Casal's thoughts on his Dead-inspired project: “I was thinking about it like, ‘Man, I’m getting to make music for my fucking heroes here! This means something to me.’” Photo by JP Hesser

How did you get the gig to provide the Fare Thee Well intermission music?
I had worked with Justin because I scored the Bob Weir documentary, The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir. [Editor’s note: Kreutzmann was an executive producer.] And I also worked with Justin on [the concert film] Move Me Brightly, which was filmed up at Bob’s studio, TRI, a few years ago, around what would have been Jerry’s 70th birthday.

What did Justin ask for Interludes for the Dead?
He wanted music that would connect to Dead fans, but there’s a fine line there. It’s a very delicate balance. With Dead music and Dead culture, if it’s too far away from the sound, then there’s a disconnect. But we didn’t want to get into mimicry, just ripping it off, because that’s an even bigger disconnect. So the idea for me was to try to capture the essence or feeling of it, and sort of dance around certain motifs without going straight into them.

“Playing with Phil was a big deal, and it made me rethink my guitars, my amps, my pedals, my playing, my singing—everything. It’s inspired me to go deeper.”

Did you compose the music before the sessions?
We composed zero before. We didn’t have much time. We didn’t have the video in front of us, either. At the time we made the music, the visuals weren’t done, so we were working blind.

We did that shit in two days. We lucked out. It was the perfect storm. I asked the right musicians. I got the right studio. We didn’t think we were making a record. That stuff was never intended to be an album. If it had been, I never would have written a bunch of 25-minute songs.

I was thinking about it like, "Man, I’m getting to make music for my fucking heroes here! This means something to me.” I had Steal Your Face in 1978. I wasn’t there in the ’60s, but at the same time I didn’t get onboard yesterday.

Was there a lot of overdubbing?
There’s zero overdubbing. All of it was improvised. We would talk over the feel, the key, a couple of chord changes. Justin had given me some guidelines: “Give me an ‘Althea’ vibe. Give me a ‘Bertha’ vibe. Give me a ‘Playing in the Band’ vibe. Just touch on certain key themes.” Most of this music was first-take stuff—especially the longer pieces.

Neal Casal’s Gear

Guitars
Scott Walker Santa Cruz
Fender Custom Shop B-Bender Telecaster
Fender Custom Shop 1962 reissue Telecaster
1958 Martin D-21
1957 Gibson J-50
1970 Martin 12-string D12-20
Eastman Double 00 acoustic

Amps
Divided by 13 FTR 100
Divided by 13 2x12 cabinet with 65-watt Celestion Creambacks

Effects
Catalinbread Echorec delay
Catalinbread Montavillian delay
Catalinbread Belle Epoch delay
Catalinbread Octapussy octave fuzz
Catalinbread Valcoder tremolo
Catalinbread Topanga Spring Reverb
EarthQuaker Devices Terminal fuzz
EarthQuaker Devices Grand Orbiter Phaser
EarthQuaker Devices Arpanoid polyphonic pitch arpeggiator
Strymon Orbit dBucket Flanger
Strymon Lex Rotary speaker simulator
3Leaf Audio Proton Envelope Filter
BearFoot FX Pale Green Compressor
BearFoot FX Baby Pink booster
BearFoot Honey Beest OD
Dunlop Cry Baby 105Q Bass Wah
Walrus Audio Plainsman dual-stage clean boost
BMF Effects Purple Nurple overdrive
Divided by 13 Switchazel switching box
Road Rage true bypass looper
JRIG pedalboards

Strings and Picks
Curt Mangan (.0105–.048)
John Pearce Phosphor Bronze Wound Light Gauge (.012–.053)
Dunlop yellow Tortex .73 mm
Mr. B’s Bottleneck Guitar Slides

For me, that would be my dream gig. Someone telling me to record spacey 20-minute instrumental jams.
Yeah, and the reason they’re so long, is because Justin asked me to have music that didn’t repeat over the course of five shows: the two Santa Clara shows and the three in Chicago.

I don’t think Justin had done the math. I said, “Justin, that’s five hours of music. Do you understand what you’re asking for?”

It’s kind of insane to try to make five hours of music in two days. It’s basically impossible. But liking a challenge, I went for it. So that’s why the pieces ended up being so long. I didn’t have to explain much to these guys, because everyone understands it, but there’s just an amazing amount of patience and discipline that it takes to play for that long.

And not to peak too early.
Exactly. When you really get into the Grateful Dead in a deep way, when you truly understand what those guys were doing, especially when you listen to the ’73, ’74, single-drummer Dead era, you hear some of those jams, and those people werenot in a rush. It would go, and go some more. And keep going.

One Interludes track in particular, “Farewell Franklins,” evolves into many different areas. At the end it gets into this trancey groove where you play a single-note thing that almost sounds like some sort of African instrument.
This stuff went so far that we ended up in places that didn’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead. Other influences came into play. What you just said about African sounds … all the Fela Kuti stuff—that music is born in the same kind of discipline and patience. I love those highlife guitar players. Also noise guitar—Spacemen 3 and other underground guitar stuff.

You used a lot of cool old-school echo sounds, almost like an Echoplex or Roland Space Echo. Is that a newer pedal or do you use old stuff?
All of my delays are Catalinbread. They make incredible pedals. The longer ambient stuff is the Echorec. Another one is called the Montavillian, and another one is called a Belle Epoch. That fuzz that you hear at the end, where it sounds like an African instrument, that’s an Earthquaker Devices Terminal. There’s also a Strymon flanger, the Orbit.

At times you had some sort of envelope filter on.
The classic envelope sound—that’s a Proton, by 3Leaf Audio. And I really love the pedals made by BearFoot FX. I have their Pale Green compressor, and my overdrives are BearFoot. They just do such good work.

What amplifier are you using?
A Divided by 13 FTR 100. I’m way into that amp. There’s no master volume. There’s no nonsense. Before I got that amp I told Fred [Taccone, who heads the company], “I need headroom.” And boy, did I get it! That amp never goes above three-and-a-half. I use that amp all the time now. And it was the recording amp for the Interludes stuff too. I play it through a 2x12 Divided by 13 cabinet with Celestion 65-watt Creambacks.