Full Circle Moment: A conversation with The Wallflowers' bassist Greg Richling
Less than 24 hours after Superstorm Sandy left a trail of destruction across the northeastern United States, Wallflowers’ bassist Greg Richling (see photo, second from left) was still holed up in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The longtime friend of group frontman Jakob Dylan and the rest of the band had played a gig the night before at the Meyer Theater. But now, with relatives and friends possibly left stranded by the effects of the unprecedented “Frankenstorm,” Richling had spent most of October 30 on the phone trying to make sure everyone he knew was okay.
“I have a bunch of family and friends out there [on the east coast], Richling said during a brief interview with the Northeast Underground. “So I’ve been checking up on everyone. My in-laws are out there on a trip, and my sister-in-law is there in New York. I’m just trying to make sure that everyone is alright. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon.”
Certainly a return to normalcy was one of the big topics of the day, but Richling and the rest of the Wallflowerss – Jakob Dylan (guitar, vocals), Rami Jaffee (keyboards), Stuart Mathis (guitar) and Jack Irons (drums) – wouldn’t have long to think about it. Currently on tour to support their first new album in seven years Glad All Over, the musicians are also in the midst of attempting to restore some momentum to their career as a band after a prolonged hiatus that stretched roughly from 2005 to 2011.
Unlike other groups who announce a hiatus as a means of covering up internal squabbles, the Wallflowers time apart was motivated by separate desires to try new things. During the break, Richling started a second career as a producer for bands in Los Angeles. Dylan wrote and recorded two well-received solo albums. Jaffee hit the road with the Foo Fighters. Mathis joined tours for Lucinda Williams and Leann Rimes amongst others. And new drummer Jack Irons (formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Eleven) made a couple of solo records of his own, while also playing with Richling, Jon Greene, and Alain Johannes (Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age) in the side-project Arthur Channel.
Richling says, “When we started getting into different things, it became difficult to break away from them. But [getting back together] has always been something we wanted to do. It just took a long time to get there.”
Still, despite all the time apart and amidst the introduction of Irons, who replaced previous drummer Fred Eltringham, Richling maintains the recording of the group’s sixth studio album felt seamless.
“It was really amazing to me how quickly things just started sounding really great,” he says. “Rami, Jakob, and I have been together for 20-plus years. I think we just have a natural chemistry that’s in the blood at this point. And Stuart our guitar player has been with us about eight years. So he kind of knew the feel of the band. And I think that just Jack Irons, having the pedigree he has with Pearl Jam and Neil Young and Joe Strummer and bands like that, he just fit right in.”
“We started getting takes immediately,” Richling adds. “And we finished a record in 29 days that didn’t have any music previously written for it. We just had lyrics. We had no music. We just made it all up from jams on the spot. I think because of that, there was a ‘thinking on your toes’ aspect and an energy [because of it] that translates on the record.”
Another highlight of the recording sessions was the contributions made by former Clash member Mick Jones, who added vocals and guitar to the tracks “Misfits and Lovers” and first single “Reboot the Mission,” the latter of which features a bassline reminiscent of such notable Clash songs as “The Maginificent Seven” and “Radio Clash.”
Richling says, “That song [‘Reboot the Mission’] actually started with me. I wrote that bass part at home, keeping in mind trying to do an homage to The Clash. I just thought about what kind of bass line could we hinge an entire song on the way they did with ‘The Magnificent Seven.’ So basically ‘Reboot the Mission’ was just me musically trying to do my own version of ‘Magnificent Seven,’ or ‘Radio Clash,’ or ‘With or Without You’ in terms of the theory of having one part that the whole song changes over. So I brought that bass line into the studio and I referenced those songs, and everybody just started jamming to it. Jakob got to the studio and that track was already finished, and he wrote a lyric and sang it. It was done.”
“I’d like to say that he [Mick Jones] came to the States and we had an all-night hangout session,” he adds. “But that portion of it was done a little more on the modern technology side of things of sending tracks to someone across the pond so to speak. We just threw a line out to him, sent him the songs, and he was really into it. He thought it was great. We gave him the choice of singing on one of two songs [‘Reboot the Mission’ or ‘Misfits and Lovers’], and he ended up doing both of them.”
Watch the video for the new Wallflowers track “Reboot the Mission” ft. Mick Jones here:
Audiences too have been taken by the Wallflowers’ new material. Though many who come to see the band play live do so merely to hear the hits – “One Headlight,” “6th Avenue Heartache,” “Three Marlenas and “Sleepwalker, amongst others – the group is sprinkling a liberal dose of the new record into its set, which according to Richling has been averaging close to two hours a night.
He says, “I sense that there are all kinds of people turning out to our shows – new fans, old fans. But for the most part I think the energy of the new songs has been going over really well with the audience, and I think they really like it. I’m happy with the response like that.”
Another point that’s making Richling happy will be his return to Northampton, Mass. for The Wallflowers show at the Calvin Theatre on December 28. Why? Well, back in 1992 before he was a member of The Wallflowers Richling was good friends with the guys in the band at the time, and when he graduated college the group invited him on the tour bus to share in a good time on the road.
“Northampton, Mass. was the first show that I saw The Wallflowers play live at, when I jumped on the tour bus 20 years ago,” he says. “Pretty wild. [Coming back] will be a full circle moment for me.”
And for those fortunate enough to be in attendance at the band’s concert, Richling thinks there will be enough entertainment to keep anyone rocking long into the night.
He says, “If you’re a fan of good rock ‘n’ roll and people that play live music and don’t just press a button and dance to stuff [laughs], you can come out and see us play the hits that you know and also enjoy the new material and album tracks as well. It’d be great to see everybody come out and have a good time.”