Boasting both a resounding physical and musical presence, Dave Schools is no stranger to anyone in the Jam community. At 45 years old, Schools has served audiences far and wide as a member of the elite septet, Widespread Panic, for over half of his life. He is a man that has seen much of what the scene has to offer and has lost a few dear friends and comrades along the way.
Schools recently took the time to have a conversation prior to a Stockholm Syndrome gig in Atlanta. In a no holds barred exchange, he held nothing back in speaking on everything from the recent and untimely passing of long time cohort, Vic Chesnutt, to the “cathartic experience” with which live music continues to bestow upon him.
Honest Tune: So, first question. How was the tour opener last night in Athens?
Dave Schools: Shockingly good. Everybody’s nervous for a lot of reasons. It’s the first show of the tour and we don’t have Danny Louis. Ya know? There’s just a lot to consider when of the members is going to miss a couple of gigs. It’s my home town and I haven’t lived there in 2 years. I really want to do ‘the Watt’ proper. The biggest thing is the Vic Chesnutt song which we worked up, "Flirted With You all of My Life." It’s like if you’re going to go in the 40 Watt for the first time in a while since Vic has passed and play one of his songs, you better do it right. So when I say "shockingly good," I am pleased as punch. We came charging out the gate as if there was no rust at all. I had a great night, I had a great time. It reminded of a lot of the reasons why I miss Athens so much.
HT: It’s a great town and I guess the most recent thought of Vic was the ending of Panic new year’s show, closing out with the "Protein Drink > Sewing Machine." I felt that there was so much emotion and power behind it.
DS: There was a lot, and there is so much inherent in the songs anyway. When you play them a lot – not that it ever gets lost – but it gets pushed aside for the motions of the moment that are more personal. But yeah, it was so close to the occurrence of his passing that you know, he’s been such a part of our lives and also New Year’s shows. We just love those songs and it was the same kind of situation that we spoke of earlier. No one talked about it, as an individual as a friend, everybody just wanted to get what they needed out of playing those songs and I think everyone in attendance got what they needed, I know I sure did.
I think we may have played all of the Vic songs that we do over the course of those two nights. I am not sure but I do remember that Vic would have said, "We stomped mightily on the terra" with the "Protein Drink." He loved that stuff, that’s what he loved about Houser, that’s what he loved about Widespread Panic was that someone who is so sensitive, such a light touch with his melodies and his musical adornments of his songs. Really inside him, he just wanted to be in the heaviest doom sludge rock band that you could imagine and that is where Brute was born.
HT: I remember that show, was it the Variety? No, the Tabernacle in 2002, that last Brute show.
DS: Right after Cobalt had been released. It’s a shame. There was so much going on then with him and Houser. It was really hard last night. I was talking to Berry, who owns the 40 Watt, and she had just taken a bike ride out to the cemetery and said that she had visited with Vic and Ricky Wilson and you know, it just tied a lot of things together. The older you get the more people you have to say good bye to.
HT: It’s a sad fact.
DS: It is a sad fact, but somehow playing those people’s songs helps bring them a little closer into your life and that’s kind of important.
HT: I was going to say, as far as song writing goes, Vic being top notch and you have Jerry Joseph, who I am always in awe of and the material he puts out.
DS: Well yeah, I mean Jerry’s one of the people who made me realize how important the gift of word-smithery is because I didn’t really care about the songwriting craft as a kid. I grew up listening to Black Sabbath, Allman Brothers, The Dead – you know, big, long instrumental journeys. When I got to know people like Vic and Jerry and Danny Hutchins of Bloodkin, suddenly there are people, writers in your sphere that just have that gift and it’s amazing and they all have such a profound influence on us. Jerry and I personally just really understand each other and we hit it off and there’s a lot of music that we have in common and a lot of world views about those things.
Panic doesn’t really touch on politics and things like that. This band got together because it was like ….well Bush was president, let’s just say that. [Laughter ensues] We wanted to write some political songs and we got those ideas out and brought this dream team of musicians out and we toured the world in 1904, not 1904 [Laughter], in 2004 and we were actually passing out voter registration cards and to me that is an important thing and to Jerry as well.
HT: You actually hit on one of my questions. What is it like working with Jerry Joseph? An incredible songwriter but also lots of controversial comments and I think you hit on that pretty well.
DS: Well I think a lot of controversial comments are controversial because they are taken out of context and put in block quotes in the middle of some article and there’s never any real subtext. You know, he just speaks his mind and he’s a self educated person who does a lot of reading and is very aware.
You know, he’s very interested in what is going on in the world. He’s a spiritual person, so when you get into the arena of actual conflict between humans who sort of veil behind this religion, this bipolarity, there’s a lot of stuff for him to talk about.
Some things he’s said, he probably should catch a little flack for. In an era like this we need more people who will speak their mind. There’s too much pussy-footing around. There’s too much at stake and there are too many people with really strong emotions that are sort of forced to hide them. That’s what I like about Jerry, he just tells it like it is. You pretty much know what you’re getting.
HT: I think that’s one of my problems with politics. You have to sort through so much B.S. to find out what is really going on. I feel like a lot of his music tries to touch on that and say, "look guys, this is what’s really happening". Don’t let ‘it’ get masked by the B.S. on the news and …
DS: You know, you always have to consider the source when it’s the news. Artists are where us humans get a lot of the information that is in between the lines of the news articles. No one wants to tell you what to do. But I think it’s the artist’s job to make you aware of what you might be missing from all the various boxes and things you listen to, and there needs to be more of that because commercial music is so, well… commercial. It’s a product and people like Jerry make it hard to sell a product because that product is not going to appeal to a person who thinks that Jerry’s point of view is wrong.
HT: Music for me is almost an emotional experience. You know, it’s a combination of the lyrics moving you and then the music backing up the lyrics and it all coming together.
DS: You know, music is a church and it’s an extension of the spiritual experience that people share and the ritual of gathering together and trying to get their minds focused on the same thing. It’s really powerful. A church could be a dingy night club where you are watching a blues guy tell you about his life. A church can be an arena where band actually puts on a transcendent experience. Getting a bunch of people to kind of all feel the same thing at the time, is what the world needs more of. You know, you don’t need people to be divisive up here. You need people thinking along the same lines and thinking positive.
You know I won’t use the word ‘terror’ because that’s a word that’s almost lost its meaning by being bandied about so much. To try and create a populous [sic] that is more malleable because they get a constant delivery of fear every day, doesn’t resolve to positive things. What people need is to come together and get a good spiritual kick in the ass.
HT: I agree
DS: You know the world isn’t getting any bigger but we continue to populize, populate [Laughter]. We continue to multiply. I am tired and nose is stuffed up. [Laughter]
HT: No worries. [Laughter] So are you enjoying playing smaller venues of late, as compared to amphitheaters. Does it make much of difference to you?
DS: No it doesn’t. In light of what I just said, I can find that transcendence anywhere as long as the bands playing together and it doesn’t matter which band it is, or if I am there seeing a show. There are aspects of small venues and dirty night clubs that I love. I can get that in an arena in a shed, a big outdoor place and the opposite holds true for those smaller venues. There are things about them that I like.
HT: What was the last show that you saw?
DS: The last show I saw? That’s a good one. Um, that is a good one, I’m trying to think. I can’t remember.
HT: I talked to Pretto a while back and he was saying that he and Jimmy (Herring), went to Alice in Chains.
DS: Yeah, they went to Alice in Chains and they were sending me text messages. Fuck me, what was the last show I saw? I don’t get out much when I’m home. Maybe the last show I went to see was the Meat Puppets at my home town pub, The Hop Monk, in Sebastopol where I live. I obviously saw the Allman’s play at Wak…what is the name of the thing?
DS: Wanee, thank you. And there was Zappa Plays Zappa at Wakarusa.
HT: They are incredible.
DS: You know that’s my opportunity, the festivals.
HT: Yeah, I didn’t know when you go the festivals if you had the opportunity to check out the other bands.
DS: If they are playing before us on the same stage, I am probably gonna check them out. I am a huge Zappa fan so I really wanted to see what Dweezil was doing with his dad’s music and I can pretty much say that he’s putting the eyebrows on it.
HT: I was pretty much blown away by their performance.
DS: Sometimes it’s funny because a lot of the Zappa thing, was the wackiness of the musicians which doesn’t seem to be, with Zappa Plays Zappa. I wonder if the material is so difficult that they don’t have the extra ram, you know to….
HT: To play around with it?
DS: To fool around with it.
HT: They have to focus more.
DS: Or if Dweezil is more in the mood of "let’s take my old man’s music seriously." Because some of its funny and poking fun and satirical, I think that that should be taken seriously because satire has often proven to be some of the most straight-forward and important commentary on something. Society, or in Zappa’s case, he loved to poke fun at trends, clothing trends, musical trends. He could be taken a lot more seriously but at the same time if you dress it up in idiotic clothes and mess around.
HT: He liked the Jewish school girls.
DS: Well, it was catholic school girls.
HT: That’s right catholic school girls, my bad.
DS: Jewish princesses. He made fun of everybody. You know he wasn’t prejudice in anyway. He made fun of himself more than he made fun of any particular ethnic group.
HT: I think that’s the way you’ve got to do it. If you’re gonna poke fun, poke fun at all.
DS: I am one of those glass houses people. I am not going to poke fun at anyone.. [Laughter]
HT: On a little bit of a different note, what do you think about the way publications are going? Publications are dying out, everything is online.
DS: Well, access to information is a great thing and it’s also a bad thing. You know I was having a debate with a friend of mine who owns a comic book store and he’s getting a little worried.
But for myself, I like holding a book in my hand. Do I have an e-reader? Sure. Do I use it? Sure. Would I rather be holding the book and when I finish it be able to give it to someone who I thought might enjoy it. That’s to me the visceral experience of holding a book. The dog earing of a page, to mark your spot – that’s what I like.
Yes, newspapers and magazines will probably have more success online but I don’t think people are going to pay for them. It’s the same thing with the music. The file sharing is killing the traditional model, which is probably not such a bad thing. But it’s just making bands work a lot harder at marketing. They have to get out on the road and take it to the people. I don’t think you can do that in order to generate money for a publication. Would I be scared? Yeah.
HT: What do you think about the success of the Live Widespread Panic and all these other bands that are selling the live performances?
DS: I don’t know how successful it is. I guess to a certain extent that it’s very successful. I know the tapes that got circulated by the fans 25 years ago when we started playing were the main reason we were able to get across the Mississippi and out to California. People would show up because they had heard our music through the network of tape traders. Now paying for a digital product, you know, one person pays for it and then 8 people copy it. I don’t know what to say about it because as a music fan, would I want access to a great show that I just witnessed?
HT: Hell yeah!
DS: Hell yeah. I do not really look at things like that as loss of revenue. I look at it, like if you played a great show and people have access to it, and they share it with their friends, then people will come and see you the next time you come through that town. But I’m not a business person. That’s unfortunately someone else’s thing to worry about.
HT: A little bit of a different note: Jam Cruise. Have you given any thought to that upcoming performance?
DS: I can’t believe I’m doing it. [Laughter ensues] I don’t know about the idea of being in international waters with a lot of friends and fans. Sounds like things could get wonky. [Laughter]
HT: I think that’s the idea.
DS: Well then, I am officially frightened. [More laughter]
HT: I thank for your time and I look forward to the performance tonight.
DS: Bring your ear plugs. [Laughter ensues]
HT: Oh trust me, I’ve got them. [Laughter ensues]