A conversation with Aaron Comess of Spin Doctors about their new album “If the River Was Whiskey”, the band’s 25th anniversary and the ultimate Spin Doctors tune. By Daniel Heinze (The Spin Doctors Archive).
Daniel: First of all, congrats on all the positive reviews of „If The River Was Whiskey“. Seems like everyone loves what you guys have recorded last July: the critics as well as the fans. Did you expect all those positive reactions?
Aaron Comess: You never really go into a project thinking about that. You always hope that people are going to like it. But it has been really amazing to see all these positive reactions from the critics and from people who got the album early. We’re excited to get it out there and it’s definitely a nice feeling that it’s doing so well. These are the best reviews that we’ve ever gotten! When we first came out we were a young band, we were hip and young and all the critics loved us. But once you sell out your record, they don’t like you anymore. Now, I think it’s a great time for us. Everything’s totally real! And a lot of the critics maybe only know the band for the hits so I think some of them are pleasantly surprised (laughs).
D: One critic wrote that the band has gone „full circle“ with that new album as it goes back to the band’s blues bar roots. How does it feel to revisit and perform material that you guys wrote in the late 80s?
AC: It’s fun! It really feels totally fresh. Because, you know, it’s rock’n’roll! And good rock’n’roll or blues songs should sound good all the time. That kind of music is just so real – that’s the kind of music that always sounds fresh no matter what year it is. And the songs feel great. It’s been really cool to go back and revisit some of these really old ones and mix them with a handful of new ones – it seems to work. All of our stuff is based in blues, because that’s what rock’n’roll is. We have a lot of elements in our music: a lot of funk, we all dedicate ourselves for writing really good songs, and this is kind of the blue print to all we do! Even though it’s the blues, it’s our way of doing the blues: Chris has such a great way with lyrics, Eric’s an amazing guitar player – not a lot of guitar players could carry a whole record and there’s a lot of weight on the guitar playing on this kind of records, and he really shines …
D: … Yeah, you’re not just repeating the 12-bar blues scheme over and over again. Instead, you are mixing it with other elements and musical styles and so, the tracks get that signature Spin Doctors sound …
AC: You’re right. You can call it a blues record, sure. But I like to look at it more like a rock’n’roll record. Truthfully, we can thank you and David Landsberger! (laughs) When we were out on the Pocketfull of Kryptonite 20th anniversary tour in Europe asking people what they wanted to hear, a lot of these songs like “So Bad” or “The Drop” were all on the top of your lists of requests. When we started to play those deep cuts inside of the Kryptonite songs, and they just fit so well, it kind of opened our eyes: “Wow, this is excactly what we were doing back then, material-wise. And the truth is: we play those kind of songs a lot better now than we did back then. There’s no doubt about it!!
D: The 2013 set lists are a really cool mix of the classic stuff and the blues material …
AC: I’m loving it! It’s really helping us to put on a great live show right now!
D: Do you have a favorite cut off „If The River Was Whiskey“? If so, which track is it and why?
AC: I like them all, it’s tough to pick a favorite. I really love “Some Other Man Instead”, that’s one of my favorites for sure. And I love “Sweetest Portion”, I love the way that came out. It’s a great song that we only did a couple of times, years ago… I’m really proud of us for that song and the way we played it. It’s different from anything we’ve ever done in our whole career. And there’s a real loseness, a laid-back-ness to it and a vibe to it that I don’t think we could have done ten, or even maybe two years ago. Really, I don’t think we could have even made this record a few years ago – it’s such an example of the four of us really being in a good place and just going in the studio and having a good time and being relaxed. There was no tension at all –
D: Perfect timing, right?
AC: Exactly, it was the perfect timing for us. Because there was no pressure and there is no pressure. Nobody’s trying to get on the radio and to have a hit. It’s just a 100 percent us. These are all the reasons why we started the band anyway. Once you get some success, and you have some hits, then all of the sudden, there is that obvious pressure from everybody to keep that going. But that was never the reason why we started playing. We started playing to make great music and to make a living doing it. And that’s excactly what this record is – not only the music, but the whole idea of what the band is is the same as it was in the very beginning of Spin Doctors.
D: You will be playing a lot of shows in the US to support the new album starting May and throughout the summer. How about the rest of the world? Can you already tell something about touring plans after the summer?
AC: The fall is coming quickly together at the moment, I can tell you that we will be playing in Europe, that’s 100 percent sure. Probably somewhere around mid September we will be coming over and I know for a fact that we are going to do a lot of shows in Germany …
D: Oh, great!
AC: We’ll be in Europe for about a month, three to four weeks or something, and there will be ten shows in Germany I think. So get ready to get on the road, buddy! (laughs)
D: Sure!!! Aaron, now that you’ve recorded a bunch of very old Spins blues songs: can the fans hope that you guys will record other classic Spin Doctors originals that never made it on any album at some point in the future? I’m thinking about songs like „Cheeseburger Deluxe“, „Gunsmith’s Waltz“, „Pandora’s Box“ or, of course, „Prey To Bears“? And how about new stuff? Are there any recording plans for the band?
AC: Definitely new stuff. Look, things seem to be going really well and hopefully everything continues that way. So I definitely see the band doing another record, sooner than later this time around. And who knows… you know, we had so many great songs in the first four or five years of the band. We’ll probably never get to do all of them, but it’s nice to see some of that material coming back. I can absolutely see some more of these deep cuts getting recorded on future albums. Why not? It’s the four guys, it’s still us and it doesn’t really matter whether they’re old or new. It’s Spin Doctors!
D: Whether you record old or new material – just do it, pretty please.
AC: Oh, we will, don’t worry. My guess is that the next record will be mostly new stuff maybe mixed with a few old things, like always. But I feel optimistic about the future of Spin Doctors recording and writing and all that. As long as we are having fun, things go well with us. As soon as stuff gets f**ked up – which can easily happen – things don’t go well anymore. (laughs) As you know, we are four unique individuals. But don’t worry, everything’s great at the moment!
D: It’s amazing to see how much fun you guys seem to have on stage lately. Another great thing that I noticed during the last UK tour: a lot of the shows were sold out, which probably means that more and more people are re-discovering Spin Doctors over here in Europe.
AC: Yeah, I noticed that too. I think the new record is going to really make a difference. We are all feeling that. We have a nice team of people around us helping: the people at Ruf Records for example, and we’ve got a great publicist over there in the UK and so on. I think it’s going to be pretty cool moving forward with the band. We are all dedicated to spending more time in Europe and make it more of a regular kind of thing for us. I think you guys in Europe will be seeing a lot more of us in the next couple of years.
D: You are more than welcome! Aaron, you always have a lot of solo projects going on, for example with your new jazz quintet, or the trio with Teddy Kumpel. You’re also touring with German superstar Westernhagen. With so much Spin Doctors stuff that’s going on at the moment, do you still have time for all these side projects?
AC: When I’m home, and I am still home a lot, I am always playing! I just had a great gig with my original thing with Teddy and Rich the other night which was great. I’ve been doing my jazz quintet which is another thing which has been great. And then I play around with a lot of other people around town – so yeah, that stuff is very important for me. I definitely have a whole new record’s worth of material of my own stuff. So sometime before the end of the year I’m going to make another record. Yeah, the Spin Doctors are gonna take up a lot of the time this year, which is great! But for me, I always have to have this other stuff going on as well, it just keeps me fresh.
D: How about the other Spin Doctors guys and their side projects?
AC: Eric has got a couple of bands he plays with up in Canada so he’s busy doing that when he’s home. Chris is doing some solo gigs as always, and Chris and Mark are also doing some teaching – so everbody’s good! And luckily, the band is keeping us busy, busier than in a while, so everybody is really focused on it.
D: And we are really looking forward to what the future holds for the Spins and their fans. Aaron, final question. If you had to introduce someone to the music of Spin Doctors by playing him two Spins studio cuts. Track number 1 would have to be „Two Princes“. Which song would you chose as the 2nd track?
AC: That’s a tough question! But there’s one song that I think really defines the band more than anything. “Shinbone Alley” is that song. It shows Chris’s lyricist style, particularly the way he wrote when he was younger. It’s a certain kind of poetic style that he uses. And it also really showcases the way the band plays together: myself, Eric and Mark. I think it’s the ultimate Spin Doctors tune – it’s an example of how you can’t replace anybody in this band.
D: Hopefully, “Shinbone” will be on a lot of this year’s setlists!
AC: Oh, I guess it will (laughs).
D: Aaron, all the best for the upcoming tour and thank you for answering my questions instead of having a lunch break.
AC: My pleasure, Daniel. Thank you – and see you soon on the road!