INTERVIEW: God Street Wine
God Street Wine bassist
By: W. Jeffrey Lockwood
God Street Wine is a rock and roll band from New York City. The band is made up of Lo Faber (vocals and guitar), Aaron Maxwell (vocals and guitar), Tomo (drums and vocals), Dan Pifer (bass and vocals) and Jon Bevo (keyboards). Playing over 200 shows per year, GSW has developed a cult following because of their improvisation on stage.
I had originally spoken with Aaron Maxwell for this interview. Our interview went great and many subjects were covered. We talked for about thirty minutes. When I went to review our conversation, I noticed that I had not switched the record button to on. D'oh!! Thus, I had thirty minutes of nothing. In a frantic call, I was able to arrange to have Dan, the bass player, call me back. This time, the tape worked.
Ok. This better work. Jesus. Ok. Are you sick of interviews yet?
Dan: No. This is only my second interview today.
For the record: Who are you and what instrument do you play?
Dan: My name is Dan Pifer, P-I-F-E-R, and I play the bass guitar.
Do you feel like it is dangerous ridin' bikes around New York City?
Dan: Yeah it is actually. It's funny because I had a bike for a few months before I started riding it around. And then one day I really had to get somewhere because I was late. I didn't have time to walk to the subway and I did not have money for a cab. So I was "Oh, I'll take my bike." It is a little frightening when you're riding down a busy avenue weaving in and out of trucks. You just kind of get into a zone where you see everything that is going on.
You should bring it on the road with you.
Dan: I could, and I would if we had the space. The bike is a piece of junk.
Do you guys have a big bus now?
Dan: Yeah. We got a tour bus. It is ok. It is better than a van. But it is also kind of different. When you tour in a van you get to sleep in a hotel every night because you can't really drive after you play. But when you're in a bus you can drive through the night. You have to get kind of used to sleeping in a moving vehicle. You get into this thing where you don't really sleep for weeks and you're constantly exhausted. You have to make sure that when you're back home that you get lots of rest, take good care of yourself and recharge your batteries and mellow out for seven weeks.
I want to ask you about about the band and influences. You guys have been playing for 9 years?
How do you think you guys all get along?
Dan: I think we get along great considering the amount of time we've spent together the last 9 years. (laughing) We toured together in vans and cars in the beginning. And then after the first three years we were together, we moved into a house together for about three years. We were all in it for about three years and a couple of guys stayed a couple of years longer. During that time was when we were touring the most. It was like we would be in a band together all the time and then we would come home and be together in the house. We spent a lot of time together. We are still all good friends and get along with each other. In fact, I'd say we are better friends now. We did come to a point where we stopped really communicating, and we had to break through some of those barriers that we put up. But we're in a much better place now that everybody has learned to accept each other.
When you guys all lived there, you recorded and produced RED yourselves before Mercury picked it up. How long did it take you to record the album up there?
Dan: It was the summer before last. We recorded for about a month and then we went out on the HORDE tour for about a month and then we came back and finished it up. It probably took about a month and a half, or so.
Did you like putting Red together as a grass roots kind of thing?
Dan: Yeah. We were on Geffen records before that and it didn't work out. We got out of that deal in early June of that year. I guess that would have been 1995. And then we toured all through the Spring before that and we made a lot of money playing colleges. So we were like "We got this money, so let's just build a studio and make our own record." We didn't enjoy the process of making the record on Geffen. I think it's a good record...
You're talking about $1.99 Romances?
Dan: Yeah, $1.99 Romances. But it came out alright in the end, but the process was not great. We didn't really like the producer that much. It was just too weird for us. We were in Memphis for five weeks recording. It was just so bizarre for everyone. So, we did it and, yeah, we had all this money and we built an ADAT studio, which was a fairly inexpensive thing to do. We used the same engineer who had assisted on $1.99 Romances because he was kind of the only bright spot in the whole thing. A guy named Malcom Springer. So, yeah, he engineered it and we made a record and we wrote a lot of the material as we were doing it. It wasn't real thought out.
Yeah, I got that feeling listening to it.
Dan: Yeah. Some songs were pretty produced like "RU4 Real" and a couple of the other songs like "Which Way Will She Go" really kind of have a produced sound. But some of the other ones like Chop were completely by the seat of our pants. "When the White Sun Turns to Red" is just like a total ____. So the record isn't that cohesive as a record, but we took a lot of chances. So it was kind of fun. While we were on the road, we found that people either love it passionately or hate it passionately. There was very little middle ground.
Are there any changes on the Mercury Records version of Red?
Dan: The only thing we did was we...We remixed "RU4Real" and we re-mastered the whole disk. We also printed the lyrics and the artwork. That was pretty much the only difference. But it is all the same songs and arrangements and stuff.
I heard that a couple of you guys went to school with some people from Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors and Phish. Is that true?
Dan: Yeah. It was sort of that Princeton connection. Our drummer and Lo kind of knew Bobby Sheehan from Blues Traveler. Actually all of those guys [Blues Traveler] were from Princeton. But they kind of knew Bobby more than the other guys. Then Chris Barron from Spin Doctors went to the same school down there and Trey Anastasio was a little older, but also was in that general area and they kind of knew who he was. I think that he was a drummer then. I don't think that he had started playing guitar yet. Lo seems to remember him as a drummer.
Actually, what city do you guys call home?
Dan: As a band, we call New York City home. We formed here and we were here for the first three years. The only reason that we moved out was because we couldn't afford a place to live. We found a house in West Chester that was affordable and in the woods where we could make plenty of noise.
Why was being with Geffen so bad at that time?
Dan: Geffen was the definitive alternative band label at the time. Nirvana. Hole. That whole thing was all about of Geffen. We didn't originally actually sign to Geffen. We signed to something called 11 Records which was funded by Geffen. This was not an established label that got picked up. It basically started, was seeded by Geffen money. When David Geffen left, there wasn't anyone left in the company who really cared about it. We were kind of left floundering.
What are some of you musical influences as a bass player?
Dan: As a bassist,I have kind of come full circle to be honest with you. When I was in high school it was classic rock bands. Chris Squire from Yes. John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. I really dug those guys and like Geddy Lee from Rush. They were the dudes for bass. Then I went to college and started listening to jazz, I started listening to people like Jocko Pastorious and Stanley Clark and upright players. I kind of got way into that stuff. Then I kind of woke up one day and was like "This music doesn't really get me in the heart" I started going back and pulling out my old Zeppelin albums and was like "This stuff rocks!" I kind of came full circle. And now it is kind of fun because after having learned all of that hard stuff with jazz and technical stuff, to back and listen to my early influences and hear what they were doing with different ears is really fun. I pick it up a lot faster and understand it a lot better. In there was also a large dose of listening to funk players like Bootsie Collins and James Jamerson, a Motown bass player. I really got into that stuff in college and actually I'm still into it. It never gets old.
Speaking of college, what school do you all meet at?
Dan: We all met at NYU. Lo and I met at NYU and we transferred after a year to the Manhattan School of Music and that is where we met Aaron. Jon, the keyboard player, went to NYU but he was a Philosophy major. Tomo didn't go to college. He and Lo were old school friends. He was living on a farm in New Jersey when we recruited him
People label bands and it is not right. What do you think of being labeled as a "hippie-Jam- band"?
Dan: It used to bother me because when we started we were all listening to Jazz and stuff when we were in school. We were much more influenced by bands like Steely Dan, than we were by the Dead. But, we kind of, during the course of playing live and jamming out, we would kind of end up sounding more like the Dead than Steely Dan. The song parts of our songs, where we would have lyrics and chords, were like Steely Dan and we would go into some jams that would sound like something else. Anyway, I felt that it was kind of like unfair and people were, a lot of times, describing the audience more than what they were hearing. Since then, I really don't care because people are going to label you however they are going to label you and you can never tell people what to think. So, basically I just don't worry about it anymore. If they want to call us a hippie jam band... that's fine. As long as our audience likes it, as long as we like what we are doing and we're having fun and they're having a good time and we're getting good feedback from them and they like the records we make and stuff, I'm totally happy. And if the press or whoever wants to call us something..I don't care. It's like everyone gets so hung up on their labels. It's a mistake for the performer to get caught up in that. It's more important to just worry about your music and have them call it whatever they are going to call it.
This is my next to last question.I know that you're not doing two set shows this time around. You're going in without a set list and I know you do a lot of improvising to begin with. Could you comment on that?
Dan: The only two set shows that we're doing on this tour are last night and tonight at Irving Plaza. For the most part we have been doing one set shows and we will for the rest of the tour. Really, we realized this summer that when we wrote a setlist out, we would struggle along with which songs we were going to play. The problem is that we have a lot of songs. Right now we have about sixty or seventy that we know well enough that we could play any given night. It's really hard to know...Everybody has their favorites, "Nightingale", "Get on the Train", those things you want to play most nights. And then there's plenty of room for other ones. So, we would spend an agonizing hour before the show, always at the last possible minute, trying to figure out the set list. And then you just have boom, boom, boom, boom...There's your setlist. So half way through you're like "How many more songs?". You kind of feel like a robot after a while. We would just write out some songs and throw them on the paper kind of scattered. Maybe we'll put three together so we can get momentum build up or two together so we don't have to worry so much. But, we leave room for improvisation to kind of lead it from one place to another. You never really know which song you're gonna actually go into. You have to think that "It might be this or it might be this" But someone else will be "No, it'll be this" And that's cool. Or they start playing a lick from another tune. So a lot of times, we end up playing songs that aren't even in the setlist. So it's kind of fun because what it allows you to do, as a performer, is two things. One is that it keeps you on your toes. And then two, it really makes you pay attention to the momentum and to the audience. Because, too often you have your set list and that's what you are going to do, the audience might want you to slow it down. You might have been bashing them over the head for too long and now you need to chill it out. Or you might need to do the opposite. It might be too mellow and you need to really kick it in gear. And if you're chained to a set list that's not doing that, you can't do it because nobody wants to leave that setlist. But we use a list to give ourselves suggestions so we are not sitting up there conferencing before every song which always look terrible. But we have a map, but its not totally specific.
Are the the segues easier or harder without a setlist?
Dan: It is easier, definitely, without a setlist to make a segue happen. For a long time we kind of planned a lot of our segues. We said we were going to play these chords or we're gonna do this, but we hardly do that anymore. We're just like "Well, we're going to play this and IF it goes into this tone, maybe we'll just stop and play the next tune." There is nothing wrong with that. Or maybe somebody will start jamming and take it into a different key so it starts to set up a new song, change the feel a little bit, kind of get it going and then, boom, you hit it. That's really cool. There was a transition there. But the trick is to never do something too much and do it to death, so you really have to pay attention. Just by having five guys up there really in tune with what's happening makes a whole different show on a whole different level. The energy is just so more intense and the audience is really into it. That's really good. Sometimes you miss. Sometimes you do a song and say, "We should have done that other song." But that's part of performing. You can't always be perfect.
And my last question is: Which bathrooms do you like better? Clubs, arenas or rest stops?
Dan: Maybe the question should be which ones do I hate the least. They're all pretty bad, usually. Interstate bathrooms probably have the least privacy, but at the same time they are probably kept the cleanest. I would have to say the interstate. The arena, you know at the end of the show is always a disaster. And some of the club bathrooms that I have seen are just a disaster from the minute you walk in there. So, I guess that your best bet, if you're looking for clean toilet paper in the holder, is your interstate bathrooms.
Do you think OJ did it?
Dan: Yeah. I gotta believe he probably did it. It just seems to obvious. It just goes to show you that if you got a lot of money, you can get out of anything.
Dan: Hey, no problem. Anytime.