Tedeschi Trucks Band on New LP: 'It Never Felt Like We Were Under the Gun'

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks discuss navigating "strange, shitty" industry, managing 12-piece "traveling circus"

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks discuss their band's "more natural" new self-produced LP. Credit: Courtesy of Tedeschi Trucks

Tedeschi Trucks Band don't take much time off from the road. With 12 members, there are a lot of mouths to feed. When one of those members — Tim Lefebvre (who appears on David Bowie's final albumBlackstar) — joined the band two years ago, the dynamic of the group changed, a shift documented on TTB's improv-driven new LP, Let Me Get By.

The album is the first that TTB has self-produced, writing and mixing in their Swamp Raga Studios in Jacksonville, Florida. "It's the first truly autonomous record we've done," says Derek Trucks — co-founder and guitarist (also husband to guitarist and lead vocalist Susan Tedeschi). "And finding [Lefebvre] made [the album] different musically right out of the gate."

"It definitely shows where the band is at more than some of our other records," says Tedeschi, whose roaring vocals were produced by her husband. "I like what they did with my voice." The pair talked with Rolling Stone about the joys of self-production and the challenges of managing their sizable group. 

How is Let Me Get By different from your prior albums?
Derek Trucks: A lot of musicians, no matter how good they are, the music business is a strange, shitty place. Musicians get callous. In the last year with this band, we finally have everybody on the same page and everybody fully in it and you can feel it throughout the record. There are no ulterior motives.

Susan Tedeschi: Everything was done in-house. Bands should be allowed to play what they hear and what they feel, since they are the ones making the music. It's a funny concept but it's not always the case. The songs could actually open up and stretch a little bit. There were a lot more improvisational moments where, in the past, we tried to make all the songs shorter and fit for radio. It felt more natural. The record itself breathes.

What was the inspiration behind the new album?
Tedeschi:
We haven't done a record in three years. We were really ready to do another album and get in there and do new stuff. It's really exciting and we're excited to play the songs live, which honestly we had not started doing until recently because we were trying to save them for this record release. It's hard to do that nowadays, especially when you play something new and everybody's got cell phones out and it gets on YouTube. It's frustrating. They don't realize how that affects us, you know?

Sure, especially because you guys have a tour coming up.
Tedeschi:
We're a working band. We tour all the time, so we have to work at new material so it's not boring — for the band, too. The band is so fluent; they want to always have current, new stuff. It's just trying to keep everybody happy.

It must be tough sometimes. You guys have a lot of people in your band, a lot of personalities.
Tedeschi:
I end up mothering everybody. I can't help it because I'm a mom. It's a really good group of people. It's one of those bands where everybody loves hanging out and it doesn't matter if you're a crew member or a band member. Everyone gets along great and that is not normal. Usually you're dealing with egos and people who take things too seriously, but this band is unique and everybody is so excited to be there and it all just fits. Everyone works hard at trying to be respectful of each other.

Trucks: We love it. This year was probably the craziest year we've had. It was a lot of chaos from start to finish and we're excited about getting the record out now. I think we're all ready to hit it hard this year. I'm already resigned to be rolling all the way through 2016 — maybe take a deep breath in 2017 for a month or two

How did being between labels change the process of making this record?
Trucks: It never felt like we were under the gun. It never felt like we were pulling teeth. I remember one of the tunes, "Don't Know What It Means" — it was after a day of recording and there were always big dinners where everybody in the band is cooking, usually from 9 p.m. on, just hanging out in the studio. So that night, everyone was a little boozed up and well fed and we went back into the studio. In the middle of the room, everyone crowded around a few old ribbon microphones and that group vocal became the outro with the clapping in "Don't Know What It Means." The song ended and everyone was supposed to stop but it just kept rolling and ended up being one of my favorite parts of the record. The whole record was fun that way.

How does that freedom change the music?
Trucks:
Being able to focus on one thing makes such a difference. I have noticed just personally, my playing feels freer and I can go down the wormhole without having to tether myself. There's something about being able to go all the way in and not looking over my shoulder and not having those nagging thoughts.

How did working with Tim Lefebvre change the album?
Tedeschi: Having him in the band for the past two years has been amazing. He makes all the difference because he really helps tie the group all together — you know, the whole core.

Trucks: Oteil Burbridge was in the band for the first few years and he's obviously a monster, amazing player, but there was always a bit of a disconnect with what the band naturally needed to be and where his head was. We played with a lot of other great bass players between Burbridge and Lefebvre and they all had amazing qualities, but I remember the first show we did with Lefebvre and that was the sound we were looking for. His thinking is super progressive and he does avant-garde drum 'n' bass gigs and jazz gigs — he does much more of that than anything in this realm. He comes from a different place, which is refreshing. Also, when it's time to play bass and strap on a four-string, he can dig in. It is about finding that sound that inspires the band and also serves it.

And it changed the band dynamic as well…
Trucks:
And with the rhythm section especially — when you have two drummers and a bass player, if they're not perfectly married up and lockstep with what the M.O. of the group is, there's going to be a little bit of push and pull. Chemistry is such a strange thing. You never know what you're looking for until you're there. We had been on the road with him for a year and half at the time when we started Let Me Get By, and there were a lot of built-up ideas. He was the missing piece. There was a lot of energy to draw from him.

Between the album and the tour, you guys are going to be busy in 2016.
Tedeschi:
It is a traveling circus. People are always fascinated to see it live because there's a lot going on and it changes every time. Derek did a fabulous job producing the record and I'm really excited about it. We're growing all the time and we're learning more and getting better with each record.

Trucks: Being busy is part of having an 12-piece band. You have to stay busy. It's very much a sink or swim proposition but it's good work. We are so excited to get this album out. It feels like a new chapter. There's this sense that there's no reason to look back, just change ahead and I can't think of better people to do it with.