ANDERSON CHUTE EASLEY
Following the release of his latest pop-rock solo album, Easley Rider, in 2020, New Orleans pedal steel guitarist, vocalist and composer Dave Easley has been more than busy in the interim. Just after Easley Rider was sadly overlooked during the height of the pandemic, Dave also released an instrumental classic, released only on Lp and download through the auspices of Chris Schlarb’s Big Ego Records label , entitled Byways Of The Moon. Around the same time Dave released an album called Ivy Hall, as a member of the instrumental jazz-rock band Kolotov Mocktails, that was released by the group’s drummer Rob McKendrick and Three Coasts Music. In 2022 Dave took part in the CD release of the latest album with Musaica Chamber Ensemble called Chamber Music Collaborative, released by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage foundation.
Just before the 2022 release of Chamber Music Collaborative, featuring music that Dave Easley and bass player Dave Anderson wrote for 17 musicians, at the end of 2021 Dave Easley released album called Adventures Of The Moss Bear, an avant-garde, instrumental fusion trio that featured Dave Easley together with Dave Anderson (bass) and Tom Chute (drums).
A formidable musical team, A.C.E. have been described as New Orleans fusion music at its finest. In fact, Dave Easley is called one of the finest pedal steel guitarists in the U.S. today, with some referring to him as one of the world’s best. In 1984-85, Dave Anderson played for and took lessons with the legendary Weather Report bassist Jaco Pastorius in New York, who firmly encouraged the idea of being able to cross over between classical and jazz.
Drummer Tom Chute has been living and playing in New Orleans for almost 22 years. After studying percussion and ethnomusicology at the University of Iowa, Tom moved to New Orleans to more closely study the indigenous forms of music. A versatile rhythmist, Tom Chute has played with a wide variety of musical projects ranging from traditional to avant-garde.
Calling Adventures Of The Moss Bear wildly eclectic would be an understatement. From the opening notes of the first track, “Camellia Dreams” you just feel you’re in for a very sonically sharp set of instrumental fusion. Dave Easley’s pedal steel guitar quietly dominates the track yet he more than fits the bill while showing off the work of the in-step rhythm of Anderson and Chute. The easiest way to describe this opening track would be to some of Pat Metheny’s atmospheric improvisation tracks. “Five Gallon Hat” quickly follows suit with the trio pumping out another track of concentrated pedal-steel driving instrumental fusion.
Things take a unique turn with track 3 “Slender Forest”, which kind of harks back to Easley’s 2020 solo album Easley Rider. A gentle-sounding, welcome though surprising, track that somehow fits into the instrumental setting on Adventures Of The Moss Bear, the 4:28 “Slender Forest” features Dave harmonizing on vocals together with his sometimes singing partner Kass Krebs.
Perhaps the highlight of Adventures Of The Moss Bear are the two extended pieces “Pop Medley From Outer Space”, which clocks in at just over 12-minutes and the title track “Adventures Of The Moss Bear”, that times in just over 18-minutes. Sandwiched in between is the humorous “Ozzy”, which sounds like King Crimson and, in fact might be the most progressive rock oriented track here.
The aforementioned “Pop Medley From Outer Space” is truly sci-fi in scope, with ideas that borrow from space-age exotica music from the 1950s as well as avant-garde styles with Dave pulling out the stops on his pedal-steel guitar. As cool as that is, the album highlight is surely the 18-minute title track, with its myriad of sonic twists and turns. Start to finish, Adventures Of The Moss Bear is one of the great Americana avant-garde meets jazz fusion albums of 2022.
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
mwe3: How did you meet the other members of the ACE and how far back do you go with them? Do you live in the same areas?
Dave Easley: I had played with Dave Anderson in several different New Orleans area groups in the early 2000s. Tom Chute and I played together with Louisiana Blues legend, Coco Robicheaux. I was in Coco’s group for 15 years. Sometime after Hurricane Katrina (2005), blues guitarist Darren Murphy had hired Dave Anderson, Tom Chute and myself as a backup band for a regular Sunday gig. Darren then had other commitments on Bourbon Street and he felt confident to just turn the gigs over to us. He had turned a gig over to me and Dave before when he moved out to Los Angeles for a year or so. It’s not uncommon for a busy New Orleans musician to book gigs he doesn’t have time to play and, just as long as he hires people he has confidence in, there’s no problem.
So that weekly Sunday was the start of Anderson, Chute, Easley. It was Coco Robicheaux who one day, sitting on the bench in front of the Apple Barrel where he held court every Saturday night for many years with Tom and myself and Michael ‘Guitar’ Sklar, suggested that we should call ourselves ACE. That comes from our three initials. And we of course felt honored that Coco considered us to be “aces” on our instruments. So our trio, A.C.E. was put together by Darren Murphy and named by Coco Robicheaux.
Tom Chute lives in the Musician’s Village in New Orleans, Dave Anderson has a house in Metairie, a few blocks from the lake. I live in Covington. So we’re all within 35 miles of each other.
mwe3: Also, I wanted to ask about your current works. What have been the recordings dates and release dates for the albums you’ve released going back to your 2020 solo album Easley Rider as well as with the Kolotov Mocktails album Ivy Hall and the two albums with Dave Anderson?
Dave Easley: I’m pretty sure Ivy Hall came out before Easley Rider. I remember that Easley Rider came out right at the beginning of the pandemic because I had been in conversation with a beautiful venue in the Bywater neighborhood about a CD release party and that had to be cancelled along with the multitudes of other gigs that every musician around the world had to cancel from Paul McCartney to the guy at the corner bar.
Dave and I wrote our “Octet” together, I think around 2008 or so. He composed his “Nonet” more recently and, once the recordings were done for both, Musaica decided to release them together on one disc. Musaica Chamber Ensemble is an offshoot of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra; one of the few player-owned orchestras in the world. It’s like a co-op. People who like health food used to get together and make food co-ops where members could get organic food at reasonable prices. In New York City there are housing co-ops that predated the condo-craze by many years. People in small towns have always been able to afford home ownership more easily than city dwellers in concrete jungles full of high rise apartment buildings. So groups of people in the Bronx and Queens pooled their money together and bought entire blocks and high rise buildings, saving money by eliminating the middle-man.
The player owned orchestra is a similar concept. It also enables players to have a voice in choosing repertoire. The LPO (Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra) has premiered some of Dave Anderson’s pieces. But they are not alone in that! The Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra premiered a concerto of his. Dave’s compositions have been played by orchestras and chamber groups all over the world.
Adventures Of The Moss Bear was recorded during the pandemic. Of those releases you mentioned, the last two to come out were Adventures and then the Musaica Octet/Nonet disc. But the Octet was recorded over a decade ago and the Nonet much more recently.
mwe3: Both the Musaica: Chamber Music Collaborative and the Anderson-Chute-Easley album, Adventures Of The Moss Bear are equally intriguing. What is the primary difference between the two albums?
Dave Easley: The Musaica album is mostly written on paper in the classical tradition with a few brief sections that include improvisation. The A.C.E. (Anderson-Chute-Easley) album, Adventures Of The Moss Bear is almost completely improvised on the spot with the song; “Slender Forest” being the only exception.
mwe3: Dave Anderson’s bass work, Tom Chute’s drumming and your Pedal Steel guitar works wonders. Tell us more about the trio interplay on the Adventures Of The Moss Bear album.
Dave Easley: Dave Anderson brings his classical, jazz, rock and funk backgrounds to A.C.E. The three of us have a nice chemistry together and are able to follow each other through many different soundscapes so there’s no need for written music. We just set up and start playing our instruments and we go on little musical journeys together, adventures.
mwe3: With the title track “Adventures Of The Moss Bear” alone clocking in over 18-minutes, it must have been a very prolific recording session.
Dave Easley: We had several sessions where we recorded enough material for 3 or 4 albums. Adventures Of The Moss Bear is the first one. It’s all, for the most part, completely improvised material, though individuals also brought compositions to play. I brought “Slender Forest”, to which we later added Kass Krebs on background vocals. Kass had also graced Easley Rider, with her sonorous vocalizations. It was a terrible oversight that her name didn’t get put on the Adventures Of The Moss Bear album cover, but they’re all printed out. We certainly want people to know that it was her and that we appreciate her very much!
mwe3: Are there any other comparisons you can cite between Adventures Of The Moss Bear album and the Musaica album?
Dave Easley: One similarity between the Musaica Octet and Adventures is the collaboration between the two Dave’s. But the difference is in how the collaboration was done. In Adventures, it happened in the moment, like real adventures do happen. We hear what each other is doing we react to that and one thing leads to another and it develops into a story. In the above answer I said the Musaica album was written on paper. I should have said printed. We wrote it on computers using the Finale program and printed it up so the musicians could read it.
mwe3: Even though you play on only half of the Musaica album, the “Octet” half, the sound is equally intriguing as the Adventures Of The Moss Bear album. Tell us more about how you wrote the music with Dave Anderson for the Musaica CD.
Dave Easley: While Dave and I were writing the ‘Octet’, sometimes we would sit in the same room and gather bits together and organize them into classical form on Dave’s computer. Sometimes he would say, “here’s a little background for the bass clarinet to stroll over. Why don’t you write a part for him?” Sometimes we would each sit at our houses and write sections and then we would get together and paste them into place. They are two completely different processes. But each very satisfying in its own way.
mwe3: Adventures Of The Moss Bear is a very strange name for a band and an album title. Where did that title and idea come from and what did you, Dave Anderson and Tom Chute decide would be the album’s signature sound? You said it was mostly improvisation with the exception of your vocal number “Slender Forest”?
Dave Easley: While we doing our recording sessions, occasionally we would have to stop for a few minutes while my neighbor ran his leaf-blower, which he does fairly often. I explained to the guys that, while I generally feel that the old-fashioned rake is preferable, I could sort of see what my neighbor had going on back there. Because of the fact that he never disturbed the ground with a rake, he had a large moss garden growing, possibly the widest I’d ever seen in a person’s yard. Not how I would choose to use my carbon footprint, but here we are, three musicians. We always have to travel to work. Who am I, to criticize? We can see a portion of Ray’s moss garden on the cover of the album.
So, anyway, while waiting for our chance to begin recording again, we got to talking about moss and hit upon “Adventures Of The Moss Bear” as, not only a title for a piece, but also for a whole album. It was Tom who made us aware of a few interesting factoids about the tardigrade or, in common parlance, the moss bear. It is a microscopic creature that lives in moss and, when viewed under an electron microscope, the moss bear bears a certain resemblance to a child’s teddy bear. The tardigrade holds the record for the animal that can survive the longest in outer space. Well, alright then... the moss bear has to be our token spirit animal for our adventures into the unknown together! And that’s what is really happening in a total improv piece, such as the 5 on this album. Musicians venturing into the unknown together. We really have no idea at the start of it where it might wind up and the sorts of places we may visit along the way. That’s why “Camellia Dreams” is so different from “Ozzy”, which is so different from “Pop Medley From Outer Space”. Our band name is still A.C.E. for our initials, just like Coco named us years ago.
mwe3: Are both of these CDs self-released albums? The Anderson Chute Easley album has a barcode and I even saw it for sale on eBay. The Musaica CD was better packaged with more information. Also the ACE album features one of your vocal numbers called “Slender Forest”. Tell us more about that song featuring you and Kass Krebs on vocals. Tell us when you first met Kass.
Dave Easley: The A.C.E. album is definitely self-released. I’m not sure about the business aspects behind the Musaica release.
“Slender Forest” is literally about the lot where I live. As you drive down my street, it looks like many small towns. Then you see a wooded lot and, as you come near, you realize, oh, there’s a little cottage in there. Then there’s a vacant lot, also wooded. Then the houses begin again. Some neighborhoods with HOAs might have all sorts of regulations. Here, it’s live and let live. If one guy wants to run his leaf-blower every day to take care of his moss garden, that’s ok. If another guy allows his trees to grow, that’s ok too. When a tree does present a particular danger or nuisance, I take care of it. By some reckoning, in hurricane country, every tree could be considered a danger. I don’t draw the line anywhere near that outlook. If we cut every tree in hurricane country, we may increase global warming by reducing natural carbon uptake.
I have a landscape architect friend nearby whose lot is also wooded, which her customers find amusing for a landscape architect. We have discussed how she and I both seldom lose trees in hurricanes. In a forest, trees brake the wind for each other and their roots intertwine with each other, the underground support adding stability above ground. So trees grouped together help each other to stand. Sort of a metaphor for community, eh?
Kass is a former girlfriend of mine and dear lifelong friend. We didn’t have children together or own a house together and we love playing music together so it was easy to remain friends after we split up.
mwe3: The title track “Adventures Of The Moss Bear” is interesting. Your guitar work is brilliant on that track. Sometimes it sounds like the Grateful Dead, played from an instrumental jazz perspective. Tell us about the title name and how it fits the music. It’s just amazing it was a kind of jam or did you have predetermined aspects of the music? It’s very cogent sounding!
Dave Easley: No, nothing is pre-determined here. If it sounds cogent, that’s because we’re constantly listening and reacting to each other. On the compositions we do discuss things in advance. In “Slender Forest” we planned out that we would slow down and speed up. And we had chord charts in front of us.
mwe3: Track 4 on the ACE CD, “Pop Medley From Outer Space” is another highlight that runs over 12 minutes. Is the title name kind of tongue-in-cheek? It does have a cool sci-fi edge to the sound.
Dave Easley: I began “Pop Medley From Outer Space with a popping sound made by pulling my finger rapidly out of a brass slide bar. We don’t know the titles of most of the pieces when we play them. We make up the titles while listening to the playback. Then, in one of the very few overdubs, Kass’s vocal was another, we added Dave Anderson making a finger-in-cheek pop that harmonized with my pop. So there was definitely a finger-in-cheek whether there was a tongue-in-cheek or not. I think that, although it was totally improvised, it does sort of run from one spacey sounding melody to another in the manner of medleys. So, it seemed like a fitting title.
mwe3: Did you have any overdubs on the ACE album after the tracks were recorded, or did you add some weird after-effects like on the “Pop Medley”, where there are some truly wild effects? What sound effects did you use in the studio?
Dave Easley: We did have a lot of fun in mix-down adding reverbs and sometimes regenerated reverbs. One section of “Pop Medley” has an octave effect added to the steel guitar.
mwe3: Also tell us about the Kolotov Mocktails album, entitled Ivy Hall and are you and the group planning a follow up album? Is that album more pop-oriented, at least as far as instrumental music goes? Tell us about the chemistry of the Kolotov Mocktails band, when they formed and tell us about working with another guitarist, in that band, George Mason, who also doubles on violin. Can you draw similarities to Ivy Hall and your other albums?
Dave Easley: The Kolotov Mocktails is a tri-coastal band, Oregon, New York, Louisiana and now Arkansas. So, it’s hard to get together but we have discussed maybe doing another album that’s all recorded remotely. We all have well-equipped home studios. I’ve been good friends with George Mason ever since I first met him around 20 years ago. It was through George that I met the other two who had been friends and musical partners for many years before. George used to live in Gulfport and he and I drove together to the Nashville sessions for Ivy Hall. The time passed very quickly with such a great driving partner.
George always has many wonderful stories to tell from all his years on the road. Though he’s mainly known for his fiddle playing, he also played rhythm guitar behind Herb Ellis. We did all the live tracking with the violin and George’s tasty guitar parts were added as overdubs.
When we met in Nashville, we each brought two or three songs to record. I had written a song called “Weed Eater Wars” that never got recorded. We ran out of time. So I added that to the list for Easley Rider. So there’s definitely a connection there. With the Eastern rhumba section, it seemed to fit right in between the psychedelic country rock song and the banjo/drum protest song about economic inequality. Rob McKendrick, the drummer for Kolotov Mocktails, has expressed an interest in doing a KM version of “Slender Forest”.
mwe3: 2023 just started but can you peer into your future plans even at this early point?
Dave Easley: Yes, Robert, I think I mentioned to you before that George had already done some fiddling for me for one of the songs that will be on the next record. The other day I was reading an article about how a place I’ll be playing in San Francisco next week got its name from a wealthy prostitute of the 1850s and that story became a new original song, which, though it’s only a week old, sort of reminds me of some of the 400 year old songs the Grateful Dead liked to sing.
I know the story of how they got their name by tripping on DMT and opening a dictionary. But I also thing that a lot of ghosts of long-dead songwriters must be very grateful that the Dead kept their songs alive in filled-to- capacity football stadiums and now YouTube videos. I also have an old song of mine that had included a magnificently funky organ track from the late, great Ike Stubblefield, that I’d like to include on the new album. I’m sure there will be time later this year to finish this next album.
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