Dave Schools, the formidable bassist of Widespread Panic, has kept himself busy, despite Widespread pulling back from a more aggressive touring schedule. The southern rock icons have shifted their focus to occasional multi-night runs across the year, with the band’s two-night headlining gig at Trondossa Music & Arts Festival right around the corner on May 5th and May 6th at Riverfront Park, in North Charleston, South Carolina. (Purchase tickets for Trondossa here.)
Ahead of their gigs at Trondossa, where they’ll share the bill with Sturgill Simpson both nights in addition to sets from Margo Price, Moon Taxi, Big Something, and Hiss Golden Messenger, Schools will perform with the Daze Between Band in New Orleans, for two highly anticipated shows on May 2nd and 3rd during the week in between Jazz Fest weekends. (While Wednesday’s show has sold-out but will be available to stream here, fans can pick up tickets to the Daze Between Band’s Thursday show also featuring Eric Krasno, Duane Trucks, Marcus King, and Deshawn “D’Vibes” Alexander here.)
Live For Live Music’s Otis Sinclair got the chance to speak with Schools, and during their lengthy interview, the bassist sagely reflected on his current life off the road, how Widespread Panic seeks to keep themselves open to possibilities, some favorite musical collaborators, and more. Read on below for the full conversation.
Live For Live Music: Now that Widespread Panic’s touring schedule has been stripped down, the sets seem more deliberately crafted. How have the preparations before shows changed?
Dave Schools: Without having a couple of shows on the road to get our sea legs, it’s pretty helpful to have at least a general idea of what we are going to play. I guess one of the advantages is we’re taking a much deeper look at what’s in the catalog, and we have to dive deep on occasions to get to some of the stuff that doesn’t usually come up in the first week of a tour. So, I guess, there’s a little bit of intentional programming going on, I think even more for us—as people who have been playing this material for three decades—than for anyone else. It’s kind of always the way we worked; it’s just a different strategy because of this new touring paradigm… or lack of touring paradigm. [laughs]
L4LM: That “Don’t Tell The Band” in Vegas—people were very excited to hear that again.
DS: It’s a very, very big pot of songs to draw from. Still, it has been sort of eye-opening to find the songs amidst all of that other stuff, and, “Gosh, we really haven’t played this in fifteen years; let’s see what happens.” Sometimes it’s successful, sometimes it’s not, and sometimes it’s fun covers that come up. Things that we haven’t played since Halloween in, you know, 1998 or something.
“Don’t Tell The Band” – Park Theater – Las Vegas, NV – 10/29/2017
[Video: Steve Kiefer]
L4LM: That’s always a joy for the audience to hear something new. With such a diverse range of covers, are there any songs that you would like to play that you haven’t yet played?
Dave Schools: You know, I have a pretty accepting viewpoint. If we played ’em once, we obviously had some intent in choosing it. To bring it back, it’s always an eye-opening experience; it’s sort of refreshing. It’s the same thing as new material, you know? Whether you bring an old original back, write a new song, or bring an old cover back, it puts a different slant on it, just because of its long-term absence or relative newness. Any three of those categories become fresh.
L4LM: Speaking of new material, let’s talk about the debut of “Sundown Betty” in Mexico. Is that indicative of a new album coming from Widespread Panic?
DS: I think the concept of the album is something that is debatable. I mean, we all love a collection of music, but at the same time, in the year 2018, is that the right way to go? Do we want to literally take three years between releasing anything, so that we can amass ten songs for a new record, which is a collection? Or do we just get in the studio and finish up a song and put it out there. Right there, personally, I lean towards that latter option. I think it’s better just to create the content and push it out into the world so that the people can make up their own minds about it. We can play it on stage and let it continue its natural Widespread Panic-style evolution.
L4LM: Let’s talk about Trondossa, which is named in honor of Colonel Bruce. You guys have been having some very unique sit-ins recently with guests. Can we expect some guest sit-ins ahead, maybe with Sturgill Simpson or any of Colonel Bruce’s protégés?
DS: I certainly won’t be the one to negate that possibility. We love cross-pollination—probably more than any other band. It’s always a pleasure to have someone come in and share their viewpoint, which is always unique to an artist. We are fond of sit-ins and are fond of making music with our friends, so I wouldn’t put anything off the table for Trondossa.
L4LM: As Curtis George and the people of Panicstream have pointed out, Trondossa will be, unofficially, you and John Bell’s 3000th show. How does that feel?
DS: Staggering… Unbelievable. The thing is, I know they are basing these stats on what exists recording-wise. I’m not sure if the number is closer to probably 3,200. Because there are a lot of shows that were never taped back in the early days, I think they have just sort of disappeared from the public record. But they happened! Private parties, house parties, fraternity parties—they all count, and they are all part of how we learned to do what we do best. Even if it is just 3,000, that’s a lot of jams to play.
L4LM: That’s very impressive. I’m sure you never imagined when you got into music just how far it would come.
DS: Well, no. I mean, we started the band because it was fun, and none of us wanted to have to answer to anyone other than ourselves. But at some point, we made a decision—and that decision informed every business decision we had to make, because we realized in order to maintain our dream, we were going to have to answer to ourselves as businessmen—that we would go for the quote-unquote career in music, to be a band, and make music for the rest of our lives. Whatever business decisions we had to make in the 80s or the 90s or the 00s informed that fact that we wanted to play music for our lives together.
L4LM: It seems you succeeded in that aspect. While on the topic of sit-ins, judging by the look on your face in Mexico with George Porter Jr., how incredible is it to manipulate the rhythm pocket with two drummers and two bassists? How does it feel to play with one of your longtime musical idols and influences?
DS: George [Porter Jr.] sort of transcends that description. Certainly, it’s true: he’s an influence and he’s a major player. He created that particular pocket of second-line funk, New Orleans swamp funk. The very first time that I met George, it was probably the late 80s—either we were opening for one of his groups or it was the other way around. I can’t remember. What I do remember is that he gave me his phone number and was as sweet as can be.
That started a relationship that is indicative of the way he approaches every other person he meets, which is as an equal and friendly. So, every time he ever sat in, it was just a joy. It was like being able to sit in with your father. Spiritually, he’s definitely one of my father figures. To share that joy, as you said, it is obvious on my face. It’s just a give and take, because having two bass players on stage at the same time can often be a muddy mess. But we understand each other and we have a great time, so he’s always welcome. We almost always have some kind of instrument available in case he should want to show up and want to plug in.
“Ain’t No Use” with George Porter Jr. – Panic en la Playa Siete – 1/28/2018
L4LM: You were also on the side stage for The Cleaners in Mexico. Can you talk about playing with those guys as Daze Between looks forward to their future performances during Jazz Fest?
Dave Schools: Sure, I’ve always enjoyed playing with Duane [Trucks]. I have known him since he was a young pup, and I’m saying that on purpose to embarrass him… with love. I’ve always been a big fan of [Eric] Krasno. Marcus King is making headway. He’s disrupting things. A young player, amazing vocalist. All those guys, The Cleaners, whatever they want to call themselves.
It was especially poignant this year whenever a Bruce Hampton song came up. Watching Kevin Scott and Duane do the rhythm section together is amazing. They’ve been together for a long, long, long time. And I enjoy that. It’s great to have the fun we have playing as Widespread Panic, and then I get to go watch someone else play. That’s rare and very enjoyable, mainly because of all those cats. Let’s not lose track of Jen Hartswick—what an amazing talent!
L4LM: It was incredible what they were able to do and obviously Marcus made a reappearance in Wanee with you guys, and he continues to step out in a big way.
DS: Marcus finds a way to fit in with anyone he sits in with, and that’s really what this sit-in thing is about. It’s not about a band making room for guest artists or soloists, and it’s not about the guest artist or soloist busting into a preconceived bubble. It’s real-life collaboration, which is an extension of what Widespread Panic does best. It’s what we try to do amongst the six of us on any night. So, when someone sits in, we go for an extension of that give and take, an opportunity for something really special and unique to occur.
“Bowlegged Woman” > “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” with Marcus King – Wanee – 4/21/2018
[Video: Roy Loeffler]
L4LM: It seems that every time you guys step on stage these days, something very special and unique occurs.
Dave Schools: Well, thank you. That’s buried in the kernel of truth of the band. That’s why we keep doing it. That’s the only way anyone could possibly make it to 3,000 shows. Always strive to open the door for that possibility. You can’t guarantee it’s going to happen or be special or something other than a complete and utter train wreck. That’s the point. That’s what we try to allow for that possibility, everything that we do. Whether it boils down to “Did we get sleep? How do the monitors sound? What’s the weather like? Did I get enough coffee?” Everything that we learned about being on the road together points to the direction of enabling that special thing to happen onstage.
L4LM: Back to the Daze Between that are going into New Orleans. The second show culminates in the Jam Cruise line-up announcement. Can we expect the Daze Between or the Cleaners to be aboard that ship?
DS: I cannot divulge any such information at this time… Be there for the announcement!
L4LM: On an unrelated topic, you are very active on Instagram with a great sense of humor especially with the #MakeInstagramChronologicalAgain. One of your most recent posts shows Mickey Hart and a fire truck, what’s the backstory here?
DS: Every time Mickey [Hart] says to me, “You gotta come over, there’s something important I wanna show you,” it’s usually one of his latest music projects. Recently, it was his Hayden Planetarium presentation, or that he wants to show me the twelve different zones that he is creating for “Drums & Space” on Dead & Company tour, or his latest painting. So, I was just as shocked as anyone that it was a firetruck named “Sparky.”
I don’t think it’s a bad idea given I live way out here in west Sonoma county, and although we didn’t get scorched personally by the fires last year, they were awfully close. So, if he wants to have his own fire department, I think it’s a smart thing. Kinda makes me wish that I had my own firetruck. But now I can’t name it “Sparky.” … It was just a little too close for comfort and a lot of people lost everything. It’s still devastating to drive into Santa Rosa and see the edges of one of those devastated neighborhoods.
L4LM: Now that you live out in North California, you have Mickey Hart and Tom Waits and a couple other famous neighbors. What’s it like out there compared to living in the Georgian southern vibe?
Dave Schools: Less swampy. Definitely, less swampy. It’s a totally different culture in every way. Every time I go to Athens, I really miss my friends. I don’t miss the humidity. I certainly don’t miss the allergies that are wreaking havoc at this present moment in the South. But I like it out here. It’s different and it’s new. There are some crazy musicians that I’ve befriended. It’s pretty cool when Les Claypool is your neighbor, and he calls you to come to a tuna barbecue because he caught too much tuna.
I’m very happy that Steve Kimock has moved back here. He lives in the same town that I live in, and he is just a pleasure. We have a family vibe going. We really are trying to create a scene out here where you can find a couple of venues where anything could happen. This little low-key, out-of-the-way place has a whole batch of the kids surrounding Grahame Lesh and Midnight North—somewhat of a larger coterie of guys who can get together and do a pick-up gig and have some fun, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be from the Grateful Dead book.
There’s a thing called the Cosmic Twang that Scott Law and Ross James do. I think the next one is May 9th in San Francisco. I’ll be a part of it, and Neal Casal will be a part of it. Alex Koford will be a part of it. A lot of these people are making records, writing songs, and just playing with each other. Steve Kimock and myself, we feel that’s indicative of a healthy scene and promises great things to come. God knows we can all use some good music this world.
L4LM: Do you miss the road at all, going city to city every night?
DS: Let me quote Rodney Millsaps on that one. He said, “They don’t pay me for the time I spend on stage, they pay me for the schlep.” The time on stage performing is joy. It’s what I love to do, it’s my passion. But the traveling gets old. It’s no fun flying, that’s for sure. Living on a bus is nice—we had one last weekend at Wanee. It’s the first time that we’d been on a bus in a year. It doubles as a cocoon and a place get rest and sometimes a dressing room for festivals.
The road can be hard, and it’s a way of life. One of the hardest things any professional touring musician has to do is rectify the time on tour, on the bus, traveling, what-have-you, and being at home. Getting off the merry-go-round can be difficult. It takes down a lot of musicians. It’s less about being on the road and more about being unable to adjust to not being on the road that is hard. It’s hard on significant others, it’s hard on those who have kids, and it’s even hard on pets. My dog is looking at me like, “Truth, brother.”
L4LM: I’m sure he would love to be on the road with you.
DS: He would… but he wouldn’t.
L4LM: So, you and JB were both English majors, and you’re known as quite the voracious reader. What books have you been getting into these days?
DS: I am halfway through a book called Bunkie Spills which was written by Brad Rosen. Brad lives in Portland, Oregon, and I’ve known Brad for probably thirty years. Brad was the drummer of Jerry Joseph’s band, Little Women, and was Jerry’s longtime drummer for a long time. How’s that for redundancy? They were making a record called Conscious Contact in Athens in the year 2000. Brad was the drummer, and he was like, “I’m taking some creative writing classes.” We were all like, “Yeah, sure, drummer, whatever.” He’s come out with this novel called Bunkie Spills that is getting rave reviews. It’s an amazing piece of work, and I suggest that anyone that likes to read should read that one.
L4LM: We actually share a favorite author, Cormac McCarthy. The Border Trilogy’s All the Pretty Horses remains one of my favorite books to this day.
DS: I don’t think I’ve read anything as harshly economical and depressing as The Road. As a work of writing, it’s unbelievable that such a wordy and verbose author could pare down his style to write such a bleak, bleak novel. I don’t recommend it to anyone that gets depressed easily, but what an amazing piece of work.
L4LM: You said something in a previous interview that caught my eye. You quoted Col. Bruce Hampton, “If I wasn’t holding a guitar, it would probably be an axe.” Purely speculation, in a previous lifetime, what would you imagine yourself as being?
DS: Oh, boy… Probably some pundit who gets strung up for having too much of a mouth on him. I don’t know… I don’t think I was Napoleon or Tutankhamun or anything like that. Sometimes, I feel like I’m a pretty new soul with a skill-set, right now in this lifetime. I’m as prone to failure as anyone. It’s taken me more than half of this lifetime to learn how to stumble and get back up. It’s something I’ve worked hard to learn.
L4LM: You previously mentioned the power of the audience and the importance of having a receptive audience. Is there a particular venue or city that seems to have an audience that is more noticeably involved with the musical developments on stage?
DS: There’s a lot of them. I think the opportunity is there for every city, and I think there are a lot of factors. There was a club called the Cat’s Paw in either Wyoming or Montana—it could be in Missoula, Montana. It just struck me that they were so hungry for the live music experience that they were crowd-surfing during a ballad. We were playing something like “I’m Not Alone” or “C. Brown” or one of those slower songs, and the audience was going nuts! They were slam dancing and crowd surfing. I think it was such a release to be a part of making live music that it became palpable.
It’s like what I was saying earlier about creating the opportunity for something special to happen and if the audience is receptive, maybe as lost in the moment of creation as we are, then a symbiosis happens. Something that I call an “energy rodeo” happens. It’s like a good volley in tennis where we bat some energy toward the audience, and they receive it and turn it back on us, and we hit it back. When it continues that way through a concert, it’s pretty special. It’s really hard to pin down, I don’t think there is a formula. All you can do is try to set up the best circumstances for the possibility of something like that to happen.
L4LM: On an unrelated note, what do you use to keep your hair billowing even indoors?
DS: My most dependable fan. It was purchased at Home Depot, and it runs on 120 volts.
L4LM: It seems to come up a lot in audience conversations.
DS: It was a necessary evil from back in the old days. To not have to wash clothes and to not exist in a sauna. Just a little bit of air moving helps me feel not claustrophobic, and it does have a Medusa effect on my hair. I can’t explain it, but I certainly enjoy it.
L4LM: I know, the photographers do too.
DS: Well, something’s gotta move around in my world.
L4LM: I was wondering if you could comment on the difference in the music industry nowadays as opposed to when you started?
DS: The key word is “industry.” It’s a business, and businesses exist in order to create profit. I was actually talking to the great producer Terry Manning about this at Mempho Festival last fall. I asked him basically the same thing, and he had an interesting viewpoint because he’s been around since the early days of soul music. He was an engineer at Ardent Studios and engineered hits for Stax, Big Star Records, produced Led Zepplin stuff, ZZ Top, Shakira.
He’s been around, and he said, “You are at the end of a bubble we were very, very lucky to exist during.” That bubble was that, as a capitalist country—and we are talking about an industry, the record business—we were able to create, whether it was a wax cylinder, or a ten-inch platter that revolved at 78, or a twelve-inch platter that revolved at 33 1/3rd, or a seven-inch platter with a big hole that spun at 45, or a tiny, little compact disc with the laser, cassettes, 8-tracks, reel to reel tapes. It was a fifty-year bubble where there was something that you can have and hold and had value.
It became a billions and billions of dollars a year industry, and artists benefited and consumers benefited. We’re at the end of it, considering the world has changed in every aspect. People are far more into paying for a subscription than they are for even having a virtual file that they can store on their hard drive. I don’t really know anyone who actually buys songs anymore, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing… but this period of transition has been difficult for artists who are living in the overlap. Luckily, Panic has always sold tickets and merchandise and cool posters and an experience that is shared, so we are lucky.
Young bands now, I don’t think they perceive that something is different. This is the world that they are creating for themselves. They are out on the road, they are creating content, they are posting it. It’s a special period of freedom right now for a young, developing artist. I think it’s just the older cats that are seeing their methods of making a living change. It’s easy to decry how something has ended and is costing them money, but this is evolution. It continues to happen and always will happen. Some people have a good point of view, some people have a bad point of view. I think it’s necessary, and I look forward to seeing what happens. There are a lot of young bands that are capitalizing on the fact that they don’t have to be told how to make a record and what they have to look like. They are in complete control of their destiny at every turn.
L4LM: In terms of freedom, recording, and record labels, I’d have to agree with you, but you guys just re-released Light Fuse, Get Away?
DS: I don’t look at it as living in the past. I think a lot of us that were making records in the 90s. There was no opportunity to create vinyl. Not that vinyl’s coming back. It is a niche market, it’s a fetish. People who love it, really, really love it. There’s also people who could care less. But there was an outcry among Panic fans for the earlier stuff to be put on vinyl. By virtue of what happened with Capricorn Records, who bought them and who own the rights to that material, our management had to do quite a bit of sifting through some big legal mess, just to get the rights for us to put these things on vinyl.
But Light Fuse, Get Away was something that we kept hearing over and over and over again. So, our management had enough foresight to start the digging process about four or five years ago, looking forward to this day that maybe we could actually land it back out on the street in time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the concert that we did to promote Light Fuse, Get Away. So, it worked out great.
L4LM: Rumor has it that Widespread Panic’s time in Mexico is coming to an end. If you had to choose where in the world would you take this destination?
Dave Schools: I think we’ve all always wanted to play in Jamaica. That would be cool. Anywhere, people want to hear us do our thing is going to become a great place to play. Everybody has different ideas. I’d like to play the west part of Mexico. It’s a big world, and it’s hard to get there with gear, but it would be nice to go back to Australia and New Zealand. Anywhere we can put our footprint down and make our music is something great. I can’t speak to that rumor about our time in Mexico coming to an end—I’d have a hard time believing it. It might be in a different part of Mexico. It might not be at that same place, but I wouldn’t put too much credence in that one.
L4LM: How you continue to find inspiration and remain so musically involved after all these years?
DS: It’s all around. It’s everywhere. It’s a matter of being open—something that all of us in Widespread Panic share, something that JB has certainly strived to create. We all do it in our own way. I can get inspiration from the way the light is coming through or reflecting on my ceiling when I wake up. I can get inspiration from finding that one kid in the crowd that isn’t having the time of his life, and that can inspire me to try and change that for him. Maybe, he is having the time of his life, and I want to push him over the top. Maybe, my big toe is inspiring to me, you know… It’s everywhere.
The hardest part for me is getting out of my own way. Not getting hung up on some little issue that I’ve encountered that has nothing to do with making music with Widespread Panic. Like I said, this lifetime is spent learning. For me personally, I’ve come a long way in not tripping yourself up. It gets better, it gets easier. Part of this whole not-being-on-the-road-all-the-time thing has certainly been inspirational. I can feel it. When we do get together onstage and start to do our thing, we’re not exhausted. People are excited to be there, and that’s certainly what this new plan is trying to foster. We’re excited to be there and not beaten up by travel and that’s inspiration too.
For more information about this weekend’s Trondossa Music & Arts Festival in North Charleston, South Carolina, on May 5th and 6th, head here. For its inaugural year, the festival has tapped Widespread Panic, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Moon Taxi, Big Something, and Hiss Golden Messenger, making for a festival you won’t want to miss.
For fans who will be down in New Orleans over the next few nights for Jazz Fest, Eric Krasno is bringing The Daze Between Band back to New Orleans, and this year, the virtuosic guitar player from Soulive and Lettuce has curated not one but two special nights during Jazz Fest. For the two-night run, Krasno has put together an impressive all-star cast featuring members of Widespread Panic, Medeski Martin & Wood, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and The Marcus King Band.
While Wednesday’s show has sold-out but will be available to stream here, fans can pick up tickets to the Daze Between Band’s Thursday show also featuring Eric Krasno, Duane Trucks, Marcus King, and Deshawn “D’Vibes” Alexander here. You can stream Wednesday’s performance during a free webcast here, which is presented by The Legendary Underground Game of ZONK.