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MTV Arena chat
MTV Arena, National
Mar 15th, 1996

John Popper of Blues Traveler was in the MTV Arena on 3/15/96. Below is a transcript of the event:

MTVixen: Welcome to the MTV Arena, tonight's event features John Popper of Blues Traveler. Hi John!
John Popper: Hello everyone, who do you have to talk to to get that damn video off the air?!

Belated congrats to Brendan Hill on the wedding! Are you [John Popper] married, involved, etc?
John Popper: No I'm at this time unmarried, and I always keep my eye out but there's a little bitch in my life. She's an Australian Cattle dog and she's as cute as hell. She runs my life and you should see her out on the road this summer, she's nine weeks old now.

How do you think success has changed you?
John Popper: Success has made it very complicated to do what we like to do unmolested but I think that success has not made it impossible. We still have the freedom to put on a good live show which is still all we really care about and we do get paid for the nonsense we put up with. Also it's hard to go into Burger King now and order a chicken sandwich without signing something, but it's cool.

I've seen you in a lot of small theatres and venues. Are you gonna keep playing small or start heading to stadiums???
John Popper: We will play as small venues as we can. There's so much ground we need to cover when we tour that it seems to be easier to play a larger venue and thus cover a greater area quicker but we love the intimacy and sound of a small venue. I would say that our favorite venue is a theatre and we plan to stay in that size as long as we can.

Do you feel that Horde is more of a group than individual event - do the individual groups get the attention they need? Do feel it is classified as a bunch of "hippies"?
John Popper: I think Horde is still being classified because it's going on right now. The label is changing as we speak - only when there is never going to be another Horde again can you really decide what it was. As for now, we've gone from retro to classic to alternative - just for a second - to mainstream to what I'm hoping will be polka R&B But what do you expect? That's what it takes when you make your living as a musician - I mean musical American. As for it being a group event, it most certainly is. It's the very diversity and eclecticness that makes it not only cool, but hard to classify.

Being the Blues Traveler what are your thoughts on Kraft "cheese" and macaroni?
John Popper: I believe that a scam is being perpetrated on the American people they set up a cute innocent young looking girl to say that there's so much cheese involved that the cheese should precede the macaroni, but on my own investigation I have found only hollow macaroni spray painted lightly with a cheese-like sauce. I would call it Kraft lightly spray painted with a cheese-like sauce macaroni. Besides, Stouffer's kicks butt.

Are you coming out with a new album anytime soon?
John Popper: We have just finished mixing a live album. It is a double CD because with 2 74 minute discs all the material we could cram on left us with 1/8th of a second of blank space. It is as full as we could make it and we tried to include everthing everybody wanted to hear. Of course, we couldn't, but we did our best. We see it as something we owe our older fans, and perhaps some newer fans might get into it. We're also going to work on a studio album in the fall, probably.

What was the inspiration for the song "Just Wait"?
John Popper: So many people think that "Just Wait" saved their lives on the point of suicide I would immediately point out that they saved their own lives. I don't want people to feel that it's about any particular thing (as songs mean what you want them to, when you want them to) but a friend of mine was going off to a new place and she was nervous so I wrote her that song.

John Popper: I believe that I can safely say that I own well over 7,468. At this present time you need to wear 12 at all times to be musically sound and ready for anything. We keep getting more as they tend to wear out.

John Popper: I am 28 years old. My birthday is going to be on March 29 and I'll be OLD.

I love your new video!!! What are you going to release next?
John Popper:The Mountains Win Again is going to be the next video I hope you guys like it.

Popper, who are/were your biggest influences??
John Popper: Jimi Hendrix changed my life, The Blues Brothers got me playing the harmonica, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Parker, Bach, Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven, The Beatles, Vivaldi, Billy Joel Elvis Costello, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, that guy who did the Charlie Brown theme and anybody else who grabs me on a day to day basis to name a few.

John Popper: Suprisingly, yes - it's bizarre. I don't quite know how to handle myself because I'm pretty much of a dork but I do what I can.

When did you first start singing?
John Popper: I was harmonizing in church at 3. My Mom and Dad decided that meant I was musical and put a cello in my hands at 5. I didn't practice. At 8 they put me in front of a piano. I didn't practice. At 11 I got my first guitar. I didn't practice. At 12 I got a tuba (give the fat kid a tuba). I didn't practice. A trumpet in high school. I didn't practice and then a harmonica...... there were no teachers. I couldn't practice so I started to play.

What profession would you be in if you weren't in a band?
John Popper: I always used to think that I would be a mercenary in Angola or something as I had an affinity for collecting weapons of all description. Then as I got older and realized that you actually had to kill people to be a mercenary I changed my mind. When I was in kindegarten I wanted to be a dog psychologist, but to tell you the truth, with the skills I have I would be pumping gas or causing trouble. I'm glad I can play.

When does the CD-Rom come out? And where can I get a copy of it?
John Popper: It came out Tuesday, and it's available at most software stores and a few of the hipper record stores.

John Popper: Alone or with other people?

What were you doing before you became such a great musician?
John Popper: I was getting the shit kicked out of me in high school. I was an anti-social little twerp; I didn't have many friends and developed a very solitary attitude. In a way, the guys in the band were and are the first bunch of people I hung out with.

BLUES TRAVELER- s'up? How did you first become a band? P.S.-- Will you E-mail me?
John Popper: We are the first band we've ever been in. This is our garage band that never had a reason to quit. We were very lucky in this respect in that we could suck for a long time without having to worry about paying our rent. We met after school and rehearsed in Brendan's parents' basement.

Being the Blues Traveler how do you feel about moshing at your concerts? I think it's stupid.
John Popper: I can understand the excitement that people can feel at a concert; you've been couped up all week or all month doing what you're supposed to do and you finally get to go to a dark room and vent. But I do think it sucks when tiny girls are stepped on by people who think it would be fun to step on someone. We always felt that it's up to the audience to govern themselves. You have to be nice to each other and there's not much we can do if you decide not to be. What's cool is that a year ago, New Years there was so much moshing that a lot of people got hurt; this year, there was virtually no moshing at all. I think that you guys are learning to be nice to each other. I certainly hope so.

Why does HORDE seem to be moving away from "horizons of developing rock " with an increasing number of more mainstream acts? Where are the developing bands?
John Popper: This tour this year has 146 different bands. I would say there are 5-7 mainstream bands. Mainstream is a funny word; apparently, if you're broke you're an underground phenomenon and if you're well known, you're a sell-out but there are bands that have no record deal and in some cases, no audience yet, that we believe in. We feel it is incumbent on us to ensure that you get to hear them it's good for them, you, and us and music in general. You might not like some of them, but you might come to love others. They will reside primarily on the second stage. In order to ensure that we can do this, promoters around the country who own the venues that we hold H.O.R.D.E. festivals in, need guarantees that we will have bands that will draw. These tend to be bands that everyone knows we feel that so far, we have picked all good bands in terms of live playing and that is our only directive. Answer me honestly, would you come to a H.O.R.D.E. show if only Booty Quake was playing and BT? Sorry - and not BT? You want to see a band that you know and then be introduced to something new. You decide for yourself this summer if you like what you see. That's all we can expect.

How involved were you in the making of the H.O.R.D.E. CD-ROM?
John Popper: My role was in assisting the coercion of other bands involving their creative input and songs etc... Blues Traveler's role was to contribute our own input and songs, etc. The technical end was handled by somebody who knew what they were doing.

Does your guitar player still use the Stevie Nicks, riding a horse in the wind fan effect?
John Popper: He has to; what the hell else are you going to do with all that hair? But we are in for a treat, as Chan Kinchla has cut his hair off. He looks like some sort of eggplant or squash - with a little tuft of hair on the top of his pointy melon - but all the girls seem to really like it so I think he's pretty smart.

How did you and the group choose your name?
John Popper: We were originally called Blues Band in high school because that's what we were trying to be but it's awfully generic and we weren't really pulling it off at the time. And then we were talking once and Chan said that when we groove just right, it is as if the band creates a fifth entity. Well, Blues Entity sounded awfully legarian so we needed a cooler name for Entity and I was thinking of the movie "Ghostbusters", where Gozer the traveler proclaims to a frightened New York "The traveler has come." So I thought Blues Traveler might be cool. I was stoned at the time and was sort of half kidding but Bob loved it as did the other guys and it kind of grew on us and the rest, as they say.....

What can you suggest for young musicians trying to get into the business?
John Popper: Play your own material. This is desperately important if you want your band to last past the cover band point. There's a lot of work for cover bands - it's easy money and you eat better - but as tempting as it is, it's a trap. If you don't continue to write, you will find yourself in your 30's playing the same places. I've seen it happen.

What's the H.O.R.D.E. line-up this year?
John Popper: This year we have us, Dave Matthews for 2 1/2 weeks, Natalie Merchant for a week and a half, King Crimson for a few, and playing with us for the entire tour Lenny Kravitz and Rusted Root. There will also be Taj Mahal, Morphine, Son Volt, Nil Lara, Cycomotogoat, G'nu Fuz, Yothu Yindi, Jorma Kaukonen, Jeff Healey Band, Joan Osborne - maybe, The Fiji Mariners, Booty Quake, The Fool, Tragically Hip, Sheryl Crow may do a date or two, Emmylou Harris perhaps 311 .....there's literally so many bands that our heads are hurting. The confirmed list will be forthcoming. These are tentative, we're not sure where everyone's going yet.

John why weren't you shown much on the video Run-Around, I think you're cute.
John Popper: Well, thanks. I'm kind of blushing now. It seemed to us that we weren't the kind of cuties that those weirdos at MTV would embrace. George Michael's ass is perfectly round; mine is sort of flat and resembles a recently slid-into second base. But thanks anyway - I wish I knew what you looked like.

Why do you always wear that fishing jacket???
John Popper: Because it fits. If you're talking about the harmonica belt, that's what I carry all my harmonicas in and I need it to play. If you're talking about that jean jacket, VH1 gave it to me for free. As I said before, it fits and it's nice and broken in now. I may get a new jacket someday.

How do you feel about all the bootlegs circulating?
John Popper: We think it's ok because it's really the best way to get what we think is the majority of our music out to people. I'm glad that people can hear Alone or Gotta Get Gloria Mean even though the record company and radio stations didn't care for them. It's so hard to decide what will be on a record; you have to pick from such a wide body of material 10 lucky songs that people will play for a while. In the end, I'm glad that people can hear music we worked hard on. Besides, no jam is really the same and there are cooler versions than others. This way the cream not only rises to the top but it lasts.

John, your live shows rival the best of all time. Do you guys live for the live experience?
John Popper: Thank you and yes we do. It is really playing live that is the reason we do what we do. It is a fix. Something that we're addicted to heavily. We couldn't stop if we tried.

What is it like to win a Grammy? Do you feel it has changed you and the way people think of you?
John Popper: People do react to me a little bit more like I know what I'm doing. I find it amusing but it's very weird. I was so convinced that we weren't going to win that I popped the cartilage in my knee while jumping up to accept. I would like to point out that at the Grammys that I was probably the only white guy who was wearing a tux and Darius Rucker was the only black guy who wasn't wearing a tux. I see this as a very bizarre comment on Hollywood and I'll tell you something else about Hollywood: It is so so utterly hysterically silly you can't imagine the things people consider as important. It's kind of like doing blow: it's really fun at first; you don't care that you're making a fool of yourself and if you stay around long enough you start to. need it Needless to say, I will never live there - eucchh!!!

What is your favorite song to perform?
John Popper: It really changes from time to time but I think it's songs like Crystal Flame, Alone, Sweet Talking Hippie or Look Around... but I guess Crystal Flame is so fraught with possibilities it just gets me. Sweet Pain is up there also. There's tons of new stuff I'm in love with too. We'll see how they pan out. I want to thank all you guys for putting up with me and keep your eye out for upcoming schedules. We're playing everywhere from Florida to Seattle. Thanks and keep on surfing!