Jacksonville’s Tedeschi Trucks Band drew inspiration from an age-old Persian love story for their new album.
And the album afterwards. The next too. Oh, and a fourth too.
The band, fronted by the husband-and-wife team of slide guitarist Derek Trucks and guitarist/vocalist Susan Tedeschi, is releasing four albums this summer, one a month. “I Am the Moon: Episode I. Crescent” was released on June 3. “I Am The Moon: Episode II. Ascension” is slated for release on July 1, followed by “I Am The Moon: Episode III. The Fall” on July 29 and “I Am The Moon: Episode IV. Farewell” on August 26.
They are all based on “Layla and Majnun”, an ancient tale first recorded by the 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. It’s the story of a man who becomes so obsessed with local beauty Layla that his friends call him crazy. Layla’s father refuses to let his daughter marry a madman, so they live their lives apart. The story has inspired dozens of films and plays and at least one opera.
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It was also the inspiration for “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs”, the 1971 album by Eric Clapton’s band Derek and the Dominoes. This album has a special meaning for the Tedeschi Trucks Band – Trucks is named after the band and Tedeschi was born on the day the album was released. The band was joined by Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio at a 2019 festival in Virginia, where they played the album “Layla” from start to finish. A live recording, “Layla Revisited: Live at Lock’n”, was released in 2021.
That was certainly on the minds of the band’s songwriters when the pandemic shut down the music industry for over a year. They kept busy, working on “Layla” recordings and playing a streaming concert series “Fireside Sessions” that fans could watch online. Singer Mike Mattison had read “Layla and Majnun” and suggested everyone give it a try.
“We were all kind of, at the start of the pandemic, stuck at home and trying to find ways to be productive,” Trucks said. “Mike had the idea that everyone was drawing from the same source material, as a thinking exercise.”
For the “I Am the Moon” project, Tedeschi Trucks flipped the legend’s perspective, telling it from Layla’s perspective, rather than the madman’s.
“We had just finished rehearsing and performing ‘Layla’ at Lock’n Festival,” Mattison said via email from Europe. “I knew the record, but I never really dug into the lyrics. It was great to have an excuse to really digest the whole thing. There’s a lot of longing and heartbreak from a guy’s point of view on this album. , but it seemed a bit of a ‘note’, if you will. I thought: I wonder what’s really going on in the poem itself?
With that decision made, the band members began to congregate at Swamp Raga Studio, behind Trucks and Tedeschi’s house in Jacksonville.
“It was kind of light bulb moment,” Trucks said. “It turned into a whole. Once we were able to get people tested (Covid) and here, we created a safe space in the studio and everyone lived in the house. This thing started to get feed, had its own bit of gravity.”
They weren’t necessarily making a record, Trucks said. More like working on songs and keeping busy until they can hit the road again. But then the songs really started to pile up.
“When we start recording, we often go back to the listening room and listen to what we have,” Trucks said. “When we started doing 20, 22, 24 songs, we thought it was too much for one record but we kept going.”
In the end, they had 24 new songs connected in a story arc that easily broke down into four parts, each between 30 and 40 minutes long – the perfect length for a two-sided vinyl album. It’s no coincidence for the old-school band, who recorded the albums on an old analog mixer that once belonged to British rockers The Kinks.
“I really like listening to vinyl for that reason, because of the length of each side,” Trucks said. “You can only cram 16 or 18 minutes on one side.”
The albums also serve as an introduction to keyboardist/vocalist Gabe Dixon to fans of the band. Dixon joined the band in 2019, but hadn’t appeared on any studio recordings until the release of debut album “I Am the Moon.” He wrote and shared vocals with Tedeschi on “I Am the Moon”, a standout track from the first record.
“When he found the track ‘I Am the Moon’, that’s when things really started to take shape in my head,” Trucks said. “Susan fell in love with the melody. She was walking around the house with a guitar for months, singing this song.”
The song has the potential to be a hit single, something Trucks said he wasn’t sure the music industry was ready for. “I feel like if ‘Midnight in Harlem’ (from the band’s 2011 debut) wasn’t a hit, I don’t know what should be. But that never changes the way we create. our music.”
Dixon, who is also an opening act for the band’s upcoming summer tour, Wheels of Soul, also proves to be a good vocalist, giving the 12-piece band five strong vocals. .
“Gabe is a tremendous singer with the dual power of versatility and a distinctive style,” Mattison said. “His range happens to be the one we’re missing, so it works perfectly. In fact, he sings a lot of backing vocals on that as well.”
The real tests for the songs will come when the band hit the road for their summer tour, which kicks off June 24 at Daily’s Place in Jacksonville. The band has never performed any of the new songs for a live audience, and Trucks said it will be interesting to see how they are received. “We didn’t play any of that stuff live because we saved it for the records,” he said. “You never really know if a song is going to work live until you try it.”
The band’s songwriters contributed more songs than the band could use, but both Trucks and Mattison said that was no problem. Everyone in the Tedeschi Trucks Band also has a solo career or is in another band, so the band was able to choose the songs that best fit this project and leave the rest for solo albums. Mattison said that’s how it’s always worked with this band.
“I just write for myself,” he said. “I’m lucky because I have my own band, Scrapomatic, and I also do my own solo Mike Mattison records, so if the material doesn’t seem to suit the TTB, I always have other venues.”
The records will be released during the tour. Trucks said fans attending Wheels of Soul shows this summer will only hear songs that have already been released — fans at the tour’s opening show in Jacksonville, for example, will only hear songs from the debut album “I Am the Moon”. The setlist will change as the tour progresses and new tracks will be introduced. Mattison said there are songs on the latest records that he can’t wait to play.
“It would be next to impossible to get about 24 songs up to performance level at once,” Mattison said. “I can’t wait to play some of the most bluesy tunes Susan has written and some of the most orchestral tunes.”
The band never plays the same set of songs two nights in a row anyway, Trucks said, so it’s not that big of a change. What could change is the band’s long-standing practice of including a handful of “cover” songs from other artists in its setlist.
“We’ve always loved throwing out tracks just to get interested,” Trucks said. “But we never dropped 24 new tracks in the well. The more tracks you write, the more you want to play them. We might get to a point where we don’t do covers as often.”
Short films for each album – for each song, in fact – are released on the group’s Youtube channel a few days before the album’s release. Trucks said the idea is to create a communal experience, where fans can all listen to the music at the same time, similar to the Fireside Sessions live shows the band has aired during the pandemic.
Tedeschi truck band
With Los Lobos and the Gabe Dixon Band
7 p.m. Friday at Daily’s Place