With 30 years of endless touring, numerous studio and live albums and arguably music’s most devoted fan base as proof, Widespread Panic is nothing less than an American musical institution. Last September, the band released Street Dogs, its 12th studio album and debut recording for Vanguard Records. On Saturday, April 23, Widespread Panic will perform at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena with Tedeschi Trucks Band opening the show. Bassist Dave Schools recently shared his thoughts on the new album as well as three decades of Panic.
Weld: Street Dogs is Widespread Panic’s 12th studio album. How did the material for the album come together?
Dave Schools: It all comes about in different ways. “Honky Red” was a song that my dad — who was in the song-publishing business in the ‘70s — learned from the guy that wrote it. My dad’s had that in his pocket since like 1974 or something. “Tail Dragger” was a song we played one Halloween several years ago. We really grooved on it and liked it, so we threw that one down in the studio.
The neat thing about Street Dogs is the way we recorded it at this studio in Asheville, North Carolina, called Echo Mountain. It’s a big old church and the main recording room is where the congregation would be seated. We were all in the same room and we nailed the songs as if we were playing on stage. [Producer] John Keane put his engineering and production wizardry to use and it kept us from going too deep. There’s still that “runaway train” energy and loose atmospheric thing that comes about when you’re all in a circle. That’s the way records used to be made and it put a good vibe to the tunes.
Weld: Your upcoming Birmingham show is a double-bill with Tedeschi Trucks Band. Given that Derek Trucks’ brother Duane is in your band, can we expect some guest sit-ins at the show?
Schools: It is a family affair with Duane in the band and [Widespread Panic guitarist] Jimmy [Herring] was a big part of Derek’s musical maturity. We’ve all been through the Colonel Bruce Hampton ringer. If it’s not Jimmy or [Widespread vocalist/guitarist John Bell] J.B. or both or even Duane sitting in with TTB, then it’ll be Derek or Susan [Tedeschi] sitting in with us. Who knows? We’ll figure something really special out for the evening.
Weld: Given the catalog of material your band has amassed, how are setlists prepared these days?
Schools: It’s collaborative. Over the last couple of years, John Bell has been picking the 22 or so songs that we might play. We put it in a different order sometimes and sometimes I do the setlist. Sometimes [keyboardist] JoJo [Hermann] gets a wild hair and you get the world’s craziest setlist. We have enough material to do five shows in a row without repeating a song.
Weld: What’s the latest on your other musical project, Hard Working Americans?
Schools: We have a record coming out May 13 called Rest In Chaos that we’ve been working on for a long time and it’s probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever been involved with. Watching Todd [Snider] take these poems and watching the band compose music to these poems — and the way that Todd self-edits — is an amazing and powerful artistic process to watch. I worked on producing three records last year and they’re all coming out in a one-month period.
Weld: Your career continues to offer you a variety of musical projects.
Schools: I love studio work. I love playing bass. I love working with different people and this thing has afforded me the chance to work with terrific engineers. It’s been a wonderful journey and the fact that after 30 years I’m still able to play bass with Widespread and that we’re still a family is terrific.
Weld: Thinking back on Widespread Panic’s 30-year run, is there an initial thought that springs to your mind?
Schools: There’s only gratitude. As with any family-like atmosphere, there are times of tribulation, times of great joy and times when you have to put your nose down and go. But I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything, It’s what got me right here today.
Widespread Panic will perform with Tedeschi Trucks Band at Legacy Arena at The BJCC on Saturday, April 23. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit bjcc.org.