Bassist Rob Derhak has had a productive COVID quarantine with his first solo album, Songs For Other People, and new side band BlueStar Radiation with fellow moe. vet Vinnie Amico on drums, guitarist Tim Palmieri (Lotus, Kung Fu) on guitar, and keyboard player Nate Wilson (Ghosts of Jupiter) on keys. With beloved friend and moe. bandmate guitar player Chuck Garvey on the road to recovery from his recent stroke we thought it might be a good time to catch up with the bottom-end root shaker about how well he’s managed to stay productive during these tense times.
[Note: Conversation edited for length and clarity]
We first touched on how the new album, Songs For Other People, evolved from his original response to the Covid quarantine shut down.
Rob Derhak: I had a lot of other musicians sharing ideas with me because everyone was confused with what they were supposed to do with their lives. Ryan Stasik (Umphrey’s McGee) and a girl I was doing lessons with on GOLively turned me onto doing Cameos. It wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to do, but it turned out to be a pretty good use of my time, in terms of making a lil bit extra dough, and I ended up meeting some interesting people. I kinda burnt out on that. It’s weird. It wasn’t very personal though. It ended up with just me saying hey, and folks wanted me to say some pretty weird stuff. Everyone was scrambling.
It’s pretty easy to record these days. Basically, you need a computer and a microphone. You just gotta learn how to use the stuff. I don’t remember how the final idea came to me but I was doing these live shows from my house, essentially on Zoom, as well as the lessons. I was spending the week rehearsing for these shows, building the loops to play along with so I could deliver a show to all these people at their homes to enjoy. What happened was I started to get invested in creating all these tracks to play along with and I found myself really enjoying that part of the process. The shows themselves were fun but this was good too.
I wanted to write more but I didn’t know what to write about. Then I realized…”If I can play shows for other people why can’t I write a song for other people?” I wanted to keep it simple and I didn’t wanna spend a lot of time writing all the songs but I wasn’t even sure I could do this. So I went on my social media and said “Hey! How about a contest where you give me an idea for a song and I’ll pick the idea I like the best and I’ll write the song for free.” A girl called Karen Tucker won the contest and I wrote a song called “Hey Karen” which was basically about Covid.
Everyone loved it so I decided to try it. I solicited song ideas, picked ten, and charged $500. I put $100 from each track towards our crew. Then I spent like two weeks per song, writing, mixing, and banging them out. Any of the stuff, outside of the drums, was me. I played all the guitar and bass and used the keyboard to play any of the other weird-sounding instruments. I know that $500 isn’t cheap for a lot of people and I did feel kinda bad but it was a lot of time and effort spent in my day. I ended up figuring it out and I was making like a lil less than five bucks an hour, all said and done.
Rob Derhak – Songs For Other People
Derhak was especially pleased with the non-financial rewards the project provided.
Rob Derhak: It was so rewarding just to do this. One guy who got one, Chris Thiessan, his daughter is a painter. She appreciated it so much she ended up doing a [thank you] painting of my two dogs, one of who is no longer with us, that sits in my dining room. A lot of these folks had me write songs for their families and responded with messages like “I cried when I heard this” and such. In the end I felt kinda bad when I finished because people had more ideas but I just couldn’t focus on it anymore and put the effort into it at the time.
Since some of these songs have already appeared on setlists for Derhak’s latest side project, BlueStar Radiation, I asked him how they ownership of the tracks worked.
Rob Derhak: Well, I still retain the royalties. I said to the people “The songs are mine, but I wrote them for, and to, you.” I sent them out the handwritten lyrics and let them know that they’re for whoever, about whatever, because of you.
To close the subject, we asked if this was just a “one and done” project or whether we could see another of these “Tin Pan Alley” projects happen again in the future.
Rob Derhak: I definitely have more music I want to write. I would like to do another solo record. I don’t know if I would do it this way again. I might like to do it more the traditional way, where I write songs and have other musicians come in and play in a studio. That said I am really liking playing with the guys in BlueStar Radiation and I could definitely see doing something with them.
Derhak’s new side project BlueStar Radiation with members of moe., Lotus, and more had some very well received gigs starting at the end of last year. We asked Rob about the speedy turnaround from inception to viable live band.
Rob Derhak: The quickest way to get a band together is to have a drummer and a bass player who have been playing together or making sound together already because if you can have that, then you can have the sound of a band that has been playing together already forever, so Vinnie was a no-brainer. And Vinnie’s always up for playing, that’s all he ever wants to do. I don’t know if I was even able to fish the sentence “Hey, do you wanna join this band?” before he said yes.
The funny thing about Vinnie is…you don’t see what all he can do just playing with moe. When we started rehearsals for BlueStar he just started wailing away with all this energy and I asked him why he never really did that with moe. and he said “There’s just already so much going on and it just doesn’t fit the song.”
We made a list of tunes we wanted to cover and sent some originals between us and met up for the first time three days before our first show. Basically, we had three days of rehearsal and just lived at Vinnie’s house. It was like a bonding experience, a music camp where we could just get all crazy. It was fun. Going into the first show it was like…”Welp, I hope this works out!'”
BlueStar Radiation – Oxbrox Brewery – Portland, ME – 11/21/21
Jamming, that’s just what we do. Guys like Tim and Nate have been at it just as long as we have, basically. But we wanted to do something a little different. First, we want to have it really rock….and then jam and improvise. We picked songs that we thought would be good vehicles for that. It’s not like there was any kinda out…it was more like “Here’s the open part” and we knew that was gonna play as long as the crowd wanted it to play. So we would just watch the crowd and each other to make sure we were all having fun with it. Sometimes it was both, a couple times it was neither!
As a bass player you’re trying to bridge the gap between the rhythm and the melody. If there’s two people playing solos and Vinnie and I are just locked in I’m looking back and forth between who’s taking a solo and trying to support whatever they’re doing. That’s just how I play. It helps to remember with moe. is that over time I have developed these bass lines that are maybe a little more complicated. Maybe over time that will happen again.
I gotta admit, these guys are so good I’m a little bit intimidated. I found myself being a bit more of a “singer-bassist” than a “bassist-singer” with these guys. Tim’s in all these bands and can do all these different things so well almost effortlessly. I was looking back and forth between him and Nate and just making sure I was doing what I needed to do, supporting their stuff the best I could.
Nate Wilson, he’s like one of those guys everyone should know about but doesn’t. He’s one of the best keyboard players I’ve worked with. He’s played with us before and he just figures it out. If [moe.] were to ever have a keyboard player that would be the guy.
When asked how it went putting together their original list of tracks to take on the road, Derhak admitted it did not go the way they initially anticipated.
Rob Derhak: The first thought was everyone come up with three covers and three originals. We cut and added some stuff over the first two nights and the last night. After we’d put in a full day, we went out to dinner and got a little bit hammered and came back and ended up jamming for like three hours, ripping out new songs and covers one after the other. Just drinking a few, having some fun.
Thanks to COVID it seemed like none of us had really just ripped loose, had some jams, and had that kind of fun. We weren’t planning on playing a Wang Chung song but Tim busted it out and it was really fun to play. It probably ended up getting the most positive reception of all the tunes we played. At this point [our repertoire] is probably like 25 or so songs. Before this next time we go out, I wanna focus some more on getting a few more originals down.
When asked if there’s a future to BlueStar Radiation, Derhak had this to say.
Rob Derhak: We all came away from this loving it, loving the experience. Clearly, Vinnie and I are looking for something to do [laughs]. Tim is probably the busiest guy I know but he loved it. Nate loved it as well. They’re all on board. We’ve got some other dates planned. We’re in the honeymoon phase.
Judging from the reaction and fast ticket sales BlueStar shows have seen it looks like the fans are over the moon as well. Until that happy day when Chuck is ready to saddle up and ride again, it looks like Derhak and his music-making friends have more than enough to fill their time. Stay up to date on any tour announcements by liking the band’s Facebook page.