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Q & A with Blues Traveler's John Popper
by Michael Deeds
Idaho Statesman, Boise, ID
Nov 17th, 2002



MD: Idahoans really like guns. You like guns, right?

JP: Yeah, I'm a big gun nut. I've got pretty much an example of everything. That's another thing I love about Idaho: It's easier to carry there.

MD: (Jokingly) So will you be packing when you're onstage?

JP: Um, sometimes. I don't think we will in Boise, but there's some places where we play where it's a good idea. (Laughter) You gotta play everywhere. It depends. If the legalities are appropriate, then there are some places where I feel a little better.

MD: So you've got a harmonica strapped on you and a couple of pieces, too?

JP: Well, I'm not going to go that far, but suffice it to say, I generally feel safe.

MD: You had gastric bypass surgery three years ago. Have you been accused of being an imposter since you lost all the weight?

JP: No, no. Nobody has thought I was replaced. But on the street, if I don't wear the hat, nobody knows who the hell I am. I always try and wear the hat because the thing that's worse is if you don't have your hat on. People sort of stalk you a little more if they're not sure you're you. I'd rather just get it out in the open. That's usually my take on it: Like, yes, I'm me, how you doin'?

MD: You lost a little of your celebrity along with the pounds!

JP: It's true! Actually, it's been a weird sort of adjustment. But you know what? It gives me a chance to sort of wipe the slate clean, too. As long as I keep writing songs and playing, they go, "Oh, I remember that." Then you're in the door, anyway.

MD: Has the weight been easy to keep off?

JP: Oh yeah, totally. I can't gain it. I would throw up. I have the stomach of a baby. (Laughter) I like to think that Buddha had a big stomach, right? So I was so Zen, and my stomach became so large, that it couldn't exist in this physical world. So I had to have it circumcised in order to stay in this place. Eventually, my soul will grow in some other way, so as to expel me from this plane of reality.

MD: OK, I can tell it's time to change the subject.

JP: Eh? Eh? Pretty cool, right?

MD: Tell me if this is wrong, but I swear I read a quote once where you said something to the effect that Mick Jagger should never pick up a harmonica again.

JP: Well, no. I think Mick Jagger's pretty good. It's Alanis Morissette who shouldn't pick up a harp again.

MD: I didn't know she played.

JP: Uh, I don't think she does, either. There's so many other harp players who are worse than Mick Jagger. I find it hard to believe I'd say that... I actually met Mick Jagger, and I said, "If you need my help on 'Miss You...,'" and he said, "Well, I'll let you know, thanks." And I think I kind of hurt his feelings the way I put it to him. And in Rolling Stone, I read Keith Richards kind of saying to Mick, like, "Hey, why don't you get the guy from Blues Traveler to sit in?," like fucking with him, and Mick's, like, "Fuck off!" And the interviewer's like, "Yeah, he's good." And Mick said, "Too good." And I was on cloud nine. That's one of my favorite stories I'll ever have. Mick Jagger says I'm too good. How cool is that?

MD: That's pretty cool, actually. But one thing about you, is that there are definitely some player haters out there. It seems like people either think you're the greatest harp player that ever walked the planet or...

JP: Hate the game not the playa! There's playa haters?

MD: I think some people are just so blown away by the amount of notes. They're, like, that's not playing, that's not feeling, that's not music.

JP: I can't disagree with that one. I'd like to address that question. Sometimes they're right. The truth of the matter is, if I'm having a bad night, and I'm trying to put a flurry in, it sounds too mechanical - and I can totally sound that way. But when it's flowing right, if you've got the right approach, and you're in the right mindset, it's not like you're just playing scales. It's like you're floating and very fast and it feels smooth. I think when I'm playing smooth, I'm happy with my playing, and when I'm playing rough, I kind of agree with the critics.

MD: So what part of the rock and roll world is Blues Traveler in right now? You were always sort of in that little jammy scene, but sort of more mainstream than that.

JD: I think in the house of rock and roll, Blues Traveler's always hanging out in the pantry. Pantry's a good access point, you know. Kitchen's right there. (Laughter) We've sort of always maintained the middle class of rock and roll. On good years, we do OK. On bad years, we do OK. What's been fun is realizing now... we don't have a record out, and suddenly, our audience is still there! And that's what's paying the bills now. Ticket sales.

MD: Have you changed what you aspire to do? Obviously, you had some radio hits.

JD: I'm starting to get a little more artistic about stuff. I'm starting to get into the philosophical aspects of things and less into the mechanics. I try to get sleep now instead of waking up at 6 because I have to write that song. I say, I'm going to sleep and when it's time to write, I'm gonna be there...

You know, I was one of the idiots who got into a band for the music while all my friends were, like, getting laid. So that's a whole new aspect of life that's really kind of a pleasant distraction. So I plan to really explore that a little bit. Potentially, quite a little bit. Or quite a lot. Actually, you know anybody?

MD: So Guns N' Roses is back on the road. What do you think of that? At least Axl Rose doesn't play harp - we have to give him that.

JP: Actually, he does.

MD: No.

JP: They all think they can, that was my point.

MD: Why is the harp the most abused instrument of all time?

JD: Because there's an easy gratification to it. Bob Dylan showed a generation of people that you can be very vague and play relatively melodic stuff. He's technically a horrible harp player. With him, it's all about the feeling of it and the words, really. He's a genius poet. And Neil Young's a little better, he's got more of a melodic thing going on. And Springsteen's kind of a combination of both of them. And Alanis Morissette is just breathing in and out...

Actually, Keith Richards said at some point that he really loves Mick's playing. I think he's right. I think Mick Jagger's harp playing is pretty cool. He has a good sense of blues, and he knows his limits. He plays right where he's supposed to be.

MD: Well, he's got those lips that can just wrap around that baby.

JP: It's not lips, it's a sucking thing. It's a tongue thing. It's true what they say about harp players, by the way.

MD: Uhhh. What do they say?

JP: Etiquette prohibits me from expressing it further. Make what implications you will.

MD: So you have a new live CD that just came out: What You And I Have Been Through.

JP: Basically, it's us this fall. We're going to do a yearly series of these things, so it's a good gauge to how we're playing. I think that sort of gives us the imperative to keep getting better. That's hard evidence to see how you're doing.

MD: Is it all new tunes?

JP: Some of them are. What we're really getting ready for is the studio album, which, hopefully, will come out in June. We're going to start that up in January.

MD: Do you have a title for it?

JP: We've been talking about a lot of things. Personally, I like "Cougar Up My Ass."

MD: Well, you always were a mainstream kind of guy.

JP: I know. See the guys don't have a sense of humor like I do. "Cougar Up My Ass" is a great album title. You can quote me on that.

MD: How do the other guys tolerate touring with you?

JP: Well, I think alcohol, basically. (Publicist's voice interrupts in the background, signaling end of interview.) Oh, they're, like, pulling the phone away from me. It was real dialoguey... aiaihgh!