With their new album due out on the 15th of February via SNAKEFARM/FANTASTY RECORDS, we sit down with Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band for a chat about Signs, the joys of analogue recording, and life on the road, for part one of our special feature.
ERIK DE’VIKING: Thank you for taking the time to have a chat
DEREK TRUCKS: Yeah man, thank you
ERIK DE’VIKING: It’s been three years since your last studio album, Let Me Get By, and two since your live album, Live From the Fox Oakland, what can we expect from Signs?
DEREK TRUCKS: I don’t know man, I guess the band… we’re constantly moving and gigging, and it feels like it evolves – slash matures as it goes, and I think the last handful of years.. I think a lot of shit went down, so there’s a lot to write about. Personally and in the world. So I think the band is better at writing what you’ve lived through, and I think that’s what this record was more than anything… And maybe the process of making this record was a bit different than anything we’ve done – just going back to the old way of making records – analogue tape – and it kind of slows the process down, but kind of focuses the process. I think maybe the sound and maybe the intention of the album is a little clearer than anything we’ve been able to do to date, and hopefully you become better and more comfortable at getting to the crux of it – you know as a player and as the band
ERIK DE’VIKING: That’s interesting, because I’m quite particularly a fan of analogue. I think digital is fine and you can do an awful lot with it, but the production values on analogue… It’s very very difficult to match that… And signs is an incredible album. The production values are superb, and it has a really big, plush, live sound. And it feels particularly well executed…
DEREK TRUCKS: awesome…
ERIK DE’VIKING: I’ve spun it a few times now, and it’s really a joy to listen to, because you can really hear everything, every nuance, every note, and I was going to ask you what ingredients came together to form the album, but it sounds like you’ve already mentioned that in that yes there has been ‘quite’ a lot going on in the world, in the last few years [chuckles]
DEREK TRUCKS: heh yeah, understatement… [laughing]
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah, and there’s no shortage of band members, so I’m sure you’ve got plenty of options for inspiration, so does that make it sort of a communal effort or different ideas fly around and come together solo and then build up, or is it kinda just go with the flow?
DEREK TRUCKS: It’s a bit of all that. We gig so much that there are a lot of moments that happen in the course of a show, you know, or it’ll be an improvisational moment, or groove that just happens in a sound check, or in the middle of a show somewhere. It’ll feel so good that you note it and you think that there’s a seed of a tune there, or that’s a thing, or that’s a chorus, that’s whatever… And for some of those, you just kind of mark down and collect them as you go, and when you get a chance to get together and write, you bust those things out and see if they’ll go anywhere. We certainly had songs on this record and previous records that came out of that, but a lot of times, Mike Mattison, who’s one of the principle song writers, and he’ll come down, you know, two three days before we have the band down, and me and him, and Sue, will get together. He always has a few ideas that he’s been cooking up, thinking about the band and it’ll be that day that we’ll start from nothing and start to pull stuff out of the air. And you know, Sue will always have seeds of tunes, or full tunes, and we just start throwing everything against the wall, or really just start recording everything with a few acoustic guitars, because I feel like a good song should be able to stand on its own…
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah…
DEREK TRUCKS: …with just a voice and a guitar, or a melody should be strong enough, where you don’t have to have all hands on deck to make it speak.
ERIK DE’VIKING: yes I know what you mean…
DEREK TRUCKS: So most of the songs start that way. And you know, I love that process, and we don’t get to do it at times, because having a band this big, you gotta work and you’ve gotta keep it moving. There’s only so much time in a year, and it seems to get away from you [chuckles] so we really have to schedule and focus, but also take time to get together and decompress, which is what always leads to making a record with this band. But back to what you were saying before about the analogue stuff… Man, I really do think that it is a really important element of this record, and hopefully going forward we are able to continue to take that much time and make our records, because I don’t think there is any other way of really capturing that sound or that feeling digitally, because we tried… We have an old Neve console from the 70s – we put every analogue piece of gear possible, but we always hit ProTools at some point..
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah…
DEREK TRUCKS: You know, whenever it goes digital, it’s digital…
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah, you’re losing bytes on sound, and there’s nothing you can do about that. You’re never going to have a pure soundwave, you’re always going to be losing chunks, no matter how minute, or how many things you have processed into it to try and round it out a bit, you’re never going to be able to capture that magic that…
DEREK TRUCKS: …that’s always in the room with you
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah and that you can’t manage to capture…
DEREK TRUCKS: yeah, that’s true [chuckles] and you know, there’s just something about the process, of not hitting a space bar, or there’s something about the sound of rewinding tape when you’re going to do an overdub, that just kinda puts you in a place, I don’t know…
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah
DEREK TRUCKS: and so this time around, I feel like it feels like another member of the band, you know, that damned tape machine… [laughing]
ERIK DE’VIKING: [laughing]
DEREK TRUCKS: you know, being finicky and not wanting to work, and then no one is working [laughing] and it goes on and on…
ERIK DE’VIKING: And the joys of splicing…[chuckles]
DEREK TRUCKS: yeah [laughing] and you gotta be nice to it
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah
DEREK TRUCKS: [still laughing]
ERIK DE’VIKING: So given that you went that way, who produced the album? Where did you record it? Was it something you’ve setup yourselves?
DEREK TRUCKS: yeah it’s at our studio in Jacksonville, Florida, it was me, and Jim Scott, and Bobby Tis – the three of us… we listed it as producer, engineer, mixing, all three of us, because we had all hands on deck, you know? And you know, you need that many hands, to do it that way, so it was… you know, I loved it… it reminded me of the first record that I was ever a part of… and that’s just how everyone did it, and then all of a sudden everyone didn’t do it that way…
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah you could basically run it off of a laptop…[chuckles]
DEREK TRUCKS: [laughing] it was like hold on, hold on, wait a minute… and you know, I get it, it got really easy, the process got a lot easier when you’re going digital and you’ve got unlimited tracks, and all this shit, but that’s… that’s a curse a lot of the time, you know it’s nice to… but when you have a twelve piece band and you’ve got twenty four tracks – what gets what?
ERIK DE’VIKING: yes precisely
DEREK TRUCKS: so it becomes, what’s important to you right now? [chuckles] So it kind of made everybody adult-up a little bit, and it was really something… [laughing] it was really good…
ERIK DE’VIKING: because I’m a few years older than you, I remember what it used to be like, and I saw the transition into ProTools and everything else, and yes it can make things easy, but it can soon become a crutch, and a living nightmare, if you’re not careful
DEREK TRUCKS: yeah, definitely, without a doubt…
ERIK DE’VIKING: whereas with analogue you are forced to work within the confines that are available, and if you don’t like it… well [laughing] there’s not really a lot you can do about it except, just go with the flow and see how it comes out..
DEREK TRUCKS: [laughing] yeah exactly. You think about your favourite records of all times, and those guys are working with eight tracks [laughing] so you can make it work if the idea is good enough. So I think that’s the ticket.
ERIK DE’VIKING: You have a fresh sound, which reflects your influences and the people that you, in particular have been blessed to work with over your amazing career, but is very much unique to the band. There is no mistaking who you are listening to when you listen to one of your songs. And with this album in particular… cause at the moment I keep going back and forth, ‘When will I begin’ is my current favourite, but frankly you have 11 excellent tracks, and you chose ‘Hard Case’ as the first single… But how do you choose your singles when you have that much quality to work with? I mean surely it’s gotta be a bit like choosing who’s your favourite child?
DEREK TRUCKS: [laughing] you know it’s funny, I never have a good read on what the single is going to be, and you know this time around, uh, we didn’t play the record for anyone at Concord until we were done, and I mean done done.. mixed and finished… Then we had a little listening party for them, and ‘Hard Case’ was the first one that everyone was kinda keyed in on, and I kind of let them roll with it, and it’s funny…[chuckles] ‘When Will I Begin’ has been for me, at least lately, that’s the one that if it were down to me, if I were choosing, that would be the next single… I love that tune. That was a song that Sue had fully formed. It was actually two songs of hers that she had been playing on acoustic guitar and I think it’s one really amazing song. I think we collided those things together, we sat around with the band, worked on the arrangement, we recorded one, and then maybe six months went by, and then we toured, and we wrote more tunes, and then I had kinda forgotten about it, and then our drummer, he went back and played that first demo that we did, and even with just one mic in the room, it just kinda jumped out of the speaker, and I was like, you know, what were we thinking? That’s gotta be in the mix! So we just started playing it. We haven’t played it live yet, but we’ve been working all these tunes back up, so that when the record comes out, we can hit em. And that one kind of plays itself, it’s got a pretty amazing arc to it, you know? And there’s something about a tune, that’s written by the person that’s singing it, and all written by the person that’s singing it, that I think makes it pretty powerful. When she delivers it, she’s not interpreting anyone else’s ideas, that’s her just spitting out what she’s thinking and feeling, and it doesn’t get much more direct that than. I think that’s probably why it hits me the way that it does, but uh, I’m with you, I think that, and ‘The Strength in What Remains’ – those two for me are the ones that I go back to
ERIK DE’VIKING: Yeah, there is definitely something sort of transcendent, at work behind the sound there, and I’m sure live, that is going to be one of those moments, on any given night on the tour
DEREK TRUCKS: Yeah I’m excited to play that one
ERIK DE’VIKING: Yeah I can imagine, and the chemistry between you and your wife Sue cannot only be seen during your live performances but heard and felt in the quality of your music. But when it comes to a long tour – because you guys work hard, you don’t exactly take many breaks – Is it difficult maintaining that over a long tour, or do you simply feed off each other and it keeps it fresh every night?
DEREK TRUCKS: yeah, you know we’re lucky in that we’re on the road with people that we like hanging out with and being with, and being around and you know. When a tour gets long, sometimes you need days to you know, kind of be off on your own, and you give each other space when you need it. Then there’s a bunch of other people, that we love hanging out with – the “band hang” on the road is a big part of what keeps it fresh. Everybody likes being around each other, and you know, we’re together constantly, but it’s not like it’s just the two of us together rolling down the road, it’s like it’s two of us and a bunch of friends that we love, so I think that that keeps the dynamic fresh too. We’re like a big travelling family, and when we’re not with… you know we’re not home, and not able to be with our family, and our kids all the time, it’s uh, it still feels like family and then, and then the summer tours… For me, it’s my favourite, because the kids aren’t in school, and our kids our out in… and we have an extra tour bus in the summer, and our kids come out, and that’s when it feels completely right. But you know, this time of year is probably the toughest for us, because usually when they’re in school we don’t tour for more than a weekend or two, and then this time of year we go out for two – three weeks, and you’re away, and that’s when it gets a little tough, because you want to be in two places at once, it’s not something you can do… I will say that’s when facetime and your phone, and just being able to connect with home, you know, makes a big difference, so we’re lucky we have that. And our kids are in high school now, and they’re busier than we are, and I’m like “you’ve gotta make time for us” [laughing]
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah that whole dynamic changes [chuckles]
DEREK TRUCKS: oh it sure does [laughing] it’s pretty funny, the whole thing shifts, and now it’s like “no no… I need some dad time today guys – so I’m taking ya!”
ERIK DE’VIKING: But I can imagine it can be a logistical nightmare when you do tour, particularly overseas, when you have such a large band – I mean I’ve been told by multiple musicians that it’s always that road, that if something can go wrong, then it will, and when there’s 12 of you, does that increase the odds? [chuckles]
DEREK TRUCKS: [laughing] Oh without a doubt, I mean, I often think of our road manager, and say “you have the worst job in the world” [laughing] “You get to babysit 12 crazy people”, and not including the crew.. that’s 20 something of us on the road…
ERIK DE’VIKING: yeah I can imagine…
DEREK TRUCKS: and uh, in the States, where we’ve toured a long time, and we kinda have a handle on, it’s still insane travelling with this many people. [laughing] So when we get overseas and we get to Europe, and we get to… Japan is a little different, because once you get over there, everything is kind of set up, and you just roll through, but when you’re bouncing through different countries on a European tour, it’s a lot to think about. There are a lot of moving parts, and like you said, a lot can go wrong, and it usually does, and you just have to charge through, and again. I’ve been a part of bands where people are all there because they’re great players, and maybe it works on stage, but there’s not a lot of hanging out that goes on afterwards, but this band and the crew – I mean everybody ends up at the same place after the show, [laughing] everybody likes being around each other, so I think that makes a big difference. I don’t think that makes his job entirely easier [laughing], but it does make him enjoy the work, and appreciate it differently. Yeah our crew gets the credit for keeping a 12 piece band rolling down the road. They work insanely hard, and they get zero of the glory [laughing]
ERIK DE’VIKING: And speaking of touring, you’ve already mentioned you’re preparing the songs for live shows, any plans on bringing it to the UK?
DEREK TRUCKS: I think we’re heading over in a few months, I think we have two shows in London. I’m not sure how many shows we’re doing over there, but I know we have some coming up.
ERIK DE’VIKING: Then I’ll definitely see you in London
DEREK TRUCKS: So we’re there in April – 26th and 27th at the Palladium
ERIK DE’VIKING: oh excellent. Right well, thank you for your time.
DEREK TRUCKS: Cheers, thank you man
ERIK DE’VIKING: All the best for the album launch and the start of the tour.
DEREK TRUCKS: Thanks a lot and hope to catch you in London
Written by: Erik De’Viking
Photos by: Shervin Lainez
Erik De’Viking is a London based freelance music journalist. His musical interests include blues, rock, and metal in all its forms, and he is constantly on the lookout for new bands and genres to discover and later preach about to the masses.
My Global Mind – Reviewer / Music Journalist
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