"God Street Wine has played over 1500 gigs in the last eight years,"
vocalist/guitarist Lo Faber says. "And I have managed to keep my pants
on for all but two." "I'm fairly certain I've kept my pants on for
all of them," vocalist/guitarist Aaron Maxwell adds.
"We wanted this album to feel like 12 naked
people on the Cross Bronx Expressway," the enigmatic Faber says, "that
sort of excitement, fun and passion." "And we wanted it to be as honest
as a Saturday night at Green's Lounge in Memphis, drinking a Colt
45," drummer Tomo adds. To this end, the boys returned to their New
York City roots to record their latest album, simply entitled God
Formed as a Manhattan bar band in 1988, GSW
recently returned to their origins after years of living and recording together
in a house in upstate New York. It was there that they self-produced
last year's Mercury Records debut, Red.
Revived by the grass roots success of Red,
GSW wanted to record a more cohesive, live-sounding follow-up. They
moved their home studio into a rehearsal loft on 23rd Street,
and subsequently began searching for mid-town recording facilities,
in order to remain close to their memorable beginnings. They were
pleased to discover Sear Sound on 48th street, to do all their basic
tracking. Coincidentally owned by an old friend of Maxwell's father,
the studio was filled with great feeling vintage gear, including tape
machines used on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's and Pink Floyd's Dark
Side of the Moon.
As a result they have recorded what is certainly
the most definitive God Street Wine album yet. "A lot of people like
our records, but we still always hear, 'you guys are better live'."
Faber says, "Everybody hears that to a certain extent, but we hear
that more than anybody, I think. So we started making cassettes of
us playing live, and we said 'Damn, there are some cool things going
on.' In the past we'd take that stuff out, like the little, rough
edges, the things we think of as mistakes. But they're not mistakes."
"Like when a guitar is slightly out of tune, but it was played with
a lot of feel," Maxwell adds. "In past records, we'd say 'Man, that's
out of tune. It's got to be perfectly in tune.' For this album, we
didn't want it to be such a difference from the album to the live
show, as far as the energy and emotion people are going to get from
"I've never thought of us as a band that's
slick and smooth and every note is in place," Faber continues. "When
we play live, it's chaos up there sometimes. We tried to keep some
of the chaos."
A kindred spirit, Bill Wray (Little Feat,
Zachary Richard) made sure that the band maintained its chaotic, albeit
honest, vision. "We never had a real band-producer relationship, because
we always did our own thing," Faber says. "But Bill was like, 'look
at all these things that are cool that you do live.' He made us see
them and gave us the confidence to go for it."
"He claims that he knew all our personalities
from listening to the tape before he met us," bassist Dan Pifer adds,
"and I believe he did." "You can hear the personality of everybody
playing their instruments," Faber agrees, "instead of trying to suppress
that, Bill really wanted to bring that out."
"We found that it can take a great amount
of effort to sound effortless in the studio," says keyboardist Jon
Bevo. "You can't rely on the energy of an audience, you have to grab
something internal. Bill managed to find that and yank it out of each
one of us."
Inspired by Wray's 'therapy,' GSW maintained
its live energy with a less-is-more approach. Instead of experimenting
with a variety of musical styles and over-dubs like last time out,
the band focused on its playing as a five-piece.
By listening to each other more, they also
widened their musical communication. Pifer says, "It made a huge difference.
I think that's why you only need five guys a lot of times, and you
don't need tons of over-dubs, because we're playing off each other,
as opposed to just going out and playing your part."
Part of the focus came when Wray had the band
play some of their favorite covers in the studio. Hence, the Beatles
can be heard on the cynical, punchy pop of Faber's "Happy Birthday,
Mr. President" (although that may have something to do with the ghosts
in the aforementioned tape machine). The Flying Burrito Brothers resurface
on Jon Bevo's "Angeline," and you can hear a 'tip of the hat' to Bob
Dylan on Faber's "Water."
Wray also brought in Little Feat keyboard
legend, Bill Payne, to among other things, compliment Maxwell's achingly
beautiful guitar solo on Bevo's ethereal "Silver."
Other special guests on God Street Wine include
Blues Traveler's John Popper, who lends his distinguished harp playing
on several tracks, including Faber's soulful ballad, "She Comes Up
Softly." "That was like getting back to our old vibe, when we'd play
Nightingales," Faber says. "There was many a bill there with
Blues Traveler and God Street Wine."
After so many gigs, there's no doubt that
God Street Wine once again have been renewed by making a new album
from the depths of their souls.
Considered one of the country's finest live
bands by such publications as The New York Times; as well as growing
a legion of nomadic fans who faithfully refer to themselves as 'Winos,'
GSW's never-ending tour will be electric with that excitement.
"We'll be playing better live." Maxwell says,
"This record has rejuvenated our desire to really go out and put on
the best show we can.