G. Love of G. Love & Special Sauce fame chats with Pollstar about the group’s latest album, the “healthy dose” of stage fright he enjoys before each show, and the strong chemistry he and his bandmates share.
With G. Love on vocals/guitar/harmonica, the hip hop-blues act also features Jim “Jimi Jazz” Prescott on bass and Jeffrey “The Houseman” Clemens on drums. The trio, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of its debut self-titled release in 2014, put out its most recent album in October via Brushfire Records.
Love Saves The Day features guest appearances from Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo, Lucinda Williams, Citizen Cope, Ozomatli, DJ Logic, Money Mark, Zach Gill and Adam Topol. G. Love & Special Sauce once again worked with producer Robert Carranza, who helmed 2014’s Sugar.
G. Love talked up recording albums live, “playing in the room all together [and] committing to going for full takes, including the vocals.” He added that with a much smaller budget and a limited amount of time compared with the albums the band made in the ’90s, “I find we’re making even better records than we ever have.”
Pollstar caught up with G. Love ahead of the band’s Feb. 18 show in Boulder, Colo.
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s going really great. We have a cool show we’re doing this tour. We’re doing two sets and the first set is the complete new record, Love Saves The Day. And then the second set is all requests from the fans on social media. So it’s been a lot of fun – some old and some new.
How are fans reacting to the new material?
We felt like we wanted to switch it up and do a different show on this run. I think it’s cool. It kind of makes us feel like we’re a new band in a way, because when you put out a new record it does take some time for people to get it and become familiar with the new material. It’s a little bit risky but it’s cool because the material is really strong and it’s got a good tempo to it. I think the crowd [has] really been responding well and really diggin’ it.
Is this the first time you’ve performed an album from start to finish on tour?
Well, on our 20th anniversary of our debut release, which was 2014, we did the first full record as a set, and that was the first time we had done that. That was also really cool for us because I make a setlist every night but we rarely follow it. So it’s kind of a good exercise as a band for us to play these full records because it’s something we don’t often do. It’s interesting. We like to mix it up, in general, but I have to say that when we do stick to a show, actually plan out a show and the pacing of a set and the tempo of it, and then lock it down and keep doing it every night there’s a lot of power in that repetition. All the nuances of the songs and the performance of what every musician can do to make it happen every night really becomes something special.
Do you still get nervous before going on stage?
Yeah, I definitely get a healthy dose of stage fright every night. I think it’s good though, it gives you an edge. I think it’s just because I care so much, and we as a band care so much, about the performance. When you’re on the road you’re planning your whole day towards that hour and a half, two hours, when you’re going to be on stage and having your energy right and your performance right. So I think it’s good to have that nervous edge because then you can break through it and that’s kind of when it becomes exciting because you have that tension and then you have the release once you start getting into the set and then it all comes together.
I just finished Carrie Brownstein’s book and she talks a lot about touring with Sleater Kinney and how life on the road can be tough. Do you have any tips for surviving touring?
Well, I think it’s a marathon, whether you’re making a record or doing a tour or your career in general. … You have to prepare for it; keep your mind and body sound. You have to have your skills and your technique and your proficiency on your instrument. You gotta know the songs. And then on a daily [basis] you have to keep your health up. Like on this tour right now my bass player got the flu. … I got a flu shot but I still got a cold. These are kind of tough times because when you do get a sickness going around the bus that’s a bad thing. So you want to try and avoid that at all costs. As a singer, you gotta take a lot of precautions to keep your vocals up. I do a lot of steaming and I do a vocal lesson over the phone every show day. … I do a half-hour warmup with my coach, Donna Newman, and I’ve been doing that every show for the last couple years now and that’s really helped me. I like to exercise every day at the hotel gym or take a jog. I like to eat a good meal every day. At least one. I make an effort to do that.
And then ultimately it comes down to the music, because when you’re able to have good shows that makes everything kind of soar. Soar like a bird, not sore like a throat. When you’re able to have great shows that’s the big payout and ultimately that’s why we’re all out here. And whether you’re playing little shows or big shows, if you’re inspired and [you and] the band [are] all connecting on stage that makes everything happen on and off the stage. And you know, how do you do that? Well you’ve got to put the work in with the music. You have to give time to the music so it gives back to you. And then when you’re able to do that then I think all those things combined are the recipe for a successful tour.
You’ve called Love Saves the Day “the fullest realization of the hip hop blues.” Can you expand on that?
We always call our music hip hop blues and it has elements of Delta blues and hip hop. And those two types of music pretty much encompasses every type of Western music. Of course, hip hop has everything in it from the sampling and the beats. And the Delta blues is kind of the root of all modern rock and pop and hip hop music. Basically, on our last record [Sugar] we had a song called “Come Up Man” and it was kind of like Elmore James-style slide guitar and Cypress Hill-style back beat and my lyrical flow on top of it. And I felt that was really the blueprint for what exactly is the hip hop blues. So I felt on Love Saves The Day I wanted to keep pushing that sound and that style. And I think we really were really successful doing that. I think we knew when we hit the studio. We were just like, “Oh, we really got it.” … The music was powerful, the solos were great, the performances were really intense. And ultimately I feel like when you keep pushing your blues you’re going to get to rock ’n’ roll. … I do feel like Love Saves The Day is a real rock ‘n’ roll record in a lot of ways as well.
What did producer Robert Carranza bring to this album?
Well, Robert is a very unique producer. ... He’s worked on just a ton of different records from The Beastie Boys to Jack Johnson to Alice In Chains and Marilyn Manson and Beck … just a ton of people and a lot of different styles. … I have a tough time describing what the sound is I want to get. I want to get an authentic sound, an old-timey sound that’s rough and ragged and I don’t want it to be cleaned up. And he’s really been able to help me find that sound. And we’re able to record live with very little isolation and lots of intentional bleed and a performance-driven recording. So yeah, it’s been really great to work with him and meet someone who you really connect with musically and gets what you’re trying to do.
Proving the secret really is in the sauce. Hangout Music Festival, Gulf Shores, Ala.
May 20, 2012
You mentioned recording the album live. Is that how you usually record the albums?
I think that’s how we record our best records. I mean, in 23 years of making records we’ve done all different types of recording from doing it very hip hop style to kind of breaking stuff down and isolating and cutting separate but I do feel like our best records have been the ones we’ve committed to playing live in the room all together, committing to going for full takes, including the vocals, and just going for magical, stellar performances in the studio that we can’t really create just by building a track. Everyone's always referencing all these great old records they want to sound like but then they go in the studio and they don't record it like they recorded those records that they're referencing. So how do you expect you’re going to get that sound? I mean, you have to have a band that knows how to play and the material’s gotta be great and you gotta be ready to go in and deliver. You know, back in the ’90s when we recorded we had huge budgets of like $250,000 or $350,000 and the label would want you to spend all that money. So you’d take so long to make these records. Now we have smaller budgets of like 30 grand or 50 grand and a limited amount of time – instead of six months, six days. And with those limitations I find we’re making even better records than we ever have. I think it just has to do with that commitment ... you know you have to go in and get it done, so you do.
This album features a number of guest performers, like David Hidalgo, who also appeared on 2014’s Sugar. What can you tell readers about the collaborations?
Well, Sugar was mostly a trio record but we did have a couple special guests, including David. On this record we decided we’re kind of going to follow that musical vibe from Sugar but we’re going to bring in more guests. David Hidalgo started us off with his sit-in on the first night and we got the first three tracks on the record – the title track, “Love Saves The Day,” the song “Dis Song” and then “That Girl.” He is just such an intense player and a heavy player and his knowledgeability and just sense of what to and what not to play is just pretty amazing. We had such a great first night with him [and it] set the bar high. As the week progressed, it was really exciting because we’d have a different artist or side musicians come in and join us and everybody brought so much to the table – so much originality and joy and energy. Citizen Cope came in and we did the single [“Muse”]. He co-produced that track. That was the one track that we did kind of break down more hip hop style. And then Lucinda Williams came in and that was just straight ahead. … We played this Lead Belly song called “New York City.” It’s only like a two-minute song. Jim [Prescott] and I had learned the song a couple hours before she got there and then ran down a couple times with Jeff [Clemens]. So when she got there we just had a glass of wine and told some stories and went in and let it rip. After the first take we looked at each other like, “Well, are we done?” But we ended up playing it like seven takes and it just kept getting better. I think we ended up using that last take but every take was great.
What made you pick that specific song to cover?
We knew that Lucinda had just done a Lead Belly tribute record so we kinda pitched it to her that maybe we’ll do a Lead Belly song with her. I think she was up to do anything, really. But it worked out really well and I was going through a bunch of old Lead Belly tunes and I had never really checked out that song “New York City” [before]. It’s a really anthemic song about Lead Belly’s first trip to New York. And it just really hit home. I love the city. And also, there’s a song called “Back to Boston” [on the album]. So it was cool to have a song that was kind of pro-Boston and then one that was pro-New York because they’re rivals.
Do you have any favorite tracks on the album?
You know, I’ve always loved the song “Back To Boston” and I cut that one on a solo acoustic record EP called Bloodshot and Blue a couple years ago. It’s become a big hit and a big part of my solo acoustic set over the last five years. I wanted to cut that one with the band. I think that’s a really timeless, classic song that I’ve written. So I’m really proud of that one. I mean, I love them all. But another one that pops into my head is “Dis Song” and that’s a song that we wrote as a band this past year. And I think it really encompasses a lot of what we’re all about. It has a really driving blues groove … [and] the lyrics are pretty unique. My drummer [suggested], “Let’s make a diss song.” … I think it’s cool because you have an old-school feeling track but the word diss, to diss somebody that’s kind of a modern-day term. So I felt like that’s kind of a perfect example perfect of what we’re all about – blending the old sound with street smart lyrics.
You, Jeff and Jim have been playing together for so long. What’s the secret to your longevity? Were there any lessons learned during the brief hiatus in the ‘90s that changed things for the band?
Yeah, I mean the biggest thing that comes between a band, usually, is the attention you get and the business side of things. [When] we went from being a Boston bar band to an international recording artist, you know, things changed. … All of a sudden you have a whole team of people – management, booking agent and this and that. It gets complicated real quick. Especially after we first came out. You know, we didn’t really realize how successful our first record was because we just had our head down and we were driving around as a band doing 250 shows a year. We kind of wanted to make a second record. We probably made it too quickly. And we were so worn out. The second record, Coast To Coast Motel, is pretty classic in its own way but it wasn’t commercially successful. When that record came out we continued our touring so now we were a couple years into it and everybody was just burned out on each other and the road. And then once our second record didn’t have as much commercial viability you started feeling that energy dip a little bit all across the board. And then [there] started becoming a lot of tension between the three of us. So we took time off. But I think that ultimately what I learned is that the three of us have a very strong chemistry that is important to our music. Yeah, I could go and record and play with anybody. I could go hire the best musicians in New York, L.A. or any town in the world. But you know what? Ultimately they’re not my band and you’re not going to get the same type of thing from hired guns that you are from people that you came up with and created the sound with and people that dedicated their lives to the sound. I mean, you can’t put a figure on what that’s worth, other than it’s invaluable and you gotta respect it. If you’re the band leader you gotta learn how to make everybody feel important and valuable and respected and loved. And if you’re in the band you have to be somewhat sensitive to what the bandleader’s gotta deal with to keep the whole thing flowing on and off the stage. Everybody over time can find their role and you can work as a team, just like every sports team or any team in any business.
MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, Tampa, Fla.
July 23, 2013
So the new album completes the trilogy that began with Fixin’ To Die. What can you tell readers about the triology?
When we did Fixin To Die, that was kind of a reconnection to the roots of Garrett Dutton, who I am as a musician, the roots of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed and folk music and country blues. And then the flavor that The Avett Brothers gave it as producers and also musicians and singers on the record it also took it to a very rootsy, Americana piece that was rooted in the Delta blues. That was, to me, a real reconnect to the music that I came up with. So it was kinda like a restart. I felt like that record was the record I would have made if I got signed when I was 16 or 17. Matter of fact, some of the tunes I wrote then. So that was really cool.
And then, [with] Sugar we reconnected with the blues and found those roots again. And then kind of reintroduced some of the hip hop flavor into it and electric sound back into it. And then Love Saves The Day was taking the Sugar sound and kept pushing it forwards. I feel like it’s been a really cool last six years or so of recording and touring this project. If anything, our sound has marinated so much over the years that it’s just really rich in flavor and texture and feeling and [the] experience of just living. When you’re a kid you write about stuff but you didn’t really live it yet. And now I’m 43 now so I’ve lived a lot and I’ve seen a lot and so you really feel a lot of the stuff deeper that you were maybe just singing as a kid, because it’s real now.
Going back to the two sets you’re doing on this current tour – have you received any crazy requests from fans for the second set? Are you up for playing anything?
Well, it’s cool. A lot of people request kind of the more popular songs that we tend to play anyway but then there’s plenty of requests that you get for some more obscure tracks and it’s cool for us to dig a little bit deeper in the catalog. It’s interesting to see. Some of the [songs] we don’t play much but it seems like everybody requests them. And you say, “Oh shoot, I didn’t really realize that so many people love that song.”
Anything else you’d like to tell fans?
On Twitter I’m @GLove and on Instagram I’m @PhillyGLove and GLoveandSpecialSauce on Facebook. And also, we have our hot sauce [for sale] at GLoveHotSauce.com. And other than that, we’re looking forward to seeing you at a theatre near you.
March 15 – Grand Rapids, Mich., The Pyramid Scheme
March 16 – Columbus, Ohio, The Basement
March 18 – Boston, Mass., Paradise Rock Club
March 19 – Uncasville, Conn., Wolf Den
March 20 – Fernandina Beach, Fla., Main Beach Park (Slide Into Spring Music And Craft Beer Festival)
March 23 – New York, N.Y., The Bowery Ballroom
March 24 – Washington, D.C., 9:30 Club
March 25 – Millvale, Pa., Mr. Small's Theatre
March 26 – Philadelphia, Pa., The Fillmore Philadelphia
March 27 – Charleston, W.Va., Cultural Center Theater
March 30 – Charlotte, N.C., The Visulite Theatre
March 31 – Carrboro, N.C., Cat's Cradle
April 1 – Atlanta, Ga., Variety Playhouse
April 2 – Columbia, S.C., Music Farm Columbia
April 3 – Nashville, Tenn., 3rd & Lindsley
April 6 – Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Culture Room
April 7 – Orlando, Fla., The Social
April 8 – Saint Petersburg, Fla., Jannus Live
April 9 – Mobile, Ala., Soul Kitchen
Aug. 3 – Costa Mesa, Calif., Pacific Amphitheatre (OC Fair / Michael Franti & Spearhead
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