Widespread Panic Back to Touring and 'Writing With Purpose' for Next Album

Widespread Panic is back to touring after taking most of 2012 off the road, and it looks like the group will be headed back into the studio soon as well. Keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann tells Billboard that "next year we're going to definitely get together and write some songs" for the follow-up to 2010's "Dirty Side Down."

"People are coming up with ideas, just throwing ideas at each other right now," Hermann says. "It's definitely feeling like we all want to get back in the studio next year, but we haven't planned anything firm yet. I finished a song a couple of weeks ago; I just went, 'OK, I'm gonna go ahead and just finish this idea' 'cause there's a feeling of writing with purpose and then recording it. It's a good thing."  

Meanwhile, the sextet is in the midst of an extensive U.S. tour that will run until New Year's Eve in its home town of Atlanta -- and, according to Hermann, is back in fine form after last year's time off.

"The batteries are recharged and everybody's refreshed," reports Hermann. "A lot of the material is fresh, and it's just great to get away for a little bit and miss each other, and it's good to get away from the songs for awhile. That way you start to miss it a little bit and don't take it for granted. It's a positive." And, he adds, there was no concern that the hiatus would be anything but temporary. "It's more like, 'Let's not play between here and here, and then let's come back here," he explains. "It's almost like a vacation, really. A sabbatical. It probably helps to keep us from breaking up, y'know?"

The time off gave Hermann a chance to work on "Interviews with Vic Chesnutt," a documentary about the late singer-songwriter that he produced in collaboration with director Scott Stuckey. The film -- which also includes comments from Billy Bob Thornton, Garbage's Shirley Manson, Jonathan Richman, producer John Keane and others, was premiered Sept. 19 at the Center For the Study of Southern Culture in Oxford, Miss. (Hermann has studied there) but is still being edited for future showings.

"It's really about keeping Vic's memory alive and keeping his music alive," Hermann says. "Vic is a real inspiration to so many people as a songwriter and a person. I've seen it probably 100 times and every time I'm almost in tears at the end. We're going to finish editing it and see what more we can do with it. It's been really, really satisfying."