The Schools Zone

An Interview with Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools

Ken Thorsen

Kenny T
: Thank you Dave School’s for taking time out of your busy day to sit down with us here at Bozeman Magazine, how are you doing today?
Dave Schools: Doing great, it’s a beautiful day in Denver, Colorado.

KT: You are at Red Rocks right now, didn’t you guys break some kind of record for most sold out shows or something?

DS: Yeah what they tell me is that Saturday night will mark 50 consecutive sold-out shows for Widespread Panic at Red Rocks.

KT: Holy cow!

DS: Yeah I don’t think anyone’s going to catch up soon.

KT: [Laugh] that’s great.

DS: But I challenge the young ones to go for it.

KT: Well there you have it, the challenge has been officially set, so all you young bands out there you got your work cut out for you. Wow 50 consecutive sold-out shows what a milestone, what an achievement, congratulations.

Can you reflect on what it’s like to play at Red Rocks? As a fan it’s a magical experience to see a show there with your favorite artist, but what is it like for a performer to actually stand in front of that beautiful audience?

DS: You know it’s like one of those Holy Grail venues as a young band touring around the country, it’s a place you just want to play.
And we got our chance and we just came kept coming back, it’s a beautiful place to play you know?

You talk about the view from the audience, but the view from the stage is pretty great too. And it’s unpredictable the weather could be crazy, the weather could be beautiful. But everybody’s pumped to be there whether it’s a beautiful day or a rainy day, people come prepared and they’re ready to listen to music, that’s what it’s all about.

KT: Widespread Panic is one of those forever touring bands, you’re always out on the road and kind of nonchalantly, I guess, celebrating your 30th anniversary of touring, being on the road and of the band Widespread Panic.

DS: Yep, nonchalantly celebrating, yeah cuz we’re kinda allergic to anniversaries and markers [chuckle], but it seems like the more time we spend at this game the more of them show up. I mean, oh that’s cool, and we’re kind of nonchalantly going to be quitting touring in general next year.

KT: So, that was my next question, the big chat is that the band is just going to do select dates from now on.

DS: That’s right, select dates that’s a great way to put it, no more of these long lines, 30 years out on the road is a long time, over 3000 shows. You know people got families, kids, they’re in college believe it or not. I don’t have any. But I like to spend time in the garden with my wife. Just spending a little more time with the people that we love is important to us at this time. But also we love playing together so we’re finding a way to not spend four weeks on the bus. [But to] play beautiful places, I would hate to not be able to or play a place like Missoula or Bozeman, where we have played so frequently over the years, you know get it while you can. But we’ll be around.

KT: I’m so looking forward to the performance in Missoula, Montana Wednesday June 29, you will be playing at a historic ball field in Downtown Missoula.

DS: That’s great, you know we love baseball.

KT: So the future of the band, and putting out CDs, will you keep recording albums? And weigh in on your latest release Street Dogs if you would.  

DS: Well it was our first album with the new drummer Duane Trucks, it was recorded live in a room, a studio, in Asheville North Carolina that’s an old church with stained-glass windows still intact and we basically set up a circle and recorded live. It took away a lot of options as far as getting microscopic with the tunes, it really created more of a live feel from the energy.

The energy that Duane has brought to the band is apparent throughout the whole album. And you know we’ve been playing those songs for about a year now so now they’re starting to crack open a bit live, which is what we always hope for with songs.
And there’s no shortage of new material being generated, [and] the ideas are popping on stage. We try to keep a close eye on what’s going on with the technology and the world of music and these days. It’s looking like it’s more of a singles market again with all the streaming services. Artists can record one or two [songs] and get it out to the fans with very little investment. So we’re talking about a lot of things, rest assure there’s no shortage of ideas, there’s some really really good ones coming.

KT: That’s super, give us a hint to what’s to come in the future with Widespread Panic.

DS: No way, that’s a surprise. [Laugh]

KT: [Laugh] I love it, you guys are pranksters, keep us all wondering. I simply love your style, keep it up.

DS: You know what surprises us just as much is the fans sometimes.

KT: So Dave, you wear many hats, you’re not just the bass player for Widespread Panic you’re a journalist, you’ve been in Billboard Magazine and Relix Magazine, and you are  a music producer. Your latest release By The Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars from Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons, what is it like to record and produce an album with Jerry Joseph? I know this is your second album that you produced with Jerry, first being Conscious Contact.

I have to tell you this new album By The Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars by Jerry Joseph, is fabulous. It sounds authentic and genuine, the sound is superior. I think it’s some of the best work by Jerry Joseph to date.

: Well you know I’ve known Jerry Joseph, well gosh, do I dare say over 25 years. And you know his band Little Women back in the eighties and nineties was pretty much responsible for bringing Widespread Panic west of the Mississippi and introducing us to the Rocky Mountains, some of the West Coast, and we’ve just been good friends. So as friendships progress so do working relationships. Conscious Contact was him giving me my first real shot. I’ve done lots of production for local bands and whatnot, but not with a major record company and a budget. We were lucky enough to work with David Barbie, who Jerry works with, a lot and my old friend from Athens who engineered Conscious Contact and then we did the Stockholm Syndrome records.     

Then we went through a lot personally, we came to sort of a different place, and the situation arose to record By The Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars at Bob Weir’s Studio TRI in San Rafael, it just worked out really well. He has Jeff Crosby and his band who is an amazing songwriter, vocalist, guitar player, his old bass guitar player from Little Women, and Steve James is now playing bass. Things are good for him, there’s always stuff to rage against, you know? There’s a lot of love in his life, he’s got two young kids, plus he’s a grandfather with his older pair of children. He’s just got it dialed in right now, he’s living in Portland now enjoying playing and all I really did was capture where he is with this band and it’s such a great spot. We went down and had the infamous Jim Scott mix the record and that was a real treat, and I gotta tell you we were in Jackpot Studios in January working on 9 new songs of Jerry’s and the future looks bright for him. And thank you for the compliment on the record because I can see that it was a labor of love for Jerry.

KT: And you know I can feel it coming from all directions off that album it’s a fantastic album for Jerry at this time of his life.
Another one of your side projects his The Hard Working Americans and we are going to be fortunate enough to see your band at our famed Sweet Pea celebration in August.

DS: Yeah that’s right, looking forward to it. Todd Snider, he’s another very gifted, talented, songwriter, musician. He’s a folk singer who walks out on stage by himself, a flower in his lapel, an acoustic guitar and harmonica. He applied those boards for a long long time, but he loves to go see jam bands and he called me up [and said] why can’t we take great songs and have a jam band playing them? And I said “that’s what always happens.” [Laugh] It’s just somewhere along the way jam bands forgot they needed great songs. [Laugh]

KT: [Laugh]

DS: Todd curated the songs on the first album from his peers, and also influences of his as far-flung as Randy Newman and Kevin Kinney of Drivin’ and Cryin’ and BR549. So then he constructed those songs and put out that first record. We made the record before we even played a gig. In the course of playing we made a movie and we discovered we are kind of a rock band, not so much of Americana. So we spent the last two years working the new material, all original material for the new record, Rest in Chaos. I have to be honest with you it’s some of the most amazing song writing and group collaboration on writing I have ever heard. In fact Dave Marsh the famous critic from Creem Magazine and Rolling Stone, he said they just don’t make records like this anymore. I gotta tell you it’s a shame because it was a painful choice to make. The upside is I get to come back and play The Sweet Pea Festival with those guys.

KT: I think the town of Bozeman is so looking forward to this years Sweet Pea Festival, not only your band The Hard Working Americans will be there, but Asleep at the Wheel and James McMurtry. Just a super lineup for Sweet Pea Festival this year and looking forward to seeing you guys.
One question that just came to my mind is you normally play a six string modulus Bass with Widespread Panic and you step down and play a four string bass with The Hard Working Americans.

DS: Yeah I play a four string bass with The Hard Working Americans, and Olympus, they’re making me a new Hard Working Americans face, and I’m hoping I will be able to unveil it at the Sweet Pea Fest.
But I always play four string pretty much with every other band. When I was out playing with J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr he referred to that modulus bass as a space bass.

KT: Love it, the space bass!

DS: [Laughter] And I’m like, “geez man”, he’s the only other guitar player that plays the same way [Mike] Houser did. It’s like turning on a tap and the notes just come tumbling out, he’s just an alternative rock hero, like Houser was a jam band hero.

KT: This question came directly off Facebook, actually your Facebook page, it’s in regards to the Missoula, Montana show. From what I hear there’s a fan in Bozeman that has been counting the days since the last time you played Chilly Water in Montana and it’s pretty funny your website replied back to him and asked for documentation and it turns out it’s been six thousand some odd days. Do you guys ever take fan requests?

DS: We don’t so much take requests from fans but we do like gentle reminders. That’s some research that’s been done, and that’s all I’m going to say.

KT: Last Summer the most famous touring band of all time celebrated 50 years on the Golden Road, what will Widespread Panic be doing in 50 years?

DS: For our 50th? I don’t think we’ll be playing Soldiers Field but we will be playing for sure some place we call home.

KT: Dave School’s thank you so much for your time, and letting me hear your voice for Bozeman Magazine. Looking forward to hearing it up in Missoula on Wednesday night, and then again at the Sweet Pea Festival, take care my friend and we’ll see you in the School zone.

DS: Thank you Kenny, and thanks for all your support over the years, you have your self a great day.   

Widespread Panic will play Ogren Park Allegiance Field Missoula, Montana Wednesday June 29th. The Hard Working Americans will be on the main stage at the Sweet Pea Festival, Sunday Afternoon at 3pm.

This was made by