Interview with Snarky Puppy with WWBW

The Music Room > Additional Artist Interviews > Special Interview with Snarky Puppy

Special Interview with Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy

WWBW - Do you carry any backup gear on the road? What do you do if your horn breaks down?

Mike Maher - The only backup I have is another 3C mouthpiece that I bring with me sometimes. I haven't really had that many problems. We've been touring for 8-9 years and I've had just one situation and it was when I was using a case that just wasn't the right case for the horn.

Chris Bullock - I carry an extra tenor sax mouthpiece and patch cables plus a bunch of reeds, especially for these longer runs.

WWBW - Do you have to stock up on valve oil and reeds prior to tour dates so that you're not trying to round up stuff in random cities across the world?

Chris Bullock - I think we always try to plan ahead, especially when it comes to reeds - if I don't have good reeds I'm in trouble.

Justin Stanton - Trumpet players have it pretty easy I think, as long as you don't seriously destroy your horn or something bad happens to it, some valve oil and you're good.

WWBW - Are there any products that are the "Must Have" tools when you're on the road?

Mike Maher - definitely instrument stands

Justin Stanton - yeah, the K&M folding stands - the ones that fit in your bell

Chris Bullock - and the K&M saxophone stands are really solid too, I used to travel with a reed knife, and obviously I can't check it or fly with it. There's this guy that makes this thing called Reed Geek - have you seen these? I use that and haven't had any issue going thru any security in multiple countries. I can shave my reeds just like a knife.

Justin Stanton - I love the JoRal copper bubble mute. It sounds amazing every time I use it.

WWBW - Do both of you (Justin & Mike) use the same JoRal bubble mute?

Mike Maher - no, I have the silver one - for me when it comes to mutes, that's just the standard. A few days ago I put in my old Harmon brand mute and the sound was nice, but it just didn't play as well in tune as my JoRal.

Justin Stanton - in my undergrad my trumpet teacher gave me a Denis Wick cup mute, which is great for classical stuff, when I got to UNT it was clear that it wasn't going to work well so I just picked up the basic red and white Humes & Berg mutes. The Denis Wick just didn't cut as well.

Chris Bullock - A must have for me is the custom made saxophone case that I can even check on the airline if necessary. Flying around Europe there are certain airlines that aren't super great and allow practically no bags on the plane. I can check my horn and not think twice about it.

WWBW - Are you guys (Justin & Mike) checking your horns when you travel?

Justin Stanton - I never do.

Mike Maher - I just got a torpedo trumpet bag on a recommendation of a friend who does repairs in New York, so I'm not at all worried about checking my horn when I need to.

WWBW - Are there any other technology things that you guys live with when you're on the road

Justin Stanton - Yes! A Macbook, Logic recording software and a 2-octave mini-keyboard.

WWBW - So you have basically an entire composition setup with you on the road?

Chris Bullock - We all have that - pretty much everybody in the band does.

WWBW - Is that what helps keep you sane on the road? Constantly working on your own projects?

Mike Maher - when you play in this band, we're on the road 8-months out of the year. So if you want to do anything of your own which we're all interested in doing, you have to work on things while you're on the road. I saw a video of the guys recording in the van the other day.

Justin Stanton - I've been working on this demo in logic and had played some keyboard part and couldn't get a decent sound like I wanted. So our guitar player Mark got out his guitar in the van - and I asked him if he takes a recording setup on the road. He's got the little Apogee interface and he recorded guitars on my demo in the van going from one city to the next. What else are you going to do - sit there and be on your phone? Why not record a little bit.

WWBW - So everybody in the group is doing their individual projects on the road, do you ever share or get feedback from the other guys?

Justin Stanton - if any of us have projects going on, usually the first people we ask to collaborate are the guys in the band.

WWBW - Are there any activities that keep you sane when on the road outside of music?

Chris Bullock - Justin has the best "Yelp-abilities" of anybody I know. We can be in any city - and he can find a local, healthy food option. There's a portion of the tour we call the "Barbeque Run." Basically once we get to Virginia all the way thru Texas. I don't eat a lot of meat, but for those two weeks it's amazing.

Mike Maher - we also look for good coffee. Best coffee was in Melbourne Australia.

WWBW - You don't really think of Australia as being well known for coffee

Chris Bullock - It's actually some of the best in the world

Justin Stanton - healthy obsessions with food, coffee and good beer when we get a chance really helps.

Mike Maher - the older I get the more I find I have to do stuff other than what I'm doing on the road. For me it's my own music and writing, really immersing myself in that. It's very easy to get sucked up in the title wave of hanging, not thinking about yourself. So much of your time is given to being social when you're on the road.

WWBW - One of the really unique things about Snarky Puppy is the live atmosphere and setting for your recordings. Are there any unique challenges associated with that style of production?

Mike Maher - first of all, it's live. For the first "Tell Your Friends" CD I was really scared. Even at North Texas, they're great bands and you go into the studio and play the stuff a bunch of times and then go thru the recording, cut everything up and that's how most people record now. When we did the first album I remembered feeling like this is crazy, what if I mess up. And as we've done recording after recording I've found that you learn how to execute this particular skill - and you can only do it one way, literally going on stage and put yourself in the environment to learn the skill.

Justin Stanton - there's really no model for this. It was like here we go, let's do this. With "Ground Up" we had a dedicated guy doing our ear monitors, so getting the right mix for the room depending on what the room is and a good balance is very important.

Mike Maher - and it's really hard too. For "Ground Up" there were 21 musicians. And it's so much going thru the system, it's hard to ask for specific things like more of guitar number 3.

Chris Bullock - doing these live records as a horn section, because of the challenge of having no room for mistakes - or making a mistake together as a horn section, it's made us come together more as a tight-knit unit as a horn section. From record to record - we just did the latest recording, and it didn't feel like we were making a recording. It was like a hang where we got to hear this beautiful orchestra.

WWBW - So this is a skill you learn, this live recording process?

Justin Stanton - People ask at clinics, when do you rehearse? How much do you rehearse? It's amazing how little focus goes into the actual learning of music together in a rehearsal setting. It's mostly done independently and we come together. Because we play so much together and have these experiences together we're able to just quickly bring everything together. The slowest process is getting the logistical pieces together.

Chris Bullock - I still sweat nails when I pick up the flute, but it's getting better (laughs)...

WWBW - Do you try to find time for a practice routine or warm up process on the road?

Mike Maher - I have a specific routine to get my body to remember how to do certain things. When I'm at home and really focused, I'll do a certain type of lip slur or exercise and I'll go back to it every day.

Justin Stanton - there's a book that changed my life from Michael Sachs - Daily Fundamentals for Trumpet - it's fantastic. I've got the routine memorized so you just do what you need to do. But every once in a while I'll go back and read the descriptions in the beginning, as well as the introduction. When you take a lesson with somebody it can change your perspective on certain things.

Chris Bullock - I try to get long tones on the flute, long tones on the saxophone - basically just long tones. That's it. Sometimes it's just nice if you're playing a longer show to save the music for the night and just do some basic maintenance things and allow the music to happen.

WWBW - So is the routine an hour a day, a half-hour a day?

Mike Maher - (laughs) on the road? Sometimes it's five minutes. For me, that's the wisdom of having something that immediately gets your body to remember the posture and breathing it needs. You realize that some days like today, you're running late, setting up, talking to people, I don't have time for a long warm-up.

Justin Stanton - the music has to be automatic at this point. Mike and I did a clinic one time where we were talking about as we're getting older, it's about figuring out focused practice rather than quantity practice. When I was young I would sit in a practice room and play thru stuff as fast as I could. Now all I do is play things slow, you pay attention to every single detail. You can get a lot done in 5-minutes if you do it the right way.

Chris Bullock - we just had two-weeks off tour, and I was at home practicing a lot. I feel like because we tour so much, practicing for me has become a lot more of a mental thing. There are some physical pieces in working with the horn, but listening to music and studying music away from the horn has become more important on the road.

WWBW - Because you do so much touring around the world, are there any different challenges in each set of locations? Justin Stanton - the USA is actually the hardest place to tour. It's so spread out, the drives are longer, there's less time to ourselves.

Chris Bullock - the crowds in the US compared the rest of the world don't listen as much and will talk thru things. That's not to say it's in every city, but we find it a lot more here at home. It's different when you take the music overseas it's an imported good. We all want imported cheese and wine from France because we can't have it regularly. So we find that overseas it's a real special thing.

Justin Stanton - we always travel with the same sound guys in Europe. Especially for those of us that play acoustic instruments, it's such a big difference.

WWBW - Is it challenging to have a different room or a different monitor guy night after night?

Mike Maher - it doesn't become a challenge, it IS a challenge.

Chris Bullock - like tonight there's a limited number of monitors. So I have to figure out what can I sacrifice to make this work and finding a way to work within those parameters.

WWBW - Are you finding yourself becoming more selective about your monitor mix?

Chris Bullock - I find that we become more specific about our requests, and if this what we have then we can find a way to make it work. Yes, more selective, but also more clear in communicating.

Mike Maher - I have become way more picky, but have also learned where the limits are.

Chris Bullock - it's a fun challenge though. One night we'll be in a rock venue, the next night in a concert hall and the next night in a weird club. Because we do this night after night in different spaces we've become very flexible. We all came into the live sound situation blind - that was the biggest learning curve for the band over the past 10 years.

Justin Stanton - we've had some hilarious situations that were so bad that you have to just laugh it off because there's nothing you can do. You don't even get mad about it.

Mike Maher - one of the worst sound situations we've ever had was at this amazing festival in Europe that had an incredible lineup of players. Probably 2,000 people in front of us and we couldn't hear a single thing. I see the other guys and I can't hear anything. The crowd is digging the music but I have no idea what we're playing.


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