Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road

5th Jun 2012 | 17:44

Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road
Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road

Out today (5 June) is Spectrum Road, the self-titled debut album by a new supergroup of sorts, one which features Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, former Cream bassist-singer Jack Bruce, Medeski Martin and Wood keyboardist John Medeski and onetime-Lenny Kravitz drummer (and Carlos Santana's wife) Cindy Blackman Santana.

The band will be hitting the road this summer (their first gig is at Bonnaroo, 9 June). Before starting rehearsals, Reid sat down with MusicRadar to talk about how Spectrum Road came together.

Were you looking to form a new band?

“I wasn’t really, no. But I was playing with Jack Bruce, and I asked him about Tony Williams – Jack had a history with Tony and played with him in Lifetime – and we realized that we had a story to tell with this kind of music. I really admire Tony and how he mixed rock and jazz. So Jack and I kept talking and we started looking for a cast of characters to join us on this journey.”

“I spoke to Cindy because she’s such an unapologetic devotee of Tony. Of course, she’s a brilliant musician, too, so it made a lot of sense of do this with her.

“Then I reached out to John because he’s so kooky and so quirky and so… odd. [laughs] There aren’t a lot of kick-ass organists out there. John’s kick-ass all the way. He takes quirky and makes it hard and emotional.”

You can listen to the track Vuelta Abajo by Spectrum Road right here.

Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road
Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road
Spectrum Road (from left): Vernon Reid, Jack Bruce, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman Santana and

You've worked with a few legends in your time. What's it like playing with Jack?

“You get past the whole legend thing, but then you don’t. He is who he is. Of course, we’re both carbon-based creatures breathing oxygen, so in that sense we’re alike. Whether it’s Carlos Santana or James 'Blood' Ulmer, they’re both carbon-based creatures breathing oxygen, as am I.

“The ‘Oh-my-God-I’m-playing-with-Jack-Bruce’ thought never goes away, and that’s fine. It’s OK to stay a little bit in awe of these people. But at the same time, the godlings are just folks. I revere Jack Bruce, but I also see him as a dude. He’s fun, and he’s humble, too. He doesn’t want to be this guy that people have to bow down to. That would be a horrible way to carry yourself, I would think.”

Both you and Jack have a deep love of the blues. Is that something you bond over?

“Yeah, sure. The blues is a big bond with Jack and myself. It’s the basis for where I’m at, and I think it’s there on the album.

“Jack is of a certain generation – the Keiths and the Micks and the Jimmy Pages – one that’s so steeped in the blues. Those records that they listened to were so hard to come by. They had to really seek it out. His whole generation, it's also a class thing. He was part of the working class, and so this music came to him in a way that was powerful. He chose it, and that holds a lot of meaning.

“As for myself and what I bring to it, it’s entirely different. I remember when I produced James 'Blood' Ulmer, and somewhere during the making of that record, I started going back and listening to Howlin’ Wolf. What he did on Spoonful was deliver the sense of abstraction that had tremendous impact.”

Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road
Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road
Medeski, Blackman Santana, Reid and Bruce

Did you approach your guitar playing with Spectrum Road differently than, say, Living Colour?

“My approach was trying to morph the clean and the dirty. Carlos Santana is a huge influence there – and that’s certainly interesting in this band since I’m playing with his wife. Both Carlos and Jimi Hendrix are big guys to me, but I never tried to copy them. I would listen to them and go, ‘What can I bring to what they’re doing?’”

Speaking of Cindy, how is it playing with her?

“Playing with her is a lot of fun. She’s a very funny person, but she’s an extraordinary player. I’m blown away by how much she brings it. She’s in it to kill it. Beyond that, it’s a different dynamic having a female in the band. It’s not a bunch of dudes and all of that testosterone.”

And what's it like working with John?

“John brings so many shades to the music that somebody else wouldn’t. He’s an outstanding soloist, but he’s a very interesting colorist, too. One thing that makes this record sound so cool is his use of the Mellotron, an instrument that is very much associated with The Moody Blues and a certain era of psychedelic music. It puts a kind of art-rock feel on the music, and that’s something that jazz didn’t have.”

Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road
Interview: Vernon Reid on his new band, Spectrum Road

What kind of gear did you use on the album?

“I used my signature Parker guitar, along with a 1968 Gibson ES-345. I also played a PRS McCarty and one of my old Hamer Chaparral. For effects, I used a Fractal Systems Axe-FX and a little bit of Guitar Rig, but I also used a Schumann PLL, which sounds almost like an analogue synthesizer. It’s very extreme. In addition, I used a Strymon El Capistan delay and an Eventide PitchFactor and ModFactor.”

“My amps were all tube models. I used a Boogie Dual Rectifier, a Fender Twin and a Randall. Definitely tube amps.”

You guys are hitting the road soon. How are things sounding in rehearsal?

“Well, we haven't started yet! [laughs] We’re about to start rehearsals soon. We haven’t played in a while, so it’ll be, uh, fresh. [laughs] I’m really looking forward to it. It doesn’t take a long time for us to get up to speed. There’s something about the way the four of us come at this that’s very exciting.”

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