Tad Kinchla Interview

Tad Kinchla is the bass player for Blues Traveler. Blues Traveler has been around for over 20 years. Their latest release is Suzie Cracks The Whip. Tad recently wrote in to discuss playing inside the Chicago Aquarium, his love of photography and the band’s communal approach to songwriting. Blues Traveler plays Crossroads KC August 29th. For more info on Blues Traveler, check out http://www.bluestraveler.com/

How old were you when you first started playing bass?
I was in the fourth grade.  My brother got an electric guitar for Christmas.  I got jealous so my parents gave me an electric bass for my birthday.  I started playing upright bass in the orchestra the next year in school.

Do you remember the first song you learned how to play?
“Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin was the first song I learned.  It’s slow enough to play for a beginner.

Did you come from a musical family? What is your earliest musical memory?
My parents aren’t musicians but they both really like music.  My parents would always be playing music in the house.  My Mom was a fan more of the contemporary rockers of the 60’s and 70’s and my Dad really enjoyed jazz.  My earliest musical memory was listening to John Coltrane, The Beatles and Sly and The Family Stones LP’s on the dining room floor.  I’d play with the record jackets for hours.

How did you first become involved with Blues Traveler?
I grew up with the guys so I obviously knew them from way back in Princeton.  I was several grades younger but got to see the evolution of the band.  I enjoyed vicariously witnessing the band fumble through early High School gigs only to work their way up to Madison Square Garden.  I was asked to try out following the untimely passing of Bobby.

What do you enjoy most about playing with your brother?
Our band is kind of a democracy.  Or, as close to a democracy as 5 guys in a band can be?  Oddly enough, when I joined the band John was worried that Chan and I would become a two person voting unit.  We actually were quite different on thoughts of music.  We most often have differing opinions when choices need to be made.  What’s great about it being my brother is that it’s very easy to talk about it.  We can be much more candid with each other than we can be with the other guys.  I like this aspect to the band.

What have been some of the strangest venues you’ve played over the years?
Inside the Chicago Aquarium.  I felt so bad for the fish that were forced to listen to us.  They were staring at us the whole time.

How do you feel that your style as a bassist has evolved since you first started playing?
By far the greatest thing being in this band has done to my bass playing is it has taught me to listen.  We have three instruments in the band that can occupy the middle range all day long.  Writing and improvising with the band has taught me to play inbetween and around this sonic range.  I’m a lot more thoughtful about when and where I play a notes.  This, in turn, has made me a much better listener.

How do you go about creating songs in Blues Traveler?
I guess Blues Traveler is a music writing consortium of sorts.  We all contribute to song writing.  Most likely one member of the band will come in with the guts of the music to a new tune.  We’ll then mess around with the arrangement until it suits our collective liking.  We then deliver it to John for words.  We usually go around in turns repeating this process.  John clearly does almost all lyrical work.  Sometimes we will come to the table with lyrics that John will then work to be his own.  This last record was nice because we had other musicians bring in songs that we could all work on.  It really helped to bring us out of our box.

How do you approach playing live differently than recording in the studio?
Clearly the best aspect to playing live is the ability to improvise.  The band has always had great pride in our ability to segue through our set.  We mostly picked this method of playing up from the Grateful Dead.  There’s a host of different ways we play from one song to the next live and it changes every night.  I think in many ways that’s what keeps things fresh for us touring.  Live we also have the time and flexibility to stretch out solos out and try applying new parts and feels to songs.  In the studio we’ve been really trying to get better at crafting great individual songs.  I guess the simplest way to look at it is that live we try to expand and in the studio we try to edit.

Your latest album is Suzie Cracks the Whip. What was the first song you created for the album?
Many of these songs were written at a studio session we had in Austin, TX two years ago.  I’m really not sure what the first song created was?  I believe it might have been “Things Are Looking Up.”

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?
This band had great success at a young age.  We are tremendously fortunate to have earned the respect of some really appreciative and loyal fans along the way.  It is because of them that we can do what we do.  That being said, I think one of our greatest challenges is to try to preserve the essence of early Blues Traveler while keeping our sound fresh and relevant as well.  I’m sure any band that’s been around 25 years has this same issue.

What are your hobbies outside of music?
I’m a total photography hobbyist.  It’s amazing how much time you can spend getting into the production of photos.  For me, I usually blow most of it in post production.  I can waste hours tweaking filters and color settings.  I also enjoy restoring instruments.  Mostly vintage electrics basses or guitars.  I have a few frankenstein basses that I’ve thrown together that are really dope.  Since I don’t have children yet I foster dogs any time I’m at home for a while.  We have two dogs but It’s always rewarding bringing in one that needs care and getting it a forever home.  It’s like a dog motel at our house sometimes.

Do you have a quote or motto that you live by?
This is from some song I heard.  I don’t necessarily live by it but it’s a good one to keep rolling with life. “Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug”

What advice would you give to artists just starting out?
Try to find the thing that makes you unique?  Hone in on the essence of what you do the best and make that your focus.  I think one of the hardest things as an artist is trying to find your own unique voice or expression?  The more you can isolate that the easier it is to fight for it.
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