Interview with Robert Hunter and Greg Anton, August 25, 1997
The Maestros Work on a New Song
- Maybe it's time to demonstrate. How 'bout those changes?
- The reason I brought it over today is I'm not sure how....
- You can let it roll. [pointing to tape recorder]
- So let's see.
[G plays piece through]
- Could you play the main figure just one time through, so they don't
bleed into each other?
- Actually, I've got an A, B, and C part to this thing, and I could stretch
any one of them out to make a verse. I was trying to do something a little
different. So here's the intro, the "top" or whatever couple of verses:
[playing]. So that's like one part.
- And then, I had two ways. I had it going in the same rhythm: [playing],
or we could go with a half-time bridging kind of thing: [more playing].
- You mean this instead? Oh no, the other, the first one, and I'd repeat
that figure three times. I'd give it about three repetitions because those'll
be a strong voice in there, for a statement.
- Well, then OK, but I'm going to go back and at the end of it: [playing,
elegiac ending]. This is the last time.
- Say on the third repetition, play a higher-end version to make it a
little bit different [sings to demonstrate].
[G accompanies R on piano, they come to a crescendo]
- That's interesting!
- Yeah, [keeps playing], that's an old version I had, about three days
A Hanging, Suspended Chord Could Be Nice
- And then a big, nice suspended chord to add it all off, a suspension.
- Let the suspension hang a little and then go into your C part.
- [plays with hanging suspension] Like that? A half-step up?
- Yeah, and then move into whatever your C part is, or your chorus line
or something like that. That really gives it some simplicity and power
down in that B point, where you can actually say something and then resolve
into whatever's going to happen in the C part. Could be nice, could be
- Well, you've answered all my questions, man, because now I'd like to
go back to work.
- All right!
- I can stretch those things out and make 'em.... You like that power
chord thing rather than the half-time minor thing?
- Yeah, I can hear the band just leaning into it. And then you
could get your half-time stuff into the middle of the C section, maybe
even into the A section, whatever seems right, but I think the B section
there, having that much meat in it, and then a suspension, you could say
- I've been working a lot on this thing, and after working on it so much,
I'm going, "Man, I need a change-up." Maybe I don't need a change-up.
You know, I'm going "Oh shit, I've gotta do something totally different,
half-time or something," because it's starting to get to me that it was
too repetitious, but if it just can rock all the way through...
- Repetition's not going to do any harm at all there because I'll lay
something on it, you know? And it'll just give it some gravity.
The A, B, C's of a New Song
- Let me show you, then, one time through, and it'll be fairly brief,
I don't want to spend a long time on each section.
- Could you say "A," "B," and "C" as you go through the different ones
so I don't get lost in it?
- Yeah, so here's A: [plays]. OK, here's the B: [keeps playing] ... C!
[Plays final section, then singing] Back to A.
- You might want to mate that suspended chord in the earlier section to
one at the end of the C section or B section. I don't know what section
you got there. Mate it to another one. I love "sus" chords. They just give
you all that traveling space and more room to whip around in there too.
- Well check this out. It could go: [plays], sus chord [keeps playing].
[R walks to piano and starts playing single-finger on the high end of
the piano, takes a few notes to find the key, and then starts improvising
a melody, somewhat reminiscent of All Along the Watchtower.]
- Yeah, some kind of melody like you were just plunking there, or something
like that. It turned out stronger... I think it's going to be a rock song,
you know? a rockin' song.
- Instead of a ballad?
- Yeah. We were talking about doing a ballad.
- That ain't a ballad.
- Would that B section repeat then? When you played it A, B, C, you played
it through once, but is it gonna repeat a couple times through?
- Yeah, it'll probably go a couple times through. I find when I play instrumentally,
just to repeat and repeat something without any words makes it seem too
long, but then when I get the words, it makes total sense. For example,
we do three verses of Catalina before we do a bridge. We were gonna do
the third verse after the bridge - two verses after the bridge - but now
we do three verses, a bridge, and one verse, and I love the way we push
it and push it. I really like the tension that creates. Now if you play
Catalina on a piano, all that length, from the beginning to the bridge,
just goes on forever.
How to Write a Song
- For composing, do you mainly just sit at a piano, and mess around?
Do you a have method?
- I work for hours and hours and hours on this thing before I bring it
over here, and still it's like floundering around.
- When I said "mess around," I didn't mean to imply that it's not together.
I'm not a musician so I wouldn't know the first thing you would do. Play
a note? Play a chord? a phrase?
- I had this thing right here: [plays first chord, holds it, plays second
and third], and I liked the sound of it. So then I had this variation:
[plays original and variation], and I liked the way those create some kind
of tension back to back. I got real excited when I came up with the second
thing, and it took me two weeks to come up with that, not 24 hours a day,
but every time I was near a piano.
- I bang around, basically. I play drums on a piano. When I'm working
on a melody, and I've just been noticing this the past couple years,
it'll go [plays the melody of Gregg's Egg's, first two phrases], you know
that melody, to Gregg's Egg's? I sat there [plays first half phrase] and
plunked along in my slow way forever, but I was looking for the right note,
and when I finally got it (snaps fingers) I knew it immediately.
- This thing right here, where it goes like this [phrases of new tune,
with suspensions, then hits higher chord], when I came across that, I really
liked it, and I'm not sure where exactly it goes [plays up to higher still].
Something like that and probably [restates and finds turnaround back to
original phrase, then repeated with triumphant air and melodic trills,
not unlike the watchtower-y "solo" Hunter tinkled earlier, then trails
- In this particular tune, I'm trying to create the release between minor
and major so it goes minor, minor, minor, major--like, ta-da! I'm trying
to make it sound like that: Ta-da!
Close Enough for Jazz
- Remember that last thing that you gave me, last year? I couldn't do
anything. There just wasn't a place to creep in. All the available space
was taken with inventive stuff, which is fine for a jazz band. What
I said that time was, "Get Kimock or something on it to give me a clear
shot past that rhythm and inventiveness in it."
- Well, that's what I learned: to try anything out, sometimes I'll do
some flourish or something, but I'm just trying to keep... [plays first
phrase, beats time twice, second phrase, beat, continues]. Now what I can
finally do [keeps playing], is do that again [keeps playing]...
- ... and then double it. [plays to demonstrate], one more time,
[plays], no wait, [plays through], now... [plays, with suspensions, higher
chord, again, again, again but now steps up to major, and back to original
phrase], like that, and then do that around again, you know, two or four
times, and maybe then, by the time we've done all that, we could
go to this half-time bridge, and just have more time in the song: [plays
half-time bridge, through and back to first phrase].
- That might be a nice place actually to put a guitar figure rather than
words. I could hear a counter-guitar figure without words messing with
your playing at that point.
- And give those words a kicker.
- Yeah, you're just looking for a countermelody. I wouldn't fancy that
the words would be paralleling what you're doing there as much as finding
a hook into a melody, up above, that those [chords] are laying the ground
- I'll keep my ears open at shows.
- Who knows what's gonna happen? You never know. It goes through so many
Copyright © 1997