Dave Schools, bassist for Widespread Panic for the past 26 years, has found a new role in the time that Panic has taken off, bassist for Mickey Hart Band. Playing with Hart, one of two original drummers for the Grateful Dead, has been a new venture for the bassist who has spent the vast majority of his career playing with Widespread Panic. Lauren Lagowski, contributor to UpstateLIVE, talked with Schools prior to the Mickey Hart Band performance at The Tralf in Buffalo.
Lauren Lagowski: You recently moved to San Francisco and soon linked up with Mickey Hart, what was the first meeting with Mickey like and how did he invite you to join the band?
Dave Schools: Turns out that we are neighbors in the beautiful western part of Sonoma County. Seemed like a good idea to the both of us that we got together to see how far we could push mutual love of outer space and rhythm. Obviously, it went pretty far because we now have this killer band and a great album, Mysterium Tremendum.
LL: Bassists play in tandem with drummers, how has playing with Mickey and Ian Herman differed from playing with Todd and Sonny from Panic?
DS: I look forward to playing with different drummers because I always learn something new that I can add to my arsenal. The Mickey Hart Band experience has been especially fruitful in that I have three unique drummers to learn from. Mickey combines shamanism and science with a natural born love of all things membranophonic. Ian (Inx) Herman is simply a beautiful person and truly communicative drummer. And then there is Sikiru Adepoju, the master of the talking drum. I can’t even begin to tell you what I have learned from him. If I did I’d have to kill you and then he would have to kill me.
LL: What role did The Grateful Dead have on the early development of Widespread Panic?
DS: We all grew up in the 70’s loving classic and psychedelic rock so it was only natural that we played some classics as we learned how to be a band. Grateful Dead tunes were part of that canon because they were the only band from that era that were still touring and creating viable new sounds when we were coming of age. Their music was a great starting point for us because there was an inherent looseness to the tunes. From this we learned how to listen to each other and from there we began to craft our own songs and sounds.
LL: Recently at Gathering of the Vibes, the band played a handful of Grateful Dead classics intertwined with some songs off the new album Mysterium Tremendum. How did the band determine the Dead songs they would cover over the course of the tour, and how much input do you and other band members have in the setlist each night?
DS: We really love the Tremendum material and obviously enjoy playing. After all, we are the ones who assembled it in real time. Playing the Dead material is more like a celebration of Mickey’s musical legacy. It gives a second dimension to the set as well as a chance to showcase the talents of the newer faces of the band in a familiar setting for long time Dead Heads. We chose the Grateful Dead tunes that seemed to fit this group’s natural abilities. We don’t want to be a cover band….we want to continue to evolution of the legacy of Mickey Hart. Everybody has input in the setlist, but Mickey gets final approval. And as always things can change at anytime during the show!
LL: In Burlington last weekend, Mike Gordon sat in with Mickey Hart Band. What was it like playing with him and have you kept in touch with Mike since filming 2002’s Rising Low?
DS: I’ve known Mike since Panic and Phish played their first show together down south in the late 80’s or sometime in those days. We would switch off opening and heading slots depending on where we were. So we’ve always kept in touch but it had been awhile since we had a chance to hang out. But that’s the wonderful thing about playing on the road: seeing your friends and catching up.
LL: What are some of your musical influences that are reflected in this tour?
DS: Each other….all day and all night…. Seriously though, we have surprised ourselves this tour with some interesting jams and cover tune choices. But I can’t tell you about those.
LL: What kinds of things do you do differently in an intimate and carefully tuned acoustic environment like the Tralf? Is it difficult transitioning from sheds and amphitheaters?
DS: What we strive for is consistency in being able to hear one another onstage. If that can happen there is no difference. Of course it’s always great to be able to really see the audience up close. I’ve heard great things about the Tralf.