We had a chance to catch up with Kadlecik this week to hear about a wild, transitional year. Excerpts of our discussion follow:
HIDDEN TRACK: You’re closing up what looks to have been another great year with Dark Star Orchestra. Anything in particular stand out? Festivals? Particular nights?
JOHN KADLECIK: It was a relatively smooth year with no major catastrophes, which, as you know, hasn’t always been the case — we’ve had our fair share of those over the years. But it’s not always easy for me to recall. We play a lot, you know [laughs]. It’s hard to pick out any one thing, but we did play an interesting show at a drive-in movie theater in Idaho. That was kind of fun, kind of in the middle of nowhere and it ended up being a great time. We played a bunch with Keller Williams, and those shows were all pretty exciting.
HT: Does DSO find itself tipping more toward original setlists than historic Dead shows these days? I remember talking with you maybe four or five years ago and you mentioned you’d keep picking out historical shows until you “ran out.” How much closer are we to that?
JK: Well, no, we resolved some time ago to abandon the notion of never repeating a historic setlist. We just strive not to repeat it in the same region of the country, or within at least a year or two. Beyond that, I think we care more about not repeating songs. We try to rotate the different eras — the distinctly different sounding eras — and factor in our original setlist performance which is it’s own era, so to speak, the twenty-first century. We try to do all the different facets.
HT: Do you have a particularly favorite era? Has that changed at all given the amount of time you’ve spent playing Dead music now, as opposed to when you started?
JK: We spread the sets far enough apart that it’s hard to keep track of anything as a favorite. But what makes a good show for us on a given night isn’t even the setlist. We can have a great night with what looks like a really boring setlist on paper and totally drop the ball on a stellar looking setlists. Really, this whole subject’s kind of challenging for me because I tend to be on a “be here now” and “what’s the next thing” frame of mind rather than dwell on what we did and what happened over the past year. Even within a tour, I forget about certain shows. I feel like I’m always thinking about the next show.
HT: So the balance of original setlists to historical setlists has changed much in recent years?
JK: We’re drifting to doing somewhat more elective setlists. I think we’ve become more and more aware of the variables we’ve been given and how we are with each other, how the audience is, how our lives are just strolling along — it matters less and less what era it is. As for eras, I have fun with all of them. It would be a disservice to this music to pick a favorite — the actual members of the Dead can make claims like that, not me, because when you do that you’re subconsciously doing a self-fulfilling prophecy. If pressed to pick a favorite to listen to, on the other hand, I’ll keep 73 to 74, 77 to 78 and 88-90 among my top three. But it’s easy to discover fantastic, mindblowing shows outside those realms, of course.
HT: Can you talk a little about how the band chemistry in Dark Star Orchestra has evolved? It feels like you guys have stabilized again now that Rob Barraco has been in the band for a few years.
JK: Yeah, but that’s a little hard to discuss. I don’t want to speak too glowingly about Rob Barraco without it coming across as offensive to the memory of Scott Larned, but Barraco is a very informed player with really big ears. He studied in jazz in-depth and he’s gotten to play with members of the Grateful Dead not only in one of the reunion lineups, but also for a five-year stretch with Phil & Friends. He certainly brings a depth that I suspect is pretty unrivaled out there among keyboard players who can play Dead music.
HT: It’s interesting you mention Rob’s involvement with the members of the Dead because, obviously, that’s something you have in common. I’d love to hear about your experiences playing with Furthur this year, and how that band’s lineup came together. Can you share?
JK: I really can’t say anything. That’s the nature of their focus: about letting their music grow. I can’t really talk about it.
JK: I can’t. Everyone is on board with the plan for now.
HT: ‘Everyone’ as in everyone in Furthur or everyone in Dark Star Orchestra?
JK: Everyone as in both.
HT: I know you have more dates coming up with Furthur, including New Year’s Eve, and it had to have been a tough decision seeing as DSO has a new year’s show scheduled, too. Was it?
JK: Again, no comment. I really don’t have anything to say.
HT: I understand, and we’re sensitive to restrictions from Furthur on talking to press. I’m not trying to be untoward…
JK: …no, it’s not that, I know. I’m just being a team player on this with those guys and that’s what it is.
HT: Will there be more from Furthur in the new year?
JK: No comment. When the time is right, you’ll know, and there’ll be chances in the future to hear more about that. For now, nothing. That’s the group gestalt intention.
HT: Okay. Can you comment at all on speculation that you’re leaving Dark Star Orchestra?
JK: Again, I’m going to dodge that one because DSO has its own preferences for sharing information regarding that kind of detail. You should wait for the thumbs up from Dave Weissman [DSO's publicist] on when we can look at that.
HT: John, I’m not trying to bait you. I just think it would be important for our readers and your fans to hear a little bit more along these lines. You have plenty of DSO lovers out there and I’m sure they’d love to hear from you directly.
JK: When there’s time, you know? When it’s right. I have other things I can talk about.
JK: I’ve also doing a number of solo performances, including a side project with my wife. We have a duo project and we’ve performed a couple of shows this year. It’s something fun that we can keep doing. It’s called Firewheel, and it’s ramping up to maybe where we could play some dates beyond the D.C. area.
[Photo From MySpace of Firewheel – IMT – 1/24/09 – Raga for bodhran & 5-string violin]
HT: I have heard good things about it. How did it start?
JK: When we were first dating, it was just a fun get together for us and some friends. We had some hand drums and an acoustic guitar, and it’s been interesting to grow it with a sonic palette and see where it goes. It’s a drums and raga type thing — very meditation music — and we supplement it with drum machines and sequencing with lots of stuff in between. Nice folk songs, traditional African drum songs, that sort of thing.
HT: Have you always played percussion?
JK: I’ve always enjoyed it — I mean, I’d always jump in in parking lot drum circles. But Katie, she exposed me to a lot of the African drumming I hadn’t known before.
HT: How long have you been married?
JK: We’ve been together three and a half years but we got married this past spring.
HT: That’s wonderful, and congratulations. Do you envision recording at all with Firewheel?
JK: Hopefully we’ll do some recording. We’re sort of building a repertoire and working on the original stuff we can do. It’s been really fantastic.
HT: Well I appreciate the time today, John. Surely you understand that there’s a lot of anticipation and plenty of questions about there about you and Furthur and DSO.
JK: Yes. All things will be addressed in the fullness of time.
HT: When will that be?
JK: [laughs] When it’s full.