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An interview with Dave Abbruzzese

By: Danielle Woodrich

Dave Abbruzzese and I spent the day making a rich basil-y pasta sauce and only a slight mockery of the interview scenario. We used fresh ingredients harmoniously with well aged ones because Artists and Chefs need both to satisfy. As it happened, alongside the ripe cheeses and unhung band of garlic was also one band of Jam; and the bright harvest of herbs and live greens and fleshly reds covered the table in an elemental metaphor for Dave's present passion for the music.

I first wanted to ask him about Green Romance Orchestra's release, Play Parts I & IV, and about the band. As we started pulling raw vegetables from the piles, looking for this knife and that bowl and bumping into each other, I asked him about the inside of the album where every song has its lyrics and its origin as well as photographs that combine to invite listeners to take part in this stirring experience.

Me: If the liner notes are any indication, the process is as important to you as the result. Were you trying to communicate something specific with the birth stories of the songs, or were you just sick of people asking what this means and what that means and where'd you come up with that?

DA: Neither, actually. It was just when I was putting together that stuff, and you know, we in the band talked about what we did and didn't like about liner notes and records in general. We really wanted to find out what everyone's take was on packaging. We talked about our favorite records (as far as packaging goes) and why we liked them. It was just one of those things -- we're big fans of The Process. When you get a record and you like it, it's quite an added bonus when you eventually get to find out what the processes involved were.

His hair went into a rubberband and he pushed tomatoes through a juicer. I got the huge pot ready with olive oil heating, and rummaged through drawers until I found a garlic press.

Me: I agree. One of the things I found interesting about it (the liner notes) was that you guys seem to hackeysack song ideas around. It isn't that Paul {Slavens} writes all the lyrics or that Doug {Neil} does all the guitar. You have all these weird people in there -- the other guy from Ten Hands, Cripps....Joe Cripps, and Castell and Darryl Phillips and Art Hayes showing up w/the sax....

DA: Oh...yea. It was a Democracy Freak Out.

What a great term for creating music, I thought, and as the tomato paste got poured in with a spattering and a sizzle, I had to laugh.

Me: Excellent. So making those songs cooperatively like that, when does it stop being easy and start turning into hard work? Who decides if something doesn't belong?

DA: Those guys made me - it was kind of one of those things where, when you're in a situation where you have unlimited access to gear and time and all that stuff, there's the ability to get bombastic, just going crazy with tons of ideas, and you know, egos and the freak outs. So the ability to do that was there, they basically said "We need somebody to steer the ship, and you're the guy, so do that." It was cool because it freed everyone else up to just be who they are and not worry so much about the range and the focus and how much money is being spent and all that sort of stuff.

Me: It must have been something of a luxury for them to be able to play and hand over the reins, to not necessarily have to speak up about every decision.

DA: I think so, and all of them have definitely been in the situation of leading bands. And I don't think everyone was tired of it or anything, they just felt like - well, we have a unique slant on things going here. I was doing a lot of mixing and tracking at the console so it was natural that I was in a position of listening more than I was playing. Sometimes it's hard for a musician to play and listen at the same time, but since I was, I got the gig.

Four bayleaves, a 1/2 a plant of basil, a bouquet of fennel and a little mint joined the tomatoes at my hand. Dave set aside the white paper wrapped veal and sausage to form a few dozen meatballs in a sort of zen thoughtfulness.

Me: To be honest, when I first got this disk, I had some weird expectations, because of you know....the association.

DA: Oh, I love it, it's okay. I knew there were going to be tons of those - expectations.

Me: Most of us that enjoyed your work so much with Pearl Jam were also aware of the press from that time that you were on some incongruous (with them, or Ed, or whoever) ego-trip. I know I wasn't the only one who thought they were going to get the Dave Abbruzzese Drum Album.

DA: Was the press that I was on a star-trip?

Me: Yea, yea. Not that I wouldn't have dug a drum album...but I was so fucking wrong that to hear these great GRO songs and not catch any drift of this showboating we might have banked on had all that been true. Were you ever that obnoxious goof so meanly described, or is this always the way you wanted to make music?

DA: I never once thought I was an obnoxious goof. I think a lot of people...I don't know, it's almost like since the perception was that Pearl Jam was such the anti-star-trip band, that me getting fired it was easy for people to assume the reason I got fired was because I was different. I think then the easiest assumption from there was that my difference was the fact that I was on some sort of rock star freak out.

Me: That's what was so unexpected (to me anyway) about this album -- that is not what the evidence is.

DA: It's weird, Danielle. I don't think there ever was that in me anyway. The only thing that could have maybe been perceived that way was that I didn't have a problem being successful. I don't think that's a star trip, that was just me saying out loud - wow all the things I ever dreamed about happening are happening and this is a really fucking great thing, and not being afraid to say that.

My arm was tiring from grating on this big piece of cheese. It smelled so good and was so sharp and salty, but there were mushrooms and peppers to chop and I was falling behind as the pile of meatballs grew.

Me: Speaking of being able to do that, one of my favorite songs on the disk is "Remains", though not for any intellectualized reason. That running full speed downhill, kayak-flipping-in-white-water drumming thing you do at the end is really sick. Every time I hear it, it's fucking impossible for me to be distracted from it by anything. No question here, I just wanted to tell you that.

DA: Thanks. But you know, when I first got fired and I was getting those questions, was it a star trip blah blah blah, it actually really hurt my feelings a lot. It was like fuuuuck, what the fuck is that all about?....Just because it was so far from that. I felt so incredibly far away from that idea.

Me: Well, anyone who has ever met you, or who has listened to music you've made apart from that situation would probably back you up on that. We weren't cooking together then, but I, for one, don't happen to think that now.

With the meatballs rolled into the pot and the other succulent fleshes added, the level and thickness of the sauce rose, steamed, bubbled.

DA: It was weird and hard. It's not like I ever even wanted to defend against it. This record was definitely not intended as a defense of any sort. Far from it. It was just a thing where the idea bummed me out so much. I think that if you want to analyze what everyone does with the opportunities they're given through success, you're always gonna find someone's on a star trip, whether it's accepting the fine seats at the basketball game for free from the promoter, or things like that. There are perks. It would be one huge lie to say that there aren't, but most everyone takes some advantage of the opportunities that come with being in a successful band. Everyone does it in their own way, but it still boils down to the same thing.

I threw in the cheese, lightening the color of the pot's contents and stowed the leftover block. He swept piles of papery garlic skins into the sink. There was time to kill while all that settled in and we cracked into a decided perk - a couple of bottles of wine and a timely turn in conversation.

Me: You guys had some temporary distributions problems which obviously now have been overcome since it's out at Tower and Media Play and other places. Was this because of your indy label Free Association's lack of experience or was it just bad luck?

DA: Bad luck, totally. It was the worst kind of luck. We went with this small distributor, and not because it was cool, it had nothing to do with it even being a good idea! It was that they were the ones that were willing to allow us to do things at our own pace. But anyway, they folded a week before the record was supposed to come out. We knew that they were going under but we decided to chance it because if it worked out...well, we gambled and it didn't work out.

Me: Are you going to be taking any gambles with trying to do, oh say, a tour in 1998?

DA: Yea, I think so. That's the thing - Paul and those guys were members of my favorite band ever {Texas group Ten Hands}. The idea of playing on stage with them is really exciting. It will happen.

Me: Do you want to bring out another band with you for an opener, or do you see GRO opening for someone?

DA: We're just going to try and go out and play and do it on a club level. Whoever is playing in front of us, fine, whatever. This band was never intended to even BE a band so much as an entertainment for people. It was intended to be our own release and my kind of healing thing. But so many people liked that first disk we sent out...

Me: Are you going to release anything else this year from the vaults of stuff you made at the house in Texas?

DA: I don't know. There is tons of music that we have. We recorded so much down there. And we talk a lot, we're all playing, we're all writing, all the time. Paul's got a jazz trio, and Gary's {Muller} doing his freak, Doug plays with everybody and there is just so much going on. Now up here, I've been playing with Duff {McKagan} and working on ideas with him. Then there is Mike Dillon who was a percussionist in Ten Hands, the best, one of my heroes...he's been coming over and we've been working on a lot of incredible percussion stuff. We're just kind of going with it.

Mee: I know you're buddy Mike is playing w/Ozzy, wouldn't it be a riot doing a couple of Ozzy shows??

DA: Oh Mike Borden? {of Faith No More} Yea, what a freak, he's great. He said it's like being in the best bad-ass Ozzy cover band ever, and then you look up and there's OZZY!

Me: That would be hilarious -- imagine - could you even? hahahah one day you're giggling through 'High' with your buds and that night you're helping push Ozzy's wheelchair out to center stage...nevermind...

DAVE: HAHAHA I'm sure.

Obviously we had not put nearly enough wine in the sauce when compared to our glasses, so we remembered to add more when the mountains of green peppers and chives and velvety mushrooms got included. A Mediterranean incense filled the whole room announcing it was almost time to taste the concoction with torn off crusts of baguette.

Me: So....your first drum kit, do you still have it, or have your parents stashed it away somewhere?

DA: My very first drum kit...hmmmm. All of my drum kits up until the Ludwig one ended up biting the dust. They got beat right into the ground.

Me: That's too bad. It'd be damned funny to see you sit behind a little tiny kit. So what kind of music do you play when your parents come over?

DA: I go to their house a lot more than they come to mine. It's easier for me to drive a few hours to see them than for them to come all the way up here. When they do come up though, they come for dinner, then we listen to jazz, or Celtic or something doesn't get in the way of conversation. A lot of conversation.

Me: My mom can handle the Ani DiFranco or some anger-rock and like it quite well, but my father is further from my norm - he gets ancient choral music or an old scratchy Frank Sinatra, maybe some opera. We used to be way into the same music...he took me to my first concert, but, well, everyone changes.

DA: My dad actually turned me on to Grand Funk Railroad, and he's totally not a rocker. Most people automatically imagine, you know, a bearded guy with long hair, a sixties throwback, but my folks are TOTAL parents, you know, catholic folks, no kind of ex-hippie thing going on. They're full-on parental units.

Me: Yea, believe me, I know. Last weekend we went to a party for a 90 year old aunt who has been a nun since she was 17. It was bizarre, even though some of the people there were family, you'd probably never ever guess they were mine, or how natural it is for us to visit w/ bishops and monsignors and bevies of sisters.

DA: Sure, I bet. I can picture it.

Me: Ok, here's the last thing - and this does not have to go to print but I want to know - what does an ounce of bud run in rock-star-prices? and what do you pay now?

DA: HAHAHA very funny. Oh, you can print that, I don't give a shit. Actually, in rock star prices...and what I pay now... I'd have to say, you don't get a pro discount. It's probably pretty much the same, I just got it from a lot more places then, and smoked stuff that I wasn't real sure where it came from...

With much sipping from the wooden spoon and chewing of the crusty bread wrapped around the stray broken meatball, and after more blithering about the pleasures of our chosen pleasures, we admired the destruction of the kitchen.

Green Romance Orchestra's album played in the background and we called it a day.

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