Widespread Panic’s John Bell discusses band’s new album and Fox Theatre reveals

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Widespread Panic returns to the Fox Theatre subsequent week, for 4 make-up live shows that take the place of the band’s New Yr’s Eve reveals, which had been postponed final 12 months resulting from Covid precautions.

Since then, the long-lasting jam band has launched Miss Kitty’s Lounge, an album that consists of demo recordings made in 1990 with the unique Widespread Panic lineup. Miss Kitty’s Lounge is far more than a hodgepodge of discarded songs or a historic doc; it’s a full-throated Widespread Panic album that was recorded, however not launched, simply because the band’s star was starting to rise.

Widespread Panic’s John “J.B.” Bell not too long ago chatted with ArtsATL in regards to the new album and the way it got here collectively. “It blows me away,” he stated. “We had been simply youngsters, simply goin’ at it.” He additionally mentioned his songwriting course of, his three favourite non-Panic albums and the private influence of Covid when the band needed to shut down its heavy touring schedule.

The Athens-based jam band (with two members, Jimmy Herring and Duane Vans, who’ve deep Atlanta roots) will carry out reveals Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, August 10-13, on the Fox Theatre.

ArtsATL: When Covid broke out, how did Panic pivot from its years of heavy touring to staying residence below lockdown?

John Bell: At first, it was surreal. And the novelty that got here with it was participating and, in a method, releasing — to only be residence and do the isolation factor. However as time went on, we began considering, “That is our new scenario. Possibly it’s non permanent or, perhaps, it will likely be ongoing.” So, then, we needed to begin desirous about our actuality and making some changes. 

ArtsATL: What had been these early changes?

Bell: We had to take a look at altering some reveals and we had to take a look at caring for everyone who’s on the payroll. And we additionally needed to take into account all the oldsters who’re subcontractors — folks now we have labored with for over 20 years, and are a part of the household. So we wrote just a few songs and began specializing in something we might that had a constructive vibe to it.

ArtsATL: The brand new Widespread Panic album is Miss Kitty’s Lounge, and its songs are demos the group recorded in 1990 with the unique lineup. Did the pandemic play a task within the resolution to launch these songs?

Bell: We all the time knew these tapes existed. However Covid actually gave {that a} nudge. We stated, “Okay, we’re not taking part in. We don’t have a brand new album out. Let’s do some single recordings to place one thing out; to do one thing contemporary.” Then we stated, “What if we put these recordings out?”

ArtsATL: What was occurring for Panic on the time you recorded these songs? 

Bell: A few these songs had been ones we had been able to launch. On the identical time, we had been being courted by a few the report labels so it ended up being a really costly demo session. These had been the unique variations of the songs, and half of them finally made it out for launch. And the opposite half, we by no means actually performed after that. 

ArtsATL: Do you credit score the Miss Kitty’s Lounge demo with getting you signed with Capricorn Data?

John Bell, Widespread Panic
Widespread Panic in 1990 (left to proper): Todd Nance, Michael Houser, John Bell, Dave Faculties and Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz (Photograph by William Claxton)

Bell: Effectively, not fully. We had been getting some airplay on our unbiased report, Area Wrangler. So we had been barely profitable and doing nicely on an unbiased degree. We had been already buddies with Phil Jr. (Phil Walden Jr.) and when he persuaded his father, Phil Walden Sr. — the president of Capricorn Data — to signal us to his label, it was a landmark second for us. We understood the distinction between road-trippin’ ourselves and abruptly having a seven-record cope with greenback indicators behind it, and an organization devoted to selling us and the soundness that got here with all of it. We knew it was a giant deal.

ArtsATL: How was the expertise of bringing Miss Kitty’s Lounge again to life?

Bell: It was enjoyable. But it surely was somewhat nip and tuck there for some time. The tapes had type of degraded a bit and also you hear the tales that you’ve got one probability with previous tapes. You may wash them and go them by way of the machine as soon as earlier than they actually lose their high quality. Fortunately, we ran them onto digital instantly — and labored with it from there.

However again to Covid’s function. As a result of our world was turned the wrong way up, the whole lot was attention-grabbing to cope with. Even after we acquired by way of that preliminary course of, we came upon that a number of the report vegetation had closed down as a result of there was a scarcity of plastic or vinyl — so all that turned a part of the equation. We had first thought of doing the report in June or July of 2020. So it was that lengthy earlier than we might really make one thing occur.

ArtsATL: Do you suppose there’s something serendipitous in regards to the timing of Miss Kitty’s Lounge being launched with the 20-year anniversary of the dying of unique guitarist Michael (“Mikey”) Houser and the two-year anniversary of the dying of unique drummer Todd Nance?

Bell: Possibly cosmically. We are likely to rejoice our time collectively and our birthdays extra so than our last days. However yeah, the universe has a hand in additional than we notice. I imply, simply attempt to do any of this alone — with out different folks’s assist — or cosmic forces. Plus, it’s simply extra enjoyable to imagine within the magic, isn’t it?

John Bell and Jimmy Herring
Bell (left) on stage with Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring. (Photograph by Joshua Timmermans)

ArtsATL: Once you hearken to Miss Kitty’s Lounge at present, what types of issues do you hear in your voice?

Bell: I used to be working away from any cliché melody line. I used to be form of singing extra the best way Mikey performed guitar — the place it was a stream of consciousness on the place your voice would go subsequent. I nonetheless try this, however I additionally am somewhat extra acutely aware of the melody line and management of notes. So there’s somewhat little bit of a cringe issue for me listening to it. However after I hearken to the band and the way we had been taking part in collectively, it blows me away. We had been simply youngsters, simply goin’ at it.

ArtsATL: What phrases of recommendation would possibly 60-year-old J.B. have for 30-year-old J.B.?

Bell: I suppose one of many fundamental issues I’d have advised my youthful self is to be good to and be good to your bandmates. Though you’re going to have some clashes creatively and personality-wise, simply experience that out and pay attention to one another. And you should definitely not let any good track concepts slip by. Even when it’s just a bit whiff. All of us have telephones now and you may get it down as a result of should you don’t, that stuff goes away.

John Bell
Bell says “Miss Kitty’s Lounge” reminds him of how a lot he enjoys recording in a studio. (Photograph by Joshua Timmermans)

I’ve all the time had somewhat pocket pocket book I jot issues down in as a result of, should you don’t, it’s like a dream. You say, “I’ll do not forget that” after which it’s gone. And, you already know, I’ve enjoyable wanting again into that pocket pocket book in any respect these items of concepts, lengthy forgotten, and a few are silly and a few I can’t even learn.

ArtsATL: Do you all the time carry that little pocket pocket book?

Bell: In some kind. I used somewhat cassette recorder when “Coconuts” popped into my thoughts. I rapidly hit report and acquired the melody line and a number of the phrases and there it was. However I imagine within the significance of getting one thing down that you could return to later. And I feel these little notes are extra like what’s popping out of the unconscious, versus making an attempt to take a seat down and inform your self to jot down a love track or one thing.

ArtsATL: Has the rebirth of Miss Kitty’s reminded you of something you might have forgotten?

Bell:  Yeah, that we additionally take pleasure in recording within the studio. In fact, we like to play dwell, however we had been reminded that we’re musicians and buddies and now we have two equally enjoyable playgrounds to enter. And with Miss Kitty’s, it was cool as a result of we had such familiarity with the songs — having are available in from taking part in them on the street closely. So with one take, we acquired it prefer it was a dwell efficiency.

ArtsATL: Apart from Panic albums, identify three you’re keen on.

Bell: I may give you three actual good ones, two of which I grooved on and have become impressed by as a child. One that may assist me perceive learn how to put a track collectively and grow to be a songwriter can be Todd Rundgren’s One thing/Something? That was principally the soundtrack to my Friday nights all by way of highschool. And Van Morrison’s No Guru, No Methodology, No Instructor. He has so many nice ones however I like that one for certain. And bringing it into the current, I’ve gotta embody Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. She wrote it throughout Covid. It’s heavy on a girl’s perspective, nice motion on the songs and he or she shocks you into taking note of the songs. I actually went on somewhat journey with each a type of songs and actually dug it. Love the lyrics “Kick me below the desk all that you really want, I gained’t shut up. I gained’t shut up.” I actually felt like I ought to apologize to my spouse, Laura, not for something particularly, however only for not getting it.

ArtsATL: How so?

Bell: Effectively, we’re form of the identical species, however once you have a look at it, women and men are virtually two completely different species. I used to be born in ’62 so I keep in mind issues like “Why can’t a girl be extra like a person?” from My Honest Woman. So the Fiona report made me keep in mind to not see issues two-dimensionally — sure songs simply attain out and have that one thing additional to them. And, it might be the efficiency had a sincerity to it that made you’re feeling it went method deeper than simply “anyone right here desires to be a rock star.”

ArtsATL: Full the sentence,“What makes me most proud about being Widespread Panic’s frontman is . . . ”

John Bell, Widespread Panic
Bell (proper) with bassist Dave Faculties acting at Pink Rocks (Photograph by Joshua Timmermans)

Bell: That I’m not a frontman. I’m standing within the center. For those who’re in a band, you got here collectively together with your abilities and respect for each other. That can go a good distance in the direction of staying collectively and taking part in good music collectively and having enjoyable doing it. And the payoff is you get much more satisfaction taking part in a track collectively and have it tackle a brand new form. You understand one thing greater is at play than simply checking a field that your solo was so many measures.

ArtsATL: Panic’s annual New Yr’s Eve reveals are an enormous cope with your followers. How troublesome was it to make the choice to reschedule these 4 nights on the Fox Theatre?

Bell: It turned a choice for everybody to determine what was the precise factor to do. There have been so many pressures and other people and entities concerned within the resolution. This got here again to soul-searching of conserving the followers as secure as potential and in addition worrying about all of the livelihoods which might be being affected by your resolution. But it surely’s like a giant sport of hen — with the venues, the promoters and all of the completely different states and the way they had been dealing with protocols. Our choices had all the time lined up with the promoters and what the protocol was, however that was gone. Now it was completely different. And we thought we had been within the clear; then there was the large outbreak of the Delta variant, so we needed to make the very robust resolution to reschedule.

ArtsATL: Have you ever discovered something particularly about your self coming by way of Covid?

Bell: As a result of Covid was heavy and there was no lightheartedness round it, I needed to personally depend on my instincts extra as a device and never simply my rational thoughts. And that wasn’t comfy. As a result of it’s your instincts which can tug behind your mind and sometimes let you know to essentially select one other path.

ArtsATL: Can Atlanta anticipate a correct celebration of 2022 developing on the Fox?

Bell: Yeah, little delay there. I don’t know precisely how we’re going to strategy it. It’s not going to be a full-on manufacturing of what New Yr’s would appear like. But it surely’ll be what 4 days of us on the Fox seems to be like. And there is perhaps some balloons. I feel they had been nonetheless budgeted (chuckles).


Brenda Stepp is an Atlanta freelance author who has written extensively in regards to the jam-band scene.



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