant festivals you can talk to 10 friends and all 10 friends saw 10 different bands on the same night. So something this size is cool because it’s all people hanging out together and listening to the same bands. And the lineup they have this year is a bunch of bands that I’m really excited about hearing. It’s funny, you know, Bo, one of my best friends is in New Monsoon, but I’m always excited when I get to see him because with all the touring all our bands do it’s not like we get to see each other’s bands all the time. So I’m real excited to see New Monsoon and I’m excited to play with MagicGravy, and of course Bo and Lebo duo. And also Jellybread is another band we met up at High Sierra. Bo and I did a gospel set with them up there on Sunday, so I’m excited to see those guys again. And of course the other thing with festivals like this is that’s where I get to hear new music. So I’m sure there’s going to be someone I’ve never even heard before who’s going to end up being one of the bands I really like.
BL: Bo you mentioned having just recorded at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios and Lebo I know you’ve played with Bobby and other members of the Dead on a number of occasions. What is that experience like and were either of you guys Deadheads growing up? And on a broader level, what does it mean to both of you to be a part of the Bay Area music scene and part of its storied history?
Lebo: Yeah, with those guys, the Grateful Dead guys, they’re even bigger than just the Bay Area, it’s like the roots of the music scene we’re into all across the country and internationally, the “Jam Band” scene. They’re the guys that started that stuff so it’s cool to be a part of that community. Living here in the Bay Area it’s like ground zero for all that. But yeah, the times I’ve played with any of the guys from the Grateful Dead it’s always been a blast. They’re such creative musicians and I really appreciate their fearlessness. All the guys I’ve played with they all seem really open to, “OK, this is the space we’re in at this moment and this is the music we were given, so let’s just go for it and see what we can do with it.” And I love that philosophy, to be in the moment. And generally I think that’s a great philosophy for life, you know, Be Here Now. And musically they embody that. And of course the whole scene we have around here is informed by that.
Bo: I agree with Dan on that. From my perspective I wasn’t a big Deadhead, I came to appreciate their music kind of backwards, first through the Garcia-Grisman acoustic stuff. That was the first Dead-related stuff that really grabbed my attention and I wore that CD out, “The Thrill is Gone,” their first album. So that kind of grabbed me. And I’ll say even though I haven’t played with those guys, when we were recording at TRI just a month ago, Weir made a point of coming in to say ‘hello’ and was exceedingly kind and gracious, in a very unassuming way. And I was just appreciative of his energy. He came into the control room and talked with us for a minute and actually shared some ideas he had about ways to use the ambiance of the room – they have a really sophisticated system where you can adjust the ambiance of the room, it’s very unique – and he came in and shared some ideas with us and just in that very short interaction left us all with a very positive feeling. So we appreciated that from a guy who’s got a lot on his plate.
BL: Alright, last question! What are you guys listening to these days? Any acts or bands out there that we might not have heard of and should be checking out, either old or new?
Lebo: I’ll say a guy that Bo and I played with at High Sierra, this guy Scott Pemberton. It was cool getting to hear his music. I’d heard about him through friends, he’s a guy out of Oregon and he was on that “Playshop” that Bo and I did. And it was cool because we got to play with him before we got to hear any of his albums or anything. Yeah, he’s a blast to play with and he’s probably coming to town near you so you should check him out.
Bo: For me, it’s a guy named Scott Law, who continues to be an amazing talent and plays with me and Lebo sometimes. We call it “One Big Guitar” when he joins us. That’s what we did up at Guitarfish last year. Scott blows me away. Also Alvin Youngblood Hart and Corey Harris, two contemporary blues guys who I think are absolutely essential listening.
BL: Well thanks so much guys! It was a real pleasure and I hope you have a blast up at Guitarfish.
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