September 18, 2007

Spotlight On G. Love & Special Sauce

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Garrett Dutton was once a young Philadelphia lad with a guitar and some time on his hands. But one day he found a jam he liked of blues guitar and hip hop vocals, and who you and I know as G. Love was born. While touring with Special Sauce [Jeff Clemens and Jimmy Jazz Prescott], keyboardist Mark Boyce, and tourmates Slightly Stoopid and Ozomatli with the Summer Haze Tour, The Sun caught up with G. Love in Berkeley, Calif. where we chatted in his summer haze-y tour bus.

The Sun: You are probably one of the most unique musicians or sounds that’s come out in the last fifteen years. Whenever a band comes out with a new sound that’s successful, it seems as though a lot of copycat bands come out, but I don’t think that’s happened with your sound. Do you have any idea how come you are the only guy who does what you do?
G. Love: I don’t know. Yeah, I mean it’s definitely good. It’s kinda all you can hope for musically to have a little niche. So we’ve been lucky we found our own little niche, and that’s like the hip hop-blues. And I think the unique thing about it is everybody in the band has really took time and gotten pretty deep with different styles of roots music. Like for me, it was delta blues, and for Jimmy Jazz [Prescott, bassist] it’s like John Coltrane and bebop. Mark [Boyce], the keyboard player, he’s definitely classically trained, which is cool. Jeff [Clemens] the drummer is also definitely really into bebop and blues as well and hip hop stuff. I mean, definitely the roots of kind of American traditional music, we definitely have put a lot of time into developing for our own thing, and I think that gives you a good base to grow from. The hip hop thing just came from, you know, it’s kind of the music of our generation so its something like the voice of the youth, I guess you could say.
Sun: How did that all kind of come together? The guitar isn’t really like a hip hop instrument, and when you were playing you started out from blues guitar, so when did the idea occur to you to add in the hip hop and the other influences?
G. Love: Definitely I was a street musician in this one night, it happened. I clearly remember it. I had started doing this kind of blues that I was calling “street-side foot-stomping” … no, “foot-stomping street-side” blues. That was just like my own kind of blues-oriented songs I was writing. I was first writing like, folk-rock songs, like Dylan, The Byrds kind of stuff. The Velvet Underground — stuff like that. I got into the blues so I started writing a lot of my own blues tunes, but not like a regular blues tune. I was writing a lot about kinda urban landscapes, like a blues song about writing graffiti. But it wasn’t like blues; it was kinda my own groove I had going. And then whatever I just was playing, this shucking-kinda rhythm that was one of my rhythms, I just started rapping to Eric B. and Rakim’s song “Paid in Full” over it. That was a rap that was one of my favorite raps, so then I was like, “Oh Shit! That works!”
Sun: So kind of like a one-man mashup?
G. Love: Yeah, it was a mashup. It was definitely a mashup. I didn’t know what a mashup was at the time [laughs]. Then I was like, “Damn!” and then, I don’t know if I thought it, but thinking back to it, I can probably safely say that I was the only white kid — period — that was shucking a delta blues groove and singin’ Eric B. and Rakim over it. That next week, I wrote my first rhyme, like a rap, called “Rhyme for the Summertime.” It just came out really naturally. In music, if something’s natural, it let’s me know that it’s real, so I found a real expression. I just was like, “Okay, I can be a rapper.” And then, after that definitely, the hip hop thing, especially back then [the early 1990s] even more than now, there wasn’t a lot of white kids that were trying to rap and shit. All the hip hop scenes were all black, in Philadelphia and in Boston where I was, so to try to break in on some of those freestyle ciphers … I definitely had some nights that were really like …
Sun: An 8 Mile moment?
G. Love: Well, it didn’t really work out that good. I’d wait to get my turn when these MCs were passing the mic. One time they passed me the mic and then they all walked away. I was like “[stutters in gibberish]” and that was fucked up. But one time I got pretty good respect. But those were kind of challenging moments that even though I always took it like MCing is something that I do, but I never want to be part of some trend. I want to start my own thing. I cared, sure, that I got dissed, but at the same time, it’s like, honestly I always thought that the hip hop community was a really fucking bigoted, racist, and very judgmental fanbase. Straight up. From my direct experience.
Sun: I feel like hip hop today is more of, the mainstream stuff at least, is more hip Pop. How do you feel about how its changed over the last years? Even though you’re not in it, you were engrossed in it to begin with.
G. Love: I don’t know. I think just ‘cause it sells the most records of music, that and country … I think it’s still the only kind of form, way more than rock ‘n roll, that actually says something that’s relevant and I think it’s still kinda folk music, in a way. Hip hop, to me, is like the music of the people, which makes it the music of the folk, which makes it folk music in a way. And it’s definitely the way out of the ghetto for a lot of urban kids growin’ up in a bad situation. It’s definitely really real, like rock ‘n roll is still a way for suburban kids not to go to college, but hip hop is a way for someone who is living on government cheese to live on caviar.

Sun: Even though the focus used to be, back in the 90s at least, or the 80s when it was kind of like the peak, the 90s gangsta rap was how it was, and now it’s like “This Is Why I’m Hot”?

G. Love: Right, there’s definitely that, but at the same time, you can’t say that Jay-Z’s not like a totally credible MC, and Nas and all the number 1 sellers of hip hop are not still some of the best MCs. And there’s definitely underground, a little off-center culture that’s like the Mos Defs and the Talib Kwelis and the Commons and that “conscious rap.” To me, the kids I was hangin’ with in the early 90s were kickin’ conscious rap before it was such a thing. It was almost before its time. You know, actually I think Atmosphere is dope. You know Atmosphere?

Sun: I’ve heard of him.

G. Love: He’s a white rapper from Minneapolis, and of all the rappers I’ve heard in the last couple of years, I definitely respect what he’s doing.

Sun: I think you probably get a unique perspective because your music involves so many different kinds of other music and you get to tour it to so many different places. Do you feel in different places, people respond to different aspects of the music? Do different songs play over better in different cities? A Berkeley show might take better to one song than a Deep South show, for example?

G. Love: Well I know some overseas different countries, maybe, but at the same time, it’s kind of a tricky game to play because its good not to pander to your crowd too much. Like if I’m playing a blues festival, I just try and be G. Love, and at a hip hop show, I just try and be G. Love. Sometimes it can backfire. I played a reggae festival and I didn’t play a lot of reggae. We have a couple songs that are kind of reggae but, you know, it’s not what I do. So I’m not going to come to the Greek [Theatre, in Berkeley, Calif.] and play like a lot of Grateful Dead covers ‘cause it’s got a lot of history like that, even though I know some and I was actually jamming out some Grateful Dead in the back lounge last night with my buddy from Philly who actually used to play in a Dead cover band. But it’s not really on my musical mission. And there’s enough Grateful Dead in our music anyhow.
Sun: So you’re focused on being G. Love every night.
G. Love: Yeah, I think its best for me to just to do what I’m feelin’ and certain of your popular songs, you’re gonna play, or you should play every night, because that’s a good reason why people go to hear your songs. And then the rest of the time, just kind of fill in with songs that we want to play.

Sun: Did you grow up in Philadelphia, right in the city?
G. Love: Um hmm, yeah.
Sun: Are you still based there?
G. Love: That’s where our studio is and I’m based there and Boston.
Sun: Who has more Philly pride, you or Will Smith?
G. Love: [Laughs] Well, I live in Philly and he lives in L.A.!

Sun: I remember reading at one point that you had pitched a show about your travels, like a food show, and you were producing for a Japanese artist, and you’ve contributed to some soundtracks like the Muppets From Space and Curious George. At any given time, how many projects do you have your hands in?
G. Love: Well, right now we just put our DVD out [A Year and a Night with G. Love & Special Sauce] and Slightly Stoopid’s record just came out, and I’m on that. We just started working on our new record, which will come out next spring, and this tour. So that’s a handful of stuff. And me and [DJ] Scotty Melker have a G. Love mashup on the way.
Sun: Can you tell me a little bit about the DVD? Like who came up with the idea and what was it like to have people following you around with the cameras?
G. Love: It definitely got comfortable because Steve [Oritt], the director just followed us around for almost a year and we definitely got used to having him around, so that was cool. I enjoyed that. And actually, I’ve been doing a lot of YouTube stuff, just filling my stuff on the computer, lately. So it’s something I’m getting pretty comfortable with, just being in front of a camera. It’s just like a long time coming and it’s time to put something out. We finally found the right guy to help us do that, this guy Steve Oritt.
Sun: Was it sort of like, The Real World: G. Love Edition?
G. Love: Did you see it? It is kind of like The Real World. [Laughs] It’s kind of like a reality show in a lot of ways, I think.

Sun: So I saw you at Lollapalooza, and I know that you were at Woodstock ’99, that infamous event. That was kind of like America trying to bring back the big concert festival —
G. Love: Right.
Sun: And it didn’t really work out that time.
G. Love: [Laughs] No it didn’t.
Sun: But now there’s festivals going on all over the place. What do you think of that?
G. Love: Now they got it goin’ on. I think it’s the best thing that’s happened to music in the last ten years. Like Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits and my last record is a perfect example of me meeting most of those musicians [like Tristan Prettyman, Blackalicious, Ben Harper, and Jack Johnson] at festivals and becoming friends, which later led to those collaborations. I think it’s really good for the community of live, touring bands, and I think its also really good because its not just jam bands anymore. It’s kind of unified, hip hop, jam bands, indie rock, and singer-songwriter shit all together at once. And reggae and world shit, so it’s cool.

Sun: Your new album was Lemonade, and that was your “Cold Beverage” at the beginning. Was that sort of like a full-circle thing?

G. Love: I don’t know. I didn’t think about it. But I said, “If I ever get a record deal, I’ll get ‘lemonade’ tattooed on my arm.” And I did. It’s right there [points to the tattoo]. I’ve always had ‘lemonade’ and I’ve always written lemonade into a lot of my songs, and I finally wrote this song called “Lemonade,” which we recorded for the record. It didn’t end up being on the record, but actually my agent, Aaron, was like, “Why don’t you just name the record ‘Lemonade’?” ‘cause he liked the song I made.
Sun: So it’s just kind of a recurring theme?
G. Love: Yeah, and then I had submitted a couple names for the record, like “Hot Cookin’” was one, and “Ain’t That Right,” and then “Lemonade.” The art department of Brushfire [Records] came up with a record cover in like an hour.

G. Love & Special Sauce just released their first-ever DVD, A Year and a Night with G. Love & Special Sauce, which is available at and at various other retail outlets.