Conrad Warre of British-American band Bees Deluxe talks about the October 3 show in Rockland
As most of you know now i really enjoy chatting with bands of newcomers and learning how they go about making the music they make. Such was the case this week when I interviewed Conrad Warre, guitarist and founding member of the blues band known as Bees Deluxe. He is joined by Carol Band on keyboards, harmonica and vocals; Jim Gildea on bass and vocals; and Paul Giovine on drums and percussion. I’ve been getting email updates on the band for a while now and when I found out they were actually heading to Maine for a show on October 3 I jumped at the chance to finally find out what they looked like. To prepare for the conversation, Warre sent in his latest two CDs: “Voice of Dog” and “Mouthful of Bees,” from 2018 and 2022 respectively. When I joined him, he was on a break from a rehearsal in the Boston area, and I was able to thank him for this shipment.
Q: In the note you put with the two CDs, you said “I hope you enjoy the music!” Well, I really appreciate it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it’s always nice when it clicks and you say “Whoa, nice!”
Warré: Thanks very much.
Q: I started with the most recent one, “Mouthful of Bees”, and there’s a Mark Knopfler vibe to your guitar work.
Warré: I can explain that. As a guitarist I do what’s called “hybrid picking” which means I use the fingertips of my right hand and not a plectrum, which he does and he copied that from Chet Atkins and Robert Cray.
Q: Well, I’ll be damned!
Warré: (Laughter) So what you’re responding to is the sound of guitar strings being plucked by flesh, bone and nails other than a plectrum.
Q: Ah, I understood, thank you for this explanation, because I often wondered about this particular sound.
Warré: So when you listen to Jimmie Page or Neal Schon in Journey, you sometimes hear a little click before the note, and that little click is the sound of the plectrum hitting the string before they hit the note. And the other thing that bothers me about plectrum playing is that guitarists tend to fret their chords, which means they’re sweeping the strings with a plectrum that gives them sort of really fast arpeggios, what I like to do with a chord is pluck five strings simultaneously so it’s more orchestral than mandolin. Maybe you’re not a guitarist. …
Q: Oh, you’re right!
Warré: So for a non-guitarist, when he hears that he thinks “Oh he does: he sounds like Mark Knopfler” but that’s not the problem, the problem is that I use all the fingers of my right hand.
Q: Well, thanks for the guitar lesson. This makes it much more interesting; it was very instructive.
Warré: Oh, not at all, it’s actually more fun to play if you play like that.
Q: In the 50 years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve talked to a lot of guitarists, and it’s always nice to hear about how they approach playing their instrument.
Warré: Yeah, okay, it’s like looking under the hood (laughs).
Q: Exactly, yes, exactly! But there seemed to be, not a disconnect, but a difference when I next listened to “Voice of Dog”, which came out before “Mouthful of Bees”.
Warré: Oh, sure. “Voice of Dog” is all original and finished: drums one day, bass the next, keyboards the next, guitars the next, put together like a building, but “Mouthful of Bees” is a bit like a swamp where we’re all played. ‘a blow. This is why there is a huge sonic difference between the two.
Q: Do you prefer one path over another?
Warré: It depends on your goal. The purpose of “Mouthful of Bees” was to document the tour. We had just played 30 dates in a row, all the way to Miami and back, and I was like, ‘The band is really hot now, we need to capture this before it’s gone!’ So we went into the studio and looked into each other’s eyes and played the show for ourselves.
Q: So basically what you hear on this CD is what people would expect in a concert setting.
Warré: Yeah, that’s what happens when you’re in front of us and we’re all playing.
Q: And you will be playing Rockland…
Warré: Yes, we are coming to the Gray Owl which for us was the Time-Out Pub, but Paul Benjamin, who is a wonderful impresario, moved to the Gray Owl in Rockland.
Q: Do you play a lot here in Maine?
Warré: As often as we can, as often as we commit (laughs).
Q: Now, these 10 songs on “Mouthful”, is this the show you will bring to Rockland?
Warré: These are some of the highlights of these live broadcasts. Sometimes, Lucky, we play for three hours so the repertoire is enormous; we have a repertoire spreadsheet that could be played for four or five hours. So we’re narrowing it down to our favorite tracks and also the tracks that we think the audience might like more than others, and that’s just a sampling. With “Mouthful of Bees,” it was like, “Let’s just do 10 songs that we like to play, that we did really well.”
Q: So when it comes to, say, a 90-minute or two-hour show, is it easy enough to choose pieces from that repertoire?
Warré: We could do this off the cuff, we could just stand on stage and call out some tunes and play them. But if we have a time constraint we try to develop as much contrast as possible.
Q: How so?
Warré: We don’t always play the same tempo; we don’t play the same key all the time; we don’t always play in the same frame of mind. You juggle those because, as you know, music to be interesting to the ear has to have contrast and change.
Q: Exactly! And that’s something I’ve been preaching in my columns for a very, very long time: groups that take risks, push the limits of their own envelope, are the most interesting to hear. Now here’s my last question: Conrad, is there anything you’d like me to pass on to people reading this article?
Warré: Oh, I hope they visit us on YouTube, Facebook and our website where we meet and chat with people we don’t know or don’t know, so I really encourage people, if they are online, come watch us and listen too.
Lucky Clark, winner of the 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” award, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.