Right. And really it's not that complicated when you sit back and listen to it and practice it. It's not out of the realm of any musician, really. Well, maybe it's not as easy as that. Al's got it right... I'm not sure about the Coltrane point -- I'm not sure it's that out there. Most of the stuff we do is pretty simple; most of the jams we do are in one key and a lot of times over one chord. We'll feel each other out a lot more. A lot of times it's like jazz improv, where there's a head that the band can return to and you can do whatever you want between the heads. A lot of what we do is similar to that, except instead of using the head, we'll have a couple different ideas or basic parts -- you know, the beginning part which is equal to the head, then the end part which is something different from the head, but we know it's an ending point and that we go on to something else. That's what playing together for a long time does, you just know that stuff. It becomes instinctive. It's like watching the Patriots' offense [laughs] -- a well-honed machine.
So what happens to you when it's really happening? You know, when you're in the thick of improvisational bliss.
[laughs] It's like driving a car... for a really long time.
You're like, "Huh? How did I get 250 miles down the road?"
Exactly! You don't realize how long you've been driving or what you've been doing. If someone asked you "What have you looked at for the last ten minutes?" after you've been driving for three-hours, you would go, "Umm... I have no idea, but here I am!" That's pretty much how it is for me.
"Oh shit, there's a puddle of drool on my shirt."
Right. Did I sleep? No. Did I talk to anyone? I don't know, I might have. Really, I just passed Worcester? Shit! That was my exit. [laughter] I guess we'll keep this jam going a little longer.
So, your mind just wanders.
Yeah, pretty much. My fingers play without me thinking about it, you know? It's not all quite like that. Sometimes you get a musical idea that makes you want to change the direction, so you come off autopilot. I guess the autopilot thing comes from me wanting to let the featured soloist do their thing and I hope that feel will keep me from pushing them into a direction... if Al, for instance, is playing a song, and I put too much of my personality into it, then it sort of influences what he's trying to do. I try as hard as I can not to do that until I feel that he has fully expressed himself. It's my job to drive the song as a bass player. The drummer is sort of like the engine, I'm sort of like the driver. After the guitarist has completely spent his expression [laughter]... you want to send it in another direction.
That could be days...
Well, you know, it's also part of my job to let them know when they're done spending their expression [more laughing]. But that's the fine line you walk as a bass player in a jam band.
In between that, I feel you have a lot times when the focus is more on group improvisation than the soloist. You know, when it's really about maneuvering through group listening.
Yeah, it has to be. Nobody would want to listen to a band... well, there are bands where it's great to hear a soloist play, but those bands don't last playing for entire show. Or I should say their shows are a lot shorter because the audience would get bored with it. We have to listen to each other, and I think we do a really good job doing that. Playing off of what everyone does is integral to keeping the music interesting.
I just read on Jambands.com that you thought your All Good show from this past year was one of your best shows. What was it about that show?
It was just one of those nights when everything comes together. As much as people enjoy themselves or not at one of our shows, there's always at least one aspect of the show that's off for the band or for the audience. They might feel that a show sucked for whatever reason and the entire band, to us, thought it was great. But then someone will say, "That wasn't really your best work." You say OK, and then you realize that wasn't as great as you thought it was. But that night, everything aligned for us -- it doesn't ever happen. I always hear the mistakes. And I'm not talking about somebody missing a lyric or hitting a bad note, the mistakes I'm talking about are like I was just saying -- somebody's not listening and something doesn't work out. That's stuff the audience wouldn't even really recognize as a mistake. But at All Good, it felt like everybody's cylinders were firing at full bore and the crowd was completely over-the-top. To me, it felt like we came out and just beat the living shit out of everything. We killed. I honestly don't remember that happening before; there's always been one thing that I've walked away being disappointed with [laughs]. It's just my personality, I guess. I'm never completely satisfied. I walked off that stage after the encore saying to myself, "Man… that felt fucking great!" I was 100 percent satisfied. And then our tour manager [Skip] came up to me right after I was thinking how great I was and says, "I think that's the best show I've ever seen you play." And he's been a friend of ours since we went to college in Buffalo. That's what I was thinking and then to get that immediate feedback from someone else about what you're thinking without saying it. It just felt like everything was on.
That's really rare to have that?
Yeah. I think in order to be good at something you have to hold yourself up to a higher standard than people realize you're holding yourself up to. And it's also a fucking curse to live with [laughter]. It's not like you try to hold yourself or ourselves up to that high of a standard, it's just my nature. I'm extremely competitive... I feel sorry for my kids because I expect perfection in everything, so it's kind of rough. [Pauses] But we have medication that helps with that.
That's good. Are the other guys in the band like, "Jesus Rob, you're being too hard -- that was a good show."
Yeah, I've definitely been backstage after a show saying, "Well, that fucking blew. Let's try better tomorrow." And they're like, "That's a little hard, don't you think?" I don't really do that anymore, that's back in the days when I would have butted heads with the producer. I don't know, I think everyone [in the band] holds us up to high standards in their own way. I think I have a blunt approach about it. Everyone's just as much of a perfectionist as me; they just deal with it in different ways. They might be a little more passive-aggressive about things or whatever, but I don't think they're too offended by the stuff I say because I think they know it, they just choose to deal with it in a way different than I do. They know when we're not doing a good job, if we don't say we're not doing a good job than it's never going to be dealt with and eventually the band won't work anymore. So I think we need to be on that always.
That's interesting, because your fans are similar...
Yeah, like-minded people.
And in a lot of ways they're your biggest critics.
Well, they think they are.