Grateful Dead Drummer Mickey Hart on John Mayer Shows, Nodding to EDM: 'This Is Deadtronica'

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Jay Blakesberg

Mickey Hart

The percussionist talks to Billboard about Dead & Company's Halloween debut at New York's Madison Square Garden and explains how show staple "Drums ­> Space" borders on electronica.

Just when Grateful Dead fans are coming down from the high of witnessing the Fare Thee Well shows, three of the "core four" players have announced a Halloween concert at New York's Madison Square Garden.

As Billboard previously reported, Dead & Company will feature guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kruetzmann, who will continue their long, strange trip with help from John Mayer, Allman Brothers and Aquarium Rescue Unit bassist Oteil Burbridge, and Ratdog keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, who also played alongside Bruce Hornsby at the reunion shows in Santa Clara and Chicago.

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In Billboard's exclusive interview with Hart, the Dead percussionist talks about the new group and the addition of Mayer and explains how the Grateful Dead's epic percussion "Drums ­> Space" jam borders on electronica.

One of the highlights of each of the Fare Thee Well concerts was the long and psychedelic drum solo featuring Kreutzmann and Hart. During the jam, which evolves every night and never sounds the same, Hart hops between an array of percussive and electronic instruments to create a sonic landscape that straddles the line between psychedelic rock and electronica. The passage resonated incredibly with the younger crowd at the shows, who no doubt enjoy their share of electronic dance music festivals.

"This is not EDM; this is deadtronica," Hart tells Billboard. "Most music in the world is electronically driven, and you know that's popular with the young." He adds, "In that respect, sure, I knew that it was going to appeal to, you know, a much larger crowd."

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Hart says their foray into "Drums" each night "is a real experiment." "We had 50 subwoofers… and tried to discover a new depth." He continued, "We were actually trying to find the limits of perception and cognition, and in the present levels -- besides just playing and grooving, having a good time, playing good rhythm -- there was also a scientific side to it, which was probing the depth, the real deep rhythms that live way down below anything that we produced normally."

Hart also chimed in on Dead & Company's lead guitarist John Mayer, who he calls a "sharp shooter" who can "really play guitar." He acknowledges that Mayer comes from a different world, but notes that the guitarist has "such enthusiasm" and "love for the whole cannon." Hart also ensures fans that Mayer (who has been playing with select members of the Dead since March) is more than capable of tackling the band's vast catalog, "He can handle it. We played with him… he's a real pro. He's a really well-schooled musician.

"You just gotta go with your intuition -- even if it doesn't make sense sometimes on paper. You can't understand how that combination will work or what have you, but sometimes you have to go deep," explains Hart. "He's in the hot seat and he knows that he has to have a level of whatever it takes to perform. But having Jerry [Garcia] clones in there? I'd rather drink 5 gallons of Clorox."

Mayer will step into the role filled so impressively by Phish's Trey Anastasio at the Fare Thee Well shows. "Trey was so cool. Trey wasn't Jerry, but he played some of the lines that had to be played and he played it with a lot of compassion and respect, which John comes from that same zone; very respectful, he understands what he's playing with." Hart adds, "I think he has a very strong desire and a will that goes very deep… he doesn't even know where it's coming from, it's so deep.

"Our friends and our fans and Deadheads, now we get a chance to see another side of Grateful Dead music."

The shows will see Weir, Krutzmann and Hart performing without Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, who will continue on with his group Phil and Friends. Hart shared his thoughts on Dead & Company's bass player Oteil Burbridge, calling the former Allman Brothers musician a "virtuoso player" who will bring "some funk to the groove." He adds, "I think he'll bring a lot to the band that wasn't there before." While the statement was not a jab at Lesh, Hart quickly clarified, "I love Phil's playing, no doubt, but he has other plans and so do we and so all is good and there's peace in the valley.

"You know how live music goes on because of things very much like this. If people stop playing our music, especially us, eventually, I fear we will die," Hart says of the band's need to perform. "This is something I think is worth going after and giving it away in this respect for ears that want to hear it. That's all -- it's not to please all the people, but I think a whole bunch of them are gonna love it."

Surely fans will be queuing up when tickets for Dead & Company's Oct. 31 show go on sale Aug. 14. Unlike the pricey admission for Fare Thee Well, tickets for the Halloween MSG show will have two price points: $100 and $50 (in honor of the band's 50th anniversary). American Express card-holders will have an opportunity to purchase advance tickets starting Aug. 10.