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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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G. Love Adds Some ‘Sugar’ To His Special Sauce
Tuesday, April 08, 2014

For two decades G. Love & Special Sauce have been serving up their soulful mixture of blues and hip-hop, and for their 20th anniversary they’ve decided to throw some Sugar into the mix.

Sugar is the name of G. Love & Special Sauce’s new album, due out April 22nd, and I caught up with G. Love to find out more about the album, and how Sugar almost ended up something not nearly as sweet.

In addition to discussing Sugar, G. Love also revealed what some of the best, and worst, moments of his 20 years in music have been, including everything from Woodstock ’99 memories, to a microphone passing moment in a Boston bar that nearly crushed his soul.

Adam Bernard: G. Love & Special Sauce are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. When you were first playing in Boston bars, what did 20 years in the future look like to you?

G. Love: You know what’s funny, first of all when I was playing Boston bars I wasn’t thinking about anything other than that night. I definitely wasn’t thinking about 20 years later. I do remember, it wasn’t that first year, but I remember like five years into it Jeff (Clemens) was like, “Dude, man, the Chili Peppers have been together for 20 years,” he was a big Chili Peppers fan, and I was, too, and he was like, “Can you imagine that, being in a band for 20 years?” I remember Jeff saying that. That takes a lot, and here we are 20 years later, and we’re still doing it. It’s like it’s not even a thing. You don’t even feel any different. Half the time we still fuck around like we’re kids, and I still feel like a kid half the time, so I’m ready for 20 more years.

Adam Bernard: What was going on in your life that helped shape your songwriting for the new album, Sugar?

G. Love: That’s a good question. We’re always on the road, whether we have an album out or not. Ultimately, we’re continuously writing, and experiencing, and playing music. Sugar was gonna be like, I thought it was gonna be a breakup record, maybe a heartbreaker, about a failed relationship and engagement. There were two recording sessions that went into making this record. The first one we did in Seattle with Ryan Hadlock, who produced a lot of the Lumineers record. That was kind of like a breakup record. The label wasn’t really feeling it so much, so they said do another session. We said we’re gonna go into LA and do it with Robert Carranza, who’s done a lot with the Beastie Boys, and Jack Johnson, and everyone in-between. This was interesting because here I had just finished a recording session, and I thought my record was done. I said, “What songs am I gonna record?”

We have this demoing process that goes into our records. Basically, I make demos, and Emmett (Malloy) and Josh (Nicotra) at the label, and Jason (Brown), my manager, they listen to them and they tell me, “This song’s good, this one sucks, this one needs work, this one’s great, you should have never written this one.” They kind of break it down, and the songs go through a process where some of them get kicked to the curb, some of them get worked on to make them better, and some of them just are how they are.

There’s one song (on Sugar) called “Come Up Man,” and they said, “You don’t need to record this one.” I said, “I’m definitely going to record this one, because out of all the songs, this is my new style, and it’s really what I’m trying to do right now.” (They said) “Alright, we don’t want you to record it, but go ahead.” I recorded it, and we came out of that session, and they go, “We don’t like this session. The one song we really like is the song ‘Come Up Man.’” I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me? That’s the one song you told me not to record.” So I said alright, let me go back and make a whole record of songs that fit in with the “Come Up Man,” and that’s what we ended up recording in LA. I dug through a lot of old demos, and I wrote a couple songs that I felt went with that. It was cool, because I had a song, that song “Come Up Man,” which is slide guitar with rap on it, and that’s like my style, and I had a real template for exactly what I was gonna try to do – make songs, and find the songs that I missed along the way, that went along with this style of song. That was what we did, and it really worked out well.

Adam Bernard: When you listen back to the original music, the songs that made up the pure breakup album, are you glad that’s not the album you’re releasing right now?

G. Love: Yeah, you know, I am. It’s interesting, because there were some great tunes in there, but the “Come Up Man” song, and the flavor of that music, is a lot different, because it’s a sentiment about the joy of making music, the desire to keep making music, and what it takes, and the struggles, and everything else. Some of that has to do with love, and some of that has to do with life, and some of it has to do with music, and some of it has to do with money, and some of it has to do with partying, and some of it has to do with just hanging out. There’s a lot of different things that go along with making music, and I’m singing about all those things on this record, as opposed to just getting your heart hurt, and feeling bad about yourself. {laughs}

Adam Bernard: I don’t think people could have handled an album from you that was completely depressing, because you’re so upbeat so much of the time.

G. Love: It didn’t come off like that at all, it was a party record, too, in a lot of ways, but it was a sentiment, which is a real blues sentiment, which was this woman has done me wrong, and I’m gonna sing about it, and I’m gonna move on with my life. That’s what I was doing with writing those songs in the first place, but it was the kind of thing where like alright, I get it, and when we started recording these other ones I felt really refreshed. I was like, it’s so great not to be singing about that shit right now, and to be singing about this other stuff, which is my life, and the life that we all lead as a band. The whole thing about our whole 20 years is that it’s been 20 years, but it hasn’t been easy. The whole time no one’s given us a free ride up the mountain hardly ever, and even when we were getting one we didn’t realize it. When our record first came out, our first record, and we had a good buzz, we didn’t really realize it because we were still slugging it out in the van for like the first eight years, driving in circles, 250 shows a year, so even when shit was good it was still hard. Some of the years we had were down years, and it was worse than that. So 20 years, yeah, we’re established and everything, but it always seems like it’s still a struggle to keep the shit going. That’s what the “Come Up Man” is about.

Adam Bernard: Have you ever had a time when you felt beaten down by music?

G. Love: Yeah. I can remember a couple nights, some individual nights where everything that went wrong.

Adam Bernard: What would a night like that be like? The engineer sucks, the sound guy sucks, or would it be deeper than that?

G. Love: This is a good story, actually, and I don’t know how it ties into the rest of this article, but it’s the worst thing in the world to feel bad playing music, but it happens sometimes, and at the end you learn from it and it makes you stronger, like anything else in your life. But I can remember the first time I felt bad playing music, it was this night, there was this hip-hop club in Boston, and I was like, especially when I was first doing my thing, I was like an emcee. I still am, that’s part of what I do. With G. Love and stuff I always have my guitar pretty much, but that’s one of the things that I am. So there was this hip-hop night, and actually two of my homies from Philly were the DJs. This was in 1992 in Boston. Boston’s a super segregated town, especially back then, so the only white kids in the club were me, my homey from Philly, and my two other homies from Philly, who were actually running the night because they were the DJs. It was a hip-hop night, and back then hip-hop was like, there were hardly any girls. I’d be surprised if there were any girls in that whole place. It was jam packed with dudes who were all about hip-hop.

Adam Bernard: Like most underground hip-hop shows today.

G. Love: Right, and one of the things of the night was they would start passing the mic around. I had done it one time before, and actually kinda got some props. I was gonna do it again this night. They had a cypher going, and they were passing this mic around the circle. I was standing there, and they passed me by the first time. I was like that’s wack, they totally just fucked me over, they just dissed me. So I was like alright, I’m just gonna wait (until they get to me) again. The next time they come around they pass me the mic, and then they all walk away, so I’m standing in the middle of the floor, and no one was in the cypher anymore. I was just standing there all alone. I totally choked, man. I really choked bad. I couldn’t spit anything. I remember being really embarrassed, and just feeling so bad. Me and my homey left after that. I just remember I had never felt that bad in my life up to that point, and I just remember feeling I’d never felt so bad playing music, and it was such a bad feeling to feel like that while I was doing something that made me feel so good.

Adam Bernard: That’s absolutely brutal.

G. Love: At the same, that’s just a real part of hip-hop. What I learned from that is fuck it, I’ll show those guys. Whenever anybody tries to beat you down, it just kinda makes you stronger.

Adam Bernard: That was one of the worst moments, but being that you tour constantly, I’m sure you’ve had a lot of great moments, as well, so tell me about the wildest, or most interesting, thing you’ve seen, or experienced, while on the road?

G. Love: There’s been so many great nights. I guess some of the festival hits over the years have been pretty amazing, especially early on. You go to these festivals and it would be the first big crowds you play for. We had this sound that no one was doing, and it was just like the fans were eating it up, and I was feeding on this energy, and it was just like whoa, what the fuck is going on? Me, as a performer, I was finding that I was able to do my thing, and move large crowds of people. We were used to being either street musicians, or playing in small Irish pubs, and now we’re playing at big European festivals, playing for like tens of thousands of people, and it’s going over, and we’re doing what we’re doing. That was kind of exciting, playing festivals.

One thing that was really cool, all along the way I was always hustling. It took a minute for me to learn the hustle of the music business, but then once I got it, watch out, I can really hustle now, and I know how to network my ass off, and I have for a long time. It’s a good thing to know how to do aside from playing music. I started talking to this guy, and he was one of the promoters of the Woodstock ’99 festival. We just got to talking, and hit it off, and stayed in touch, and I basically talked my way onto Woodstock ’99. They said it officially started on Friday, but they needed some bands to play on Thursday. This dude was like, “Alright, I’ll get you a spot on the Thursday night free party gig on the big stage.” That’s awesome. It’s a great gig. The pay is great. We go to Woodstock, we finish our gig, and all of a sudden we hear Mark McGrath has the flu, Sugar Ray are canceling their performance at Woodstock, can we make the show? Fuck yeah we can do the show. We were supposed to go to Asheville, NC, to play another awesome festival, but it was a totally different thing, so we were like no, we have to take this Woodstock gig. So we stay there, and we end up being the second act on the main stage. It was James Brown, then us, and then Jamiroquai.

Adam Bernard: That’s an awesome night.

G. Love: And it was crazy because that was playing for literally 100,000 people. It was such a weird gig because that crowd was just waiting for Limp Bizkit to come on and fuck shit up, but it turns out we made a lot of fans that day, and they made a record of Woodstock ’99, and they ended up putting us on it, and that record went gold, so I got another gold record out of it. That’s pretty cool.

Adam Bernard: You also got out of there alive, which was pretty nice.

G. Love: Right. We played on Friday, so we played our show and we had to leave. They didn’t want any of the buses staying, and we had a show the next day. We left, and all the shit, I don’t know if it happened later that night, or Saturday night. I forget.

Adam Bernard: When you watched the news, or turned on MTV, were you like “THAT’S happening where we were a day ago!?!”

G. Love: Yeah, but you could see why because there was no water in that festival. You could walk around that festival and not find a water fountain, or any free water anywhere, and if you wanted to buy a bottle of water it was like $10 for one of those little bottles of water. To this day I know that that’s why that shit blew up in their face, because those motherfuckers were greedy.

Adam Bernard: We complain about prices at baseball stadiums, but even they’re not THAT bad.

G. Love: Yeah, and you gotta have free water. You gotta have a place where people can fill their water bottles, but people didn’t have water bottles and shit in 1999.


Interview originally ran on Arena.com.

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