An Interview Railroad Earth's new bassist: Andrew Altman
May 14, 2010 Bookmark and Share
By Jeremy Lach
Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel- Providence, RI
I was able to sit down with Andrew Altman before the Railroad Earth show in Providence, Rhode Island on May 14th, 2010. We spoke about his musical background, his thoughts about the band, his thoughts on the Livenation - Ticketmaster merger and more. Read the transcript below or listen to the audio here: String Cheese Radio talks with Andrew Altman
Where are you from originally?
Andrew Altman: Well, I came to the band by way of Atlanta, Georgia. That's where I've spent the last few years of my career. I grew up in Florida near Jacksonville, a place called Fernandina Beach. I went to college in Tallahassee. That's where I really learned to play. But Yeah, I've been working in Atlanta for a few years.
What bands were you in before Railroad Earth?
Andrew Altman: Ah well, I kind of took the usual, well I don't know if it's the usual career trajectory but I've certainly worked my way up. When I started I had my own band with some friends from college. We toured all over the east coast.
String Cheese Radio: What was that band called?
Andrew Altman: What did we call ourselves? Whiskey Richard. Yea, they were friends of mine from college. We did that for a while but the band thing is kind of hard to do on your own so we parted ways after graduating. It really sort of started when I was doing a jazz peep randomly and I met Bobby Lee Rogers from the Codetalkers which was a Colonel Bruce Hampton Band. So myself and a drummer friend of mine joined that band. This was post Colonel Bruce. I played with him for about a year and a half, for as long as we could until that band sort of fell apart. Next was Blueground Undergrass, from Atlanta as well. I played with them the last year but it was starting to slow down. Jeff wanted to do his acoustic thing and all that and I just needed to work more. That's when I sort of met up with these guys, the Codetalkers actually opened up for Railroad Earth a couple times. I knew about them, I didn't know them personally, but I had met them briefly when we opened for them.
String Cheese Radio: Were the Codetalkers also bluegrass?
Andrew Altman: Ah no the Codetalkers were like, I don't know if you've heard any of the other Colonel Bruce Hampton bands. Like the Aquarium Rescue Unit...
String Cheese Radio: I haven't.
Andrew Altman: No you haven't? Maybe it's a southern thing? ARU has got the most notoriety. Jimmy Herring and Oteil were both in that band, Jimmy a Widespread great guitarist and Oteil with the Allman Brothers. They're from that band. Bruce has had a million bands, thats what he does, with the Fiji Mariners after that, it was like this funk-fusion kind of thing. Very different. But Blueground is very similar to Railroad Earth.
String Cheese Radio: Were you playing a stand up bass in all these also?
Andrew Altman: Mhm, I tend to play a little bit of both. It just kind of depends on the song. I would play electric on more funk or rock kind of things, upright on bluegrass. It was always pretty much a part of what I'd done.
Andrew Altman Railroad Earth
Andrew Altman: Railroad Earth's new bassist
Who are some of your musical influences?
Andrew Altman: As a bass player if you really wanted to do justice to the instrument, and this is true for any instrument but on the bass anyway- my instrument, you have to go through the usual suspects: Jaco Pastorius, James Jamerson, Mingus, Ray Brown, I mean, I studied Jazz and thats how I learned the upright. I got a degree in Jazz. So I went through, really trying to study the masters of the instrument...Scott LaFaro from the Bill Evans Trio. But that's just where you get your basic stuff from. Any bass player will probably name all those names, after that you kind of have to really, ya know, search around and really find music that connects with you to really develop as a musician or song writer. I grew up listening to all the jam bands and stuff and I've also listened to a lot of songwriter stuff too.
Do you play any other instruments or just bass?
Andrew Altman: Yeah, I started on trombone actually. I played that for nine years but I don't really keep up with it anymore that's just how I got started and learned how to read music and all that. Middle school and high school band. Of course like many bass players I played guitar before I ever played bass. I still keep up with that.
When you’re not touring, what are some of your favorite acts to see?
Andrew Altman: Lets see... I don't have a lot of time to go to concerts as much as I would like to but as far as artists I would like to see... Well I guess when I lived in Nashville in 2006 I got to see a lot of my favorite artists. My Morning Jacket, and I like the Benevento Russo Duo, they're great. I saw them with Trey [Anastasio] and Mike [Gordon] which were guy's who I really enjoyed while growing up but who I haven't seen recently. But really as far as artists I would like to see: Matt Ward, Monsters of Folk, I'd love to see Wilco. Those are the artists I wish I had a chance to see these days.
What did you think of RRE when you first heard them?
Andrew Altman: Well the thing that really struck me the most about them was their song base. Which is my thing... like I said I grew up listening to jam bands but as I got older, things became more about the expression of things, not even the creative side because the bands always been creative, but the expression: that's really where songs are such a key to the band. You can get the best musicians in the world and put them on stage and the energy can be great but for me that's such a small part of my musical journey. Most of the time I'm listening to cd's. That's all some people do: go around and travel to see shows, but I don't get to do that. My biggest experience is with the song itself on the iPod or on the cd, so thats one thing I think that really set Railroad Earth apart for me as far as first impressions because they had a song and it would stretch out from there... all the bands that i've been in have kind of done that, I guess I just gravitate towards that. I like to have music that can totally stand on its own. Just acoustic guitar and voice. And then from there, ya know, you put the good musicians with it and it takes on a whole life of its own, and I think that that's one thing this bunch of guys does really well. You can take a tune like Seven Story Mountain, that'd be a great tune just to hear on its own, then you add all this musical dynamics to it and it just takes off.
What’s your favorite Railroad Earth song to play and why?
Andrew Altman: Right now it is Seven Story Mountain. The guys just do a really good job of making that song really go somewhere live and it is fun to be part of that. It really kind of moves with the crowd. If they are listeners it kind of stays low key and beautiful but if they are really bringing the energy it goes over the top. I like to see it change every time.
Todd Sheaffer Railroad Earth
Todd Sheaffer
Do you do any songwriting?
Andrew Altman: Yeah! I started out when I was doing the Jazz thing really writing instrumental music but the music I write is always largely a function of what outlets I have to express it and play it. But recently in the last years I've really worked on just songwriting and trying to become a better singer. It's come a long way and thats really what I focus my time on. I have probably enough tunes to do an album and I'm going to do something like that in the next year or so. Obviously it's such a long time coming because as a bassist your always supporting other people's music, which is fine, I love to do that, thats part of why I play the bass. I write songs to just express myself and just to be creative but I've never had a desire to be a front man, thats why i've always played bass, I don't mind staying in the back, ya know, its fine, watching so many other great things happening around you. So, definitely yeah, I enjoy writing songs and hope to get something going in the next year or two.
Do you think any of those songs will be played with Railroad Earth?
Andrew Altman: Man, it would be an honor if those guys decided to do some of my music but at this point the most important thing to me is really supporting what they're trying to do already. They've got a 9 year history before I even showed up and my goal when I joined the band, when they invited me to join the band...was to not have them lose any ground so to speak. Especially in the world of music we're in with artists like The String Cheese Incident and any artists similar to them...the beautiful thing about being a musician in one of those bands is that the fans pay attention to who you are. They've developed a relationship with Johnny Grubb ya know, he's been there seven years.
I mean, if you take Mike out of Phish, you can put Oteil in there, hes a great bass player, but it wouldn't be Phish anymore, and thats kind of the deal. So, stepping in I just wanted to be who I am but also make sure I learn the material well and make sure that the band does not really lose any of its identity. As I'm in the band as time goes on I will develop who I am in the band and the fans will and hopefully develop a relationship like that with me too. If those guys decide down the road that they wanna play some of my music then great but if not thats fine too that's not why I joined the band. They're great musicians and great songwriters and if they want to do that I think it'd be great.
Any kind of hazing happen when you joined the band?
Andrew Altman: Not really, I'm trying to think if they played any jokes on me or anything. No, ya know, not really...We've been so busy honestly I got there and I learned about 55 songs before our first gig even, and I'm still learning songs ever week. On top of that we've started a new record. That's the biggest thing for us right now. We're about half way through recording a new record. That's the other thing that kind of ties back into the last question: there are already songs prepared for the new record so having to work on learning those tunes and record them... Everyday if we're not on the road we're in the studio. I don't think they've time to think about, I mean we have fun on the road for sure but theres no like...ya know, leaving me in town overnight, kicking a hole in my bass [laughing]....Not really anything like that happened.
Andy Goessling, Todd Sheaffer, Andrew Altman
Andy Goessling, Todd Sheaffer, Andrew Altman
What’s the best part about touring with Railroad Earth?
Andrew Altman: Ah, thats actually a pretty easy question because the best thing for me, I think, as random as it is, is being thrown in with a bunch of guys, not just 5 other musicians, cause there is 6 of us total in the band but we have a great crew too, there are 5 crew members, thats a lot of people and a lot of potential for conflicting personalities. But theres not a stitch of that, they are people, at least as far as musicians, who are very much like myself and theres no having to avoid anyones habits, it just flows so smoothly. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I agree with the whole dynamic of not just the band, but the crew and the way the business is run. Ya know, its not like I'm joining up with a bunch of kids who are like 20 years old and they just want to hangout, mess around, and waste time...even though I'm the youngest one in the band by far, I'm more in tune with their plan as far as how to get things done. And that really more than anything makes it so easy. We're on the same page as far as wanting to take care of business.
String Cheese Radio: Keep it professional?
Andrew Altman: Yeah! But well, also having fun too. I can tend to be a real smart ass and luckily I'm around people that have a sense of humor too, so its not just that I'll say something and they're like "What...?" It's good ya know? [laughing] I guess it's just that they're just laid back and everythings seemed to fit right in right from the get go so that's the best thing for me.
What has been the worst part about touring with Railroad Earth?
Andrew Altman: Whats the worst part? Lets see... there's not anything thats bad about it of course, I mean every musician, especially one that's going to have any kind of decent career in music is going to have to sacrifice a lot. This is the best opportunity I've been fortunate enough to be offered to take part in so I really can't complain about anything. But the flip side is the sacrifice that you just have to make in general to play music and part of that with this band is having to move so far from my home. I've always lived in the south and they're based out of New Jersey so for the time being i've had to come up and really for the past few months I've lived in New Jersey with friends of the band. I don't know anyone from New Jersey, I have some friends that are in New York City which isn't too far and I can go visit. But that part, I wouldn't say it's a big deal or anything but thats been the biggest thing having to move up..ya know, and it was just like this too: "Well hey we want you to join the band, how soon can you get up here?" Then it's like oh I have to leave, I have to put my stuff somewhere... So that took a little bit of logistics and working with it. Thats taken some work but it's worth it for sure.
What are some summer festivals you’re looking forward to playing?
Andrew Altman: For me it's going to be the west coast. High Sierra is going to be great, Colorado we're doing Mile High, we're doing Yarmony. We're also doing the east coast ones like All Good and Floydfest. I havn't played those yet but I'm really looking forward to the west coast cause the funny thing is for me, and this should go under the question of things that I like most about Railroad Earth, is that they are such a big west coast band. It's funny that it's never worked out this way because I've really run a trench in the east coast. I've played the east coast so many times. Even before all my touring I played bass for Carnival Cruise lines off and on just as a way to make money. I've been to Europe doing that, all around the Caribbean, across the Atlantic Ocean, I've been to Japan with the CodeTalkers...
String Cheese Radio: Just not the west coast?
Andrew Altman: Yeah and my mom's Canadian so I've been to Canada like fifteen times...Never been to California. I mean I've traveled all over, but I've been to Mexico more than I've been to California. I went to Colorado once with the Codetalkers but never done the west coast, so yeah im looking forward to Yosemite, thats going to be fun, Strawberry Fest, Yosemite September 3rd and Mile High, those are going to be highlights for me.
String Cheese Radio: What about Horning's Hideout?
Andrew Altman: What, the String Cheese thing?
String Cheese Radio: Ya, is Railroad Earth going to be playing?
Andrew Altman: Ah, I don't think so, cause what day is that do you know?
String Cheese Radio: It's July 29th through August 1st.
Andrew Altman: Yeah thats actually an important date for us because while were not playing, Mike Partridge, our long time sound engineer, is getting married that weekend. So pretty much everyone from the band is going to be attending that. So yeah as much as we would like to be a part of it. That question has been asked of us a million times, but that's one thing you know when someone gets married you gotta go...we're looking forward to that though. Everyone is happy for Mike of course.
Do you have any thoughts about the recent merger of Ticketmaster and Livenation? Are you aware of that?
Andrew Altman: I am aware of that and I have read some articles about it but it has probably been six months since I really read the article about it and there were pros and cons both ways. The cons are very obvious. Turning touring into a monopoly. Which is of course a terrible thing for independent bands, bands that aren't backed by some major label or some major promotion company. It's just, there's so much great music out there. That's the one thing that all of this in the music industry whether it's with the labels tanking and the way online stuff is changing the game so everything is free now. There's still great music out there. There's more great music than ever, and the more people that can have access to that, the better. Our industry will flourish as long as people have access to it. As someone who knows only a cursory amount about the merger, I just see it as another way that keeps people from having access to more great music. Your band's not going to be able to make to to that next level unless someone lets you through that door. Even if your drawing well, ya know, its going to be hard to jump to that level until those powers decide that you can.
String Cheese Radio: It's also a deterrent for the fans because of the way they mark up the tickets. I went to an EOTO show last week and it was a $16 ticket. If you bought it at Livenation there was a $9 service charge on top of that.
Andrew Altman: Yea, why?
String Cheese Radio: It's just discouraging people from buying tickets.
Andrew Altman: I agree, exactly, thats a perfect example of how it can just keep good music down. Even after you're established its going to keep you from your fans when they have to pay ridiculous ticket prices, and thats one thing, ya know, people will pay any amount of money to see a band that they love but at the same time you want those people that are trying to find out about you, or that just want to support music in general, that aren't your hardcore fans to be able to support you too. I don't know... like I said I can't really remember what the pros were. I don't know if there's many for most bands, there might be for a handful of large acts. Who knows? I don't think there's many and you won't find many musicians who do.
String Cheese Radio: I think that the only people who like it are the people getting the money for it.
Andrew Altman: Right
Any else you’d like to add?
Andrew Altman: No not really, I mean I tend to talk alot as it is but that covers most of it. The only thing that I would add are just that there's some important stuff coming up for Railroad Earth: a mid September release we're really pushing for this record.
String Cheese Radio: What's it called
Andrew Altman: We don't have a name yet, we don't have any of that stuff sort of ironed out but we do know that we have been working on this stuff constantly and trying to stay on schedule for this mid September release. There should be a pretty extensive amount of touring coming up after the record comes out, you know were doing the festivals this summer and those are going to be big for people to come see us, obviously we already talked about those. But definately look out for that record.
String Cheese Radio: All new stuff on there too?
Andrew Altman: Well we'll do one instrumental that has been played at the live shows.
String Cheese Radio: The New Jam?
Andrew Altman: Well there's a few of them we'll see which one makes it on the record. I don't want to give too much away about it but that's what we're going to do and it's unreleased. We have good label support on this and we're doing it right hopefully this will be something for people to look forward to during some west coast dates that are coming to support it. So that's what's going on for us right now.
String Cheese Radio: Thank you this is Jeremy from String Cheese Radio and Andrew from Railroad Earth.
Andrew Altman: Thank you.
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