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Interview with Chan Kinchla
by Don Zulaica
LiveDaily, National
May 29th, 2001

Blues Traveler, after taking some much-needed time off, is currently on the road supporting its sixth studio album Bridge.

The album is the group's first since 1997's Straight On Till Morning, and comes after a tumultuous 1999 - which saw vocalist John Popper's angioplasty to treat an arterial blockage, and the untimely drug-overdose death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan.

Taking Sheehan's place is Tad Kinchla, brother of guitarist Chan Kinchla, who co-founded the then-monikered "Blues Band" in the spring of 1986. Kinchla, after forming the group with high school mates Popper, Sheehan and drummer Brendan Hill, spent a short stint at NYU. "I was looking forward to a long college career at NYU," he says. "That dream was cut short after one semester. After eleven straight gigs in a row during midterms, I decided to leave higher education to those people who slept."

Meanwhile Popper, Sheehan and Hill tackled the jazz program at New York's New School for Social Research. Even though it whipped everybody's playing into shape, and offered free rehearsal space, they dropped out as live-playing opportunities became more plentiful.

In 1989, the group signed with A&M and in 1990 released its self-titled debut, which was followed by Travelers & Thieves (1991) and Save His Soul (1993). Blues Traveler's big breakout album was 1994's four, which sold over six million units and spawned two Top 10 singles, "Run-Around" and "Hook."

Known for their touring stamina and explorative live jams, Blues Traveler has been a staple of the H.O.R.D.E. festival, and opened for the Rolling Stones on their Bridges To Babylon tour.

Chan Kinchla spoke with LiveDaily correspondent Don Zulaica while on the road touring for "Bridge."

LiveDaily: When did you start putting together Bridge? Did you have a few songs ready after Straight On Till Morning?

Chan Kinchla: We finished Straight On Till Morning, and did the subsequent touring. As a band, it was kind of getting to a point where we had just been drivin' for years. So we took a year off and were doing different things, trying to clear our heads a little bit, and we... we were actually just getting ready to go into the studio when we got the news about Bob [Sheehan's death]. And that kind of put everything on hold.

I didn't want to lead off with that, but obviously you guys dealt with a lot in 1999.

With Bobby and with John. 1999 kind of... '99 sucked. The end of the millennium blew ass. It took us about six months to get our feet under us. Then we started the process of getting the band back together.

So we went down to Austin - my brother [Tad] had gotten on board before that. We had tried out a bunch of bass players, but I think he really helped take over where Bob left off, I guess... "replace Bob" is really kind of a silly thing to say. Because [Tad] was such good friends with Bob, and because he'd been around the band from the very beginning, we were all very comfortable with him. That turned out as good as it could be. And one of the few positives - it's really great to be able to play with my brother.

But the band held it together, after Bob's death.

When you lose somebody that close to you, you realize how much the people around you mean to you. Brendan, John and I realized how much we loved playing together, and how much we meant to each other as people. This whole kind of family organization we had built, and that Bob had worked so hard on - it was all still in place, and to have it fall apart would only compound the tragedy. We knew Bob wouldn't want that, and we certainly didn't.

And you also had to deal with John's angioplasty at that time, too.

The first thing when we first got back together, we were talking about what we needed to do to carry on, getting new people and what-not - but before any of that, my main priority was to get John [healthy]. Once we got my brother involved and we got Ben [Wilson, keyboards] involved, John started to turn his thing around. And a real exciting kind of moment arrived for us. We had this new band, new people, it was exciting for us to have this challenge ahead.

Once we started getting involved with Bridge intensively last summer, it was fun. We recorded at the Plant in Sausalito [near San Francisco], and did mixing and overdubs in L.A. But then the trick became learning to play together live. Now it's slowly starting to come together. Playing live is something you can rehearse in a room and feel like you've got it, but there's a lot that goes into doing good live shows. It takes its time, but we're starting to find our stride.

You guys were a touring machine early on - I read the average was something like 250 shows a year. Now that you're back out there, how do you keep in shape for it?

Honestly, the last couple of years, we're enjoying playing live more than ever. We'd been down for so long. We're just trying to work back into it. You can't really keep in shape for this. When you're touring, there's a balance you need to have. You need to make sure you get to the gym, or you need to make sure you drink four nights a week instead of five. [laughs] You just have to get out and do it.

You know, we were lucky in that we started out really young. All the way from [age] 17 to 25, we were just touring. And [then] four hit... we had been out on the road for six years straight, so all of a sudden there was another year and a half. Then we did a live record. We took a couple months off and did Straight On, and by the time we were done with that, we were really... not at that exhausted point, but headed that way.

We were fortunate. When you're always giving, and always out playing music, it's either a great excuse or a distraction from taking care of yourself. And I think that's what happened in Bob's case, and John's case. I think that's what happens to a lot of musicians. It's tough enough to take care of yourself and make sure you're treating yourself right. But when you're touring - and it's not an excuse - but it's real easy to not take care of your own personal business.

And not to get too much into personal business, but John looks amazing.

Isn't this awesome?

How long ago was the stomach surgery?

April 6th of last year, so a year and a month ago. He's lost 180 pounds. Honestly... it's one of those things you learn. We're just focusing on making sure that we're really pleased with the music we're playing, trying to grow musically, and we're also taking care of ourselves. Trying to keep that balance. And wherever that road takes us, we'll follow it. After years of just trying to be the biggest thing in the world, I think we're probably in a happier place now.