Boris Garcia has got quite the tenure on the road, touring for over eight years with five albums to date. Their newest release, Around Some Corner, offers their finest material to date. Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Bob Stirner sat down with Grateful Web to talk about the new album and other exciting endeavors.
GW: Tell me about your formational years as a musician. Who were some influential musicians or acts to you?
BS: Well, I’m older than dirt [laughs.] I can honestly say I grew up in the days when rock wasn’t that old, and everything was being shaped. So, all the usual suspects; Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, The Band, and also English folk rock. Speaking for all the guys in the band, we really dig that formational rock music from the late 1960s/early 1970s. There’s no one influence, in particular, that’s cut above the rest.
GW: I see all of that. I personally see The Band as influence, because all members in Boris Garcia seem to be multi-instrumentalists, and play different instruments on different songs. Do you guys tend to vary which instruments you play live in concert or do you choose those songs with those specific instruments in mind?
BS: Both actually and we don’t set out to have a particular sound on a particular song. Jeff Otto and myself write most of the songs. If it’s a ballad, it might have Pedal Steel, acoustic guitar, and piano, or maybe not. There’s a song on this record called “I’d Do Anything.” Jeff wrote it. There’s a very odd mix of Pedal Steel and Mellotron. We didn’t do it on purpose; we just thought it sounded cool. We’ve been accused of not having a uniform glasses-on sound. But I think that’s the beauty of what we do. It sort of comes out as it does. And then we have Tim Carbone as producer who adds a sort of special sauce and some of his own ideas. On the last couple of records, we had full orchestrations, which really lent to the music. Some of the songs are treated traditionally, but all bets are off when we come onstage because some of those four-minute tunes on the record become twenty-five-minute tunes. And, in case you didn’t known, Tim plays on a couple of tracks on Around Some Corner.
GW: There’s a smoke and mirrors for artists who are a little less courageous and try too hard to define themselves concretely. Boris Garcia has flair with their playing and categorization doesn’t really seem to matter. And, of course you’re going to befriend Tim Carbone with that level of musical adventurousness. Can you talk about the band’s relationship with Tim? What sort of input does he provide in the studio?
BS: Tim was brought in mid-stream on Mother’s Finest, which was our first national release. He was sort of out-of-the-loop as we brought him in late into production. So including that record he’s produced three and a half Boris Garcia albums. We were actually introduced to Tim By David Gans. At the time we were working with Donna Jean Godchaux and Buddy Cage, which was a wonderful session and memory. Tim came in a business sense and we turned into great friends. It’s at a point now that he’s family and we’re actually all family. I can’t imagine doing a record without Tim there. He’s so musical and anyone who’s seen him play can tell you that in a Nano-second. He’s this ball of fury of musicality that melds down into all of his production senses. He’s a guy, which unlike myself, did not come in thru the Grateful Dead world. He came in from other places and found himself there. He lives and breathes all of The Beatles recordings. He’ll lend those attributes. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have him around.
GW: We’re at this intersection where Around Some Corner has been out for a couple of months. It’s truly a marvelous achievement. The sound is so rich, and you’ve all noticeably developed the sound that is Boris Garcia. The lyrics are even stronger. You mentioned that you and Jeff Otto are the primary songwriters. Do you each share your own individual song or do you develop these lyrics together?
BS: Speaking for myself, I’ll have something stored inside or even on paper that never makes it out in the open. Timing is everything when it comes to songwriting. When something comes over me or when I’m inspired, I can’t get to the piece of paper and pen quick enough. I know Jeff is kind of the same. All of us in Boris Garcia pride ourselves in songwriting more than anything. It seems to be a dying art, without disparaging anybody else. I look at the jam band world or even Americana, or how formulaic country music has become. It harkens back to that first question you asked about my influences, Bob Dylan & The Band, and the Grateful Dead. I dare say that those folks wrote songs for the ages. As a songwriter I hope to write one song that strong some day. That would be great.
GW: There’s a common thread in the thematic arc of the aforementioned influential artists. It’s strong storytelling in rock’n’roll. And Boris Garcia has that. When I was listening to the songs on Around Some Corner, while they vary in form and content it seemed like there could be a thematic connecting thread. Is this collection of songs tied together?
BS: I think as songwriters Jeff, and I are maturing. The more you do, the better it gets. What triggered this one? We recently took a sabbatical for some personal catharsis, and we had to knock off for a while. We came back impassioned, and there was a sense of urgency. I’m not sure if that made for the overall fabric or tie-together. The title of the record was absolutely drawn from the Robert Hunter lyric in his song, “Box of Rain.” When you talk about evocative, in the tunes and the body and structure, Hunter is not someone you want to play cards with. You’ll loose. That lyric, “around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet you,” is about the most beautiful and haunting set of words that I could conjure. It also speaks of that you never really know what’s going to happen in life. It’s his wordsmanship. The Grateful Dead would not have been what we know them to be without Robert Hunter, because he built all the meaning, symbolism and metaphor, and the kind element into those songs.
GW: What has changed with the band since it began? There have been some personnel changes here and there, but Boris Garcia seems to keep on growing.
BS: In terms of personnel, things moved around a little bit in the past. But we’ve always had Bud Burroughs in mandolin, keyboards, accordion who’s just incredible. Chip Desnoyers plays Pedal Steel as he has for some time as has Tom Hampton on Lap Steel. We brought on E.J. Simpson on bass who has really brought his particular musicality and lyricism underneath every song. I can’t really qualify whether there was a blinding light or an “ah-hah” moment. It all winds up sounding like Boris Garcia each time, which is pretty cool.
Getting back to what you were saying before about classification, people ask us what we are, we usually say that we’re an Americana band that has bluegrass and pop undertones. That’s really what it is. It could be a lot easier to say that we were a jam band..
GW: Well, Americana works well for you guys, I feel like the jam band pigeonhole is a little misleading, as there’s some real heartiness and depth to the way you guys play and the music you write.
On another topic, as far as touring goes, what is the near future plans for the band? Anything in the works?
BS: Yeah absolutely. We’re touring around the record, and we’ll be in Colorado in November in support of that in Boulder and Ft. Collins. In December looks like it’s going to be Northern California. San Francisco and north, as it usually goes. We’ll be doing some select shows in the Northeast also. Westward bound we go, and we really look forward to getting out there and playing for those crowds again.