Chemical Thing': Mickey Hart Chats About Hydra and the Dead By
At 61, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey
Hart isn't about to slow down. He could be taking it easy, recording
in his own state-of-the-art studio in Northern California or playing
with his latest percussive invention, the Hydra, which follows
the ambient RAMU (Random Access Musical Universe).
Instead, Hart is out on the road with cats less than half his
age. He's formed a new instrumental supergroup with members of
Particle, also called Hydra, which was inspired by the aforementioned
The funky, trance-like Hydra recently made its debut tour throughout
the month of April. "It's a chemical thing, just like in the Grateful
Dead," says Hart, who liked Particle's recordings so much, he
invited the band to jam in his studio a few months ago. "It's
a group mind, which is one of the principles of trance music,
Also like the Dead, Hydra has two drummers. Having been playing
with Bill Kreutzmann for 40 years as part of the Dead's Rhythm
Devils, Hart says he hopes to form as organic a relationship with
Particle skinsman, Darren Pujalet.
Hart expects to tour with Hydra, as well as the Dead, again soon.
To sample the new band's sound, visit www.hydra-music.com.
Also visit www.mickeyhart.net.
How did Hydra
come to be? How did you get close enough to Particle musically
to commit to a new band?
A mutual friend sent me a CD and DVD, which I really liked. I
liked the way the music unfolded, the conversation that they were
having. When word got back that I liked the stuff, they came up
to jam for a couple of days. It was pure magic. It's a blast.
I'm having a lot of fun. Right now, it's just free; no compositions.
But it was there, no doubt about it. They're very energetic and
really push me. It's a challenge.
How did you
come up with the name of the band?
I had an opportunity to create a new instrument. I had created
RAMU (Random Access Musical Universe). This is an extension of
that. I call it Hydra. They were like, 'Hey, we like that name.
Why don't we call the band that?'
What is Hydra,
the instrument, like?
It has an electronic side with a short-wave radio and a DJ mixer.
It has all kinds of electronic sides to it. I had this vision
for this new instrument. I slowly had been putting it together
when they popped up, and it became this great playground. This
is one great way of taking it out and developing it further. It's
made for trance bands. These kids were born digital. Those sensibilities
are innate. It wasn't like me, where I had to learn everything
smack dab in the middle of it. They're very good musicians. The
oldest guy is 28. I'm 61. They just want to see me collapse behind
my kit, but I won't be doing that.
you most about Particle and the possibilities of making music
with them, and how does that translate to performances?
I really like their musical conversation. It's moment music. Jam
band doesn't describe it. The Japanese say it's 'the way of going.'
These guys have that kind of way about them that I could relate
to. I thought it was powerful and fun. This is a fun band. Nobody
had to think too hard to make this music. It's more like giving
it up than making it up because everybody has skills. It's a chemical
thing, just like in the Grateful Dead. It's a group mind, which
is one of the principles of trance music, besides repetition.
You hold onto it just long enough, then give it up and go somewhere
else. Enthusiasm is a big part of this kind music too, as opposed
to good taste.
is Hydra different from Particle and how do you influence that?
It's a lot more electronic. Hydra is full of electronics, but
the weave is different because of the interplay of the percussion.
It has a stronger backbone. It's a jackhammer groove. There are
a lot of possibilities when you have two drummers. I have a different
kind of relationship but similar with Billy Kreutzmann of the
Dead. Bill and I have that conversation going, but with him, it's
been 40 years. We share the same DNA. Darren is a fine drummer.
We like each other. The bottom line is, if you play this kind
of music, you have to have a mutual respect. Trust in the people
you're playing with also is an ingredient of this kind of music.
It works well. There's magic in the air. You can cut it with a
knife. Whenever that happens, you have to recognize it or else
you're a fool or not paying attention. With this, there really
is no doubt about it. Compare playing with Darren to being part
of the Rhythm Devils. In order to play like me and Kreutzmann,
you have to live together, cry together, do everything together
for 2,500 shows. It's not that way with Darren because we're just
beginning the relationship. Billy and I breathe as one. Hopefully,
Darren and I can get to a place similar to that, but the only
way to do that is to play.
Are the members
of Particle fans of the Dead?
I think so. I know they're familiar with the music. We don't talk
too much about the Dead. It's not a topic for conversation. Sometimes
when we're playing, some of the Grateful Dead music seeps through
Hydra's touring and recording plans?
It all depends on how it goes. We're open-ended about this. We
went into it like that. We had a great time in the studio. It's
a wonderful experiment and a great challenge. I know it will make
magic and be a magnificent tour. After we're out there for a while,
we may decide to go into the studio (to record) and do future
gigs. We'll see. There's no major commitment here. We didn't want
to record the music prematurely. It's a live band. We have a whole
new repertoire that's not Particle and it's not Dead. It's its
own Hydra repertoire. We spent some time in composition, and the
influences will be recognized. Fun projects are a natural progression
in their careers. It's an unusual occurrence in mine. Not that
I need another career, but I sure need the fun. Sometimes the
fun is lacking in the music, especially if you're playing big
stadiums. But we're playing Roseland in New York. That's a wonderful,
great place because you can actually see the people sweat, see
their eyeballs popping out. That's great. I love playing in those
kinds of places. It's manageable. You actually fit everything
into one big truck instead of 20 semis. That's a boon. It's like
you're mobile. We can do things at the spur of the moment that
we couldn't do with the Dead. I remember we used to show up in
a park and play for free. I hope this band does things like that.
Of course, we'd get arrested. But we used to do it on a regular
basis. We'd play one free and one for pay. We'd play better when
we gave it away. I remember we did that at Columbia University.
There was a student revolt in 1968. They took over. We played
the revolution (laughs).
from an era when rock was an art form and the album was its canvas.
Given that, how do you feel about downloads?
I think you should pay for intellectual property. To take something
without permission is stealing it. If you share it, give to each
other, that's one thing. But there's got to be some middle ground.
And you can't legislate you're way out of it. It's a moral thing.
We chose to give it away. We said, 'Hey, let's make a good record,
but if they want to record the concerts, let them go ahead and
have it. When we're done with it, you can have it.' But to take
someone's intellectual property without consent is not the right
thing to do. My daughter is 11. I gave her a download account
at ITunes. I've been doing that since ITunes began. She has a
computer filled with the latest stuff. It's part of her allowance.
She does her chores, and I give her credit at ITunes. That's how
I teach her the morality behind it. She says, 'Hey, it's for free.
Everybody's doing it.' And I say, 'But that's wrong.' That's not
what you do if you want great music to be composed, for songwriters
to make new works. That said, it should be fair business. The
artists and songwriters should get a fair price. From a CD store,
a record company makes millions. Artists make very little off
CDs. So people who know the business of it know the morality of
it. They make an informed decision: Do I want to keep major labels
reaping the profits? There's a lot of inequity with a lot of these
things. But I think the album has fallen by the wayside as a part
of history. With digital downloads, the sound is better and it's
more convenient. I have an IPod, and I use it every day. I have
music on it that I love. I don't have to have the whole CD. I
just take what I like. But the artist has to be paid for his services.
A doctor couldn't work for free all the time. And once you get
a taste, you want more.
Did the Dead's
allowing tapers pave the road for free downloads?
Here's how it went. We weren't great visionaries allowing people
to record our concerts. It's what happened. The fans wanted it,
and they kept coming to shows with equipment. The guard would
take it away and give them a pink stub so they could claim their
equipment on the way out. They came to us and said, 'We need more
guards.' We had two choices, let them in or become cops. Now,
we didn't want to police the situation, to turn into recording
cops. So we just said, 'Let them in. When we're done with it,
they can have it.' We didn't have any great business vision. We
didn't know it would increase our audience by millions. They started
with cassettes. We realized, 'Hey man, the audience is taping,
but the real thing is in the board tape, and they'll buy it.'
It's about a thirst for music. If it's something rare, like moment
music or jam music, people will really want it because it's unique.
They have an equity in it because they're there making the music
with us. When we play compositions, they're ours, but when we're
jamming, the content is the audience's too. They are owners of
it in a way, time sharers. It increases the thirst and the hunger.
We went to mega-Dead. We couldn't even play stadiums. At one time,
we thought about folding the tent. People were being killed, being
thrown off balconies, fighting with police. We were like, 'That's
not what the Dead is about. This is getting out of hand.' But
with digital downloads, it eases that pressure. Everybody is having
to be there to share it it; maybe not in that moment, but eventually
they'll share it. There's a lot to be said about that. But you
have to understand that the musician has to support himself in
order to go on writing new material. Particle must be pretty psyched.
They're playing with Mickey Hart and opening for Trey Anastasio
do you have after the Hydra tour is over?
I'm writing and researching books. I enjoy being with my family.
I'm recording. I'm doing remote recordings around the world. I
just got back from Thailand and going to China to do a major recording
over there of indigenous music. And I'm composing. I own my own
studio, and I'm working in it every day. I go to work like you
do every day. My work is composing music. I do that till dinner
time. I live in my music world all day until I pick up my daughter
at school and hang out with her. I like to see the leaves fall,
the seasons change. All those years on the road, I wasn't able
to do that much. I'm not anxious to spend my whole life on the
road. There's a balance in life. I'm having fun with it. But I
think maybe Hydra will do more gigs. You might see us work some
more, maybe record a DVD. Will the Dead tour again? Maybe. We
might do a Terrapin Station thing. Hydra might be a part of that.
What do you
think of Phil's new book, "Searching for the Sound?"
I haven't really read it. I skimmed it. I don't really read books
that dissect the Grateful Dead. But I read some parts. What I
read was hilarious. There are some funny moments between me and
him, so I read that stuff. It's really funny. But I don't read
those books. They're certainly interesting to other people, but
I lived it. It's like eating the same food over and over again.
I know that Phil worked hard on it, and it's probably a wonderful
book. I hope he does well with it. It's good therapy for him.
Bob Makin is an award-winning music
writer from New Jersey and co-founding volunteer director of Jersey
Jams Fund (www.jerseyjamsfund.com),
a United Way music education program for NJ children.