And guitars?
The guitar for all the Interludes music was made by Scott Walker. He’s in Santa Cruz, California. He just makes the most beautiful guitars. It’s pretty and fancy looking, and those are usually the guitars I shy away from—the ones that have that wall-hanger, rich-guy guitar look. But Scott’s guitars are different. They are beautiful, but they are every inch players’ guitars.

Mine is a Santa Cruz. The two humbuckers are Lollar High Wind Imperials. I also have a single coil in the middle position, which is some kind of Lollar. There’s also an onboard effects loop, full Garcia style, that I use with the stereo cable. It’s great. I love it.

I’m not a volume pedal guy. So I love the onboard effects loop, particularly for fuzzes and overdrives, because I can turn my volume knob way down and the effects don’t change.

Sometimes it’s hard to get the tone right on a fuzz. The guitar can get lost in the mix.
Exactly. So with the couple of fuzzes I use, the Earthquaker Devices Terminal and also the Catalinbread Octapussy, which is an octave fuzz, I’ll hit the fuzz but dial my volume knob down, and then actually fade the fuzz up, so it comes in smoothly. It’s a lot more controllable, and a lot more musical and subtle.

It’s the same for regular overdrives, too. Like when you dip into a verse, and want to tuck behind the singer, I can leave the pedal on and move the volume knob down and nothing changes very much. I don’t lose the effect. It’s great.

And one more effects thing. Bryan Kehoe from Dunlop suggested something to me a couple years ago when I was building this pedalboard. I wanted a wah, and he said, “Try a bass wah on guitar, because they’re based off an envelope filter, and they have a different sound than a normal wah.” I use it all the time. It’s all over that Interludes stuff. It gives you a different character than your typical wah. The normal wah in my hands just turns into the Hendrix thing. All of my worst classic rock tendencies come out with a wah.

“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, because that’s an even bigger disconnect.”

I also have a push-push knob that splits the coils of the humbuckers, and there’s another switch where you can either have the middle single-coil pickup on its own or mix it in with the other pickups. I have so many choices on that guitar.

You’re talking to someone who was always a traditionalist. This is very new to me. And it’s a thing that I learned from Phil Lesh and from the people around the Grateful Dead. I get it now, because if you have to play for three hours a night, you have to cover a lot of ground. I don’t have a tech. I don’t want to be changing guitars all night. I don’t like it anyway, because it takes a while to get used to a guitar when you put it on. So I’m into the idea of having all of the choices in one really great-feeling, great-sounding guitar.

There can also be a sort of reverse snobbery against boutique guitars, particularly in Nashville, where people love the vintage gear.
That kind of traditionalism is frankly just not expansive enough for me anymore. I started out on exactly what you said: I had a ’57 Les Paul Junior, I had no effects, I went straight into a Marshall. I mean, it was a helluva sound, but it’s kind of a one-trick thing.

I know you’ve played onstage with Bob Weir. How has that been?
He’s sat in with the CRB a number of times. I sat in with Furthur once. And I played with him on the Move Me Brightly project. But when he sat in with Hard Working Americans a couple weeks ago—that was the best experience I’ve had playing with him.

YouTube It

“Gilbert’s Groove,” from Interludes for the Dead, bridges the psychedelic worlds of the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. At 1:15, you can see some nice close-ups of Casal's Scott Walker Santa Cruz guitar displaying its lovely fret inlays and the swirl on the upper bout. At 1:35, Casal kicks on his 3Leaf Audio Proton envelope filter, and it almost sounds like Jerry sitting in with the Floyd. As the video fades, Casal throws in the Dead’s classic “Shakedown Street” riff.

There’s this one song that led into this long D modal jam that he’s so good at, and he and I got into a really nice musical conversation for several stretched-out minutes. It really blew my mind. That knack that he has for comping, that harmonic chordal knowledge all just poured out and organized the song in a whole new way, and gave me a platform for more interesting and intricate soloing. The entire Bob trip unfolded in front of me.

And you’ve played with Phil Lesh a fair bit, right?
I met Phil when playing with Ryan. They were friends. Phil sat in with us one night at the Hollywood Bowl, and that blew my mind. I had a book of photography come out a few years ago that documented the Ryan years, and Phil wrote the afterword for that book, which was such an honor. It’s called A View of Other Windows.

But I never really knew Phil until I started playing with Chris Robinson. Phil sat in with us a couple times at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and then a couple years later when Terrapin Crossroads, his club in San Rafael, opened, he called on me to do a couple of those Rambles [a concert series teaming Lesh’s house band with special guests] with him.

That must have been exciting.
Yeah, it was, and I got my ass handed to me because I did not know the catalog and I had to learn it really fast. And man, was it an eye-opener. To learn that canon, and to really begin to understand the complexity and the depth of that music, changed me forever. Also, to be learning alongside the guy who wrote the music—a massive part of that band and that culture and that time period—who by the way, as you know, is still absolutely playing his ass off and can steamroll most 25-year-olds.

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. That’s the mantra, to go deeper.