G. Love & Special Sauce talk about new CD, monster tour
By Brian Conant
If you are listening to G. Love & Special Sauce, Garrett Dutton would like to think you are doing one of three things: driving your car, partying on a Friday night or making love.
"Those are the three places I listen to music, so that's what I'd like to think people are doing when they listen to me," said Dutton, who is known to his fans as G. Love of the Special Sauce, in an interview with us.
Indeed the band's new album "Philadelphonic" (which hit the streets Aug. 3) is an album that provides enough saucy, hip-hop-flavored groove to make any drive or party experience more enjoyable. But with six albums under his belt G. Love has proved himself the master of a unique Dave Matthews meets Kool Moe Dee sound that has made him a college radio mainstay and favorite of twentysomethings worldwide.
What makes "Philadelphonic" stand out is the smoother groove adapted by the band -- a vibe that lends itself more toward that third aforementioned activity.
G. Love, meanwhile, is sure his newest will be the one that "puts us over the top. It's time and we're ready. Both my band and I are at the top of our game. We're ready for commercial success."
It is the experienced navigation of G. Love that keeps "Philadelphonic" afloat amid a lazy river of syrupy R&B sounds; it is undeniably his most mellow effort to date. On the track "Love," G. coos about the salvation he finds in love against the backdrop of well crafted acoustic meanderings, drawn out harmonica wails and a throbbing break beat that is as much R. Kelly as it G. Love.
Another soother is the album's closer (save the inevitable hidden track) where G. Love goes into solo acoustic mode and busts out a gritty and admirable plea for special attention in "Gimme Some Lovin.'"
The sixth track on the record sounds most like G. Love's manifesto, though. As "Relax" develops the bass line and Love's guitar seem to swarm and hover about one another, Love insists his listeners turn "the red lights on" and take a chill pill.
It is just that -- G. Love's ability to relax -- that he said makes the album so good. "I had to force myself to just relax and play, but when that happens the vibe in our band is great."
For "Philadelphonic" to live up to the band's expectations the record better have a good vibe. G. Love is not hesitant in admitting he wants the album to go gold. "We have a great fan base, and we have paid our dues. It is time for commercial success," said the 26-year-old singer.
To ensure the success of the album, G. Love & Special Sauce have committed themselves to an extensive touring schedule, and vow to play more than 250 shows in support of the new work. No tour would be complete without several college dates, he added.
"Colleges have been good to us. The kids seem to understand our music, and at the same time they know how to party. ...
"I want to hit the road harder this year than we ever have. We want to do it more intensely than we ever have before, because I think as a band we are really jelling musically. ... It is our time to suck it up -- not that we always haven't worked hard, but this year we really have a chance to reach a lot of people. We want to go nonstop," he said.
Don't fret though, strategically placed rest breaks every four weeks will keep the G. Love crew rested and relaxed, he explained.
"We've spent a lot of time on the road; we've learned how to operate," said Love, and indeed the leader of Special Sauce has learned some of his lessons the hardest ways.
While supporting the band's fifth record ("Coast to Coast Motel") G. Love took a seven-piece band on the road and incurred a huge debt doing so.
"Basically I was making money for everybody around me, but I was $57,000 in debt," he said. Soon after, he explained, his label, Columbia Records, helped him out of the hole. After a few shifts in management, "we have an organized system and are rockin' now," he said.
The band has also changed its attitude toward world tours. G. Love said the band will focus on the States this time.
"The world is so big, and we have been spreading ourselves so thin trying to play Japan and Europe and the U.S. We'll get over to Europe, but there is no way we are going to do as extensive a tour there.
"There are a lot of towns, even after six years of touring, that we haven't even seen yet. Our country is so huge, and it's time to play for the American people. We're an American band."
One thing that won't be changing for a while is the band's line-up. G. Love employed several different "Sauces" in his 1997 release "Yeah, It's That Easy," which rotated a plethora of musicians in and out of the fold.
The new album shows security in longstanding members Jeff "Houseman" Clemens (drums and percussion) and Jimmi "Jazz" Prescott (acoustic bass). "Right now it's just the original trio, and that is probably how it is going to stay," confirmed G. Love.
Which isn't to say that G. Love won't be sneaking in a few surprises from time to time, as he does on the album's first single, "Rodeo Clown," a quick-moving groove written and sung (with help from G. Love) by professional surfer Jack Johnson.
Jack and G. hooked up via a "friend of a friend," and after an afternoon of surfing together they gathered and "broke out the guitars" sharing tunes and stories, G. Love recalled. "When Jack played 'Rodeo Clowns,' I told him right away it was an amazing song. I wanted to record it with him," he said.
The singer said recording with a surfer was a good change of pace at a point when studio work had become a bit mundane.
"Jack is not a professional musician but I learned a lot from him. It was so refreshing to meet Jack and to record a song with him because right in the middle of a spot in the record where I was getting caught up in all of the bull----, here comes along this guy who is not in the business, so there is no bull----. It was a release."
In addition to laying down a mellow vibe, "Philadelphonic" is also chockfull of praise in many forms. "Rock and Roll (Shouts Back to the Rappers)" is a detailed offering of "props" from G. Love to his hip-hop forefathers. Amid the layered throb of an old-school break beat and the workings of his electric guitar, G. Love thanks a variety of old-schoolers, from De La Soul to fellow Philly hip-hop duo D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince for their rhymes and inspiration.
"Rock 'n' roll and hip-hop have really collided lately, and I find it funny because many people have historically -- and I was once one of them -- said that rap and hip-hop is not real music because it is just samples and drum machines. But it is a real art form and a real form of music - and it is very creative," G. Love said. "When it just came out, some people thought it was just a passing phase, but now it is the biggest music around, and you can see almost every type of music out there incorporating hip-hop into their music."
Also on the album, like in the cerebral spoken track "Numbers" and the untitled bonus track where G. Love declares it is "amazing to say grace" G. and the Special Sauce take time to give praise to God and explore their spiritual side a bit. Though G. Love claimed that "spirituality has always played a big part in my musical growth," this album seems a decided break from the norm in terms of spiritual content.
Yet these moments of Christian adoration have actually garnered G. Love some criticism. Though the frontman claimed to avoid reading reviews, he was aware of the rather harsh remarks imposed by "Rolling Stone" critic Karen Schomer, who lashed out at him for having such spiritual notions on an album that also celebrates nocturnal adventures with groupies and other such less-Christian activities.
"I write and sing about what I know," responded the singer. "I read that review and all I can say is that I am just a regular person and, if anything, that is what makes the spirituality more real, because it is an aspect of my life. I am a person. I have crazy stories like everybody else, but I still believe in God, but because I believe in God doe not mean that is all I think about," he said.
Whether he means it when he says grace or not, G Love's plate is definitely full. Not only does his monstrous U.S. tour kick off soon, but the singer has had his hands in several side projects, including a track for the new Muppets movie and another he recorded with legendary harpsman Little Milton Campbell for Campbell's upcoming album. He also continues work on his recently established record label, Philadelphonic Records, a project G. Love claimed "has long been a dream of mine. I want to use the label to help some of friends who have been overlooked by the music industry, but are great artists."
Already signed to the label are Philly natives The Princes of Babylon and The Kelly Bell Band.
Yet G. Love maintained that he is focused completely on "Philadelphonic" the CD, for now. "Hopefully the label will continue to grow, but I'd have to say right now I am ultimately focused on my music, and I'm more focused on what I'm doing on a personal level than I have been in years."
G. Love & Special Sauce are ready to tour and are ready to take from the world the success their frontman feels the band deserves.
"We've proved ourselves. We don't feel like we have to prove ourselves every night anymore, but now we just feel like we need to improve ourselves every night," he said.