Tell us more about the genesis of The 21 Project.
We put out stuff in a different way this summer: a song at a time, two weeks apart, streaming first. When we started releasing stuff randomly this summer, I didn’t really see it as part of a record. I wasn’t in the album mindset by any means. We were having a whole bunch of fun just finding ways to release random songs. And I got really amped up because I was like, “Well, this means a lot. This mean you no longer have to think of a song in the ‘is it going to fit on the album?’ way.” Maybe the way you release an album changes? Certainly the way you pick up a single could be dramatically changed. I really wanted to learn from this summer and I wanted it to feel very experimental. I wanted it to feel out there and weird and just different. Not for the sake of being weird, but so everybody knew we were trying new things and we didn’t have the answers. We still don’t.
So the temporary answer, then, was to showcase the songs in their various formats?
It was like, “OK, well, we’ll do an EP maybe based on this summer’s stuff?” But I didn’t really like the idea of just releasing six or seven songs and going, “OK, cool. Good story.” So we found a way to make it more fun. The fans have seen us do these crazy live versions of the songs; our live renditions of songs have taken a lot of crazy spins. But also they’ve seen us do these acoustic gigs in which I play mandolin on most of the stuff. I love playing secondary instruments because it makes us all re-think some things. So 21 was really just created to bring the songs together, but not in a haphazard way.
“I’ve found a lot of new ways to write lately, which has been really interesting for me.”
As music becomes increasingly more disposable, this lets fans experience these songs in numerous ways.
We all feel that way. These songs, we tour with them. And if you do them right, hopefully you’ll be touring with that song for the rest of your life. I hope that we can put that much into it. Every year songs are going to have to change. I want to keep them in the show but they are going to have to evolve. They are going to have to take on a new life. It needs to change. It needs to grow.
How crucial was it to scale back the venue size for much of this fall run?
It’s good for the soul. It’s fuel. There’s the question: which one do you like more — smaller venues or bigger venues? Well, you can’t really have one without the other. Because both are necessary for every person onstage and offstage to grow, to rethink, to be innovative. For me, I think it’s important because we try to take as much of that ‘talk and goof off’ thing to the arena show. But it’s also good to take the fun, energetic stuff we’ve built for the arena show and bring it back here and combine both of those worlds.