Giant Sand Returns to the Valley of Rain: A Tribute to Howe Gelb

Howe Gelb, 2018 (Photo: Gabriel Sullivan)

Returns to Valley of Rain (Fire records) is a ferocious re-recording of Giant Sand’s classic 1985 debut album Valley of Rain. Originally recorded by Howe Gelb on vocals and guitar, Winston A. Watson and Tommy Larkins sharing drums duties and Scott Garber on bass, this incarnation of Giant Sand also consists of newer members Thøger T. Lund, Gabriel Sullivan and Annie Dolan.

The album holds a special place in the vast Giant Sand catalog, celebrated by both 25th and 30th anniversary reissues in recent years. When some of these old songs started to creep back into their setlist, it seemed appropriate to give the full album another shot with the proper Fender 30 amp, made only in the early 1980s, with the intention of making the album sound like it should’ve sounded. Says Fire Records about the process: “It was re-done for $400 and the same day and a half session time as the original. Scott Garber even drove up from Austin with his fretless to play so that the album is literally the originally line up for at least half of the songs. And yes, no pedal boards were used too.”

Giant Sand have never been easy to categorize, a fool’s errand that gets harder every passing years, as Howe Gelb and his various compadres have freely embraced new and disparate stylings into their seesawing sound. But whether labeled as roots rock, gospel, piano jazz, punk, latin or lo-fi or anything in between, the music always comes out with the identifiable signature of characteristic beatnik rhythms, shrewd lyrics and Howe Gelb’s warm, charismatic personality hovering above it all.

Gelb has travelled many a long and dusty mile to get to his place of prominence as an elder statesman of freewheeling Americana and “Erosion Rock”; a brand of music changing with the elements on a daily basis as nature intended, like Giant Sand, believing that continuous evolution should be a palpable element in music, as when songs were first handed over again and again, before the frozen capture of a recording studio.

I asked a couple of Howe Gelb’s numerous colleagues and friends over the years to share some insight on the enigmatic genius. Find out why Gelb is a smart cookie, how he embrace the random and eschew the obvious and why his modus operandi is best described as inspired chaos.

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When we met…

M. Ward (singer-songwriter, and one half of She & Him):
It’s an honor to know Howe Gelb. He was one of the first real pals and confidants I had in this strange industry. I’m endlessly inspired by his piano-playing, his songs, his energy and everything in-between.

Giant Sand took me on my first-ever tour of Europe – in which I played my first and last performances of lap steel. Howe taught me that if you polish the song too heavily in rehearsals then you have polished the song too heavily in rehearsals.

M. Ward/press

Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate, The Baseball Project and more):
I first met Howe just moments after playing to the biggest audience of my life. It was Roskilde 1986 and The Dream Syndicate was a last-minute fill-in for The Cult. We arrived from Italy just about 30 minutes before we went on stage to 50,000 people. It started pouring as we finished and much of the crowd dispersed which was a shame since the next band was Giant Sand and they were fantastic. I watched them as the rain poured down and was instantly intrigued. Howe and I ended up talking well into the night, both exhilarated by the excitement of the evening.

Jason Lytle (Grandaddy):
I spent the first few of my “learning to write songs” years trying to sound like Giant Sand. The only problem is… I had never even heard Giant Sand or Howe Gelb. Someone I had crossed paths with in the early 90’s told me about a weird band that lived out in the desert in Arizona and was inventing their own brand of music that was sometimes punk, sometimes folky Neil Young and sometimes Thelonius Monk… and sometimes all of them even combined.

It set my imagination on fire.

It wasn’t until years later I finally bought a Giant Sand LP and was quite relieved it was as special as it was and kind of similar to what I hoped it would sound like.

John Parish (artist, producer and frequent Giant Sand collaborator):
The first Howe Gelb/Giant Sand record I worked on was Chore of Enchantment – my part of that album was recorded in Tucson in 1998, and it was my introduction to Howe’s method of working – best described as inspired chaos.

It was the first production session I did where I realized I had no control over events – the job became recognizing the inspiration within the chaos, and then making sure it was recorded, logged – before being edited down the line.

It is a challenging but exceedingly rewarding way of working, and pretty much unique to Howe.

Peter Holsapple (The db’s, Continental Drifters):
I met Howe through my friends Mark Walton and Robert Maché with whom I played in the Continental Drifters; my other bandmates Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson toured with Giant Sand promoting Center of the Universe. He seemed like a sweet guy, and if he was friends with my friends, well dammit I liked him too. I recorded a little on Glum when Howe was recording at Kingsway in New Orleans with Malcolm Burn and Trina Shoemaker. It was 1994, and it took a small slice of one afternoon.

KT Tunstall (singer and songwriter)
Howe co-produced my fourth LP with me, Invisibe Empire // Crescent Moon in Wavelab Studios, Tucson, AZ in 2012. Collaborating with him was a beautiful and formative experience for me. I had never worked with an artist-producer before, and he encouraged me to be much more experimental, less rigid about process and performance, and as we were recording live to tape, everything was much more focused on feel rather than technical perfection. I think the most memorable thing was that he invited me into his world – I stayed with him and his family during the recording, we took road trips with a guitar (one particularly memorable one to the Mexican border), so every aspect of that time was colored by his daily life, which is definitely colorful!!

As a person…

Steve Wynn:
Open. He embraces new people and new things very easily. He welcomes The Random although there is a filter and an aesthetic to the pieces of the puzzle he lays out before letting the mayhem begin.

Strangely enough, the biggest influence that Howe had on my life was teaching me to actually take control. I was still the kind of artist who just blindly went from gig to gig, record to record under the control of managers and labels, not questioning or fully understanding the process and finding myself quite helpless when the cracks in the system began to appear.

Howe was living a different life – under the radar and with the sense of adventure that I remembered from the earliest days. With his help, I reconstructed my way of making music (on the fly, on the cheap), touring (hitting the places most bands don’t go) and releasing (small, hungry labels and more frequent releases). It was an eye-opener and creatively stimulating and still is my way of working to this day.

Thanks, Howe, for teaching me to embrace the random and to eschew the obvious.

M Ward:
Howe is a shaman of music who needs no setlist nor traditional groundwork to launch his ideas into meaningful spaces. I recommend sampling all of his Giant Sand records and Howe Gelb solo records and then buying them all.

He finds uniquely rare and beautiful melodies that you can’t trace to anything prior – except maybe songs from his own prior experiments or maybe Thelonious Monk’s – and that makes you think where could this music possibly have come from except for somewhere in southern Arizona.

Peter Holsapple:
Howe is a smart cookie, and one is well advised to listen carefully to what he says. We are not cut from the same songwriting cloth by any means, but I respect and admire his expansive and adventurous creative soul, and l hear the earth and air directly when I hear his songs.

Have YOU ever seen another Howe Gelb? I haven’t.

KT Tunstall
Howe is a bona fide one-off. No-one else could do Howe Gelb. He is unpredictable; he genuinely doesn’t ever play a song the same way twice. He has a phenomenal creative brain; quite surreal, mischievous, very quick. Very funny. There is always a lot of laughing spending time with him, and you don’t always know why. It’s kind of chaotic working with him, but somehow he always manages to pull off often large scale projects, it’s most suspicious. Is he a wizard?? He’a a joy to watch perform, a craftsman and a lightning quick creator, making things happen in the moment, very exciting. One of my favourite moments in his live performance was when he would sit at the grand piano and say, in an impossibly low voice, “I think this thing takes batteries”. He would then throw a handful of 9volt batteries inside the piano.

John Parish:
Original, creative, inspiring, frustrating, spontaneous, late, curious.

John Parish, Photo: Maria Mochnacz

Jason Lytle:
The person that he is …is the musician that he is. That is…. I think he sounds like the sort of guy that he is. I do like it when that happens. It means you’re usually getting the real goods when you hear what he is working on/putting out there.

Steve Wynn:
I’ve said enough above about his lack of fear in accepting unexpected pleasures, random events, changes and following whatever path seems interesting from record to record, tour to tour and even from moment to moment. But none of that would work if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s a damn good guitarist and pianist. You gotta have the goods to back up the concept or else you’re left with nothing but a hollow manifesto.

KT Tunstall
I think Howe is very stubborn in his creative choices, and that protects him and his band from becoming creatively diluted. Lyrically, his material comes from such a singular place that it couldn’t be anyone else, so his signature sound and style will always be inimitable. He also has the most amazing baritone voice, and has found a delivery syle that immediately convinces you that what he’s conveying is worth listening listening to.

A fun fact at the end…

Peter Holsapple:
Howe taught me that time is elastic. I’ve never been the same since.

KT Tunstall
Howe likes orange things. For snacks, he would hold out a carrot and a tangerine and say, “want something orange?”

John Parish:
He likes to eat lunch at Cafe Poca Cosa.

Jason Lytle:
He came to my house for coffee one morning when I lived in Portland Oregon. I asked him if he would like sugar or agave (a plant based sweetener) in his coffee. He said: “I’ll take agave”. We sat outside with our coffees and he was surprised that what he was drinking was NOT coffee with a shot of tequila in it…. as he had a momentary lapse and mistook agave for some kind of tequila. I laughed …but was also impressed that he would show up at my home in the morning and be up for starting the day off with me over a coffee/tequila drink. (Sounds horrible by the way….hahaha!)

Steve Wynn:
I was living out in Marina Del Rey, California for a few years in the late 80’s. I had a mildewed little bungalow that was supposed to be destroyed at any moment (strangely enough, it’s still there to this day) so I was able to rent it cheaply while living just blocks from the beach in a neighborhood much fancier than my means. I didn’t have a car – a bike was enough in that beach community – but Howe offered me to take care of his hand-illustrated, graffitied grey Barracuda before he went on one of his lengthy tours. I loved it. Push-button transmission and everything. Only thing was that the rich neighbors didn’t agree. One morning I went to get the car and found a note under the windshield. “Please don’t park this car around here. It is an eyesore.” Ha-ha – if only they knew that the car belonged to and had been painted by an international rock star (and that it would show up as the cover art for a Leaving Trains record!)

How Did They Find Themselves Here? The Dream Syndicate: Album by Album

In the late 1970s Los Angeles was a key hub for punk rock and hardcore music, spawning crucial bands like Black Flag, Germs and Circle Jerks. At the turn of the decade, just as that boom started to fade, a new generation rolled into town keeping the untamed punk spirit alive while reverberating echoes of the pre-punk era.

Eighties Los Angeles became a hotbed for pioneering alternative rock acts, leaning equally towards country and folk, in the form of cowpunk, and psychedelia, manifesting a scene known as the Paisley Underground. Man, it must have been a thrilling place! Standout bands like The Gun Club, X, Green On Red, The Rain Parade, The Long Ryders and True West are just some of the acts that planted cactus roots in the land of palms. But none were more thrilling or vital than The Dream Syndicate.

Even though they belonged to the same scene as the ones mentioned above, The Dream Syndicate didn’t sound like anyone else at the time. Originally based around Steve Wynn (guitar, vocals), Karl Precoda (guitar) Kendra Smith (bass) and Dennis Duck (drums), Syndicate was all about loud guitars and a boundless approach, creating a musical habitat equally leaning on the harrowing echoes of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the intricate guitar work of Television, the drone soundscapes of The Velvet Underground and the improvisational elements of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler.

The band cemented their legacy early on the seminal 1982 debut, The Days of Wine and Roses, a hands-down masterpiece that exhibits everything they were capable of. Although loud, psychedelic guitar rock was not the hippest of sounds in the ’80s, but it resonated surprisingly well for a subculture that later became known as college rock, which The Dream Syndicate pioneered along with the likes of their close friends in R.E.M, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.

In 1983 The Dream Syndicate secured an opening slot for U2 on their U.S. tour, and the newfound national spotlight landed them a contract with A&M Records. Along with the record deal came a budget that allowed them to hire Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult, The Clash) as producer, resulting in their much more expansive sophomore album, The Medicine Show (1984).

Being dropped from the majors due to disappointing album sales, on top of internal struggles and various line-up changes didn’t prevent two more albums to follow. After a temporary retirement, which allowed Steve Wynn and compadre Dan Stuart of Green On Red to join forces as the drunken barroom outfit Danny & Dusty, Syndicate returned with newfound energy on 1986′s Out of The Grey. Following yet another pause, they crafted the dark and dense album, Ghost Stories, produced by Elliot Mazer of Neil Young fame.

In just six years time, The Dream Syndicate had forged a unique and distinctive four-album catalog that earns them a place among the seminal guitar bands of the 1980s. They capped off the decade with Live at Raji’s, an ecstatic live album that fully captured their energetic shows, without any technical bonds and a statement most bands can dream of.

As the ’80s turned to the ’90s, the Dream Syndicate was put to rest. Steve Wynn continued on as the far most profiled artist, under his own name and in bands like Gutterball and The Baseball Project, while other members drifted in different directions. Their music maintained a strong cult following no one really expected their return.

Then, in 2012, The Dream Syndicate miraculously reunited for a Spanish music festival. Made up of Wynn, Mark Walton (bass), Dennis Duck on drums and newcomer Jason Victor on guitar, the magic was still there. The band has since played over 50 shows and toured throughout the U.S. and Europe.

In 2016 they headed into the studio to begin work on their first album in 29 years. Released on September 8 by Anti- Records, How Did I Find Myself Here? is a triumphant return for a band that never lost its spark.

We invited Steve Wynn for a look in the back mirror and guide us through their catalog while we anticipate their new album.

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The Dream Syndicate: Album by Album
By Steve Wynn

The Days of Wine and Roses
(Ruby, 1982)

Where it all began – to be specific, during three consecutive midnight to 8 a.m. sessions at Quad Tech Studios in East Hollywood in September of 1982.

We tracked all of the songs on the first night. And I sang them and did a few guitar bits and pieces the second night. We mixed the whole thing on the third and we all went to our day jobs in between.

I worked as a clerk at Rhino Records so it’s not like it was the most demanding job in the world. But I do remember going in and opening the store after we finished with a cassette of the mixes in my hand.

I played it to an empty store and knew that we had done something special, that we had made an album that lived up to our loftiest ambitions and intentions

Medicine Show
(A&M, 1984)

The first record took three days. This one took five months, working almost every day during those five months, usually about 12 hours a day.

On the same 8 songs. Yes, it’s almost impossible to believe.

Chock it up to the times, the ’80s became the Era of The Producer, a time when newfound technology and those at the helm felt that they were there for much more than the mere task of capturing art.

Chock it up to the actual producer we had chosen, Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult, The Clash), who I later found out was notorious for going way over a deadline and most certainly over budget.

Chock it up to our ambition to make something deeper, bigger and most intense than our first.

Whatever, they were very different records but they fit together in my mind and this one is quite often my favorite. It creates its own world and I really feel like there’s no other record quite like it. Oh, and some of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written.

Out of the Grey
(Big Time, 1986)

The band broke up in December. Karl and I weren’t talking. It had stopped being fun. And the newfound excesses – of chemicals, alcohol, experience, ego, fame – didn’t work in our favor.

So, that was it.

At least that was it until Mark and Dennis and I realized that we liked playing together and we invited Paul B. Cutler (45 Grave and, the producer of our first EP) to join us.

It worked. It was a blast. It was fun.

And the giddiness of everything being fun again comes through on this record, the title track being the taste of rising up, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

It’s upbeat, breezy, things not normally associated with our band.

Ghost Stories
(Enigma, 1988)

By this time Mark and Paul and Dennis and I had spent a lot of time on the road, and you can hear it on this record. I think that in some ways we put it all together on this one.

It’s dark, it’s noisy, it’s bratty but it’s also quite self-assured and not undone by production – neither too little nor too much.

It’s just us.

Credit must be given to producer Elliot Mazer (responsible for Neil Young’s Harvest, for one) who went for a live immediacy and transparent, rocking sound. It doesn’t sound dated. It sounds like us and, although we didn’t know it at the time, it was a good way to go out.

Oh, and much of it features Chris Cacavas, who had become a fifth member and still is to this day.

Live At Raji’s
(Enigma, 1989)

Paul’s guitar was stolen and we were all broke and most definitely uninsured. So we played a gig at our favorite local Hollywood hangout, Raji’s, to make enough to buy him a new one. And what the hell, we thought, let’s record it as well.

Elliot was around and had the idea to record the show direct to DAT (remember DAT, kids?). He was upstairs with his gear and recorder while we rocked out in the basement.

Man, we were ON that night – no jitters or worries about being recorded. We let it all fly. You hear this record and you hear what we did night after night on stages around the world.

When the show was done, so was the record. Performed and recorded and fully mixed all at the same time.

Some people say it’s our best record. Who am I to argue?

How Did I Find Myself Here
(Anti-, 2017)

A 29-year gap between our fourth and fifth albums. Who does that? Has there ever been a longer gap between albums in a band’s history. I don’t know. But this feels both like a continuation of our saga and something altogether brand new.

We neither wanted to ignore our past nor slavishly reproduce it.

And then we went into the studio and didn’t think about any of that. We just played.

Five days of playing in Richmond, Virginia at Montrose Studios, aided and abetted by our new guitarist Jason Victor (who had played in my solo band, the Miracle 3, since 2001). We knew from the start that it was going well and we just kept going and followed the music where it wanted to take us.

It took us someplace very special.

And that’s how we found ourselves here.

See you on the road.

– Steve Wynn, September 2017

Bjørn Hammershaug

Too Much Damn Guitar!: An Interview With Steve Wynn

Steve_Wynn_1200

If music were like baseball, Steve Wynn is easily batting .500.

That is to say that, over his career, the modern rock legend has a longer and stronger track record than most of his peers.

In the early 1980s Wynn rose to prominence as the lead singer and primary songwriter of seminal Los Angeles band The Dream Syndicate. Founded partly on Velvet Underground’s improvisational soundscapes, Television’s loud guitar dominance and the jingle-jangle of The Byrds, the Dream Syndicate are rightfully considered among the most notable bands of the so-called Paisley Underground scene, which also included The Bangles, The Rain Parade and others. Along with R.E.M, they are also one of the most important bands in the development and popularization of college rock.

Dream_Syndicate_days_wine_rosesWith a constantly revolving line up, labels and experimenting in sound, The Dream Syndicate released a steady row of albums in the course of the ’80s. Their classic debut, The Days of Wine & Roses (1982), stands among the finest albums of the decade, while the blistering live album, Live At Raji’s (1989), captures their ferocious on-stage energy. The latter also turned out to be their swan song (though they reunited in 2012, with the possibility of new material on the way), paving the way for even more successful bands like Nirvana and Pixies without cashing in on the indie/guitar resurrection in the 1990s.

Steve Wynn has remained perpetually productive ever since.

After the demise of The Dream Syndicate, he immediately launched a solo career under his own name, as well as being involved in a series of different projects: Danny & Dusty (with Dan Stuart of Green On Red), Gutterball (with compadres from House of Freaks and The Silos), his own combo The Miracle 3, and the recent supergroup The Baseball Project (which includes his wife and half of R.E.M.).

No matter the musical constellation, Steve Wynn has always kept his signature in tact. Never compromising on strong, intelligent songwriting packed with funny wordplay and gritty storytelling, and of course excellent guitar playing and transcendent melodies. This pivotal artist has turned into one of the most reliable names of the last 35 years, always willing to reinvent himself in search of new sonic territory.

I sat down with the ever so friendly Steve Wynn for a deep-digging round of offbeat and revealing questions.

* * *

Describe your perfect day.

If I write a new song it’s a great day. When I’m creative and producing things, I’m at my happiest. That’s joy to me. Also, walking five miles every day, preferably in a city I’ve never been before. And those two things go together. Walking and writing for me has always been a good combination. So if I’m in a strange city, walking a lot, thinking about an idea for a song, and eating a good meal… It doesn’t get better than that.

Growing up, what made you want to become a musician?

I was born in 1960, so I grew up through Beatlemania, AM radio, garage rock, protest music, acid rock and great things like that. It was just in the air, and I was thrilled by music from a young age.

I wrote my first song and played in my first band when I was 9. That’s all I wanted to do. I had an older sister who was just old enough for my mother to trust me to go out with her, but young enough to be into cool music. She could drive, she had her own house, and she took me to lots of great concerts. The first show I ever saw was Delaney & Bonnie when I was 9, who I still like a lot. I was a music junkie from the age I was 6, so when my sister said we’re going to see Delaney & Bonnie I said, “Oh great, I hope Eric Clapton is playing.” I knew what was going on. She took me to see Alice Cooper, The Who, Roxy Music… all these great bands.

I’m very glad I was 17 years old in 1977. To be old enough to leave home, driving a car, enjoying my freedom while punk rock was happening… That was the perfect blend, and it blew my mind. The most romantic period of all time for me was buying singles by the Clash, the Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello and stuff like that. I think that influenced me more than anything.

What’s the most unlikely album that has inspired your own music?

ascension_coltraneIt’s probably not a surprise to those who know my music and my history, but a lot of jazz records. Out there albums like Albert Ayler’s later stuff, Ascension by John Coltrane, Dancing in Your Head by Ornette Coleman… These were all records I loved, and who taught me of improvisation. In the years before The Days of Wine & Roses, I’d practice my guitar not to The Yardbirds or “Stairway to Heaven,” but to free jazz. It made sense to me, to learn how to jam and improvise. So I would sit down with these freaky half-hour long jazz pieces and go at it.

There’s a fire in your house! What three things do you rescue?

Besides my wife? [laughs] That should be obvious. Let’s see… my 1960 Princeton reverb amplifier, which is the best amp in the universe and which I use every time I make a record. Made the same year as myself, and sounds like all the albums I love. Then there’s my paisley Telecaster, which I just got. It’s my favorite thing right now. This is just music stuff, but I have to add Bob Dylan’s really great bootleg, Ten of Swords, which you can’t find anywhere these days and is a collection of his early demos and recordings. I carried it around forever. Yeah, I go for those three things, after the wife.

If you could pick a fight with anyone – who would it be and why?

I’ve got a few problems with Dick Cheney. [laughs] I think he and George W. Bush had quite a bit to do with screwing up the U.S. and the world in general, for reasons driven by money and corruption. If not punch him in the face, I’d at least like to ask a few questions. I can do more damage with my words than my fist.

I’m a political junkie and have always been a newspaper fanatic. First thing on my radar used to be a copy of the International Herald Tribune [now The International New York Times]. When I came to new cities, the first thing I tried to find was the train station and buy a paper, cause I had to have the news. And that was a way for me to discover a new city. Now you don’t need that, it’s all there. Just like music: The biggest thing about touring was to choose which 20 cassettes to last me for the next 6-10 weeks. I would agonize on my record collection whether to bring Marquee Moon or Adventure. Now I’ve got the entire record collection in my pocket.

What’s the worst or best advice you ever received?

Whatever it was I didn’t listen to it. I don’t take advice very well. [pauses] Someone once said to me, “Be careful and be aware of things that are done in your name, because you will bare responsible for it.” I think that’s true. Sometimes, when you’re a musician, you think somebody else will take care of things, but at the end of the day it’ll come down to you. The things you put out there, you live with. That’s why I think I take such good care of the records I make, the shows I play and the way I treat people.

A role model has always been Bruce Springsteen, who I think is a pretty righteous dude in his approach to live music. Seeing him play in 1977 for the first time was another big life changer, because I saw how much passion he put into his show, treating it like it was the last time. Some will see you that night, some may never see you again, may never have seen you before, and that show may be the most important in that person’s life. You should treat every night and everything you do like it may be the only time you do it. Because for some it will be.

What’s your favorite sport, and why?

You didn’t have to ask that. [laughs] It’s baseball, of course. I’ve always been a big baseball fan. One thing we found from the Baseball Project is that a lot of musicians love baseball. It makes sense, because baseball is much like the music we make. It’s cerebral, it’s mental, and you drift away in your own imagination. There’s no clock in baseball. There’s a clock in football, both European and American, there’s a clock in basketball and hockey. Baseball is open, limitless, infinite, anything can happen. You’re living in the moment, but you’re also living throughout history. Everyone who loves the game can recite numbers and facts from the last 150 years. Which is what we do in the Baseball Project.

Strangely enough I have three favorite teams, and they all have to do with where I’m from and where I live: I love the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Mets. But these days, since I live in Queens, I’ve started to like the Mets a little bit more. Now I can just walk to a Mets game.

A funny thing, my old friend Josh Kantor is the organist in The Baseball Project, and also the organist for Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. It’s the greatest job, and he’s a really cool music fanatic. Typically in the past the organist would play old-fashioned songs or big hits, but he plays The Dream Syndicate, R.E.M and other really obscure indie bands to 50,000 people every weekend.

baseball_project_2015

The Baseball Project at The Crossroads Club, Oslo November 13, 2015. (Photo: Bjørn Hammershaug)

What’s a place you’ve never been that you want to go?

So many. Next year I’d like to go to South America. I think Bogotá is on top of my list right now. I want to go everywhere. It’s the greatest thing, finding a new city. My favorite place right now is Mexico City, with its great bookstores, cafés, restaurants – and rock fans. There’s a huge scene down there.

Can you name a book that you wish everyone one would read?

I could name a lot of them… I’m a big fan of a book by John Updike called Rabbit, Run, actually there’s a series of books about this character called Rabbit. It tells the story of 20th century America better than any history book. It explains a lot about America and why it’s the way it is and what happened in the second part of the 20th century. I recommended that one, and any of the books with Rabbit in the title by John Updike.

Criticize your own music from the perspective of someone who hates it.

Too much damn guitar!

What’s your greatest fear?

Probably being deaf. I wouldn’t like that. I love music too much.

Are there any particular of your own albums you hold especially dear?

wynn_miraclesI’d have to say Here Come the Miracles, I really like that for many reasons. I think it’s my best record; and I’m really satisfied with what I did on that one. It also came at a time in my life where I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I thought, I’m 40, I might be done or I might be out of ideas, or I might have nothing left to say. It came at the right time, where it showed me where I should go, and also that I could keep doing it. It revived everything, from the creative side to the career side. It was also the easiest record to make. There were no obstacles, no confusion, and everything was just obvious. Now that doesn’t happen every day. [laughs]

The world is ending tomorrow. What do you do before it’s all over?

Enjoying some time with my wife. That’d be Linda [Pitmon] by the way, my bandmate in The Baseball Project. When we met, we had both been touring a lot, so we knew all about that lifestyle. I toured with this other musician for several years, and once he and I were together in Rome. It was such a beautiful night, we had had a great dinner and stood on a square under the full moon. He laid his arm around me and said, “Steve, I love you man, but I’d much rather be here with my wife.” And I totally understood him. The thing about musicians is that we travel the world having all these great experiences, and then we go home to our wives or friends and try to explain what it was like. It’s nice to be in a band with my wife. We can share all those great memories together.

wynn_hammers_2015

Bjørn Hammershaug
Originally published September 17, 2005 on read.tidal.com