John Medeski: Strong as Ever with MMW
But with Radiolarians, "This was a way of using our touring life as a reason to write this music. We sort of created the opportunity, basically. Created a way for us to do this. It's a way to keep things fresh, which we've always tried to do. There were definitely times years ago when we could have gone the more obvious route: the jam band-MMW-funky-groovy-easy-obvious selling route. Maybe we should have," he adds with a laugh. "We could all retire. But we didn't. We made a concerted effort to keep things fresh. That's who we are as individuals and musicians. We never would be happy, we certainly wouldn't still be together, had we done that."
Albums are still being made on vinyl, but its rare for a band of the status of MMW to do so. Simply put, they like the sound of the vinyl disks and people who still enjoy that medium will be more than pleased.
Left to right: Billy Martin, John Medeski and Chris Wood
"We've always loved vinyl. There are people always asking for it. Truth is, vinyl sales have gone up. It makes sense, because it is an incredible format. People are re-realizing it, and it tends to be people who have the means to buy the nice audiophile equipment," says Medeski. "There is nothing like it. If you're into it, you're into it. It's something you can't reproduce any other way. In truth, soon the downloadable technology is going to be as good or better than CDs. Right now, the MP3 thing is a complete disaster and drag, in my opinion. But that'll change. Eventually you'll be able to download super high resolution stuff. [Currently], they sound like shit. It's the worst element, the worst nightmare of what, sonically, digital music means. Especially if you compare it to a [vinyl] record. Put on a record and listen to it, then listen to an MP3. It's unbelievable. You listen to a record, you feel the music. You're in it. You put on MP3 and it's just kind of there.
"People argue digital is just as good. It's only barely getting to be just as good at the highest resolution. It will be eventually, because all the stuff is getting better. It's just a matter of figuring out how to make things go faster, and more, which they seem to be doing all the time. Soon, you'll be able to get high- resolution recordings digitally and downloadable. It's all going to be out there ... We've been recording at high resolution. Unfortunately, they don't come out on the CD that way but they go to the vinyl that way. When you hear it back that way [in the studio], it really does sound better. It's richer and there's a lot of dimension to it."
While many MMW fans have live concert tapes that they swap, the new live recording will show a different side to the music that was developed this year. "Because the music is open, every time we play these songs, it's different. Even now. So you can hear we're playing the same tune, but the solos are going to be different, the energy's going to be different. It's kind of a way to hear different versions of these tunes that we've codified on the records, to show what the other options are," says Medeski.
There's a lot more going on in the music of MMW, even though they were tossed into the "jam band" category years ago, as they played seamless sets that often glided from motif to motif, composition to composition. It wasn't unusual to have young people in tie-dye T-shirtsemblems of the Grateful Dead fansat their shows dancing care-free to the music. Performing on bills with the rock band Phishbachercertainly added to the jam band reputation.
Admits Medeski, "We were so surprised to have been thrown into that [jam band] category. We call our music homeless music. If anybody asks us now what we call our music, that's what we call it: homeless music. I understand why we were embraced by that [jam band]) community. It's great. My mother always said, 'Don't bite the hand that feeds you.' We've had mixed feelings about it over the years, but you really can't pick your audience. And if you do, then maybe you're not being true to yourself. If you're going out of your way to attract a certain audience, then you're preconceiving your art. It's not really art then, is it? It's not really expression, it's entertainment. And we're really expressing ourselves. So whoever comes, comes. What are you gonna do? [laughs] What can we do about it? You gotta love it."
"In all honesty, sometimes it's great, but there are elements that are a drag. Sometimes we want to go certain places that sometimes an audience is not ready to go. We tend to go there anyway. Hard part is, you can feel what the crowd wants. Sometimes they just want you to do this thing that they hear all these other bands do, just be funky and play a thousand notes forever. But we can't do it. It's an endless balancing act."