February 15th, 2012, 9:18 am · · posted by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
“We’re stoked,” the Philadelphia native said during a recent short-but-sweet phone chat. “The California/West Coast tour is always kind of my favorite tour.”
The long-running group, whose last visit saw them play the first half of September’s revived Doheny Days, arrive this week for an HOB run through California that also stops Thursday in West Hollywood and Sunday in San Diego, plus shows in San Luis Obispo on Wednesday and the Fillmore in San Francisco on Friday.
“I’m looking forward to going surfing for sure. In the back of our tour bus we have some surf board racks, so me and Philly Frank, my merchandise guy, we’re always jonesin’ for a surf. We’ve got a lot of friends over there that we’ve met through the years in the surf community, so it’s going to be great to get back.”
He wouldn’t share which beaches are his favorites. Saying so out loud might jinx it and he’d wind up with lousy waves during his visit. “You know how it goes,” he says with a slight chuckle. “If I said it, I wouldn’t be so lucky.”
G. Love & Special Sauce are currently working on new music to follow up 2009′s Long Way Down, though the band’s leader (real name: Garrett Dutton) put out a disc of his own since then, last year’s Fixin’ to Die, which teamed him with the Avett Brothers, who played on and produced the album. It’s one of four solo efforts, combined with three Special Sauce titles, that were issued through singer-songwriter Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records before
Working with that label pushed him to new creative limits, G. Love insists. He and the band are constantly critiquing themselves, improving upon old songs while trying to write fresh ones, and striving to improve as musicians — even if that means swallowing a few harsh criticisms.
“You’ve got to be true to yourself,” he says. “You can’t bullsh*t yourself because then you’re going to put out something that’s weak.
“We’ve got it pretty dialed in now. We’ve got a little creative team (working with Brushfire) that’s kind of behind-the-scenes, and they’re pretty critical about pushing me to write the best songs I can write. I’m in that process now. I just submitted a lot of demos. We went through all of the songs and we’ve kind of broken them down like ‘OK, this song is cool, but I feel like you’re missing the whole point of what you were writing about.’ I’m rewriting a lot of lyrics and trying to be critical of every line to make sure everything is real solid.
“As a songwriter, I just kind of flow: If a song is going to come out, it just kind of comes out, and of course I love it. I think every song is a hit when I write it. But then you bring it to the band or to the label or to the audience, and they might not like it. Some songs don’t make it too far and some songs can stand the test of time. We’re trying to make each one as pertinent as can be – if it’s trying to be a funny party song, let’s work on it so it’s funny as sh*t, and if it’s serious, let’s make sure we’re getting the point across.”
With the 20th anniversary of his band less than a year away, G. Love, who turns 40 this year, says he still feels very much like a teenager.
“I always think that time seems like it’s dripping by; when you look back, it went so fast. My son is now 10 years old and my drummer is like 48. I mean, we look at each other on the bus sometimes like, ‘What the f*** are we doing?’ Twenty years later, this is crazy.
“This life is not for everybody, but if it’s good to you, there’s nothing like it. I love being on the road, I love traveling and getting to play music every night. It’s really crazy but I still feel like a kid, like I still need to grow the f*** up. But I don’t want to — so I guess I’m in the right business.”
Sometimes the road wears on his sanity, and being away from his son is never easy, but G. Love says he wouldn’t trade it for anything. His last “real job” was washing dishes, something he’s not willing to (nor should need to) return to anytime soon.
“When you have a family, you realize that you really have to prove yourself, because if you’re going to be away from your kid you better make every show count. For me, it’s like the pressures of the road have changed, but my passion is still getting out there: I want to sweat, I want to get the chills, I want to move the crowd and I want to play great.
“We’ve put a lot of work into it, but you never really finish – music is a lifelong journey, it’s not something I think you ever really master. You can’t finish it like you can a game, and know if you won or lost in it. It just keeps going and going, and the more love you give it, the more it gives you back. People can feel that. I just want it to last forever.”
G. Love’s current downtime playlist leans heavy on ’90s hip-hop: plenty of Wu-Tang Clan plus a few from Gang Starr, the Pharcyde and Cypress Hill, especially when he’s headed out for his regular run. When he’s chilling at home, he turns to old blues records — and since he’s deep into Keith Richard’s autobiography (Life), he’s currently obsessed with the Rolling Stones.
“Honestly I feel like my next record is going to reflect those two styles,” he says of Wu-Tang and the Stones.
“That really sparked something in my tender young ears. I was already playing guitar since I was about 8, but when I was 15, listening to those two records, I started to want to express myself and write my own songs. Those two records subconsciously pushed me to write.”
The hip-hop influence came soon after, impacting G. Love in Philly as it exploded out of New York. It split his musical personality, he says: half of him was “a kid sitting alone in my room with an acoustic guitar learning folk, rock ‘n’ roll and blues,” while the other half was “a skateboarding, graffiti-writing punk from Philly that was listening to Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J.
“They were making this amazing music for our generation, but at the same time I got a lot of ‘Well, that’s a black thing, that’s not what white people do.’
I was at basketball camp, and in our league I was only one of three white kids, which was awesome. I remember one day one of my friends came up and he said, ‘Yo, check this out,’ and he put these headphones on my ears — and it was the Beastie Boys, like ‘Hold it now, hold it now … HIT IT’ off of Licensed to Ill. And he was like: ‘Those are white boys!’ I was like: ‘Naw, they’re not white.’”
Cut to a couple years later: 19-year-old G. Love is busking as a street musician. Finishing up the end of another blues riff, out of nowhere he starts rapping Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full” along to his tune.
“I guess that was my first-ever musical epiphany,” he says. “All of a sudden it was like: ‘Oh sh*t! What’s going on now?’ It just happened. I had this line in a song: ‘It just kinda happened / It wasn’t thought up / This is the city / And I am the product.’ That’s how I thought about it. It was real. It wasn’t contrived in any sort of way.”
Given the unpredictability of the music industry in the modern age — G. Love refers to it as “the wild, wild west” — the band strives to keep up with the rapid-fire fashion in which several artists, established and/or newly successful, release music these days. Each week, G. Love’s official website releases a free live download. Over the years the band had recorded thousands of performances at venues throughout the country; their manager came up with the idea to issue them to fans one at a time online.
“It’s cool because you can get different versions of the same song from the different nights and you can feel the atmosphere of each different venue,” he notes, while admitting that he and Special Sauce hardly make any money from their actual recordings. It’s on the road where they make a living.
“We’re lucky to have fans that come out every night for us — that’s our livelihood and our expression. The recordings … at this point, obviously there is going to be more and more music that is going to be free. As a musician, I just want as many people to hear my music as possible.
“If I can be a millionaire or billionaire, that’s cool, but that’s not really my plan. If I can just play my music and lead a good life, that’s what it’s really all about.”
G. Love & Special Sauce play Saturday, Feb. 18, at House of Blues Anaheim, 1530 S. Disneyland Drive. Tickets are $25. 714-778-2583 for more info.
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