Fusion “Newgrass” with Warren Hood and Band
What are your strategies for landing tours?
Most of my playing career (15 years) I have been a side man. Only in the past 2 years have I started taking my own band on the road. It’s a whole new ball game when you’re the one in charge. When I was a side man all I had to do was show up and play. Now that I’m in charge I have a lot more duties. I spend much of my day on the phone or typing emails to my agent, manager, label, and band. Basically I run a business. I do a lot of extra work for a lot less money than I made as a side man but I do it because I love writing and playing music. I would do anything to be able to write and play my own music.
What are some of the unwritten rules of touring?
I would say the biggest unwritten rule of touring is to respect everyone you’re traveling with and respect their space. A bus or a van can mean a tight living space. Don’t leave clothes or bags around the shared areas. If people are napping try to keep the volume down. Always be on time. There is nothing worse than being that last guy to the bus when everyone else was on time and waiting for you. It’s all about respect.
Any Spinal Tap moments you have had happen on the road?
My worst touring experience was a tour with my band up to New Mexico. Our van broke down in the desert of northwest Texas. We had the club owner in NM rent a 15-passenger van to come pick us up. We had to put the back van benches in the trailer to fit the gear in the van. Since there was no trailer hitch on the van we left the trailer with the benches in the desert. We could not get a one-way rental so at the end of the tour we had to go halfway home to get the benches in the van to return it back to New Mexico. We had to rent a U-haul to tow the trailer home but a U-Haul only fits two people inside. Finally, we had to rent an economy car to get the other band members home. In all we had one broken down vehicle to repair and 3 rental vehicles to make us get out of that mess. I lost about two grand that weekend.
What are some of the good parts?
The best part of touring is going to festivals and seeing friends that you only see once in a while. I like festivals that aren’t too big where musicians play together around a campfire in wee hours. This year I played Merlefest and wound up pickin’ with Peter Rowan in the Hampton Inn lobby all night. We passed around a bottle of Jack and told stories. I’ll never forget that. Some of my other favorite festivals include Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Old Settler’s, and the Kerrville Folkfest. Hardly Strictly is massive but the incredible lineup makes it worth it.
The entire music industry seems to be rocketing towards crowd-funding (Kickstarter/Indiegogo). Even signed artists are crowd-funding whatever they can. Do you think the crowd will ever get tired of funding as it becomes more mainstream, watered down and probably just plain silly?
I am in favor of crowd-funding. I made my record with the help of one fan/friend investor. Labels don’t offer as much support as they used to and it’s important for fans to help bands out if they can afford to and they want to. People will only support the bands they like so I don’t see them getting turned off by too many people asking. If you don’t like the band then don’t give them money to make records. If you do like the band then giving them money to help make the record is a good way to feel more connected to the project.
So you just had a new album drop. What’s the feel and vibe of it? How long did it take to complete the entire process? Who was all involved? And how did they challenge you in the studio?
The new record took two years to complete and release… that isn’t normal. Our producer, Charlie Sexton, often tours as a guitar player in Bob Dylan’s band. Dylan also recorded a new record and released it during the same year we were working on ours. We would get a few days in studio and then Charlie would disappear with Bob for months at a time. When he would come back I would be out with my band. We had a hard time lining up our schedules but we finally got the record done. It was well worth the wait. The core of the group consists of Willie Pipkin, Emily Gimble, and myself. In the studio we collaborated with Charlie, J.J. Johnson, Dony Wynn, Lloyd Maines, and our long time bass player Nate Rowe. The record starts out intense and rockin with little to do with the fiddle. The focus is on quality of songs, arrangements, and vocals. As the you listen deeper into the record it sounds a little more Americana with the fiddle(sometimes twin fiddles) stepping out. The first 3 songs were almost not recorded. I did not even play those songs for Charlie until after the first day of tracking. The record was almost entirely Americana. After day one Charlie asked “What else ya got?…” I played him those 3 songs and his eyes lit up, “That’s what we’re missing!” he said. He was right. I’m not used to vocal effects and big booming drums, bass, and electric guitars. Charlie got me out of my comfort zone and I’m glad he did. The sound of the record which is largely due to Charlie’s production is my new comfort zone.
What bands outside your genre are you into?
One band people might not guess I’m into is Ween. I first heard their country album “12 Country Golden Greats”(only 10 tracks long) when I was a teenager. It opened me up to their entire repertoire which covers punk, country, metal, rock, soul, you name it they play it. The music often sounds serious while the lyrics don’t. It’s hard to tell sometimes if they’re joking or not. It’s not for everyone but once you get it it is undeniably great! My old band The South Austin Jug Band used to cover several of their songs.
Besides music what else do you geek out on? Please geek out on your geekiness.
What do I geek out on other than music? I used to do a lot of fishing when I had more time. Our guitar player/co-writer Willie Pipkin is an expert bass fisherman. He’s got a nice bass boat that he takes out a few times a week when the weather cooperates. He routinely catches 10lb bass. We only use artificial lures and release everything we catch. When I manage to find a little more time I would love to fish a tournament with Willie. If I call a violin a fiddle I usually have to duck and cover as the violinist is throwing things at me. You were a classically trained violinist and switched to the fiddle. How did that happen and why? A violin and a fiddle are the same thing. I think classical players prefer a different sounding instrument than those who play bluegrass, country, or jazz but it’s the same instrument. For the official record I call my ax a fiddle and I call my fiddle my ax. I started off playing classical at age 11 and was strictly classical for the first several years. My father was also a fiddle player. At home I was always surrounded folk music, blues, country, jazz, and rock’n roll. It all mixed up somehow and became the style I play now. I attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston where I really honed in on my craft and shaped my unique style. I play a German violin from 1920 made by Rhinald Schmidt. It’s a piece of Schmidt and I call it a fiddle:).
So what’s up next for you?
Later this fall we will be in California. To find out about our band and where our tour is taking us please visit warrenhood.com