Blues-infused and Grammy-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band will roll back into Japan in mid-June after an absence of several years, showcasing their recently released No. 1 album "Signs" and taking up a "residency" here for the first time.
The 12-member Florida-based band -- led by soulful singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi and her guitar-master husband Derek Trucks -- will play dates at Osaka Archaic Hall and Zepp Nagoya, before heading to the capital for a three-day stay at Toyko Dome City Hall.
"Signs," TTB's fourth studio album, was released in mid-February, debuting at No. 1 on Billboard's Americana/Folk and Blues charts.
Trucks says the album follows the band undergoing a number of personal losses, including the death in 2017 of their friend and mentor Col. Bruce Hampton, to whom "Signs" is dedicated.
[Photo courtesy of Shervin Lainez]
Trucks' drummer uncle Butch Trucks, a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, also died that year, as did the legendary Gregg Allman. Derek Trucks was a formal member of The Allman Brothers from 1999 to their disbanding in 2014.
Kyodo News Plus recently talked with Trucks about the new album, TTB's history in Japan, and how the couple juggle married life and leading a musical "small army" together. Trucks -- who will turn 40 on the Japan tour -- spoke by phone from the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles prior to the band taking the stage for a gig.
KNP: Tedeschi Trucks Band officially kicked off around the spring of 2010, and you played in Japan just a few months after, at the annual Fuji Rock Festival.
DT: Yes that's right. It was early on in the formation of this band. I don't even know if the final lineup was in place yet, but it was one of the earlier tours we did with this group. But I'd been touring there with my solo band for a while. And when I toured there with Eric Clapton, that's when a lot of stuff snapped into place. That's when I met (famed music promoter) Mr. Udo. And then my solo band kept coming back after that. But early on we did Fuji Rock, which is an amazing festival and a lot of fun.
KNP: How about the audiences and your expanding fan base here since?
DT: I feel like the more we play for the Japanese audiences, the more it becomes a communal thing. The first few times we were over, you definitely feel the politeness and the reverence for the music and everyone responding at the end. But we were just doing a month in Europe. And there are certain countries there where it's a similar feel. There are certain cities in the States where it's a similar feel. Certain venues you play. But I had noticed that the more we're in Japan and the more we play, I feel like both the band and the audience kind of loosen up. I feel like we know each other a little better now. We see a lot of familiar faces when we're back. And those friendships make everybody feel a little more familiar to each other. So that's been really nice.
[Photo courtesy of Stuart Levine]
KNP: You were here in 2014, and when you came in 2016 you played a night at Budokan, but this time you're playing a trio of nights at the Tokyo Dome City venue.
DT: Yes, and in the States we've been doing a lot of the "residencies" -- one venue, multiple nights so we can kind of dig deeper into the set-list and all the tunes we've collected as a band. So we kind of wanted to try something like that in Japan, playing multiple nights in one place instead of one bigger show at a bigger venue. That's kind of what we do here with the Beacon Theatre (New York) and the Warner Theatre (Washington D.C.), the Chicago Theatre, some of our favorite venues. There's something about finding a place that you can really dial in sound-wise, and just dig into your repertoire.
KNP: Let's discuss "Signs," your fifth album in total. Of course your debut album "Revelator" won the 2012 Grammy for Best Blues Album, and you got a Grammy nomination for the 2017 release "Live from the Fox Oakland." Tell us your perspective on this latest work.
DT: When you make a record, it's a snapshot of where you're at any given time. Whether it's a band or an individual artist. This one, we'd just gone through a lot of personal losses. Friends and family. Our musical mentors and people who were just always there. People I grew up playing with, people I grew up learning from. So I think this one is maybe a little more raw than normal...a few of the tunes especially are just right to the bone, right to the core of it. So I think it hits differently that way.
And the longer you're together as a band, your sound just kind of grows and gets a little more confident. There's a relaxed quality to the way this record was recorded. And I think the analogue tape (we recorded on this time) had something to do with the overall feel and sound of this record. But I believe the tunes on this one will age well. It's not something you can force, but you're always hoping you can make a record that will last a while.
[Photo courtesy of Shervine Lainez]
KNP: And you lost Kofi Burbridge (TTB keyboardist and flutist pictured above 2nd from L) on the day the album was released. Going on after his death (at age 57) has got to be pretty tough.
DT: In some sense it's impossible. Kofi was with me for over 20 years, over my right shoulder, nearly everything I've done with my solo group and this band. Kofi's been a huge part of that...you know you just have to try to honor his spirit, and you have to be really appreciative of all the time you had with him. He's the best musician I've ever been in a band with. And I got 20 years to spend with him. We did a million miles together in the tour bus. It's a pretty lucky thing to share that with somebody like him. But you have to try to carry on in the right spirit and you realize you can't reinvent it. You have to reimagine things, shake it up. Move forward. That's certainly the way Kofi played. He never tried to redo anything that had been done, he was always charging forward. That's been our MO. But he's still present on stage, you feel him every night.
KNP: And he is heard on this album, so his legacy is very much there.
DT: He's a big part of this record. He'd gotten sick a few years ago and we were happy to have him back. He wrote all the strings and conducted the quartet on this record. And the record starts with his keyboard part. We planned the album release for his hometown of Washington D.C. just kind of thinking about him. And then he passed away on the day of the album's release. It was pretty surreal. It's a very "Kofi way" to go out. But you can't replace somebody like that.
KNP: How do you yourself characterize the band's music? Tedeschi Trucks incorporates a lot of elements and genres.
DT: I've never been able to do that well because it does touch on a lot of stuff. I guess we're blues based, but there's folk in there, and jazz. There's world music. All kinds of influences. The city I grew up in (Jacksonville, Florida) was always a melting pot of music. And even thinking back to the earliest roots, The Allman Brothers, in their day they were the same thing, a collision of a lot of different genres and ideas, and I think it's just kind of a natural extension of that. Of not being afraid to play something if it moves you.
KNP: Tedeschi Trucks, at 12 members, is one of the bigger bands around these days. How do you manage that, especially touring overseas?
DT: I think you have to be a little crazy and a little stubborn! And you really have to believe in it, you really have to love the sound of a group like this. We really love the people we get to travel with and that makes a huge difference.
Susan and myself had been around long enough that we'd learned a lot of the things that make a band go, and make a band not go. So we felt we had a pretty good handle on things...but it's an undertaking. It takes a lot of mental energy to keep everybody on the same page. It's not just the music, it's the personalities and everything that goes with it. And you know it's expensive! There are lots of reasons people don't do it now. But when folks get in front of a band like this, and witness it and hear it and feel it, that makes it real clear why you're doing it...people know you mean business when you walk in with a "small army."
[Photo courtesy of Stuart Levine]
KNP: You and Susan are a very contemporary couple with a lot going on. Married life, leading a band, a couple of kids who are now teenagers. How do you balance it all out, what's the secret?
DT: We'd been together for eight, 10 years before we put this band together. So we had a pretty good idea of what it would be like. But until you put all your eggs in one basket, you just don't really know. And it's been amazing. You have to work at it, though. And you have to communicate. And you have to be clear with each other, and honest. You have to deal with things when they come up. But it's the same thing for any relationship.
But when you're doing something for the right reasons -- and we're "lifers" when it comes to music and the type of music we play -- I think that helps. We're not after these huge career goals. The fame and all that other stuff have never been what we were after. So I think those who are on that trip, maybe it's a little harder for them.
Sometimes people say to me, "I couldn't work with my spouse. How can you work with your spouse?" And I say, well, I guess you've got to marry the right one! Every relationship's a little different, and you get different things out of it. But if it's right, it's right.
[Photo courtesy of Stuart Levine]
KNP: And the kids (Charles and Sophia) are coming with you to Japan?
DT: Yes, we're pretty excited about that. They were over there with us in 2006 when I was doing the Clapton run. But they were little. So they remember it vaguely. I'm excited to get them over as mini-adults now. You know, I'm turning 40 the first day I get to Japan. So having my 40th birthday on this run, I figured it would be good to have the whole family there for it.
KNP: And on the set-list, you've got quite a bit of material to draw from now. But the big question is -- are you going to play your tune "I Love Japan"?
DT: (Laughing) You know we talked about that. We've actually only played it once. So maybe we'll just have to break it back out.