photo by Katie Benner
God Street Wine are legends in their own right. They made their first mark on the jamband scene in 1992 with their independently released album “Bag”. They were part of a scene that boasted other up and coming acts like Blues Traveler, The Spin Doctors and Phish. The band toured endlessly and picked up a die hard fan base affectionately known as “Winos”. In 1999, the band played their last gig only to reunite in September of 2001 where they performed for the last time to bid farewell to the legendary NYC venue Wetlands. Lo Faber was one of the lead singer/guitarists for the band and is credited with writing many of the bands songs that spans over four studio albums and two live albums. I was lucky enough to get in touch with Lo and he so graciously volunteered to an interview for the ol’ blog!
Lets hop in the Brainfart Time Machine (not as gross as it sounds, I promise!). When did the music bug bite you?
My mom played mandolin in a bluegrass band, starting when I was 6 and breaking up when I was about 11, so I started first on banjo, then guitar in hopes of dropping out of school and going on the road with the band…. that didn’t work out, and then I hit adolescence and switched from bluegrass to rock….
Who are some of your biggest influences and inspirations as an artist?
Well, Beatles and Grateful Dead, initially, since all those albums were in the house; as well as 100’s of bluegrass albums…. from later periods I’ll just name at random– Talking Heads/Byrne/Eno, Prince, Bob Marley/Bunny Wailer/Peter Tosh, Zappa, Dylan…. many many more.
Do you have any formal training as a musician or are you self taught?
A couple years of guitar lessons early on, but mostly self taught until age 19, when I went into the Manhattan School of Music’s Jazz & Commercial music program. It was a serious straight-jazz course of instruction and I practiced about 10-12 hours a day; that’s where I met Aaron… I stayed in the program 2 years, dropping out when GSW started gigging a lot (circa 1990).
How did God Street Wine first come together?
I knew Tomo since the 9th grade, playing in various bands together throughout high school; met Dan at NYU and Aaron at MSM, Tom then moved into the city, he and Aaron & I shared a little apartment on West 82nd street, and we used to play every night at this little rehearsal studio Dan worked at on 48th street.
God Street Wine has always been one of my favorite bands without a doubt and $1.99 Romances to this day is one the most frequently played albums in my collection. Did you guys realize that you had made such a masterpiece at the time and if not, when did you realize you really had something special?
Not at all; that album was something of a nightmare to make, actually. I think if it sounds at all good that is because the tunes were pretty much drilled into our heads from years of touring at that point. We went down to Memphis to work with a producer we’d never met, and who turned out to have very different ideas than we did as to how the album should sound. I fought to remix the album with a different engineer and the producer not present, and he threatened at one point to throw the multitrack masters in the Mississippi river … not a good vibe all round.
I was lucky enough to see you guys in Atlanta opening for Bruce Hornsby and I felt like that was a really cool pairing. Who were some of the coolest bands you toured with and who weren’t so cool? [You can be honest or not answer that last part!
Black Crowes were really our best road buddies. Super friendly. Allman Brothers crew were friendly but you didn’t see a whole lot of the band. G Love, Blues traveler, ARU, all good friends. We never really met anyone totally dickish; we did have an incident with Sheryl Crow when she opened for us once in Boulder, but that was more crew vs crew than band vs band … in fact crew vs crew happens a fair bit.
The GSW album “Red” seemed to have a theme with songs like “Red & Milky White”, “Made of Blood” and “When The White Sun Turns Red”. Was this an intentional theme or did these songs all just kinda fall into place with each other?
Well I think when it came time to title the thing all this “redness” made “red” a pretty easy title.
God Street Wine was held in VERY high regard by their fans (including me) to be one of the best of the best of the jam band scene. After Phish broke big in the scene, did you guys feel pressure to try and match them or was it pretty much an all for one type of mentality on the scene?
Phish was around a bit before we were and always seemed to have a considerable bigger following… This was brought home to us one December evening — 1991 maybe? when they were playing at Wetlands and we were playing at the North River Bar, just a few blocks down Hudson Street, to a crowd of maybe 50-80 people, typica for us in thos days, and our show suddenly became totally packed when 500+ people couldn’t get in to the Phish show… it was clear this was a phenomenon! Of course later we had huge shows of our own in NYC but Phish was always a good four or five steps ahead; naturally we’d have been happy to trade places with them, but mostly just focused on doing our own thing.
What are the other GSW guys up to these days and do you keep in touch with them?
Tom is living in Dublin, playing for an Irish singer named Lisa Hannigan who’s touring the states soon and everyone should check them out! Aaron’s a music teacher at a private school… Dan and Jon have regular guy jobs… We’re all in touch though busy with families; everyone has kids now, Aaron was the last but now has twins!
God Street Wine are considered by many to be legends of the Jam Band scene. You guys came out around the same time that acts like Phish, Blues Traveler, Acoustic Junction and many others came out. Do you look back and wish that GSW was bigger or are you ok being considered legends, un-sung heroes if you will who made some amazing music?
I wish we’d have been much bigger, and then my royalty checks would be much bigger. Duh! But regrets are bad for the soul. We were lucky to do what we did and had a great time doing it.
After calling it a day with GSW, you managed to work on a couple of projects, namely Henry’s House and Friday Night Freakshow. What can you tell us about these projects? Alas, I have yet to hear them!
Shame on you! They rock! I think I’m going to put them on my site for free download… soon.
What artists are dominating your iPod these days (or whatever other music contraption you’re using)?
Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. It’s the vibe of 1803! Also the new Byrne/Eno album, just saw David at Radio City.
A lot of bands I have talked to said that being a major label band was both a blessing and a curse. Do you feel it was more one than the other and how so?
They give you lots of money. Without that money it would have been very hard for us to continue our career. We were broke or in debt for long stretches and the recording advances really saved us.
The fact remains that in all sorts of ways with which the general public is, at this point, quite familiar, the labels suck. They don’t know how to promote or sell music, they have no interest in building careers, they don’t do A&R, they have no knowledge of their audiences and what they want.
I think there are relevant analogies to failure in other areas of American business–banks, maybe? The record labels are set up as a search for the one-time mega-bonanza platinum album, and have no idea how to cultivate artists and catalog that would yield sustainable long-term profitability.
I’m going to list (in order of release) the GSW albums? Will you rate each one on a scale of 1-10 (1 being no love, 10 being you love it) and tell us why? (you don’t have to explain if you don’t want to. You can keep it as long and short as you care to!)
Bag – 9 really holds up well. totally our project. fun memories.
Who’s Driving? – 5 I know lots of fans like it but it’s really just a board tape and not even a really great one. Made quickly so we could buy a new van.
$1.99 Romances – 7.5. See above. I think it’s good but I really don’t have good memories of making it.
Red – 8 This one is tough. It was self-indulgent and took us in a direction that was fun for us but clearly not what our fans wanted, and that hurt us. On the other hand it was really great fun to make, in our living room in Westchester, and worked as a kind of therapy for the stress of the previous few years.
God Street Wine – 6 I think there are really good songs on here. The sound is decent too. I felt somewhat detached from this one though. In some ways I was pulling back deliberately, ceding control to both the producer and the rest of the band, and even the record label. This all seemed a good idea at the time. But it doesn’t really feel like my album. Other band members might say the opposite.
Good to the Last Drop – 9 Looking back I agree with the majority sentiment of our fans that we were better live than in the studio. This CD is a good representation of the best aspects of the live GSW energy I think, more than Who’s Driving. The sound is mediocre, again, but whatever.
If you could put a dream band together of any famous musicians (alive or dead), who would be in it and what would they play? You have to be in the band as well!
Ludwig Van Beethoven — Keys
George Bridgetower and Niccolo Paganini — Violins
Earl Scruggs — Banjo
James Jamerson — Bass
Steve Gadd — Drums
I feel sure that interesting things would result!
What inspires me to write is just sitting somewhere and watching people, hearing conversations and creating “stories” for people. What are some things that really inspire you to write?
Can you tell I love lists? I’m going to list 6 GSW songs. Will you share your thoughts/memories on each one?
Epilog — crossing the lake at the Essex Ferry, as we did many times when going to play in Burlington … our most openly Grateful Deady sounding song…
Hollow Frog — really just generic “filler music”, that we played many times with many different words, or no words; the one on “Who’d Driving” used a book of haikus and so became Hollow Frog, but that was really just a 1-time thing
Imogene — rip-off of Steely Dan’s Black Cow … Vehicle for Aaron guitar solo … fan favorite
Cheap Utah Blues — one of my faves. Inspired by a photo of our ex-manager at a party… Good combination of words, groove, and scripted instrumental, sort of the classic GSW formula.
Red & Milky White — Good song, though I was really in my heartbreak period here … Very Dylan influenced.
Get On The Train — Ramada Inn, Chef Menteur Highway, New Orleans, 1994, I typed these words into my laptop in a sudden frenzy of inspiration. This tune served us very well as an energetic high point. It also shows how far we came from the jazz-school complexity of the early days.
Name 4 artists that I would be surprised to hear that you were a fan of!
Hannah Montana (I have a 7 year old daughter)
Rahul Dev Burman
Gilbert & Sullivan
How exciting is this? Hollywood called and they want to make a movie about Lo Faber! Who would play you on the big screen?
So whenever I’m driving and Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” comes on the radio, I just can’t help but sing and sing REALLY badly along with it. What song do you just find yourself singing along with at the top of your lungs to while driving and not giving a rat’s ass how off key you are?
Louis Prima, anything really, but “Angelina, the Waitress at the Pizzeria” is a classic.
God Street Wine performed it’s last shows in 1999 and then reunited with all the original members in 2001 to bid farewell to the Wetlands. I’ve got that show downloaded and it was absolutely mindblowing. What are you thoughts on that show and at any time were you thinking, “Wow, we should keep going” or were you just happy to go out on such a triumphant note?
I don’t really think about things like that while I’m playing. Too busy looking round at the attractive women in the room. And thinking a little bit about playing the music, too.
So do you happen to have any GSW merch lying around that needs a home?
I have a lot of Lo Faber Band merch if you want it … you really need to get hip to “Henry” & “Freakshow”!
It’s been nearly 8 years since the original God Street Wine line-up has performed together. Any chance us Winos will get a reunion tour?
I think we’d all love to; logistics are tough with Tom, who’s touring pretty heavily, and lives in Ireland when he’s not on the road; and I don’t think we’d want to do it without him.
Lo, it’s been an honor! Thanks so much for wasting your time doing this. What can we expect from Lo Faber in 2009?
I’m writing my dissertation, which deals with the history of New Orleans in the early 19th century, as it was attached to and absorbed into the United States, and how its political life, its social institutions including slavery, and its geopolitical significance were transformed . We’re moving to New Orleans over the summer for a year, possibly two.
Thanks so much to Lo for doing this awesome interview. It was a blast to do this and an honor to get to do this with one of my favorite all time singer/songwriters. Please head on over to http://www.lofaber.com for more on Lo Faber!