Stay Awhile with Blues Traveler The musicians in Blues Traveler are taking a break from the norm with their new CD, 'Cover Yourself.' It's a collection of them reprising themselves. This week, in Bryant Park, they set down their bags and play a little.
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Stay Awhile with Blues Traveler

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Stay Awhile with Blues Traveler

Stay Awhile with Blues Traveler

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(Soundbite of song, "Run-Around")

Mr. JOHN POPPER (Singer, Blues Traveler): (Singing) What will be with you and me? I still can see things hopefully. But you, why you wanna give me a run-around? Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up…

LUKE BURBANK, host:

You're probably listening to the song and thinking, I totally know that song. But is it again…

Mr. POPPER: What's wrong with me?

BURBANK: It is a song you know. It's "Run-Around" by Blues Traveler.

Mr. POPPER: Slightly altered, though.

BURBANK: Yeah.

Mr. POPPER: …just a (unintelligible).

BURBANK: It ain't the version you remember. It's from a new album they've got out called "Cover Yourself." It's a cover - it's a collection of covers of their own songs. And actually, we've got John Popper and Chan Kinchla from Blues Traveler here in the BPP studio.

Mr. POPPER: Hi, listeners.

Mr. CHAN KINCHLA (Guitarist, Blues Traveler): We like to think of them as reinterpretations.

BURBANK: Didn't Nickelback get sued for covering their own music?

Mr. POPPER: I would like to sue us.

Mr. KINCHLA: Can we do that? Yeah.

ALISON STEWART, host:

You can…

Mr. POPPER: I would fight us.

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. POPPER: I would fight us tooth and nail. I would take this thing to the Supreme Court, and I'm not going to back down if I'm taking it to the Supreme Court. So I'm…

BURBANK: You're putting the system on trial.

STEWART: Yep.

Mr. POPPER: I'm going to put the system, and the system's going to put…

Mr. KINCHLA: I'm not going to push around by you, John.

Mr. POPPER: Yeah. I'm not either. I refuse to push me around.

BURBANK: Was it fun to do songs that you had already performed a million times in a new way? Or…

Mr. POPPER: The real premise of this album when we started was, why don't we just do a bunch of our songs acoustically? And that's how it started. The problem is our band is comprised of people like Chan's little brother Tad, Ben Wilson…

Mr. KINCHLA: Well, once we started the - that we're going to do this quick acoustic thing in a day for iTunes, just something to work with iTunes…

Mr. POPPER: They kept rearranging the songs.

Mr. KINCHLA: …but once we started working on it, we were, like, it's kind of gimpy to just play them like we've been playing them live.

Mr. POPPER: They couldn't be contained.

Mr. KINCHLA: And we started to tinkering with it a little bit, and eventually, it took on a life of its own, and…

Mr. POPPER: Yeah.

Mr. KINCHLA: …weeks and weeks later, we had this piece of work.

Mr. POPPER: The one that you just played, "Run-Around," is, I think, the worst example because that's - it was hard to change it.

BURBANK: Good pick by our producer, Dan Pashman.

Mr. POPPER: Yeah, Dan. Way to go, Dan.

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. KINCHLA: Well, it's - you know…

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. POPPER: Geez, Dan.

Mr. KINCHLA: …because it's such a recognizable song, it was…

STEWART: It was good.

Mr. KINCHLA: …very difficult to recreate it.

Mr. POPPER: Yeah, it was…

Mr. KINCHLA: So we kind of went Motown with it.

Mr. POPPER: But if you take "Hook" - we did a very different version of "Hook," and "Just for Me" we slowed down.

Mr. KINCHLA: The rest them, I think, were more creative.

Mr. POPPER: Yeah. But we did the "Carolina Blues" with Charlie Sexton playing on a Dobro.

BURBANK: Wow.

Mr. POPPER: And we did it like an old Elmore James tune or something, you know? I - it was really cool.

BURBANK: Are these the versions of these songs that you guys would do during sound checks or during shows?

Mr. KINCHLA: No. We worked these out specifically for this record.

Mr. POPPER: Trying to mess them up…

Mr. KINCHLA: Yeah.

Mr. POPPER: …that's what eventually became very (unintelligible). It was funner to mess them up.

Mr. KINCHLA: It was really hard to dissect these songs and reinterpret them. I mean, it's amazing to see how many ways you can look at a song.

Mr. POPPER: Oh, and for me, it was particularly hard, because I kind of went away and let them work out arrangements. And so then there's a song I've been doing for 20 years, and I don't know how it goes. The fun part is when you get a good one and you just kind of do it in the moment.

BURBANK: Well, you know, actually, the versions of these songs are like your children - you could never pick one over the other. But did you find yourself getting to a re-imagination of one of these songs and, you're like, oh, this is better. The other one sucked.

Mr. POPPER: Yes. It's interesting that you mention that, because songs are like your children. And when you're editing them, you'd rather pull the arms off of your own daughter than have someone else do it. Kind of like, you know, your children…

Mr. KINCHLA: I'd rather let somebody else stick the knife to my children.

STEWART: You know, this may be the first time that we've actually had a guest coming to us directly from "The Howard Stern Show."

Mr. POPPER: Yes.

Mr. KINCHLA: Yeah.

STEWART: I think it's kind of hilarious that you would go from…

Mr. KINCHLA: Yeah, this…

STEWART: …Howard Stern to NPR within 45 minutes.

Mr. POPPER: We love the culture shock. It is awesome.

BURBANK: It's like when you sit in the sauna and you sweat at everything and then you jump in, like, a frozen lake. I guess we're the frozen lake of radio.

Mr. KINCHLA: Well, no, I think it's…

BURBANK: That should be in our business cards. The frozen lake of radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KINCHLA: No, no, you're…

Mr. POPPER: You're being very hard on yourself.

Mr. KINCHLA: …it's (unintelligible) of refreshing mountain stream.

Mr. POPPER: Yeah.

BURBANK: Oh, thank you.

Mr. POPPER: A brisk, you know?

Mr. KINCHLA: Refreshing mountain waterfall.

Mr. POPPER: I think one is, you know, you're being naughty, and then you're getting right again.

BURBANK: Oh, good, good.

Mr. POPPER: It's the next day. It's the cold splash of water that wakes you up.

Mr. KINCHLA: This is kind of like the rock and roll confessional.

Mr. POPPER: Yes. This is the rock and roll altar on which we can confess our true crimes.

BURBANK: Well, you know…

Mr. POPPER: And plead for mercy from you, the listening public.

BURBANK: What people love about rock and roll is the rock and rollers…

Mr. POPPER: It's catchy.

BURBANK: …getting clean and confessing - no, wait. What they like is the music. So let's hear some. What are you guys going to play?

Mr. POPPER: Yeah, there we go.

Mr. KINCHLA: I'm - we're going to do a - not exactly faithful, because I cannot play nearly as well as Charlie Sexton…

Mr. POPPER: I say we could be like the hookers about rock and roll.

Mr. KINCHLA: Version of a - this is the best we could do.

Mr. POPPER: Oh. See now, these guys are the frozen lake of radio, and now Charlie Sexton's all better than you. Why - what is all this self-bashing going on here?

Mr. KINCHLA: I'm just giving Charlie some props.

Mr. POPPER: Yeah, but you're supposed to go (unintelligible).

Mr. KINCHLA: Be humble. I play this better than Charlie.

(Soundbite of song, "Carolina Blues")

Mr. POPPER: (Singing) Trying to make a train, it's sunrise. I'm gonna have to run a red light. Oh, yeah. Said I'm trying to make a train, it's sunrise. I'm gonna have to run a red light. Oh, yeah. Said I was tangling with my Carolina, you know, the girl kept me up all night. Oh, yeah. And when my Carolina throw down, you know, the girl knows how to fight. Oh, yeah. I don't think we're gonna make it. There's nothing more that anyone could do. Oh, yeah. I don't think we're gonna make it. There's nothing more that anyone could say. Said I almost got the feeling that Carolina liking it that way. Said I'm waiting on the train, man, to wait and take the pain away. And that I would not say. All aboard. All aboard. Wait for me. Wait for me. Wait for me, yeah. Train man kept his promise. I'm gonna try and go on back to bed. Oh, yeah. I said the train man kept his promise. Gonna try and go on back to bed. Hey, yeah. I said I can't sleep anyway thinking about what my Carolina said. And oh, my Carolina running like a freight train through my head. That I would not say.

See, that was good. That was the (unintelligible) version.

(Soundbite of applause)

STEWART: Nice one.

BURBANK: Thanks, guys.

Mr. POPPER: I love the way he plays guitar.

Mr. KINCHLA: Thanks, John.

BURBANK: That was wonderful. That's Blues Traveler here on the BPP. John Popper and Chan Kinchla here.

John, how did you pick up harmonica? I mean, did you pick it up and immediately take to it, or was this…

Mr. POPPER: Yes.

BURBANK: …like what you just did. Is that the product of a lot of hard work?

Mr. POPPER: I was really good at it right away, and I thought that you only had one key of harmonica, so I was trying to play all these different - like I was really into the Blues Brothers at that point. I was trying to play all their songs.

And I was given a lot of lessons as a kid, you know? I was in church, and I harmonized, and so they're, like, he's got an ear, and so cello lessons. And I've looked good with the cello, but I hated practicing and doing homework. And then piano lessons and then tuba lessons, give the fat kid a tuba. That's invariably what happens. And, you know, guitar lessons and - with the guitar, I actually learned to play it by ear, but he got mad that I was lying to him about pretending to read.

BURBANK: Oh, right.

Mr. POPPER: And so the great thing about the harmonica is that there was no teachers, so I could kind of do it the way I wanted to. And apparently, I just had a real authority issue, because then it came really naturally.

BURBANK: (unintelligible)

STEWART: You mentioned Charlie Sexton. Did you guys make the record in Austin?

Mr. POPPER: Yes.

Mr. KINCHLA: Yeah. We've - well, Austin's kind of become the last, over the last, like, eight years our - we live all over, so it's become our kind of second home where we meet to work.

Mr. POPPER: It's a great music town.

STEWART: So good.

Mr. KINCHLA: And we've done a couple of records down there and a lot of songwriting down there, and gotten to be friends with a lot of people down there. And Charlie was nice enough to come and play…

Mr. POPPER: Yeah.

Mr. KINCHLA: …on a couple of songs in this record.

STEWART: Yeah. One of the cool things about Austin is people go to see music the way people go to the movies or go have coffee…

Mr. POPPER: Yes.

Mr. KINCHLA: Well, I don't think…

STEWART: …in the rest of the country.

Mr. POPPER: What I love about Austin - not when South by Southwest is on, because then it's like a Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, like…

Mr. KINCHLA: Even though South by Southwest is pretty fun, but…

Mr. POPPER: I was obligated…

Mr. KINCHLA: Yeah.

Mr. POPPER: …I get pinned up against the walls, and we have to take pictures with people from, you know, Japan, and stuff like that.

And when those people aren't there, I'd go into a place, and like, hey, man, how's it going? And you just sit in with people and it's so free. You get respected as a musician, but you get to do what you want to do and, like, it's a really great tradition.

Mr. KINCHLA: Yeah. People…

Mr. POPPER: You don't find that in a lot of towns anymore.

Mr. KINCHLA: And there's a lot of great musicians who don't necessarily make a lot of money, but everyone treats them so good and takes such good care of them that they can live there and get by.

Mr. POPPER: There's a cool blues scene in Chicago in the sense that you can duel somebody at certain places, and that tradition's never died. It's right from the old days. Well, we grew up and, we were coming to New York, it was dead. That had never happened. And so when you run into a town like that, for us, it means a lot.

BURBANK: Of the many interviews you guys will do in promotion of this record -by the way, we're talking to Blues Traveler - nobody but nobody will have watched the video to "Hook" more than I have because when I was in college, I wrote a paper about the video to "Hook," for some…

Mr. KINCHLA: Oh.

BURBANK: …English…

Mr. POPPER: Do you have it with you?

BURBANK: …lit class. I wanted - it's in Seattle somewhere, probably at the bottom of a landfill.

Mr. KINCHLA: What was the synopsis, or the hypothesis of what you were trying to prove?

BURBANK: My thesis?

Mr. POPPER: Yes. What was your thesis?

BURBANK: You know what it was? I have no idea. And, in fact, I don't think I probably knew at the time. And I thought - I guess that the most visually interesting thing that came on was the - your guy's video for your song, "Hook."

Mr. POPPER: Oh, thanks.

BURBANK: And so I decided to write about this middle part where you're doing the suck-it-in-suck-it-in part that's really fast that everybody knows. And there's like a million little images that are flashing on the screen. And I sat there and rewound and paused each scene…

Mr. POPPER: Wow.

BURBANK: …to try to write about what that…

Mr. POPPER: I've done that with things, where you like every little detail in the story. I had no idea that we had that effect going on, too.

Mr. KINCHLA: Well, you know, all I have to say is, you're welcome.

Mr. POPPER: Yes. Yes, you're welcome, anytime, son.

BURBANK: All right, what are you guys going to play?

Mr. POPPER: Oh, are we do a - yeah, that's right.

Mr. KINCHLA: We're doing "Reach Me," which is a song in the album which we will interpret yet again.

(Soundbite of song, "Reach Me")

Mr. POPPER: (Singing) Moonlight's in her eyes, and I can't see three feet in front of me. And it's the middle of the day. Herculean tasks, they come and go so easily when her rods and her cones play. White bluely bathed in Elysian Fields they run, and I don't care what time it is. I'd throw my watch away if I could hold the lunar surface by the flicker of light that she witnesses. And if I'm reaching you, don't you feel guilty. And there's nothing to do and you can only help me. And I may never learn, but you can only teach me. I ain't sure where you're trying to go. All I'm saying is that you reach me. Some see the forest for the trees to avoid trouble. Trouble might be what I'm looking for.

BURBANK: The new Blues Traveler album is called "Cover Yourself." You can check out song samples and current tour dates at BluesTraveler.com.

We want to thank John Popper and Chan Kinchla for being here.

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