“Smell that?” says Derek Trucks. The ponytailed guitarist, 34, takes a freshly-pressed vinyl record and holds it up to his nose for a closer whiff. It’s a Thursday evening in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Trucks is giddy as he strolls through his well-kept tour bus. Tedeschi Trucks Band – the 11-piece roots-and-blues collective he formed with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, in 2010 – are set to hit the stage in less than an hour. Adding to Trucks’ excitement: Only weeks before, the band put the finishing touches on their second studio album, Made Up Mind (due out August 20th). That’s the record he’s inspecting, no, inhaling right now.
“Hey, ya’ll!” Tedeschi’s voice cuts through the air. The burnt-blond-haired singer-guitarist moves briskly up the stairs of the bus. Dressed in a form-fitting, flower-print dress, Tedeschi, 42, joins her all-male bandmates, takes a seat at a makeshift kitchen table and begins painting her nails. The bus is in full pre-gig swing now: Percussionists JJ Johnson and Tyler “Falcon” Greenwell are smacking away on drum pads; trumpeter Maurice Brown adjusts his necktie; backup singers and members of the horn section, including Mark Rivers and Saunders Sermons, have stepped outside for a smoke. And Trucks, well, he’s in full concentration mode after putting down the vinyl, noodling away on his red Gibson Signature SG as a gnarly Albert King vocal blares overhead.
A few hours earlier, eating a sushi lunch with his family – which today includes himself, Tedeschi, son Charlie, 12, daughter Sophia, 9, and Trucks’ mother, Debbie, all of whom have packed into the band’s tour bus for the week with the kids out of school for the summer – Trucks is miles away from the stage. A slide-guitar prodigy by age nine, he joined the Allman Brothers Band with his uncle, Butch, in 1999, and was touring in Eric Clapton‘s band by 2006. But the fun-loving, football-obsessed Trucks doesn’t seem the slightest bit jaded by his early fame. Having the whole family on the road, while admitedly a little chaotic, is a rare treat, he says. “With the age of our kids, I didn’t want to miss out on as much,” Trucks says. Having the kids around “actually makes us behave a little better,” Tedeschi adds with a laugh.
Like Revelator, their 2011 Dixie-funk odyssey of a debut album, Made Up Mind was recorded at their Swamp Raga studios. A two-story, $400,000 recording and practice space behind Trucks and Tedeschi’s Jacksonville, Florida house – which includes a guest bedroom upstairs, where Greenwell stayed often during the band’s recent sessions – the home studio allows husband and wife to balance work and domestic life. “The upside for me is, it’s awesome I still get to be mom,” says Tedeschi. “I like to cook and clean and do laundry and kind of be a girl control-freak.”
“There’s something nice about having a studio where it doesn’t feel like work,” adds Trucks. “Everyone just shows up and it’s a hang. You’re rehearsing in a place where you just turn the knob and now you’re recording. Though,” he adds with a chuckle, “we have to pull Susan back sometimes, ’cause she’ll get into ‘I have to make dinner for 18 people’ mode.”
Recording for the new album began late last October and lasted the better part of eight months. Seasoned songwriters and longtime Trucks confidants Doyle Bramhall II and Chris Wood, as well as engineer Bobby Tis would fly in at various times to help work on the new songs. Producer Jim Scott, who’s worked with the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty as well as helming Revelator, returned, too.
Each day at Swamp Raga brought new experiences. According to Trucks, there was one constant: “You’d just play all day. You go for two or three hours. Usually you’d have a tune done by then, but if it was a day where it wasn’t happening, you’d break for an early dinner and then hit it after. And then the Dark ‘n’ Stormys would come out and you’d do a late-night session.”
Trucks and Tedeschi’s house often felt less like a formal studio than summer camp for a bunch of Gen-X music heads. Trucks, Tedeschi and Scott would be working on lyrics in the studio; Trucks’ brother, David, might be shuttling band members to and from their hotel down the road; and the kids would come home from school one day to find the entire horn section splayed out over the family’s living room. “There were charts being written, songs being written,” Trucks says with a smile. “It was mayhem.”
The laid-back vibe helped the band feel loose and inspired. Johnson, who was John Mayer‘s touring drummer for the better part of the last decade, says being in Tedeschi Trucks is “the most refreshing situation” he’s been in.
Trucks says the band – a collection of instrumental specialists – was more polished this time around. “I thought everyone was really selfless with the way they approached this record from top to bottom,” he explains. Adds Greenwell, munching on his yakisoba lunch, “It’s a group of people you want to work with.”
Made Up Mind features the same time-tested blend of blues, roots and soul that made Revelator a critical favorite. “Part of Me,” which Tedeschi calls “Motown-y,” was co-written with Bramhall and finds Tedeschi sharing vocal duties with trombonist Sermons. “Do I Look Worried,” sporting a major Delaney and Bonnie vibe, took the longest to record – “Everybody was trying to kick its ass,” says Trucks – but the struggle is now reflected in the song’s “piss and vinegar” vibe. The title track, with its ZZ Top-ish riff, came together in only a few takes. “People are always trying to look into your world,” Tedeschi says of the individualist, feminist-leaning lyrics. “They think they know you, but they really don’t.”
By the time they arrive in St. Paul on this June morning, the band has already been on the road for a few weeks. They’ve already road-tested nearly three-quarters of their new album, and may very well play the entire new album by the end of their summer run, which includes a twin bill with the Black Crowes. That night, “Made Up Mind” is a clear highlight, with Trucks maintaining Zen-like concentration as he and Tedeschi face-off mid-stage, swapping swampy guitar licks.
Trucks says it still feels like a nightly battle to please his perfectionist streak onstage – especially as it relates to the new songs. “Like anything, it comes and goes,” he says. “You can crush a new tune two nights in a row and then, well, not.” He admits he also has reservations about debuting the new material: He’s afraid the songs might feel stale when they’re officially released next month. “You want to play it when you have new tunes that you feel good about. But you want the record to come out and it to still feel fresh and like new music.”
“I’m still trying to learn all the tunes too,” Tedeschi adds, chiming in. “They’re all still fresh for me. These guys keep me on my toes. I try to work extra hard for them. I just try to keep up.”
“It’s funny,” Trucks says. “From the first moments of [the 11 of us] playing in the studio together, there were elements of it that were magic. It took a long time for everybody to find their place. But I remember about six months in . . . it just started flying.”