With their latest album, A Sucker’s Dream released last month, the Connecticut-based band The Alternate Routes are hitting the road, taking their music to the people.
Guitarist Eric Donnelly (with some occasional help from bassist Chip Johnson) took a few moments to answer some questions from the lobby of a Denver hotel.
Q: What was the first instrument you learned to play and how old were you?
A: I learned how to play guitar at a very young age, I think most of the guys started on guitar – it’s a good introduction instrument. But I started playing really young and since then I’ve picked up and dabbled with several different, you know, piano and mandolin, banjos and whatnot. Chip, our bass player, is our biggest multi-instrumentalist. Anything you put in front of him he’s able to pick up.
Q: How do you come up with ideas and new songs?
A: Songs come from a lot of different places, on this album I think we did a lot of just getting in a room and playing together. We were working (in Bridgeport, Conn.) on songs for the new record and we just all sat up and played, so that was one way and a lot of the songs that ended up on the album came from that.
Q: Of your songs, which are your favorite to perform and why?
A: Songs are like anything else, we go through phases and at times certain ones we play and certain ones we don’t and they all come back around. But I think everything on the new album, we’re just very glad that it’s finally out and we’re able to play some new songs. I think anything on the new album conjures up a lot of excitement right now.
Q: How has your musical style evolved?
A: Our style has evolved a lot just from playing out on the road. I think for the first album we were writing but we hadn’t ever really toured before, it’s not that we were writing in a vacuum but you don’t know what the songs are like night after night and I think after two or three years of being on the road, constantly playing in clubs and bars, I think that has changed our writing as much as anything else.
It’s taking a more full-band approach as opposed to just working up a song with acoustic guitar is the biggest change.
Q: If you could sit down for an hour and play with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?
A: I’m gonna answer this question from the band’s perspective, the band as a whole would be most intrigued to sit down with Tom Waits. And I think we would talk about anything in the world that was on his mind, I don’t think we’d go into that conversation with an agenda, we’d just like to soak him up for a little bit.
(After a short discussion on how often Tom Waits comes up as an answer to that question, Eric consulted with Chip for a secondary answer.)
Chip said “Radiohead.”
Q: Do you have any fun stories about things that happened during recording?
A: The thing that come up the most, that people are most intrigued about is that on our single, “The Future is Nothing New,” we use a toolbox as a percussion instrument.
When we were in the demoing process, we were working up the song and we were experimenting and ended up picking up a toolbox, shaking it around and we really liked the sound of it so now when we play it live we always use a toolbox.
Q: What moment stands out as a ‘best moment’ of the recording process for this album?
A: There’s something about the first time you get something that you can take home and you get to listen to it on your own headphones and your own speakers, I think that’s the stand out moment.
I remember the first album, the first time we heard it back going, “Oh, my God!” and this time around, it was the same thing. I think the song we got back first was a song called, “Just a Dream” and sonically that one’s got a lot going on. I went back and listened to it on my headphones and was like, “Wow, this is really cool.”
Q: What’s the one thing you can’t live without when you’re on tour?
A: The thing that I cannot live without, and I’m proof of it right now, is coffee. I’m a hopeless coffee addict. It’s my first and only priority in the morning when I wake up. I need coffee.
Q: What are you listening to now?
A: We bought the new U2 record yesterday, so we listened to that on the way up. Phantom Planet’s Raise the Dead.
We like to do regionalized things – Daniel Johnston, we were in Texas so we listened to a Daniel Johnston record and a Mountain Goats record.
And then also, I’m playing guitar with Matt Wertz on this particular tour so I’ve been listening to a lot of Matt Wertz to learn all his songs.
Q: Is there anything people listening to your music need to know about you?
A: No, just check it out. We love what we do and we love getting do it every night. We just want to be able to do it forever.
The Alternate Routes on Myspace
Download A Sucker’s Dream on iTunes