We caught up with Karl Denson recently, after a long stint on the road with the Stones. Check out what he has to say about his forthcoming album (produced by Adrian Quesada), his appreciation for Brownout, his upcoming late-night shows during Jazz Fest, and his recent trip to Cuba with the Rolling Stones.
Austinites: WIN tickets to see Karl D. performing as a special guest with Brownout on April 15th at the Historic Scoot Inn!
Hi Karl! What are you working on these days?
Well, we’ve got a new album, and it’s just about done. Adrian from Brownout helped me produce this record. It was really very cool. We started the recording process in Austin, and then he met up with us in Nashville, actually. I was on the road with the Stones last summer, and then he came to Nashville and we worked for a couple of days there. We had some guests, Ivan Neville and Anders Osborne came out and helped work on that. We actually were just recording last night, and we’re almost done. So I’ve got a couple of vocals to do, and then the record will be done.
When can we hear the new album and what is it going to be called?
We’re looking at maybe an October-November release. I’m not sure yet [about the album title], I wanted to name it ‘Camping in Suits’. I think it’s going to be called ‘Smart Boy’.
How did you hook up with Brownout?
I met Brownout through my manager, Erik Newson, who picked them up I guess a couple of years ago, so that was my introduction to Brownout. Yeah, they’re great guys and we’ve been having a lot of fun now, over the last couple years. They’ve become good friends.
My favorite thing about Brownout, is kind of my favorite thing about good music in general, and that is that I like to dance. They’re a great dance band. They remind me of New Mastersounds, in their steadiness as far as, once they get going, it’s a dance party. That’s what I really like the most about them. They’re both just really high energy, I love that.
What do you like about Jazz Fest?
My favorite things about JazzFest would have to be that it’s very similar to Jam Cruise, in that I know everybody. It’s kind of like just going for a high school reunion, year after year. You get to see your friends, you get to see them mature musically, you get to hear what everybody’s doing. Then there’s the actual festival, where you get to see anybody from Paul Simon to Bruce Springsteen, this year Stevie Wonder’s going to be there. I saw Sam Rivers there, Ornette Coleman, it’s just an amazing conglomeration of artists and friends.
Can you tell us about your first Jazz Fest experiences?
My first Jazz Fest, I would guess it was back around 1996 or 1997, and we did not play the festival. We were kind of sneaking into town via Erik Newson figured out that we needed to be down there. So we played. I’m sure that was kind of when we started doing the late night thing, which, I’m not absolutely positive, but I would almost credit Erik Newson for that whole invention of the late night shows that go until early morning. We were just trying to sneak in under the radar to where the bigger bands were playing, and then we started playing after that. I would guess it was ’96 or ’97, and we probably started out at The Howling Wolf or Tipitina’s. These days, they don’t generally go as late, and that’s due mostly to the fact that our fans have gotten a little older and don’t require a 6am, 7am ending point of their night. I think the excitement and the attitude is still the same about the music, but there are so many shows going on and so much stuff that has evolved around the whole JazzFest experience and the late night experience, that people generally don’t go quite as late anymore. Back in the day we used to really push the envelope, we used to go until 7, you know, sometimes 8 o’clock in the morning. And that’s starting around 2:30, 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s a long show.
What can you tell us about your upcoming Jazz Fest shows this year?
Our Tipitina’s show is going to mainly be my band, and we’ll probably have some people stopping through, but, I don’t have a special guest idea. I’m really happy with the band right now, and we’re just enjoying doing what we’re doing right now. We added a new guitar player a few months ago, Seth Freeman, and that kind of has completed the band in a way that has made me really enjoy just doing the tiny universe on its own. No frills. The other show, I can’t think of the venue but I know we’re going to revisit our Prince tribute that we’ve been doing, with Ezekiel McCarter, from the band Con Brio. He’s a really cool kid, he’s like a 24-year-old, great singer, and he’s playing the part of Prince for the tribute. We’re going to do the Prince tribute one night, and then we’re going to do just a straight Tiny Universe show the other night.
What was it like going to Cuba with The Rolling Stones this year?
Going to Cuba was, you know, kind of surreal is probably the best way to put it. It never stopped being surreal the whole time we were there. The venue and the setup was all brought in by the Rolling Stones. They didn’t really have any of that kind of equipment down there, or they weren’t even ready for the idea of what we were doing, but they just picked the place that was big enough to manage a million people if they had to. IT was just very cool, we got there and we got to see some Cuban music which was just over the top. The people are great, and the cars are amazing, the old cars. Yeah, it was just really a fast trip but very impactful on me, in terms of feeling like I’ve seen a big part of the world.
What was the concert like?
It was a totally free concert, so the people just started showing up early in the morning and all day long we just kept filling in and filling in. They estimate there was probably half a million people there. It was just sprawling, as far as you could see there were people on top of houses, and it was just great. It was amazing and I’m looking forward to going back. I didn’t get to stay long enough, it got moved because of President Obama’s visit. I didn’t have the luxury of staying a couple of extra days if I wanted to, but the show was amazing. I felt like they were a bit stunned as well as very appreciative and enthusiastic. I think it was surreal for them also. You could see, you could feel like they were watching it like ‘what the heck is going on here, this is amazing’.