Like the Grateful Dead before it, Dead & Company is proving its mettle as a live act, starting last fall and continuing with a tour this summer. But John Mayer and Bob Weir predict the group may well end up in a recording studio at some point in the future.
“I’m open to any of it,” guitarist Weir told Billboard during a conference call with reporters. “I think it’s fertile ground. I think only just now have we sort of gotten up to speed. It’s a left foot/right foot kind of deal; We have a lot of ground to cover before we get to that place, but I think we’re getting there. We don’t have any immediate plans, but I know it’s in the back of everybody’s head.”
Mayer added that the group members prefer to let the idea of new music come organically rather than trying to force that situation. “If it can state its case for the reason it needs to exist, then I would absolutely be up to doing it,” he explained. “It would have to come out of the earth. It can’t be planted from above the soil. There’s no reason it couldn’t be; I would actually be very interested to see what the band could do as composers and as improvisers — composing through improvisation, I think, is really interesting. But I’m open to anything this band could or wanted to do, as long as it answered that constant question, ‘Well, why?’ And if it has a strong answer, I’d love to do it.”
Mayer, in fact, was in the midst of recording a new solo album — his follow-up to 2013’s Paradise Valley — when Dead & Company formed. He opted to put it aside last April but returned to the project in January, where it’s benefited from his time with the band. “It was actually really good to take time away from it and come back and see what are the songs that have stood the test of time and what I can do to this song to make it better,” said Mayer, who plans to finish the album by the end of the year for a 2017 release. “I’m very really thankful for the solo career and even more thankful for the opportunity to leave the solo career and come back to it and have it still be there. It’s very difficult to get the strength to decide to put something aside that’s become your life, that is the routine…but the music these guys make, the music of the Grateful Dead and Bob’s support and the band’s support made this such a no-brainer in terms of me understanding exactly why it was I wanted to put a record on hold. It’s just another badge on the sort of musical lapel.”
Dead & Company — which also includes Grateful Dead percussionists Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, former Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge and longtime Dead adjunct Jeff Chimenti — begins its 24-date tour on June 10 in Charlotte, N.C., which includes a performance two nights later at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. The group and Deadheads alike are still buzzing from the fall shows, though Weir contends the experience has been “kind of what I expected, really.” For Mayer, meanwhile, “Musically it’s exactly what I thought it would be, and in terms of the way it was received it was absolutely what I was hoping it would be. I knew that in the nucleus there was a lot of authenticity but there was also a validity to putting a band together and making music people would want to listen to live and hopefully record and listen back to for awhile. It couldn’t have been better for me.”
The question of how long this chapter of the long, strange trip will go on remains open-ended, of course. Despite continuing his solo career, Mayer does intend to maintain his ties to the band. “I will never close the door on Dead & Company, ever,” he said. “I think as long as there’s a desire to do it, I know how to carve time out. It’s always going to be worth doing. I will do Dead & Company as long as fans want it and as long as it feels like there’s something on the table to try to get right and explore.” Weir, meanwhile, spoke about a cosmic, out-of-body vision he had at the end of last year’s tour, and then a subsequent dream, that indicated Dead & Company could even outlive some of its primary members.
“We were playing…and suddenly I was viewing this from about 20 feet behind my head, and I looked over at John from that point of view and it was 20 years later and John was almost fully gray. I looked over at Oteil and his hair was white. I looked over to my left and Jeff’s hair was all gray.” And when he looked to where he, Hart and Kreutzmann would be, “it was new guys, younger guys holding forth, doing a great job…playing with fire and aplomb….It changed my whole view of what it is that we’re up to. I find myself wondering, ‘Well, what are they gonna be saying about this new approach or this honoring of this tradition? What are they gonna be saying about that in 200 or 300 years at the Berklee School of music?’ That’s the kind of stuff that goes through my head now because this legacy here, there’s a chance now that they’ll be talking about us in years to come. So I find it incumbent on myself to think in those terms.”