With a new album in the works for a 2011 release date and the beginnings of a tour taking form (including a Cactus Cafe solo appearance on February 4) David Bromberg is back to making music and juggling his duties at David Bromberg Fine Violins, his shop in Delaware.
From his office, he answered our questions about the new record, Use Me, touring, and waking up with bullfrogs on his mind.
Q: We’ve heard you’re getting ready to get Use Me out some time later this year.
A: Yeah, we’re in a homestretch, which is pretty exciting for me.
There’s only two more tracks to record, and one of them we’re gonna do this weekend, so we’re just about wrapping it up. I took the photos for the cover art last night. It’s all startin’ to come together.
What can you tell us about the record?
Well, it was an idea my wife came up with after I got a call from Lyle Lovett. He and John Prine were doing some – were touring together, and they were doing a gig right here in town, in Wilmington. And they asked me to come down, and they asked me to do some of my tunes, which surprised me. I thought they wanted to me to back ‘em up. And after the show, John said, “Oh, you ought to come down to Nashville. I’ve got a studio in my house. We can have some fun.”
And my wife and I were talking about it, and she came up with the idea of “Why don’t you ask John and Lyle to do a tune for you?” So what Use Me turned out to be is that I asked a number of people, starting with Lyle and John, to write a song for me – now, this takes quite a bit of guts [laughs] – and then to produce me doing the song. Really, that’s chutzpah. That’ll take a lot of guts.
Q: Was there a method to picking who you asked? Was it people you knew and admired, or…?
A: People with whom I generally have some kind of a relationship or who I had communicated with directly or indirectly over the years.
And amazingly, pretty near everybody said yes, including Lyle and John. And so what I’ve been doing is I’ve been traveling all over the country meeting up with people with whom I have some kind of a relationship and record – you know, they wrote a song for me and they produced me doing it.
Q: Was it difficult for you to kind of let yourself be their tool and be used? Or is it more comfortable?
A: I it was a bit of a leap of faith to do it, to put yourself so totally in somebody’s hands. But I chose people who I think, or who I felt, would know how to do it. And so far, they all knew how to do it.
Q: How was doing this record different and/or similar from a studio musician set-up where you’d go in and work on someone else’s record?
A: Well, first of all, I was working with people who there was a certain amount of sympathy to begin with, which helps a great deal because, as a studio musician, you’d be called to play anybody’s music – and I was. And with this project, I called people where I thought I’d be comfortable, so I guess that’s the similarity – no that’s the difference, because you aren’t always going to be comfortable doing studio work. And – gee, I don’t know what else to say about it. I guess the difference was, I asked these people basically to use me – what do you want to do with me? That was the whole trick: I’m here for you to use as you please. What kind of music can we make?
Q: Did that kind of push your boundaries of what you would usually do?
A: I didn’t feel as though anything was a stretch. It all seems kind of – I always touched a lot of bases, so I was comfortable with everything that people came up with. I should say that some people sent me a song that I said, “You know, that’s not a song I can do.” And then they’d come up with another one.
Q: You had stopped touring for a number of years, What do you do to make it comfortable for yourself and so you’re not going like “I feel burned out all the time”?
A: In order not to get burned out, I do gigs where I know I’m gonna enjoy ‘em. If it doesn’t look like it’s gonna be fun, then I don’t want to do ‘em, and I won’t. Get somebody else. So that’s the biggest secret. It’s not much of a secret, but there it is.
What makes a fun gig for you?
Listening rooms – playing someplace where people like to listen, and I don’t like playing clubs so much anymore. I don’t like walking out of a club at 3:00 in the morning. I’m not gonna do that again. I did it.
Q: What types of things, if you were packing your suitcase to go to a show, would you bring with you as kind of other comfort items or things that you just kinda always have to have?
A: Oh, well, I bring along my Kindle for the airplane ride. I like to read on airplanes. I like to play with other musicians, so I’ll usually have a couple of other musicians with me. Of course, my guitar or guitars. My iPhone, a little netbook, things like that.
Q: Do you write a set-list before you play?
A: I’ve never had a set list. And I think that I learned that probably from Jerry Jeff Walker. I was Jerry Jeff’s band early on in both our careers. Jerry never had a set list, so it seemed natural for me also not to have a set list.
Do you ever not know what to play next?
Very, very, very rarely. I mean I love playing, so I will get something that kind of leads me somewhere.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like people know know about you or your music?
A: Well, it’s very difficult to explain to people what it is I do, because I do whatever it is I like. And sometimes people say, “Oh, he does this kind of music. I don’t like that stuff.” And then when they see me, they realize it’s not what they thought. If you ask people what the best show they ever saw was – and this is very immodest of me to say it – but my name comes up a lot.
Q: How long has it been since you’ve woken up with bullfrogs on your mind?
A: You know, it’s been a few years. It really has been. But it has happened to me; I have woke up with bullfrogs on my mind. It’s not always the most comfortable thing either. But you know what that means, don’t you? It’s a sure sign that you’ve got bullfrogs on your mind.
Photo courtesy David Bromberg