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Grateful Dead Drummer Mickey Hart Unveils New Band

'We do play Dead songs, but this is not a cover band'

August 19, 2011 10:30 AM ET
mickey hart grateful dead
Mickey Hart
Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images

Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart has always been fascinated by music from the distant past, but for his newest project he decided to go all the way back to the beginning of time.  "For the last two or three years I've been sampling light waves from the cosmos, starting 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang," he says. "The signals come from radio telescopes around the world and I work closely with NASA to take the light waves and bring it into our limited spectrum of hearing. Then I add a little spice to them with some reverb and some delay. It makes for a hot little stew."

The Grateful Dead Unveil Giant Box Set: Europe 1972

He's debuting some of this material on a club tour with the newly formed Mickey Hart Band, which features vocalists Crystal Monee and Tim Hockenberry and guitarist Gawain Matthews. "They're local musicians that auditioned," Hart says. "I was looking for just the right people to be able to dance with these cosmic sounds." Recent shows have mixed the new material with Grateful Dead classics like "Casey Jones," "Fire On The Mountain" and "Scarlet Begonias." "We do play Dead songs, but this is not a cover band," says Hart. "There's enough people out there playing Grateful Dead material."

Hart doesn't think the new songs will seem that unfamiliar to his longtime fans. "They have a jam aspect to them and a song aspect," he says. "Just like the Grateful Dead. Tim and Crystal are superb. They have a magical blend of vocals. They embrace the central idea  of the infinite universe and that the universe has it's own signature song. This is not science fiction. If something has a vibration, it has a sound. It's just a matter of sampling that vibration and bringing it into the realm of sound."

The tour began earlier this month, and Hart has enjoyed playing in the smaller venues. "The Grateful Dead started in the clubs," he said. "You could see people's eyeballs and you could look at each other and actually hear each other. Of course, as it got larger and larger you could hardly see the person on the other side of the stage. I'd be like forty feet away from Phil [Lesh]. A lot of connections are made on stage from proximity."

Longtime  Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter has written lyrics for Hart's new album. "They're beautiful," says Hart. "Some of the best I've ever heard." Hunter also went to the first show of the Mickey Hart Band tour.  "He stayed for both shows," says Hart. "He loved it. He was in the audience in the way back. Nobody knows what he looks like. He was there with his wife. It was a family affair. He really doesn't go out very much. He's a very private guy. Lovely guy, sweet as sugar."

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