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by Matt Falzone
Matt Falzone interview with Ben Wilson, Roselle Park, NJ
Apr 12th, 2001



I'm a huge fan, let me tell you this right now. I'm probably going to be over-prepared for this interview. I've seen these guys so many times, I guess 8 times last year, was out at Red Rocks, everything. Definitely can't wait to see ya again this year.

B - We're pumped as well.

The album is great, too.

B - You've already heard it?

Yeah, the company sent me a copy when I called.

B - Oho, the perks of the job!

It's a great album.

B - I'm glad you think so, that's refreshing.

Again, I'm really over prepared for this.

B - Just lay it on me, I'm lying in the sun dude, so I'm not in any rush...

So what's it like being the new sound?

B - At first it was a bit, you know, a bit overwhelming. I wasn't a huge fan before. I had a lot of respect, and thought they were a cool band and had their own sound. So I was definitely a bit overwhelmed with the whole prospect of coming in, you know. The first few things that we did were basically...writing songs for the record. I basically went in and I started learning new songs. That was a little overwhelming because I'm trying to figure out what they're after in terms of a sound, what am I going to have to adapt to, what instruments do they want me to focus on... and then here we are working on songs for the new album that a lot of people are going to hear and they are really excited about it, it's been two years and blah blah blah.

It was pretty overwhelming, although I'd say by the time we'd gone through a few of these writing sessions, then got into really narrowing down the tunes that we were going to actually try to record, I'd say things really started to come together in terms of my involvement. Which was really nice... as opposed to me trying to fit into the cracks of their existing sound. They and me were able to kind of forge something that is still very true to their sound, but has just a little bit different wrinkle on it. Kudos to their egos for letting both Tad and myself come in and put a little stamp on things.

It's a great addition; you guys sound awesome. So what were they looking for by adding keys?

B - Well, I think primarily it was sort of a tribute to Bobby really, because Bobby had always wanted a keyboard player and everybody was like "Yeah, we'll get to it, we'll get to it, we'll get to it." And so I think with his passing, once they decided they were going to keep the band together, the first thing that comes to mind is "We're never going to be a four piece again. We can't try to carry on without Bobby"... because Bobby was like the cornerstone in many ways from what I understand. I never met him, just the cornerstone spiritually of the band. Just the real soul of the band and so they wanted to keep the band going but they wanted to make a difference so they didn't have to compete with their past. They could forge something that was a little different so that people weren't full of themselves and other people weren't "Oh, they're just trying to be like they were." They can't be like they were, because they're not like they were, because one of their key members was gone.

So what were YOU looking for?

B - Well, shit... I had been touring with a blues band for like, eight years and had traveled much of the country in a van and the trailers, doing all our own things and all our own work. Just like these guys did 10 years ago. And that band had broken up and I was kind of twiddling my thumbs deciding whether or not I was going to continue on that track or if it was time to hedge my bets a little bit and go in a little different direction. And a friend of mine happened to pass the information along to me, and sent it in, and continued to plan my life, and boom, I got a call, so I wasn't really looking for anything. When I got the audition call I was looking to go down there, and once I got the audition call I was like, "Oh my God, this could actually happen," because you know you don't get called unless they think you're actually qualified. Then bang, got the gig on the spot and then it was a question of "Oh my God, major life change, what is this going to mean," and I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of... these guys are bona fide rock stars. It's just cool to do what I love to do in a setting like this that so many people aspire to - and so few people actually get to make it to.

What were the auditions like?

B - Gina called me up and said "We're interested in auditioning you, here's the date, we'd like to do it, blah blah blah, and we're going to send you a tape of stuff we want you to learn." And they sent me like Hook and Make My Way, Canadian Rose, then several tunes they were working on for the new album - The Way and Decision of the Skies, and then some jam stuff they wanted me to learn - then they threw some shit at me.

I got into Austin a day early because my brother lives down there, so I was just hanging out for a day freaking out, and because I wasn't home I missed all their messages telling me that the audition had been pushed back to later in the afternoon. So I showed up when I was supposed to at like one and those dudes had just gotten out of bed and they're all sitting around eating breakfast in their robes, and shit, it was hilarious. So I just ended up sitting around all day, and talked with Popper for a long time and it was totally cool. They didn't lay any bullshit on me. I was expecting kind of... I had no idea what to expect actually. I was nervous, actually by the time I showed up I was nervous, but I wasn't freaking.

So later on that afternoon I rode over to the rehearsal space with Tad and they had a keyboard they had rented for all the guys to play on, and I just went and checked it out and found the sounds that I'd want to use. Then the guys slowly started filtering in, and we basically just ran through tunes and bang bang bang, we got though, I don't know, 7. There were like 7 or 8 they wanted me to learn, then they just threw a couple at me on the spot and we played through those. When we were actually playing I was kind of trading 4s with John and I was just like "Fuck, this is cool as hell." I kind of stopped caring whether I was going to get the gig. I was just having so much fun and I didn't think I would know that day anyway so I was like "Fuck it, I'm going to have fun." I went out to take a leak, came back and they offered me the gig. It was incredible.

So did you help write stuff on the album? I know you did write some stuff with Big Dave.

B - One thing I think I bring to the band that they didn't have a lot of before is just kind of basic knowledge of theory (they have basic knowledge of theory because they can play it) but like "What's a good chord to go to if you're in C and you want to shift to blah blah blah." It just turned out through the course of us going through these songs that I was the guy that was being called on to come up with these little... just little tiny sections that might lift the song for a minute. Or there are a couple tunes where there's key changes that we'd go from one section, then the verse comes back in a different key just to give the song a little bit of a lift, and I was frequently the guy who came up with those ideas. So to say that I helped write stuff, depending on your definition, could be a bit of a stretch, but definitely they were very open to arrangement ideas. And one thing they said in Austin when I got the gig was "We don't want a guy to come in and sit on the sidelines and have us tell them what to do, we want a guy that's going to be a fifth of this thing and really charge on ahead." It took me awhile to feel comfortable doing that but eventually it came.

Working on writing anything now?

B - Myself personally? I write a lot of stuff on my own, and the next record I think I'll have more input in terms of stuff that's primarily mine, just bringing in to the band just to kick around. This album was just they-don't-know-who-the-hell-I-am, understandably so.

Met anyone interesting?

B - Not as many people as you might think, because a lot of what we've been doing has been low profile writing songs and rehearsing. We did have that one tour but it was kind of under the radar. Did Red Rocks, did a couple of gigs in NYC...

Played with Otiel... that was nice.

B - That was awesome; were you there for that? That was fun. That guy's incredible. I hadn't really heard of him before. Col Bruce came down that day, funny guys. Met Ben Harper, he was a cool guy, and some of the guys in their band. We're getting ready to start doing all that stuff where you play Letterman, and play Leno, doing more high profile things that one might associate with being in a band like this.

How was it adding yourself into the older songs? Because it's kind of weird for us as fans the keys in "Crash Burn" or in something like "But Anyway".

B - I hear ya. They let me roll with it, some of the tunes are still a work in progress, I want to change stuff around and I've been trying to work, for example, "Crash Burn", first I tried the Wurlitzer... I didn't like that, so I moved over to organ... and I didn't love that, so I have a way that I can run my organ through a bunch of effects pedals and come out of an amp instead of the Leslie. It's kind of a nastier sound, and I tend to like that a little bit better. "Crash Burn" is one that can be so insanely fast that that's a part of the whole situation that I have yet to master. They just kind of let me roll with ideas that come in - play em, I think. "But Anyway" I came up with something fairly quickly that works that we all seem to dig... I just kept asking them to keep giving me feedback and their response has been "If we don't say anything, we like it." Sometimes I wish there'd been a little more guidance then there has been.

What kind of touring did you do with Big Dave?

B - It wasn't the kind of tour where you get into a bus and drive around for a month and a half. We did 6/7 week tours once or twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Primarily we'd go out to the north west and stick around the mid west... we'd get it out to the east but not really down to the coast... a lot in Canada. We were just starting to probe the south and the west we were kind of on the cusp in terms of getting to play in major markets like NYC and LA... and we had finally broken into Chicago. In the world of blues there's such a limited market for where you can play, so it was a struggle, plus I was playing with guys a lot older than me, two guys a lot older than me that didn't really want to bust ass the way that some of the rest of us did, and that's eventually what broke the band up.

So you're ready to go with Traveler?

B - Definitely ready to go. I've been chomping at the bit waiting for this thing to get rolling

Favorite place to play?

B - Red Rocks was an incredible thrill. Hopefully this year I'll be more able to just enjoy the moment as opposed to how I was kind of freaking a little bit. It was kind of hard to just settle back and enjoy what I was experiencing, and looking up at the crowd was a little overwhelming... it was great. That was a lot of fun, it sounded great... There's this place we're playing here coming up, a place called the NorVa in Norfolk, VA that is really cool, a really good sounding room. I had a great time in Roseland.

What kind of old stuff you working on for this tour - studio, unreleased, anything special? Like, we going to get "Make My Way"?

B - I don't know if we're going to get "Make My Way", I've been trying to get "Make My Way". We've got to get John to learn the damn lyrics. We worked up a little version of that. What happens is sometimes we get in these rehearsal sessions, and we just plow through tons of tunes, then it ends up we have a little break, then we come back and we're like "We don't really like what we did to that... we don't really like how that sounds," so we end up scrapping it. The big thing for us this tour is trying to really nail down the album material. Going back and listening to the CD figuring out which are the parts we want to bring out and which are the part that aren't quite as essential. In terms of old tunes, I'm totally blanking on it right now, we worked up... the one I really want to do is "I Have My Moments". (numerous expletives from interviewer) We had a version of that, and no one seems to remember what we did with it but hopefully by end of the tour we'll have that one back out and rolling. Yeah, that's one we worked on - that's a great song... can't remember any other ones right now.

How about "Escaping"?

B - John wants us to learn it... is that on an album?

It's on the CD-5.

B - I know a little section of it, but we haven't actually learned the whole thing... but John wants to learn it, so you never know, that could come out at some point too.

So what do you like about Bridge personally?

B - For me, lyrically, getting to know John and knowing what he's been going through over the last few years. I think I'm the most impressed with the record lyrically. As I said, I wasn't a huge fan, and one of the reasons was I couldn't always relate. I knew what he was talking about was personal, but to me he didn't make it accessible to really what he was talking about. For some reason on this record, maybe because I was up close and personal, I would be there when he was talking one day about the girl inside his head, and the next day he comes in with a song, it's like I know what was going on with him. So to me, it was like real clear what the song is about. And that may be why it makes more sense to me. I just really think he cut away a lot of the excess stuff that he can sometimes throw in and just really laid down the essentials to a story a very, very personal story. It impresses me with guys like that, their courage with talking about things that can be very personal. I've always respected that in people who write lyrics cuz that's something that's extremely difficult for me to do anyway.

Musically I like the fact that they opened their minds to particularly some of Tad's ideas on songs, and in the past I think they had a tendency to get in to one groove and pretty much stay there with just a few changes and I think in this there is that ability to lock down into a groove but there's also a little more emphasis on chordal changes and structures and melodies and just more interaction and I really like that.

What were you guys looking to do with this album?

B - I think what I was looking to do was do my best, hope I could fit in and hope all would go well. I had no idea that I would be able to be such a prominent part of it. I thought a keyboard player would be like the way they used keyboards in the past was that somebody would kind of come in after the fact and try to fit in between the cracks. A lot of the tunes, they just were very open to letting me be a part of that but I think the overall thing was just really get out there with something that's good, really good, and try to make another splash. I think these guys are really hungry to get back to where they were when they kind of started to take all that time off which ended up killing Bobby and almost killing John. I think they're really looking for, I don't want to say that they're just success hungry because they're just hungry again...

Voice - (from far away) YEAH! (Closer) YEAH!

B - That's Chan yelling.

Chan - (into phone) YEAH!

B - He just went for a little run with (John?) and Tad and me are doing our little phoners on the beach.

Did anything get left off the album?

B - We left off a tune called "Who Is This" which they used to play, that's a good one, we struggled on that one mightily for a long time and came up with a version that we really liked, but it just wasn't quite good enough. We had another tune, "Demon" - that's a tune we played once in New Orleans and then we recorded it, but we never got a chorus that we liked, so it's cool but not quite as cool as the other stuff.

What about "Not Big"?

B - "Not Big", we didn't actually record that one, we never got it together enough as a song. We considered just kind of laying a jam of it in the studio but we decided we shouldn't risk taking time with something that we were pretty sure wouldn't make the record. Then another tune called "Blue Hour", we all loved that tune, it just ended up being a little bit long so we decided to leave it off.

We gonna hear any of those in concert?

B - Yeah I think you definitely will in time, again we've been focusing more on just making sure we have the actual album stuff in lockdown and that's what this tour is going to be about, so hopefully by the end of the tour all of these new tunes will be slamming.

Live album?

B - That's something I would have no idea about. We're hoping for two successful studio albums. The idea is to be pretty damn busy through the cycle of this record, take a very little bit of time off, and get right back at writing another record. Whether there's some kind of release in the interim, that's just something I'm too new to the whole game to know. I don't think so though.

What do you guys do out on the road? I know you're chilling on the beach now...

B - Chillin' on the beach, Chan and I kind of get into working out, there's some partying going on, we try to take nice long sound checks so we get the sets together before, but primarily you get done with the gig, meet the people you need to meet, hang out a bit then you get on the bus drive to the next gig, screw around on the bus a little bit or crash depending on where you're at then get up around noon or whenever, and Chan and I again usually find a gym or go for a run, try to stay in shape a little bit. To me if I don't, I start to just feel like a lump of shit after a little while of sitting around not doing anything.

What do you have the most fun playing?

B - I love "But Anyway" because I get to do my thing in that, I love "Go Outside and Drive", there's a lot of room to kind of screw around in that tune. I love playing "Carolina" because I think Chan tears it up on that tune. "Mofo", I really like that, again it's a time that I get to wank. Some nights some tunes you just (?) on it, it could be "Canadian Rose" which is not my favorite song, sometimes you haven't played it that much but you hit it in a way that's like God this is the way the tune works I wish we could do it like this all the time. Then you really dig it when it comes off right. There are some tunes like the ones I mentioned that I almost always like and then there are some tunes like "Mulling It Over": it can be a total jam or it can just be good, and if it's just good I like it but I don't love it. But when we're all listening and we're all kind of interacting in the way that I think as we get tighter as a band, it's just going to get better and better and better... then those kind of funky jam tunes are going to be that much cooler because there'll be much more interaction between the members.

Anything else?

B- We're all pumped and excited and ready to kick this thing in the ass, so to spea,k and I think that's the biggest thing. I realized when I came on board that there was this real positive forward thinking going on, and I think that same sort of drive got them to where they were before Bobby died. After the grieving process was over and the real decision to move forward came, it was just like everybody is guns blazing to make this thing cool... We got to redo the website, we got to change this new management, how are we going to make this thing go and get back out there and give the people what they want?