Our Managing Editor, Diana, had the opportunity to speak with Chan Kinchla of Blues Traveler. Here’s what was said.
Diana: It seems that I always hear that you’re touring.
Chan: Originally I think that’s what turned us on to music. We were in high school, and that’s when the band got together, in high school, in ’87. We got together first of all because we enjoyed playing with each other, the interaction we had. Also once we started playing in front of people live, it was kind of an addicting feeling you get, with all those people together and that whole rush you get, that kind of atmosphere. I think we’ve been addicted to it for some time. It’s not like something that you have a choice in the matter, though I mean the foundation of the band has been very much live, so I think that’s our reputation. I think we seem to be on tour more than we actually are.
Diana: So are you actually looking forward to the day that you can sit down and put the albums in the store and just have them sell or do you think you are going to keep on touring forever.
Chan: I think we always be playing live. I think that’s the best part of it for us. I mean right now we have records in stores and they sell fine but we still like to tour. I don’t know it’s just beyond trying to make money, we do it because we enjoy what we’re doing. If I get off the road for more than a couple of months I get very depressed, I need that.
Diana: So actually when you started out you were called “Blues Band”?
Chan: Yeah, well in high school, Brendan the drummer and John the harmonica player and singer were together in a band called Blues Band. I joined in ’86 and we were still Blues Band and we played originals, but a very traditional style blues songs and then Bob joined in ’87 and that’s when the band changed its name to Blues Traveler because the next year we were thinking of moving up to New York and ever that year, our senior year in high school, in ’87 we were traveling up to New York to do gigs because it was only about an hour from where we got together which was Princeton, New Jersey. We realized that the name Blues Band was a little generic for New York, where there’s about 300 playing on any given night, so we realized that we had to change the name and also at that point the music had started drastically drifting away from traditional Blues, although I think the name Blues still holds true in what got us interested in Blues. Why we liked that kind of music is that it’s a very honest and emotional representation of the environment that we were growing up in and I think for us to try to play traditional Blues was a little silly because we weren’t black guys from Mississippi, we were white kids from the suburbs.
Diana: Are you guys going to be doing the H.O.R.D.E. festival again this year?
Chan: Yeah, we just worked it out. We’re going to do it with the Black Crowes and were starting to put together other bands and places and such.
Diana: So you guys were at Woodstock?
Chan: Yeah, we played there the first days and it was a great experience. I mean anytime you get to play on front of 300-400,000 people is a monumental event in anyone’s career and it went great and we had a really great time.
Diana: Did you hang out there for the rest of the weekend?
Chan: No, we were in the middle of the H.O.R.D.E. tour for last year so we had to go off to Boston to do a couple of nights up there. It actually seems as if we got out right before it got really muddy, because the first day it was really all organized, dry, everyone was still fresh and it definitely hopping.
Chan: We kind of like to think that it stands for a bunch of different things. To me it definitely originally just came up Four because it’s our fourth record and then it started to stand for different things. But basically the kind of approach we used to take when we did a record, like the last two before that, was that we’d take a theme, a kind of idea or a certain feeling. And this album we decided that we wanted to concentrate on each song individually as opposed to looking at it in context of the whole record so on purpose we put blinders on so to not look at how one song related to any of the others and to make each song kind of have its own identity, carry its own weight. So in the end I don’t think we thought it was appropriate to try to typify the entire body of work as one kind of thing, so we just kept it very simple, and that’s why Four seemed appropriate.
Diana: Why the different covers for the album?
Chan: Well in the initial release we could put both covers, when there displays in stores and things like that, we could put up both covers and make one giant cat’s head. And at the same time a lot of place won’t put an album out that has a big joint on the cover.
Diana: Would you say that there’s a certain song that’s you favorite or has any special meaning for you?
Chan: It’s really difficult to say. It’s like asking someone who they’re favorite child is, not that I’m trying to get emotional about it, but we do spend a ton of time on each one and they all have they’re different strengths, they show different styles of the band and I really can’t say that there’s one song that really sticks out as my favorite. There’s probably about 30.
Diana: So other that your own music, who do you listen to nowadays, who do you like?
Chan: Part the history of the band is that we’ve always had diverse influences, even from when we were in high school, we all liked different music form each other and also, in that, we loved every kind of music. And in coming to New York which has a very eclectic music scene, we were always getting turned on and playing a lot of different music styles, learning from a lot of different types of musicians in New York and I really think that helped broaden our influences. So in general I listen to everything. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Scotty Charles Mingus, a great jazz player, he plays bass; I listen to Prince a lot; I’ve listened to Sound Garden a lot lately; I just saw the Beastie Boys over in Europe; pretty much anything I can get my hands on. I’m always trying out different stuff and there’s really no general rule to what turns me on or not as long as its just good, heartfelt, and interesting.
Diana: So were your New York days the typical sitting in a rat infested apartment just barely scraping by?
Chan: Yeah, we move to New York in ’87 and all moved in together an we spent the next couple of years living in different Brownstones in Brooklyn. I was nice to all live together. I think it really helped us early on, in helping us keep our music going. And as soon as we got enough money we got our own places, but our early days were jumping the subways, scraping money together to get a piece of pizza, and playing like five nights a week. New York’s got a million different places to play.
Diana: So you’re doing things with the Internet and a CD-ROM?
Chan: Well we’ve always had a really large mailing list and we’ve found that a the fans got a little more numerous and the shows got a little bigger, something that’s always been important to us is keeping the relationship and keeping in touch with people who came and supported our music and came out to the shows, and as it got bigger that became more difficult to do. We realized that building up this mailing list and we always send out information on what the band’s up to, our concert dates, and give a forum for people to write back. As that grew we found that it was a great way to keep in touch with what was going on a the shows and the people. And that kind of naturally evolved into working on the Internet, creating a Blues Traveler base on the Internet. It was a great way to talk to people calling in anonymously and very openly because it’s such an anonymous forum. So it just kind of naturally evolved out of our mailing list.
And with the CD-ROM, you have to realize that with H.O.R.D.E. there’s so many different things going on, with tall the different bands and the different tents, different causes and all that that put their effort into it. We realized that this was a really great way to people comfortable with the situation and letting them know how to take full advantage of everything there. We figured that if we could create some sort of CD-ROM sort of visual reality thing that they could go in and walk around the concourse, check out all the information on these different avenues, and as an extension of that, they could write into their congressmen and the different causes, say it’s Greenpeace or Planned Parenthood and get more literature on it. It just makes it a little more easy for people to hook into these things if they’re interested in them. Also with the bands you can make it like a game and there is clues and things like that and walk around. There’s a psychedelic forest where you can get lost and maybe find a dropped back stage pass and talk to different bands, hear different bits of their music and stuff like that. It’s just a really nice way for people to just get a little more involved. I think people will be able to get to it through the H.O.R.D.E. NET real soon and they can get to our Internet address by using the phone number that’s printed in our album.
Diana: Do you have anything else you’d like to say about you album or your current tour?
Chan: Well we’re just enjoying the was things have evolved. We’ve got thing to a pretty nice level now and it seems as it growing at a nice level. We’ve never been too interested in trying to push things beyond they’re means. I think taking things at nice even steps is the best way to build up. We quite pleased with the way things are going and are looking forward to the future.