Joe Russo Talks Becoming a Father, Busy Projects, and The Grateful Dead

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ROP: Are there any future plans for Bustle in Your Hedgerow sets

JR: Totally. There’s no actual plans. But that’ll always be around. That strangely just like this started as a goof but kind of luckily remained as a goof. Or not a goof, but like, nothing that we were putting too much weight into. So that’s always going to be the most fun in the world. For me, Zeppelin, growing up… a lot of people who come to see the Almost Dead thing grew up on the Dead and absolutely love the Dead. I grew up on Zeppelin. That’ll always be in my DNA. So it’ll always be something we do. It’s just such a low pressure, fun gig. It’s just the best. We’ll definitely do some more. We don’t have anything planned, but there’s no way we won’t. That’s our comfort zone. And that’ll always be the case. It doesn’t matter how deep you go in any one direction as you get older, the stuff you grew up on, and the stuff that forms your musical DNA is always going to be with you. It’s literally like playing in my parents basement, because that’s what I used to do. And now I get to do that in front of people. That’s a happy place, for sure.

Dave Dreiwitz of JRAD

ROP: There’s been a rumor going around about your role in helping Trey prepare for GD50, could you talk about that a bit?

JR: [laughs] Well, I think he’s talked about it, so I can talk about it, I think. Yeah, I was really honored that he got in touch. He was taking that so seriously. It was really, really cool how hard he was working to do this. He did not take it lightly and he held it with such respect. He was working his [expletive] for months before he even reached out. He knew I went through a similar thing, obviously not the same thing, but a similar thing, as far as having to learn a ridiculous amount of material very quickly. So, yeah, he reached out and said, let’s do some playing. I was really excited. We got together at this little place up in New York City, in this little rehearsal space. But, you can only go over these songs by yourself so much. We got together and played for two or three days, and then towards the end of that, we were like man you sound so great, you know what would really help is if we actually played these tunes. I asked him if it was cool if I call in Scott and Dave (of JRAD), and he was psyched. So, those guys came in and I think we did another two days with Scott and Dave and were basically like alright let’s pretend we’re playing this gig. We did it and… God… I gotta say, it was [expletive] amazing. I so wish it was recorded or something because it was really cool. And, it was really fun for me.

Trey and I hadn’t really played together since we did that tour back in 2006. So, it was really cool to reconnect and do some playing. And it was really awesome to have Dave and Scott there. Trey and I were just laughing the whole time because I was like, why the hell am I here helping Trey from [expletive] Phish learn Grateful Dead songs? That’s the weirdest concept I’ve ever thought of. But that goes into what we were taking about earlier. I’ve been so, so very lucky to have had the opportunities that I’ve had and to have met and played with and hung out with so many incredible people. Trey is such a wonderful guy. That was something really special. He was going out on stage with those guys and I’m texting him like ‘Good luck man!’ and checking in between sets. I was all proud. And that was a weird feeling, too. I thought he did such a great job. He was so prepared, and so professional. And you know, he’s a fan, too. So we’re sitting there listening to different versions and he’d be like Oh no, no, no, you gotta check out this version of this song and it was just really fun. He was a fun guy to watch. He’s a good person to watch without his guitar anyway, ya know? He’s such an animated guy. It was just really fun to nerd out with him on that stuff for a while. I was so very honored to even be remotely a part of it.

ROP: Was there any advice you had been given when taking on the Furthur role that you passed on to him for those gigs?

JR: I wish I had been given advice! [laughs] Well that was kind of the thing, when the Furthur thing started, there wasn’t a lot of information given to me. Over the course of what became the audition process, I think it went from like 10 songs to 60 songs, and I had to learn all of them. So I’m learning the record version of stuff, and then the wrong era of songs, and I’m learning these tunes in a way that they hadn’t played since the record came out. That was a really hard thing. But it ended up being really cool because it made me source my own material. So, after that happened we did these ten nights of rehearsal shows. Every day, I’d wake up with ten new songs — just the names of the songs — in my inbox, to be played the next night. There wasn’t an era. There wasn’t a version. I would just freak out. So I would go and check out the record version, and then the 80’s version, and then the most recent Dead tour from 2009, and try to combine the information and in the end, it really almost gave me a nervous breakdown. There was just so much material, and it was just so confusing. I really didn’t know any of the stuff. I knew some of the common ones that you’d hear at parties, but outside of that they were all brand new songs for me. Something that I think was helpful advice that I could give Trey was to reference the most recent versions of stuff. I’d tell him, Bob and Phil like to do this, tempo might be here on this one… just a couple things that certainly would have been helpful to cut down on the study time. But, yeah, that was pretty much it. I think I was in a sense his contemporary go-to. I was there most recently as far as the songs that Bob and Phil were performing and maybe how they’d do that. Again, if I weren’t there, he would have killed it just the same. If anything, I got to have some fun with it.

ROP: I hate to bring it up, but at the beginning of the year you announced a new project, Hawaii… and then we heard nothing. What ever happened with that?

JR: [laughs] Goddammit!

ROP: I know! I’m sorry!

JR: We talk about it all the time! We have three friends and got together for like three days in my studio and we’re like, ‘this is gonna be the easiest band of all time!’ We started recording stuff and it was going really great. And then we all went on tour. And there literally wasn’t one time this whole year where the three of us were in New York at the same time. It was mind boggling how difficult it ended up being. Jon Shaw, who’s going to be subbing for Dave in February, has become one of the busiest guys I know. he was in Cass McComb’s band for a long time, toured with Sharon Van Etten, and now he’s out with Shakey Graves. He did some of the Craig Finn stuff with me and he’s becoming this super in demand guy and rightfully so. So he was gone all the time. I was doing all the stuff that I was doing. And Erik (Deutsch) has his own band, his Jazz Outlaw band and he’s also part of Citizen Cope’s touring band. And when those guys tour, they tour for like months. So with that being said, I think we’ve actually changed our goal with that band. We’re just gonna go out, book a goddamn gig, and just improvise. It’s just too hard. It shouldn’t take this long for the ‘simplest band’ to get together. It’s been amazing. It has not been forgotten and we’re all really psyched to do it. But yeah, hopefully we’re gonna take some time – I think there was an email chain just a couple of weeks ago about this very thing, so, I’m glad you brought it up.

ROP: We really appreciate you taking the time out of your Christmas shopping to chat. We’re really stoked on the show and it sounds like you guys are, too.

Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect come New Years Eve?

JR: I will say we have some special things planned. We are going to do three sets. We’re definitely going to do a fair amount of stuff we’ve never done before. Conceptually, and song-wise.

ROP: Right on, well like I said, appreciate it!

JR: We’ll see you at the show!

Thanks to Joe Russo for taking the time to chat with us, and get your tickets to see Joe Russo’s Almost Dead play three incredible sets on New Years Eve at the Fillmore Auditorium right here in Philadelphia! Tickets are almost gone so act fast!

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