Interview with Robert Hunter and
Greg Anton, August 25, 1997
Money, Mandolins, and Marin County Musicians
Before we started the interview proper, Hunter's advice to me to transcribe
the interview soon afterward, and his reminiscence about
Blind Melon for Creem, reminded Anton that
Banana, a former Zero keyboard player
(and currently the rhythm guitarist in
Steve Kimock & Friends), was
looking for an old custom-made mandolin he had pawned years ago. Hunter
goes off to get his precious Scott Wood Gibson-style F-5 mandolin:
- This mandolin is Banana's?
- I'll never get another F-5.
- Banana's been playing with Grisman and he played Grisman's mandolin
and said to himself, "Oh man, I need my right mandolin!" He asked me to
find out if you're real attached to it and ask if you'd be willing to sell
it or trade it for something.
- If it's his mandolin then I've got to give it back. Jeez, that puts
me in a bit of a quandary. I'm very proud of the instrument, but
I don't play it much and he would and oh, god!
- Well, think about it.
- Well, no. You know how it is. Money aside, that's his mandolin. It
got into my hands circuitously.
- Aren't ethics a bitch?
- Yeah, they are. I don't see what else I can do. When I gave a way that
A-4, I missed having a mandolin, so I went down and bought this. I figured
it was my karma to get a good F-5, you know?
- And I guess he got it when he was way back in the Youngbloods or something.
- I'll see what I can do, damnit.
- I'll see how serious he is about it. If he's really serious about playing
- I can't keep it. If I played it all the time, which I don't.... I work
it up every once in a while, play with Nelson and
Rothman at the office
Christmas party once a year. I don't see what else I can do. I don't play
mandolin enough to deserve to have such a fine instrument. That's kinda
where it goes. It's his. It's his, and money doesn't really cut it.
Who's Been in Zero All Along?
- How do you think Zero has managed to continue being Zero
all along with
some of the personnel changes? Do you think it's just that certain people
have been there through the whole time or is there something about being
Zero that you can bring a musician in and they can learn to be Zero too?
- I don't know how to answer your question. It's been a core.
- It's been you and Steve. You and Steve are Zero.
Sitting in with Zero, an Acid Test of Sorts
- This electric fiddler who had once sat in with Zero told me that being
between you and Steve on-stage was a very scary place for a musician to
be. I think he meant that there was such a ferocious groove that jumping
in the middle of you guys was a terrifying prospect.
- Most people who've sat in with the band, and there's been many, many
of them, get that "deer in the headlights" thing. I was just talking to
Howard Danchek, our sound man, about this. There's a whole bunch of big
open spaces in our music all the time, and most players aren't used to
- For us, what is not played is as important as what is played. We're
very respectful of each other, musically courteous, not trying to play
as many notes as possible. We're trying to play less and less, and let
the thing float along. So when somebody sits, there's so much room that
they're often overwhelmed and they'll start playing all over the place.
Over and over again, a guitar player, say, will sit in with us, and when
they hear a space they jump into it as if, if it weren't for them that
night, we wouldn't have a solo! As if we wouldn't be able to pull it off
without that one person sitting in that night.
- I think that
Steve is one of the best guitar players playing right now, and I think
Martín is one of the best tenor players playing right now, and Chip
is one of the best B-3 players playing. We're really lucky to have these
great, great soloists in our band.
Hammering Away at that Understatement Thing
- At a recent Maritime Hall show
(August 15, 1997), you guys did a Tangled
Hangers and almost got through the whole song without ever really stating
the main theme. Sure, it came up a lot, but it was hinted at, and sketched
at, and not played. You just sort of danced around the melody the whole
time. Every time I hear you do a tune I've heard you do before, you're
building on top of what's already there, and the song gets thicker and
thicker in my memory.
- Yeah, well that's what's happening on the stage too. See, that's the
advantage of the history of having a band. That's a very common
compliment we get: that we sound like a band. It's one thing to get six
equally accomplished players together, but we've been playing together
for so many years. Some songs we've been playing for years and years and
years, so we ourselves have played the "head" so many times that we play
around it and don't actually come out and state it. It's very understated.
- It forces you to come up with something new about an old song.
- Right, Exactly. And that's what's fun. That's what's challenging. If
we're ever going to play this song again, and we've been at it for ten
years, let's try to do something different with it.
Copyright © 1997