Tripping Musicians – an Interview with Grahame Lesh
To say Grahame Lesh is passionate about music would be an understatement. He's the guitarist in a San Francisco-based rock band (Maiden Lane), performs acoustic solos and plays in bands at his dad Phil's venue, Terrapin Crossroads. We're excited to present an interview with Grahame Lesh.
How would you describe the way you feel about music?
Music is simply something that has always been and always will be around me and part of my life. I think all musicians, and many many people who don't play music, are the same say: it doesn't really matter what form it's in, but music just has to be there in my life. I'm lucky that I am able to create some of my own. It makes me feel like I'm part of a big global musical conversation somehow.
What do you most enjoy about performing in front of a live audience?
Live shows are just a rush in every way. It could be a terrible show or a great one, but I'll be buzzing when I get offstage or leave the corner of the bar where I was strumming along. I've been going to live concerts since I was less than a year old, and I just love being at live music events. There's a spontaneity to them where anything can happen. Getting to be the person that people come to see just takes that experience to a new level.
Was being up on stage what you always dreamed of doing when you grew up?
Not really. I wanted to be a baseball player! I had been taking piano lessons from the time I was 7, but I never made the connection between the music I was learning (mostly classical) and the music I listened to (mostly rock). Because of that, piano lessons were like school to me, not something I did for pleasure. Finally, I picked up a guitar, taught myself how to play based on the music theory I knew from piano lessons, and that was when I discovered that this was something I really enjoyed. But even then, I never really thought of it as much more than a hobby until late in high school and the beginning of college. I met some like-minded fellow musicians, started writing music, and started performing. That was when I really caught the bug.
Who are the musicians you like to listen to and see perform?
That changes literally daily! I've been on a fairly long-running folk/indie/country kick, so some current favorites are Mumford & Sons, The Band & Levon Helm, Jason Isbell, Zac Brown Band, The Tallest Man On Earth, and a bunch of other bands that I don't have the space to include! I was just introduced to a really incredible duo called the Milk Carton Kids who play some really beautiful acoustic music. They write some incredible melodies and harmonize perfectly.
In addition to Maiden Lane (and playing in the various Terrapin Crossroads bands), you're now doing solo acoustic stuff. What's the transition like?
Well, it happened for a couple of reasons. First, I started writing songs that didn't really fit with Maiden Lane. We had gone in a bit of a punky/indie direction and here I was writing acoustic folk songs. We could have fine-tuned them a lot and made them fit with our other tunes, but they wouldn't sound quite right. That led into the other reason, which is that it's just WAY easier to perform when it's just you. I can take my acoustic guitar anywhere and just play, and I like that. I still play with a band much of the time even when I play solo - I have my friends Connor O'Sullivan and Eric Saar from Maiden Lane backing me up with my solo project - but I like having the ability to play solo on short notice if I need to. It's also a very different challenge to performing solo acoustic. You can't rely on the groove or the arrangement or anything but your songs to catch people's attention. I like that challenge, and I'm constantly tweaking my songs to make them better. The other main difference is that I'm singing! That's not completely new for me, but being "the lead singer" definitely is. It's a new challenge that I definitely enjoy.
We've heard some great things about Terrapin Crossroads: can you tell us about it - the story behind it?
Terrapin Crossroads is my parents' (Phil & Jill Lesh) new music venue/restaurant in San Rafael, CA. The idea behind it came from Levon Helm's Midnight Rambles. 2 summers ago my dad Phil, my brother Brian and I went to Woodstock, NY and performed a bunch of Grateful Dead tunes at Levon's Ramble. Afterwards, Levon's band absolutely rocked the house. And literally, these performances happen in Levon's house. Here we are performing on this awesome stage/recording studio/venue and when we finish we walk 20 feet to Levon's kitchen. My parents saw this and thought, "we need this". They wanted a venue in Marin near their house so my dad can perform as much as possible without having to go on tour as often (he is 72, after all). So that was the idea behind Terrapin Crossroads!
They looked at a bunch of locations in Marin and finally found one that they loved. It happened to include a restaurant. Flash forward to March 2012 and they have a phenomenal music venue near their home that, oh by they way, includes a great restaurant with one of the best chefs ever (Chris Fernandez). Expect tons of different concerts there - Phil Lesh & Friends shows and more in the music venue (called the "Grate Room"), all kinds of different free shows in the bar, and even some acoustic stuff during brunch on the patio every once in awhile. It's been incredibly fun so far, and it will only get better.
What is your next big musical dream?
Just keep playing! I want to record my new solo acoustic tunes with a band and put them out for people to listen to. I want to perform more. I want to see the Milk Carton Kids perform live. I can't wait for Outside Lands. I also can't wait to start playing with my dad and my brother Brian when Brian gets home from college in a few weeks. So yes: I just want to keep playing!
If you live or are traveling through the Bay Area, you can catch Grahame performing live. Keep an eye out for him and the many, many great performers at Terrapin Crossroads.