Percussionist Mickey Hart has devoted his life to rhythm. Whether performing as the drummer for the legendary Grateful Dead during two different stints totaling 15 years, or as the author of multiple books which discuss the origins of sound, rhythm and ultimately, music, Hart has kept busy.
Mysterium Tremendum, Hart's latest album from the band baring his name, is an ambitious album that certainly will please the jam band fans out there. Unsurprisingly, the beats and the rhythm are prominent and make for a groove-heavy listen. Robert Hunter, the stellar lyricist that provided the Dead with so many of their memorable lines, lent his pen to this project as well, which gives more reason to listen. The Mickey Hart Band hits the Granada Theater tonight. and we recently grabbed a few minutes over the phone with Hart to discuss the origins of life, sound and "the groove."
Your new album carries a wide range of sounds and styles. It's not straight-forward rock or even what some would call world music. What is it? The term "world music" is the one that gets me. There's no such thing. There is the world's music, so it's a misnomer to say there's a world music category. Music from different parts of the Earth don't always play together well; it's not an international language in that sense. Music itself is universal and that's the point behind the band I'm currently working with. We're transmitting radiation light-waves from the cosmos into light-waves and using them as part of the composition in music and having some sort of interaction and conversation with the infinite universe. I'm using music of the whole Earth: rock and roll from the English language, even Pygmy language and many others as well. These are the celestial sounds from the epic universe. Where would you put that kind of music, Kelly? This is the sound of the universe from the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. We can now read that wave-form. In essence, we're interacting with the moment of creation - the moment where time and space were born.
I imagine you had to assemble quite the band for such a project. Interacting with the Big Bang isn't something that most musicians talk about every day. It took two and a half years to get the group of musicians who wanted to do this kind of work together. Robert Hunter also wrote the words based upon the "universe theme." That's the short of the long of it, really. Two and a half years because this just wasn't a performance thing, it had science and research involved also. I didn't want to turn it into a strict science project, but that turned out to be a very important part and it helped make it fun. Have you heard the record yet?
Yes, I have, and I can absolutely see where you're coming from regarding the styles and primal aspects of the music. My books elude to all of this. Where did groove come from? Where did vibration come from? Where did rhythm come from? It all led into an investigation of the Neolithic and Paleolithic eras and the largess of the universe, and when there were no instruments. Earth people wouldn't call the original sounds music, they would call it noise. Throbbing, pulsing, chirping - things that happen above the moon aren't recognized as music.
Your vision for the new album is obviously an epic one. What was the creative process behind actually recording the songs? Of course, I laid down the rhythm. I started with the thoughts of where I wanted the feeling to be and we took the sounds of the cosmos to create the beds. The next thing, I added some vocal ideas and gave them to Robert Hunter to write the words, and then we recorded the basic tracks live. It was unique because Hunter pulled himself away to write around the theme, as opposed to normally, where he takes my music and writes whatever comes to his mind. I think it's some of his best work. It's brilliant.
Robert Hunter has quite the resume and was the go-to lyricist for the Grateful Dead. "Friend of the Devil" and "Truckin'" are classic tunes he helped create. What do you find appealing about his lyrics? One recurring aspect to his lyrics is that there's a lot of metaphor in his writing. Sometimes, his words explain situations that seem to be without explanation. I look for his depth of meaning, not necessarily the subject matter.
After all of your research and the publication of your books, did you feel like you had found an answer to what percussion truly is and where all of its elements came from? Yes, absolutely. It's all about the timeline of vibrations. It's like a rhythmic genome, a rhythmic chain leading back to the original stimuli. The universe does two things: It pulses and it expands. It's often described as giant membranes contracting and expanding, and it's all about the vibrations. I know way back then, the universe had a vibratory origin and had a sound and a light component. Dark matter consumes 80% of the universe and we don't know what it is, but we know it's out there. Our ability to perceive all of that is limited. This kind of discussion leads back to that: how did we get here? What is our place in the universe? The vibrating universe explains a lot of things to me as a drummer, as a time-keeper, and a lover of rhythm. I see music as medicine, and not only as entertainment, necessarily. I like to have fun, so it isn't all science. It's about great songs that help us blast-off into an semi-unknown space.
The room you're playing in Dallas has a sound system that I think you'll enjoy, given all of this talk about sound and vibrations. They better, because we're going to vibrate it. I'm going to find out what it's top end is.