John Skehan of Railroad Earth on jamming and how playing is conversational

Categories: Profiles

Are you with the whole band right now?

We are doing some overdubs and vocals, and Todd is laying down a little guitar.

How often are you on tour versus being in the studio?

This is the first opportunity and time we can get from the tour in years. As you move through the year, it kind of takes on different aspects: In the summer it means a lot of festivals, but there is a lot more travel. Then in the winter and spring and fall, we are on the ground coming up and doing three nights in Denver, then five nights in a row in five different cities. It's pretty crazy.

Which do you prefer?

This is an exciting experience just being in the studio. We started this record by just throwing things around for a couple weeks, not really having any really preconceived ideas about the music. Todd is definitely the main songwriter and brings in a majority of the songs and vocals. I write a number of instrumentals, and Todd might come back with something that is fully finished, and we work out the instrumentation and arrangement, and sometimes a jam comes out of a practice session.

Often in the studio, someone will start playing and we all jump in, and sometimes it's a warm up that starts the session. That's how "Mourning Flies" started out, as a bass and drum groove, and we dropped in and started playing, and in a couple days, it turned into a song. Todd went home and came back with ideas. That's also how "Hard Livin" came together, as well. It's a little bit of everything.

Have you ever brought anything from the stage to the studio?

The idea has occurred to us, but we are on the road so much, that when we are walking into the studio, we kind of create a clean slate because a lot of what we do on the road is either spontaneous, or worked out that day, and then framed around the evolution, and we kind of stick with them...aside from chance happenings here and there.

Are there any that are more enjoyable to play?

One of the great things, and this is a tribute to Todd's song writing, is that there are certain situations where a song will ring differently. What comes to mind is earlier in December, Todd wrote this great song called "Old Man and the Land," and there was something about the chorus and how everyone latched on to it. It just hit that moment. We felt it, and they felt it. I think that's a tribute to the lyrical writing, and the things we patched into the song. It was at a festival in Mexico called "Strings and Soul" -- it was really fun event.

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