HT Interview: Jackie Greene Covers The Bases

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Jackie Greene describes his forthcoming album as “simple songs,” and we’re guessing it’s going to be a more intimate, self-contained affair than his most recent efforts, seeing as he’ll play all of the instruments and he’s also planning to pare down the final material from some 25 originals he’s been working on.

[Photo by Jeremy Gordon]

Where he gets the time to do so much writing, it’s much tougher to say. The new, as-yet-untitled album is the latest milestone in a particularly charmed career that’s already seen several strong releases, a steady graduation from small clubs to theater-level gigs all over the country, and continued national exposure with both his own band and thanks to his ongoing collaborations with the likes of Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Chris Robinson, Warren Haynes and other jam scene luminaries.

“Phil [Lesh] once told me: ‘Don’t be afraid to fail.’ It stuck with me. You can try things on stage. Any idea is game. Some of them work, some don’t. That’s how the opera is made.” – Jackie Greene

Greene, who’s also, it must be noted, a particularly engaging blogger, has been a little tough to get ahold of in recent weeks, so we asked him to field a few questions via e-mail. He and the Jackie Greene Band kicked off a month-long, 18-date tour last week in the Southeastern U.S.

HIDDEN TRACK: What do these new songs sound like, compared to your last few albums

JACKIE GREENE: I’d say much more acoustic, for lack of a better word but that might change. Lots of ballads. Simple songs. I feel like the last record was too complicated for most people.

HT: You’re opting to play every instrument on the album yourself. Sounds liberating! Why this approach?

JG: We’ll see how that goes. I’ve done it before. I have a certain luxury of time and my own studio. That means things can change drastically.

HT: Are any of the instruments you’re playing new to you? What else are you playing besides guitar/keys/harmonica/bass/drums?

JG: I’m trying to keep it simple. I probably will be focusing on the instruments I do play.

HT: How do you think you’ve changed most as a songwriter since 2002’s Gone Wonderin’? Has your writing style changed?

JG: It’s hard to say. That’s probably something best asked to a fan. I live with me everyday, so I don’t see the changes. I used to not be able to grow a beard, if that counts.

HT: How about as a performer?

JG: I feel a little more at ease on stage. I allow myself to have more fun these days.

HT: The Jackie Greene Band in its current lineup seems like it’s evolved considerably in the last three years — more confident, more improvisational, more willing to stretch out. Accurate, you think?

JG: Very. It’s a culmination of maturity and simply not giving a fuck. I’m interested to see where it takes us.

HT: You’ve played a handful of dates with Bob Weir and Chris Robinson this year. How did this trio come about?

JG: We did one show together in that format last year. It was great and we decided when we all had a break, we’d do it again. I hope we can do it some more. It was really fun.

[Photo by Mike Sherry]

HT: The non-Jackie Greene Band project you’re part of that intrigues me most is Trigger Hippy. Tell me about this band — what do you like about it (what itch does this scratch for you?) and what are its plans? Will you tour more? Record?

JG: It’s basically a southern-fried rock/soul band. Joan Osborne is our front woman, Steve Gorman plays drums and Nick Govrik plays bass. I play guitar and Hammond organ. We are in the process of doing some recording and should have something for people to listen to by next year.

HT: The Phil Lesh & Friends lineup from 2007-2008 is considered one of Phil’s best ever, and though it’s been gone for a few years, you’ve continued to play with Phil off and on and be part of many different assemblages of Friends. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Phil Lesh?

JG: Phil once told me: “Don’t be afraid to fail.” It stuck with me. You can try things on stage. Any idea is game. Some of them work, some don’t. That’s how the opera is made.

HT: Any of those one- or two-off Friends assemblages you’d like to see fully tour? (That Warren/Scofield combo you guys did in Colorado earlier this year seemed pretty fierce…)

JG: I’m happy to be apart of any of those line-ups. The ones from Colorado were particularly rocking. I like those.

HT: It seems like what Phil’s trying to do with the Terrapin rambles is really taking off. You’ve played a bunch of those shows. What’s the vibe like and what do you like about it?

JG: The vibe is very comfortable. It’s not uptight and strict. It’s a place for musical exploration, which is very “Phil.” The food is tremendous, so that’s a good thing.

HT: What are your tour/band/collaboration plans for 2013?

JG: Working on them now. Should be announcing this winter.

HT: When you’re asked about people you’d like to collaborate with that you haven’t yet in any formal capacity, who comes to mind?

JG: Well, I’d love to meet Tom Waits. He’s my musical hero, above all else.

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