Hanging out with the Band's legendary drummer Levon Helm would be a dream for almost any other timekeeper. The Gourds have just returned to Austin from two weeks of recording at Helm's studio in Woodstock, N.Y, where drummer Keith Langford got to live the dream.
The untitled album, the follow-up to last year's Haymaker!, is now being mixed and wlll be released in mid-September. Lonesome, Onry and Mean caught up with Langford as he waited outside his son's school.
Lonesome Onry and Mean: What was it like hanging out with Levon Helm?
Keith Langford: He was just a super-cool host. He wasn't around all that much, but he did come in. Like a good host, he wants you to be happy and comfortable.
LOM: Describe your first meeting.
KL: It's been such a dream to meet him, he's really my drummer hero, so all the time we were planning this trip I kept thinking what will I say to him if I get to meet him. But we were in the studio and he just came in - he'd been to New York City for a cancer check-up that day - and he walked over and shook hands and said, "You need a drink" in that voice of his. I'll never forget that. Pretty cool.
And he'd gotten this great report that day. If he'd gotten a bad report, it would've changed the vibe of the whole project. But he'd gotten a good report and the place was just kinda buzzing with this great vibe because of it. We couldn't have begun on a higher note.
LOM: I assume you didn't take your drum kit up.
KL: No, that was another huge thrill, I got to play his drums. And Ringo Starr had given him some toms, so we set those up and I got to do the sessions with this combo of Levon's and Ringo's drums. Imagine.
LOM: What was it like working with [longtime Bob Dylan sideman] Larry Campbell as a producer?
KL: That guy worked our asses off. I'm serious, by the end of the day we were just exhausted. He had so many ideas, and let's face it, we're a pretty lazy bunch of guys. But Larry was with us all the time and it was a magical experience working with a guy that smart and motivated. He really did right by us.
He wanted to step aside and let everybody do what they wanted to do. But he truly loves to play, so every once in a while he'd say, 'hey, I'm just gonna do this little acoustic thing right here,' stuff like that. And he's such a killer steel player, we wanted him to do some steel parts. Overall, he's just this very loose, highly musical guy.
LOM: Rumor has it that you are doing way more singing on this album than on any other Gourds record.
KL: Another dream come true. I aspire to sing but I'm the worst singer in the band, so it was just amazing when I'd hear Larry call out, 'Keith get down here, we need you to do this part.' And I'd be like 'Holy shit, I can't believe he's calling my name.'
There are going to be lots of harmonies on this one. You know, we started out with lots of harmonies but as we got older and lazier we kinda drifted away from that. Larry pulled us back to that, and I think with good result. Of course, now we have to work out butts off to get ready to do all this stuff live.
LOM: Any songs from the new one that are already standing out for you?
KL: Oh, yeah. There's one of Jimmy's [bassist Jimmy Smith] I love called "For Your Benefit" that sounds like the James Gang. And Kevin [Russell] has a great new one called "Sparrows" that turned out so grand and big, a long, cool musical journey really.
LOM: What was your overall impression of the trip and the project?
KL: We played good, we all got along pretty well, so I'd just say it was fun and we had a real good time. We'll end up going up there to do one of Levon's Midnight Ramble shows eventually.
LOM: So did you stay at Levon's place or a motel?
KL: We got hooked up with Bob Clearmountain, who's a pretty significant record producer himself, and he has a rental house about five miles from studio. So we stayed there and cooked and grilled, we'd ride mountain bikes to the studio.
It was very conducive to being creative and to recharging our batteries each night, because we'd be mentally exhausted by the time we got to the house. It was a great place to drink beer and chill out.
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For those interested, here is the official description of Levon Helm Studios from www.levonhelmstudios.com: Nestled on twenty acres, housing a magnificent timber-framed barn/studio. Using no nails, only wooden pegs and locally quarried bluestone, the building has optimal sound quality. It is a dream retreat with a large bass-filled lake beneath Overlook mountain.