Widespread Panic: "You Have To Change With The Times and Adapt"

Categories: Interview, Q&A

Widespread Panic press 2013
After nearly 30 years, Georgia-based jam band Widespread Panic took a well-deserved and well-earned break from their relentless touring schedule for most of 2012. Luckily for their ever-loving, ever-devoted fanbase, the break only lasted one year, but compared to their usual schedule that must have seemed like a lifetime.

The spring, Widespread Panic got back on the road, and on Sunday they'll be arriving at Flagstaff's Pepsi Amphitheatre for their only show in Arizona. Describing a Widespread Panic show is difficult--it's an experience that the fans and friends in attendance all share, and the only way to grasp that unity is to be a part of it.

Back on the road, and with some newly written music in their sets, Widespread Panic seems to be in full swing already. Up on the Sun caught up with bassist Dave Schools ahead of the band's arrival in Flagstaff, and he offered us his insights on their fans, bootlegged recordings of concerts, and the band's belief in giving back to the people who have given them so much.

Read More: Read our print feature on Widespread Panic, in this week's issue.

Describe Widespread Panic fans to me.
I'm fond of describing them as being similar to Star Trek fans. They're valiant, they're over-analytical to a fault, and they'll show up and buy tickets and get in the front row. Then, they'll go online and analyze the show to pieces, and whether they like that show or not they'll be back for more.

There was what would be the old Star Trek, which would be with Mike Houser playing lead guitar. There's the transitional period with George McConnell playing lead guitar. Now, there is The Next Generation, which is Jimmy Herring playing lead guitar.

People love to argue about the original Star Trek versus The Next Generation. There aren't really any right or wrong answers. Panic fans are a dedicated bunch, and God bless 'em.

What can the audience expect to see when you play in Flagstaff on the 14th?
They can expect some unexpected rock and roll. We've got some new songs in the hopper we've been working on in our rehearsal room. We're getting back into our full setlist rotation after taking a year off. We can really pull from about 150 songs--you take a year off and then do a short spring tour, you don't really get to break all of them out. That process is always ongoing.

The band's hiatus didn't last very long. Why do you think that is?
It wasn't really a hiatus; it was more of a sabbatical. People have kids that are going to college and we've been on the road for more than 25 years, and we just needed to do some different things. Personally, anything I do on the side musically I pick up some skills and learn new things that I can bring back.

Hiatus sounds like a medical condition of some kind. I prefer the term sabbatical, where we go and refill our wells, no matter what the well needs to be full. It worked. Everybody came back rejuvenated with new ideas and here we go again.

What do you expect from a live show?
Well, you always want perfection, but there's always a lot of spontaneity and improvisation. We [want] communication, openness, permission to be ourselves within our ensemble, and to give our fans an experience which they can argue about the relative perfection of.

How does the band interact with each other and the audience?
Interacting with each other has a lot of dimensions to it. Can we all hear each other? How do we feel that day? What does the room we're in sound like? There are things that can make it a losing battle to begin with, like if it's a tall echoing ice hockey arena. If it's a really well-tailored acoustic environment, then we have a leg up on it.

As far as the importance of the audience, it can't be understated. They provide a lot of energy for us. There is a lot of two-way communication. Even in large venues, it can be pretty intimate feeling when everything is cracking the way it's meant to. I guess for us that would be perfection, when we know we are delivering optimum sound and optimum energy to our audience so they can enjoy it, hear it, process it and feed it back to us. It gets to be [similar to] a really well-performed tennis volley on the best nights. We bat it out there and they bat it back.

How have you grown musically over your career?
When it comes to learning your craft with a group of people it's kind of like a team sport. It takes playing a lot of games and doing a lot of rehearsal and getting to know the people who are on your team. You learn how they do things and how you fit in with that to create an overall sound.

We're always picking up new things and hearing new music that we like and we're changing and evolving. To me, the best thing is never getting to a spot where you think you've learned everything. That's never going to happen because I know there's so much more for me to learn out there in the world.

What is something you know now that you wish you would've known when you were starting out?
I wish I understood the power of silence more, but I think that's a beginner's problem in anything. You pick up some skills and you're young, and you want to show them off. With maturity comes figuring out exactly when to use those skills for their optimum effect. One of the greatest skills in music is knowing when to shut the fuck up.

After the jump: "There we are, singing our original music, which has never been released, and people are singing the words with us."

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