Interview: David Lott, Life After Licorice

Interview: David Lott, Life After LicoriceBy, Ryan Dembinsky @’s Hidden Track

After spending years upon years toiling away as a band playing countless shows, traveling thousands of miles, recording various studio projects and building an original catalog, to say it’s a hard decision to change directions, re-brand and move on to something new is like saying it’s hard to beat Mike Tyson in Punch Out: an understatement of the highest order.

After nearly five years, the popular Brooklyn jam/jazz/funk/fusion band, Licorice, decided it was time for a change. Three of the original four members, David Lott (guitar, vocals), Matt Epstein (bass) and Josh Bloom (drums, vocals), plan to stay together in the form of The Whitewalls, but with a new direction, a more song-focused trio and perhaps (gasp) less extended jamming.

Despite the mental struggles that come with debating a name change and a new sonic endeavor: giving up the brand recognition; wondering what to do with the recorded catalog; questioning if the fans will follow; and summoning up the energy to build something new from the ground up, David Lott and The Whitewalls have a reinvigorated spirit and they know they did the right thing. Look no further than Lott’s recent months for proof. He’s already released an E.P. with The Whitewalls, recorded his own solo EP, landed a role as the lone guitarist in an Off-Broadway gig and continued to perform relentlessly.

Ryan Dembinsky: So let’s start with some background; I ran into your lovely wife Emily in Saratoga before the Phish shows and she passed along the news that had Licorice split up, or was at least on hold for the time being. It sounds like the intent is that you are planning to focus on writing for a new band called The Whitewalls as well as on your solo material. So, without digging up dirt, what happened?

David Lott: My wife starting seeing Phish regularly, and so, I had to get out of the jamband race – that’s some stiff competition.

All kidding aside, after nearly 5 years, Licorice had accomplished so much, from our Blue Note extravaganzas to playing with jazz legends as regulars at the Telluride Jazz Festival in Colorado to the stages in NYC like Bowery, Brooklyn Bowl, Blender Theater, The Knit, Sullivan Hall, etc. We had come to a point, a sort of fork in the road, where we wanted to attain the production level, artistic intention, and lyrical value of the bands/artists we were also learning from in addition the bands in the jamband world.

It was not “Licorice” anymore once we made that choice. The intent was different, and so, the name, had to change. Licorice may always exist – it’s like my first child, but I want to have a bigger family now.

RD: What led you to aim more towards the more song-oriented, concise writing approach as opposed to the so-called “vessel for improvisation” approach? Is that more a function of what you’ve been listening to, a function of where the music industry is today, getting older, or just what’s coming naturally?

DL: Who got older? I am just in a different phase of my 20’s, which are my 30’s…but I am still the same age. Isn’t that the goal? Growing up in NY, you spend all of your childhood acting older than you are, and your entire adulthood trying to stay young. Much like music too…

As far as the so-called “vessel for improvisation” vs. the song, well, I think it’s a development in sync with a personal and natural evolution in my study of music, and as an artist. Having started with the study later in life, I first fell in love with just the instrument itself – the guitar. I wanted to make it sound all these different ways – distortion, wah, delay, clean, new amps and sounds – like Santana, Gilmour, Jerry, like Jimi, like McLaughlin, like Wes, like Sco – Trey – whatever, I wanted to be just a guitarist. But the writer in me came on strong, and words also became an obsessive study and an art.

Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with songs, and stories – even stories about songs. And to me, those are more than jam “platforms” (as inspiring as they can be); they are unique pieces of art as time capsules. It can be a profound way to reach and connect with an audience. Both together, create the 1-2 punch combo. If a song has smart changes, digestible words and a killer solo – well, that couldn’t really go so wrong…

The goal has always been to create music that not only satisfies artistic intent, but that connects with and engages an audience at a certain level. I spent several years improvising and felt a need to reach a more diverse audience. I wanted to condense our capabilities and make more accessible music. We are also just trying to say more with less. To me if I can take the best moment of what would’ve been a jam, and turn it into an actual part, or piece of music, then there would be a very fine concentrate to work with.

RD: It must have been a tough decision for the three of you to give up the name/brand Licorice given all the hard work it takes to build the notoriety of an established band with a deep catalog.

DL: Changing the band name was a back and forth among the band for quite some time, and became a constant battle in my own head as well. But, as I said earlier, once we made a decision about our direction – we were no longer Licorice. My new direction in songwriting, sound and artistic goals begs to be something different other than Licorice – a different entity. Licorice isn’t dead – our love for improvising, and for communicating musically on stage and with an audience will never die. That process may one day SAVE the music business. Thus, I think it’s sort of our mantra/something to be known that it’s not so much a “change” of the band name, as we are a new band. This is a project with it’s own vibe. Where does one draw the lines? We’ll see!

My final thought on that, which may be part of my own insecurity, is that I and “we” as a group need to earn a level of trust and respect from an audience before we have the right to take outrageous chances with them. Somewhat like taking someone in your car for a ride for the first time. I hope to have an audience willing to take a musical journey with in the future, or even at moments for sure.

RD: I love the new solo EP, The Gates of Brooklyn, and especially the bluegrass tune that opens it up. Who plays with you on the solo stuff, and how will you select what’s a Dave Lott tune versus what‘s a Whitewalls tune going forward?

DL: Thanks! I am actually on my way to Nashville as we are speaking! My first trip to Nashville and Memphis was this past November. Inspired by the culture, the music, the history and all – I came back to write a batch of brand new original material (nearly 25 new songs in 2 months). Soon after, I played my first solo acoustic gig opening for Wayne Krantz at the Sullivan Hall in NY, which proved to be a trial by fire success. I had performed 3 songs written just that week (something that I NEVER do, as I usually rehearse something to death before it debuts). I was also performing alone and acoustic which I have never done – and it is a terrifying experience. As culmination, I decided I wanted to make a “solo acoustic” EP at the end of December between Christmas and New Years while Licorice/The Whitewalls guys were away from each other on personal holidays.

David Lott – Mondays

The acoustic demos turned into a full on session, with the help of producer/engineer, and cohort, Alby Cohen. Being a drummer and singer, Alby pushed me to arrange the tracks, and together we produced the vocals, drums and guitars. He knew exactly what I was going for even in demo form, and made it come to life quite organically. We then brought in a wide range of friends/musicians who helped lay down the overdubs including: bass, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel and keyboards. While the initial tracking was done in about 3 days, we then spent the next few months building each track to give it the best expression possible. Mike Gibney helped with a track and then with the mix, and it ended up being a fast paced project from the songs’ inceptions, to the project’s inception, to the final product.

At the same time, The Whitewalls recorded its’ debut EP also out of a new batch of material I had been working. The way I divided songs was simple and natural at first, they either just made sense for the band (The Whitewalls) or didn’t in my mind. But now, several songs on the solo EP have found their way into the band’s live repertoire in different forms inspired by the players and chemistry, of course. So, the lines DO blur. But, The Whitewalls will probably never play bluegrass – so some are more easily defined.

RD: How about the studio, where did you record the new EPs for both the new band and the solo album? Did you work with a producer?

DL: Thanks to Alby Cohen and Doug Martin at Rough Magic I was able to make The Gates of Brooklyn. Without the support of Alby and Doug, I wouldn’t have made it at all to be honest. Of course as described, Alby was more than a great help as drummer, vocalist, engineer and co-producer. Additional musicians was a grand cast of characters including: Josh Bloom (drums, percussion), Brian Stanley (Bass), James Preston (Bass), Craig Greenberg (Upright Piano), Chad Dinzes (Fender Rhodes, Organ, Upright Piano), Thomas Bryan Eaton (Mandolin, Pedal Steel) and Doug Goldstein (Banjo). We worked, while many folks I respect and admire buzzed in and around the vibey studio like Eric Krasno, Adam Deitch, Nigel Hall, Talib Kweli, The Slip, etc etc. it was fun, and inspiring to have friends like that around. Special thanks to Kraz, as I actually used his Telecaster for my pickin’ numbers!

The Whitewalls’ EP was recorded in Jersey City at a studio called The Treehouse. I was actually introduced to the studio by Slipknot’s manager, a mutual friend, and the guys that we worked with were excellent and efficient. We pretty much produced that EP as a band along with their help in about 3 days time. The engineers/co-producers on that session were Royce Jeffres and Wes Kleinknecht. Royce did a mix session with us at the legendary Clinton Studios in NYC where he had just finished working on a team on the latest Sting album. Wes was pretty much our sanity control through the process – and of course Josh Bloom (drums) and Matt Epstein (bass) played their asses off and then wore their production hats as well. The process with people that get along almost always defaults to a collective one – and those can be productive ones!

The Whitewalls – Berry Street

RD: With The Whitewalls, do you think you will rework some of the old Licorice favorites like Freeze or What’s Your Status in London?

DL: Definitely. Some Licorice favorites will become Whitewalls’ favorites as well, as the writing for Licorice started leaning in this direction and some songs always did. But, very few tunes have made that cut. A Million Grains of Sand, What’s Your Status in London? and Bunnies are so far still with us.

RD: So beyond the new band, the solo material and supporting a number of other artists in a writing and lead guitar capacity, I imagine free days are few and far between, but have you found anything else new that’s been inspiring, like books, movies, TV shows, other bands etc.?

DL: Ha! Truly, I am inspired by sleep, and seek it as often as I can, which is rare. But, I am inspired by my wife – she keeps me in line and never stops surprising me and challenging me — my friends, my family, and all of the people I work with/have worked with are inspiring as well. I have to mention certain artists in particular like Rebecca Hart, Eric Silverman and Silvertone, Food Will Win the War, Sydney Wayser and Reno Bo. They are all artists to check out. I am inspired by photographers regularly, and a lot of my writing has to do with a particular view or perspective. It’s powerful to create imagery in both ways. I try to watch as much live music as I can, as there is so much accessible right now. I can get caught up watching anyone perform – and no matter the genre, inspiration is inherent. On TV, I am watching a lot of River Monsters and a show called Leverage…and always Family Guy.

RD: If you could air one gripe about the music industry today, what would it be? Don’t be shy!

DL: I think Rolling Stone, Perez Hilton and Bob Lefsetz can tell us all what’s gone wrong, what’s broken and what is NOT being fixed. Some similar sources can also help shed light on what is working and maybe some examples to follow. The business model has changed, and so the “game” has changed. But, I am not involved in music for the “game”; more for the love and for my passion – same reason most fans are. I would love to find a way to put food on my table, a roof over my head and find security for my family and future writing and performing, while still being the ultimate superfan. Today’s climate makes it difficult to weather and attain all if not even some of those things. Aired.

RD: Finally, as a University of Michigan grad, you can’t get off the hook without talking about football. What’s your prognosis for the Wolverines this season?

DL: Can I get a lifeline on this one? Part of me wants the Alumni association to answer, as they call me more than my mother does.

This is the year Rodriquez’s farming and planning goes into action (or so I am told). We are optimistic, as always…

Head over to The Whitewalls website to get the brand new EP for the low, low price of FREE or right click (save as) here to grab the title track The Gates of Brooklyn, of Dave’s solo EP.

P.S., The author has never defeated Mike Tyson in Punch Out, but he has knocked him down a few times.


~ by dlottmusic on September 11, 2010.

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