I have to give credit where credit is due. The guys who work production on that boat are literally the best in the world. You have Chris Sorlie, guru of guru’s at the helm, Kit Blanchard, stage manager for Phish, Kenny from Avatar Events Group who, besides being the nicest guy ever, really knows his shit when it comes to gear, and he always brings his best and brightest Chip Smith and Lance Eubanks. I have also had the pleasure of meeting a lot of great lighting guys as well. You really form a special bond with these folks because you really all have to work together to make this event happen. Other events are very departmentalized and this boat is far and away the exception to that.
Hidden Track: How much of the cruise did you work and how much of it were you off and able to enjoy the music/environs?
Wyllys: Well, I guess I have to repeat what Chris Sorlie said at our first production meeting. He said: “Boys, you’ve been chosen for this job because you’ve been deemed to be able to work with a beer in your hand. We expect you to do so. However, always remain in control and always be on your toes. This is supposed to be fun. So have it, just don’t neglect what you are really here to do.”
For the most part we all played by that rule. But that first act seems to hit very early in the morning, which is everyone else’s afternoon. I was always doing lighting on the boat, so I wouldn’t really have to surface till about 3PM each day so I never had a “play through” situation. However, there are some legendary instances of production folks playing through and each of us having to step up a little extra to cover for them. It’s all good. It’s Jam Cruise.
[Photo by Jeremy Gordon]
Hidden Track: What were some of your favorite moments from the Jam Cruise you worked?
Wyllys: Far and away doing lights for Umphrey’s on the main stage of the pool deck. The weather was amazing. It was really this epic experience. I have to use that word because I really don’t know how else to describe it. The band kicks into Mulche’s Odyssey and the boat is really swelling with the waves and I look to my right and all I see is open ocean. I look to my left and the main deck is losing their shit. I had been working freelance for the guys for a while so I was pretty good at reading their faces and you could tell they were totally gettting off on the fact the boat was bobbing in time to the opening section of this raging tune so they kept it going longer than usual. I put on a walk with the moving lights, killed the front lighting and took a step back from the board to take it all in. Pirate music on the high seas. I will NEVER forget that moment.
Hidden Track: What genres will you be pulling from for your Jam Cruise set(s)?
Wyllys: Aha. The roadie becomes the artist. [maniacal laughter] Well Scotty, before I play at all I’m going to make sure I greet all my past working buddies with a cocktail in my hand and flip flops on and have a laugh at their expense. They would do the same to me if they were in my, er, flip flops.
I haven’t really spoken to [JC cruise director] Annabel about my sets yet but I would love to do a house set late night in the disco one night, a yacht rock set at the pool one day, and of course, an ambient set with my good friend Brock Butler on the acoustic deck one sunrise. We’ll see though. There’s a lot of great talent on that boat so I may not get to play as much as I like. It’s an honor just to be invited really.
Hidden Track: Are there any artists on this year’s cruise that you are especially looking forward to interacting with?
Wyllys: Well, Brock Butler of course. We go on tour this week together and are going to rehearse a bunch of material to try out on the high seas. Joel Cummins, the Cum Dog is going to be on the boat and I’d love to have him sit in with me. Lotus and the New Mastersounds would be very fun to put a House jam together with. In the “always wanted to” category would have to go to Col. Bruce. That would be super weird and awesome.
Hidden Track: Can you tell us a little bit about AMBIENt, your project with Brock Butler?
Wyllys: Isn’t it time we all just chilled the fuck out? Seriously. I have always loved ambient music since I started collecting vinyl in 1996. Brian Eno is more of a life coach to me than a musical influence. I have been developing my ambient sets for over 10 years and never get to play them for anyone because I’m always put in the disco setting. Dubstep is what really pushed me to want to play ambient music live, its my own personal revolution to get people to relax, but at the right hour of course.
Brock had been charged with playing music for our dear friend Brad Robinson’s memorial service which is a very emotional thing to have to do. What happened was a truly magical experience. The people at the service wanted to know where they could get that style of music he was playing and he just improvised the entire thing. So the next night, he and Patrick Kincaid decided to record these pieces and as they began to start a huge thunderstorm rolled in, so Patrick sticks a microphone out the window and gets the whole thunderstorm on tape and Brock played over it. If you haven’t heard Brock’s ambient music yet I suggetst you go download it asap.
That’s what got Brock and I talking about an ambient project. We hope to do a set on one of the sunrises of the boat. We’ll see.
Hidden Track: Just before the boat departs you’ll be performing at Sullivan Hall with the New York Hustler Ensemble. How did that band come together?
Wyllys: Well, sometimes you just have to pick up the phone and sell, sell, sell. I have always wanted to play a house set with a full horn section because I have never seen it done. I have been doing lighting for raves since I was 15 and have seen it all. Never had I witnessed anything like that.
My wife, Jennifer Hartswick, was totally into the idea of leading the section and being the main arranger for alll the parts. I chose Peter Afpelfbaum because of his improv skills with Trey Band, and he is just fucking sick anyway. Natalie Cressman was chosen because she also has amazing chops but also sings very well with my wife and I wanted to have girls to sing some lyrics I had written over the beats.
The section needed to be able to write some things ahead of time, but be able to improv at the drop of a hat, because I NEVER play with a setlist. DJs who think that what they meticulously put together in their bedrooms is going to rock a crowd are fools. You should have some mixes you believe in and thats it. The crowd is going to tell you what they want to hear via body language. No amount of planning in the world can get you ready for that. It’s going to be a fucking dirty, sweaty, dance party on the night that Phish seems to always give us their best playing as well. Can’t wait.
Hidden Track: Will the environment of performing on a boat play into the song choices you make for your set(s)?
Wyllys: HAHAHAHAHAHH. I may drop some Christopher Cross just because of this question.
[Photo by Catherine Ostrofsky]
Hidden Track: Do you have any advice for first time cruisers?
Wyllys: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Ease into it. Get a dramamine bracelet. Buy some duty-free booze as well, because much to everyone’s shagrin, the bar DOES close at some point. And some advice for those artists who frequent the Jam Room, MELLOW OUT. It’s suppose to be a communal experience, not a pissing contest. Let everyone get their turn down there. Year after year that room seems to become more of a center of conflict that community. Be safe. Have fun. See you on the high seas.
There are less than 40 cabins available for Jam Cruise 9. Be sure to visitjamcruise.com to book your trip before it sells out.