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Backstage with Blues Traveler
by Jason Basiner
St. Michael's College Echo, Colchester, VT
Nov 6th, 2002

After the Blues Traveler show, I made my way to a set of locked, heavy wooden doors where a group of photo editors, other journalists, and an entourage of staff workers stood hoping for a chance to be given the okay to be let back into the room. Soon, a large Native American man gave us the nod, and prepped us a bit before entering the band's backstage quarters.

"John (Popper) is talking with some friends, but Ben and Tad are hanging out to talk," said the band's stressed and gray-haired road manager.

In the room was a large buffet table, a tarp-covered pool table with papers and beverages on top of it, some cheap furniture, and three large coolers, two filled with sodas, and the other, which at this time was relatively empty, contained a six-pack of Saranac Ale. It was this cooler that was at the feet of the visibly drunk John Popper, who was swigging back Jagermeister and cheap Chardonnay. I took a quick glance at my questions, then back again at Popper and realized that the Pope would get married before John would seriously answer any question, so I went to plan B: the bassist.

Interview with B.T. bassist, Tad Kinchla

You guys just recently did a festival for Ben and Jerry's.

Yea, it was great actually. What was funny about that is that it was raining for like two days - I mean it was right on the mountain. We were like, 'oh, this is going to suck.' It was raining all day, but actually a lot of people came out but people from Vermont (the road manager, who had been sitting on the pool table butts in to tell Tad that it was at Sugarbush in Warren, VT.) People were all strapped in, you know, had like the full wind gear and the tents and everything.

Did you meet Ben and Jerry?

Yea, we did. And there was plenty of Ben and Jerry's stuff. We had an icebox full of ice cream for like two days.

You guys were pigging out!

Yea, it didn't last too long.

I hear Ben is kind of nasty, but Jerry is a real nice guy.

I don't quite remember Ben - I don't know, but one of them was like 'Hey, thanks' and was really goofy.

That was probably Jerry.

I just remember that one guy who was real goofy. (Laughs)

You're into building weird furniture.

Well I built our apartment in New York City. It was an old warehouse space in Brooklyn. It was just a huge, old meat locker, and I built it. We did the flooring, the plumbing, the electrical, everything. I used the extra wood to make a bar, and shit like that, and I made a couple tables - I got really whacked out, you know. I put like tiles down and stained glass - cool shit like that.

So if the rock business doesn't pan out, you got something to fall back on.

Yea. (Laughs) You know I can always decorate real grassroots places, yea. It's a good hobby when you're not playing.

Some of your favorite bassists include Jaco Pastorius and Victor Wooten.

We actually played with him (Wooten) this summer.

Is that intimidating?

He's such a nice guy that he makes it not so intimidating. I mean, I'm absolutely intimidated because they're such fantastic players, but they both listen and play, and make it a good experience. They don't try to kick your ass. They don't try to rip you a new one, they just come out and play, and then all of a sudden you're playing and it just works.

That must have been fun!

Ohhhhggh! (Sigh of amazement) So good..

What is it like to fill in, in Bobby's footsteps, I mean it must be hard for you. (Bobby Sheehan, B.T.'s former bassist, died of a drug overdose in 1999.)

Yeah. It definitely is. We were good friends, you know. Coming in these guys were like "you have your own voice. Do what you do. Don't worry about what the sound was before." The way I looked at it, as well as them, is that was then, this is now. We're not trying to recreate--we can't recreate what he did because he had his own sound, and I play different, and the guys were open to that. So it was very cool.

Did you sense a void in the band?

Well, obviously there's always going to be a void, but in general, I'd been friends with them for a long time. I knew them from Princeton, you know.

So that helped?

It helped, but it took a while for me to learn, and sync up, which is the most important thing, like get the sound going. It was a great experience. These guys were really open to it.

You guys have a new live album out, right?

Yea, it's a live album of last year's fall tour. It's got some old songs, some new songs on it. Carl Young, who's the bass player for Spearhead and also plays sax. We did a great "No Woman, No Cry" with him. It was a great collaboration. What's cool now is that we could probably do that once a year, have a full album of new material and a live album of old and new. I think that's what our plan is going to be. We're going, in January, to record a new album.

Are you going into the album with a certain attitude or goal?

Well, we're just going to block out a place for two and a half months instead of mix here, record here. We're going to do it all at one place. I think that's going to create a certain environment.

Are there any shows you guys have done that specifically stick out in your mind?

(Without even thinking about it) Red Rocks, Fourth of July, out in Colorado in front of a huge crowd. And everyone's there just to have fun. Every year that just fucking rocks!

How important is it for the band to have a hit single as opposed to something you guys really want to play?

I don't think it's really a compromise. The songs are what they are. That's not really the attitude of the band, to have a radio-friendly tune. We play what's good, and some of them may be a little more (thinks for a second) open to listener-friendly, or spanning more genres. We don't go into it saying "We need a hit. Let's write a hit." It is what it is, and we all kind of collaborate, and that's a cool thing that we don't have to be writing strictly mainstream versus jam stuff.

Who writes the majority of the tunes in the band?

Lyrically, John carries that burden, with some collaborations; I've contributed a bunch. But the writing is open now. I think it's like split right down the middle. When we did our last writing session we did like 15 days, and each day, each person would present a song, and so, by the end we had 15 new songs. Boom, boom, boom, boom (points around the room at various spots or band members). It worked out well. It kind of alleviates the burden of having one person do all the writing, and plus, it makes for an interesting variation.

I didn't realize you guys cover 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia.' Do you do that one a lot?

Sometimes. Tonight we just thought we'd infuse it in, because everyone was just kinda, you know (lackadaisically bobbing his head). We added that last minute. It's a fun one.

Can you describe the feeling of playing in front of a sea of people, and everybody is getting really into it?

It's weird because different places have different vibes. This summer we did some huge shows, like festival things. It's fun. Energy-wise you come out and see all those people and you're like aaaaahhhh! (nervous yell). But you try to carry the same amount of energy to smaller places. What's funny is that sometimes a small club will be packed, and you give all this energy and it all just comes right back to you. But sometimes you're outside, and some of the noise and all that, and you look around and half of the people are going nuts, but the other half are sitting and watching you. You got to try to manufacture as much energy as you can.

What's the best part of being a rock star?

(Keyboardist Ben Wilson, interjects) Hanging out with me. (Laughs).

Tad: That's his answer.

And the best part for you is hanging out with Tad?

Ben: No, for me the best part is still hanging out with me. (Laughs)

Tad: I think the best part is traveling on the bus. Prior to all this, you know, you were traveling in a van. You were staying in your extended Dodge van, and sleeping in the back seat. Being in the bus really changes your whole tour. You just travel, you're comfortable, you can do stuff on it.

Does it ever get old?

For me, it's still too new to get old. I'm just always excited. I don't think it will ever get that way.

What's the worst part of your job?

It's different hours. It's definitely a kind of person that can handle it. It's not always as kind as you may think. You play here tonight, we could be playing in Connecticut tomorrow, or we could be playing in Georgia tomorrow. You do it. Or you could fly to Vegas, then come back to the west coast and do three in a row. Sometimes you don't get sleep, but that's a small price to pay.