All Together Now
Hard Working Americans release a unifying new live collection
Since the '60s, live albums have served as both filler between studio releases or as a captured moment of greatness. In the case of Hard Working Americans, We're All In This Together serves as both a solid live documentary and a bridge to an already-completed collection due next year.
The prolific supergroup is led by singer-songwriter Todd Snider and bassist Dave Schools from Widespread Panic - with able support from Neal Casal, Duane Trucks, Chad Staehly and Jessee Aycock. All are seasoned players who have jammed with the best of 'em, while delivering precision-honed variations of a steadily increasingly canon of innovative material.
The record bristles with the combined excitement and loose-limbed carnival spirals of the best of the Allmans, Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic. The genial Schools, who continues to till the fertile fields of Athens and the laid-back wine country greenery of the west coast, spoke with INsite from a recent tour stop in Dallas.
How's the tour going so far?
We've kind of surprised ourselves. We're sort of stumping this live album right now but we've also recorded and mixed a whole new studio record that'll be out sometime in early 2018. We've started playing those songs already and then - while we were rehearsing in Nashville this week - we wrote a new song and we played it for the first time last night.
That's a ton of stuff to sort through.
I think it's the old rule of keep 'em guessing while trying to stay one step ahead of yourself. With cats like these and such an amazingly gifted songwriter like Todd Snider, anything is possible. It's really a great feeling to be out there playing songs we haven't even recorded yet.
I love Todd's rap on the album about the folksinger trying to find his way.
Yeah, he's looking for answers and was told it would be blowin' in the wind, but the wind isn't telling him anything. Then this band comes along. So where are we going? That seems like a good place to be because we don't even know where we are going as a human race, but we need to remember we really are all in this together.
Every time I think of you, I think about [mutual friend] Vic [Chesnutt, the late singer-songwriter from Athens].
Yeah, it's been ten years now, right? Our musical family is getting smaller. People are leaving this plane of existence and leaving some really big gaps. We've lost family members and mentors and people we consider to be our spiritual leaders. Even with [legendary producer] Johnny Sandlin passing just a couple of days ago; he was a man who taught me how to detect a groove. But as Jim Morrison said, 'No one here gets out alive.'
The older we get, the more it happens.
That's what my mom told me when she was about my age. When a lot of people she'd loved and friends who'd passed in their '50s, she said, 'The longer we live, the more people we have to say goodbye to.' For me, this year in particular has been about picking up where people who have influenced me have left off. Duane Trucks and I have been talking a lot about the importance of carrying on. Like with Bruce [Hampton]. If he had ever thought his passing would stop anyone from carrying on and continuing to raise their own bar artistically, he would have been mortified. That's what we have to do when we cross the 50-yard line. We have to find some young 'uns and give back.
Can we talk about "Hampton 70" for minute? [The tragic show in May at the Fox where Col. Bruce Hampton actually died at the end of the performance.]
Well you know I was onstage when it happened. I still don't know what to say about it. That's how shamen and kings and great men go out - via a celebration of love and respect, surrounded by people they've touched. The shock lasted for weeks before the grieving even really started. And then Gregg [Allman] passed away. I was like, 'Man, the hits just keep comin.'' But that seems to be the lesson of the year. Keep truckin' on, 'til you can't truck no more.
The new record is definitely a celebration of the live spirit.
We record everything. It's a lesson we've learned from the Dead and the Allmans and Phish and even Panic. The whole idea of the tour was to make it like a revue with what Todd was calling "invocations," his intros to the songs. He's always working on those because they bring the audience together and they're just beautiful things. For this, most of it came from Iron City in Birmingham and we filled it in with a song from Atlanta and one from L.A. But mostly it's the full live show from Iron City.
That's the best way to do it.
I agree. That's the whole thing about We're All In This Together. I can't really speak for Todd, but the vibe of the band for me has always been - since there are continual new cycles of fear, war mongering and name-calling - can we just get away from all that for a while? Can we get away for a couple of hours and go out and see a show and dance around and have some fun? So rather than just screaming from our soapboxes, the message is simple. Let's find out what we have in common. Let's share a groove and have a good time. We're gonna sing some songs and you can take those with you - and then you can think about them later if you want to.
Hard Working Americans play October 5 at Variety Playhouse. For more information, please visit variety-playhouse.com.