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The songwriting on Dirty Side Down has a real cohesiveness to it. How did the material come together?
Everyone had some ideas and we got together in small groups. We actually live pretty far apart—some guys live in California, others in Nashville, and some here in Atlanta. We got a couple of us together at a time, here and there. One time we had four of us together and started putting ideas down on a four-track. Everybody’s ideas got put down on tape, and the next thing you knew, we had a whole new batch of material mixed with some older stuff that had never been recorded on a studio album before.
How do you divide the guitar parts between you and John Bell?
We just kind of hit it. Sometimes we are conscious of the register that we are playing in.
If I come in with a riff and I am playing really low, he will find something in another register so that we aren’t playing in the same part of the neck. He is all about letting everyone find their own space. JB is great at finding his own parts, you never have to go “Here, JB, play this riff,” because he finds something to play that is always interesting and different. I thought his guitar sound on this record was amazing. John Keane brought in a G&L guitar with some weird single-coil pickups for him to use on some tracks. On “When You’re Coming Home,” the pretty ballad on the record, I was playing a Nashville-strung acoustic and JB was playing that G&L through a Vox AC30. John is the king of getting incredible rhythm-guitar tones.
Basically, I had two weeks to try to learn the material—which wasn’t enough. The first week, I just listened and didn’t even really pick up the guitar. When I have to learn a bunch of songs in a short amount of time, I listen to the material and make a rough outline of the tune—like a bar chart. I map it out first and later I go back and fill in the chord changes. Panic has over 200 songs that could be called—and not all are originals, but they do the covers in such a unique way it is almost like an entirely new tune. Most of the time, I had to go back and listen to live shows to learn the cover tunes instead of the original recordings. For example, they do a couple Three Dog Night tunes, but because they do them their own way and they have been playing so long, I had to learn it the way they played it. If we learn a new cover, then you can go back to the original version and learn it.
How did the tour with drummer Lenny White come about?
Basically, Souvik Dutta, who runs Abstract Logix, hooked it up. I have been a Lenny White fan since I was 17 or 18 years old and I heard Romantic Warrior [by legendary fusion keyboardist Chick Corea’s group Return to Forever]. It changed my whole life. The big three bands for me were Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return to Forever. Those bands were basically Miles Davis’ children. Both Lenny and I did records with Souvik, and Lenny asked him if I could play on his record and it started from there. I love Lenny. He is just incredible.
How much of an influence has John McLaughlin been for you?
I am 48 years old and I should be past the point of being starstruck, but you can’t be around John McLaughlin and not feel like you’re 18 years old. He is such an inspiration. He’s one of those artists that just about recreates himself with every album he makes—just like Miles. And, you know, Miles was a tremendous influence on him. I love so many aspects of John’s career. Obviously, Mahavishnu was my first exposure to him. My brother first gave me that album. After that, I started to trace back to everything he had done before then, and it led me to Miles. I couldn’t believe it when Souvik called and said, “John McLaughlin wants to play with you [at two Abstract Logix concerts in November].” I just didn’t know what to say.
Herring’s overdrive comes exclusively from his Fuchs amps. His main Tripledrive Supreme (left image)
powers the Tone Tubby cab, while the backup head (right image) sits atop two Hard Trucker 2x12 cabs
for his wet signal. Photo by Jason Shadrick
Do you have plans for a second solo album?
This has been that crazy year where I have been busy and haven’t had a real chance to write. I have these sketches lying around that as soon as I get some time I will finish them and get to recording. It is something I wish I could do every year. It will probably be January before I get a break and so I will take that time and work on that. At least then, I will have enough material to make another record.
Musically speaking, what is the most rewarding part of creating a solo album?
With this music, I just wanted a final say about the performances. I am not the guy to mix or engineer the record, but as far as the performances go—especially my own—I wanted to have the final say. This is the first time I have been able to do that. I probably used too much reverb in certain spots, but people like John Keane are real good at seeing the bigger picture. We wrote, recorded, and mixed the record inside of a month, and his genius is what made that possible. We were done recording within three weeks, and he just went straight in and mixed it. I know a lot of people make records faster than that, but that is pretty good for a record like that. If we can do the same thing with a more fusion-oriented record like what I want to do next, I will be thrilled to death.