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Q&A: Tedeschi Trucks Band

Fighting a cultural tide of superficiality, the classic-rock traditionalists conjure the imagery

There's something reassuringly old-school about an encounter with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. These are musicians like they used to make them: flesh-and-blood, eye bags and in-jokes, hangovers and dinked guitars. While most modern bedsit artists tour with loopers and laptops, TTB roll with a 10-piece line-up. Where most tour-bus mates retreat into iPod isolation, this collective shares a communal turntable, rifling vinyl shops as they burn the tarmac. “Sometimes you gotta roll with the times a little bit,” concedes Derek Trucks, “but I usually fight what’s going on.” Given that, it’s tempting to read the sleeve art of second album Made Up Mind – a buffalo charging down a locomotive – as this band’s irresistible force hitting the immovable object of the modern industry. “It represents how strong-willed and stubborn this band is,” says vocalist Susan Tedeschi. “Even if we run headlong into something. Whether or not it kills us, I don’t know.”

That cover art is very confrontational.

DT: “I love that image. In a sense, I feel that a band like ours is a throwback. There used to be a time when you did it the right way; you learnt your instrument and paid your dues. No smoke and mirrors. When I look around now, it’s hard not to feel let-down by what’s acceptable in culture. I feel like everyone kinda accepts half-assed these days. I think we have such a strong tradition of music that made people’s lives better. But I feel like now, if anything, a lot of music has cheapened things.”

Was that attitude handed down by your father [Butch Trucks]?

DT: “Y’know, my dad always had a very low bullshit threshold. Something was either ‘good’ or ‘not good’, and he didn’t even have to qualify it. I always tell our kids, when it comes to modern pop crap, you can listen to it, but I don’t want it within earshot of me – and I’m not buying it! I’ve always had a sense that music in itself is an important thing, and you have to protect that. My dad, in a lot of ways, music was his religion. It was never something that you were trying to monetise. You never wanted to cheapen it.”

This album goes beyond blues, doesn’t it?

ST: “We don’t put ourselves in one little box. It’s not that simple. It’s not 192. and we’re not living in Memphis. We’re influenced by world music, classical, jazz, folk, country, bluegrass, even. I guess [being so eclectic] is bad for the world we live in, but it’s good for us, because we feel like music is a universal thing. I don’t mind the blues comparisons. It’s better than being called emo, which is something we don’t do.” 

DT: “When we did [first album]_ Revelator_, the band was still forming in the studio. We were still feeling each other out. So it was hard to fully unleash. This time around, we knew what we wanted to sound like and we wouldn’t accept anything else. With the songwriting, a lot of times, everybody would show up and you’d just trust the creativity in the room, that you’re gonna stumble across something. I really enjoyed just jumping in and letting it fly. Everybody’s trying to create in the moment, so it’s not just a band of robots.”

What sort of themes did you find yourself writing about?

DT: “With The Storm, there was Hurricane Sandy and all these major storms at the time, and Susan was like: ‘You should just write an old blues flood song.’ Like those great John Lee Hooker flood tunes.”

ST: Whiskey Legs is about hanging out after your show when everybody is really drunk. 

“There were a couple of heavy moments too. I remember having a hard time with Made Up Mind, because there’s this one line: ‘_I’m __going higher, I’m not afraid._’ I’d just lost my grandfather, and my nephew was in hospital and deathly ill. He ended up getting pneumonia and his body went toxic. We almost lost him. I just couldn’t sing that line, because I kept thinking about this little kid fighting for his life. It was also right around the time we were doing _It’s So Heavy_ that we had that shooting in Connecticut.”

This band looks more like a travelling army.

ST: “With this line-up we can do anything, in any setting, anywhere. It can be sparse or it can be really heavy and orchestrated. People really react to the power of that many people on stage. Another thing that’s very important is that we’re actually playing the music. There are a lot of bands out there trying to crank out good music, but a lot of them are just using laptops and they’re not even playing. It’s almost like a lost art form with these modern kids, like technology has moved ahead and music has fallen by the wayside. That’s what I love about this group. Music is right out front.”

What have been the maddest moments since this band began?

ST:_ _“We went to Brazil and it was insane. Eighty thousand people screaming, and we were like: ‘Hold on a minute... are they chanting our names?’”

DT: “Playing at the White House [in 2012. was pretty wild. Having Booker T and Fred Wesley on stage with you, BB King and Buddy Guy in the room. Whenever you’re playing around your heroes it’s nerve-racking. But add in the fact you’re in front of the President and First Lady, and doing an Etta James tune right after she passed away, it made it even more poignant.

“I do remember one thing that made me momentarily feel like we’re raising our kids properly. We were at the rehearsal, and there’s Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, y’know, everybody is in the room. And I’m explaining to my daughter who everybody was. So I tell her: ‘That’s Booker T. He’s on the Otis Redding records.’ She got real excited and she’s like: ‘That’s who I want to meet, dad!’ And I’m like [proud]: ‘Yes, that is who you want to meet. Let’s high-five!’”

Are those the artists whose careers you aspire to?

DT: “I look at careers like Eric Clapton or Miles Davis, people that were constantly able to shed their skin and keep moving. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. They’ll open up for you at a club, then later they’re plastered everywhere, then you see them starting to believe the hype. Then you’ll see them turn into assholes, and then their playing gets worse. And it’s like, well, don’t do that!”

MADE UP MIND

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