It's often been said that a successful band takes the same amount of commitment as a successful marriage. If being in a band is like being married, vocalist-guitarist Susan Tedeschi would know. Tedeschi is married to her band, both figuratively and literally (to guitarist Derek Trucks) in the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which kicks off the “Starlight Summer Concert Series” at Aston’s Sun Center Studios on Wednesday, June 11. Joe Marson opens the 7:30 p.m. show. Visit suncenterconcerts.com for tickets or more information.
Both Tedeschi and Trucks had established successful individual musical careers before joining forces. Tedeschi met Trucks when he was touring as a guitarist with the Allman Brothers Band and she was picked to be the opening act for the group’s 1999 summer tour. They married in 2001.
For the first few years of married life, they were content to occasionally make guest appearances on each other’s albums or tour together with their respective bands. In 2007, they joined together in a single group and toured as the "Soul Stew Revival," playing solo material and select covers.
Three years later, they put their solo bands on hiatus and formed the 11-piece blues-roots collective known as the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Ever since, their creative efforts are focused on making original music together. The group released its debut album “Revelator” in 2011, followed by the live collection “Everybody’s Talkin’” in 2012, and a second studio album, “Made Up Mind,” in 2013. All three were commercially successful and critically acclaimed, but Tedeschi admits working together full-time took some getting used to.
“It was a big change at first, because both of us are used to being our own bosses,” Tedeschi said in a telephone interview last week. “The great thing about this band is that I can trust Derek to make good decisions and be a good leader. As a husband, I have to trust in him too, so it's actually a good test for me. It took me a little while to adjust, and there are still days that I'm trying to adjust. It's just a matter of sitting down and talking things out. It forces you to be a better communicator.
“If anything, it's really helping our marriage, because now we’re not apart,” she adds. “We were on the road away from each other for the first 10 years of our lives together. We’re actually closer and we can communicate better now. I think I understand him a little bit more, and he's trying to figure me out – which isn't very easy.”
The Tedeschi Trucks Band has spent most of 2014 touring, starting the year overseas in Japan, India, and Europe before returning home to the States. Tedeschi says she's looking forward to returning to the Philadelphia area and also to being the first band to play the 1500-seat Sun Center Studios venue.
“I like that size venue,” she says. “In fact, it's one of my favorite sizes. It's big enough that you have a nice crowd, so you have a lot of energy, but at the same time you feel like it's still intimate.”
Featuring highlights like “Midnight in Harlem,” “Bound for Glory,” and “Come See About Me,” the album “Revelator” was received warmly by both fans and critics, but both husband and wife suggested that it would take time for the 11-piece group to fully gel in concert. Comprised of seasoned professionals, it wasn't long before the group was earning rave reviews for its live shows. In May, the band won three major awards at The Blues Foundation’s 35th Annual Blues Music Awards. The group took home awards for Best Band and for Best Rock Blues Album for “Made Up Mind.” Tedeschi herself won Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist.
“It did take a little bit of time for us to gel, but we've always had amazing players,” Tedeschi says. “But to continue to grow together has been really exciting with this group. Even when you're in a band where everyone is a great player, you can still plateau and get comfortable. One of the great things with this band is Derek never lets anyone get comfortable. He wants everyone to keep learning and keep doing new stuff. It's great because it's never boring. There's always stuff to do and there's always stuff to work on.”
While Trucks is the musical leader of the group, Tedeschi says that the entire band shares the same work ethic.
“Everybody in the band really works hard together,” she says. “You can tell that everybody takes it seriously and we care about it. We're always trying to do better and we are always trying to grow as writers and performers.”
Tedeschi admits that with 10 other people in the band, there are a lot of “moving parts” that come into play. She believes that a genuine sense of family helps keep the group running smoothly.
“We’re all really close as friends,” she says. “It makes a huge difference. You see a lot of other bands that don't even hang out together on the road. The only time that they see each other is when they hit the stage. With this band, we eat together, we work out together, we do laundry together. We hang out after the show and talk about what we can do better. What could we have done to make the show better? We’re really blessed to have a band that communicates so well.”
That communication serves the band particularly well in its song craft and arrangements. Considering the number of players and the talent involved, it's remarkable that the group’s songs never feel crowded. A less disciplined group would clutter its music with gaudy solos or jumbled arrangements.
“I think it's because we all have an understanding of each other, and we have an understanding of the space within the music,” Tedeschi says. “And also because of my crazy husband, who is incredible and also knows how to convey that to everybody. We don't have to push everything over the top every time. It's about the space and the breathing, and the beauty in the song. It's about pulling the beauty out of the song. It's not about ‘Here's the coolest riff ever and I'm going to throw it in there.’”
Tedeschi says that the group’s songs evolve and change over time as they're performed live.
“When we record a song, often it's only the first or second time we’ve played the song,” she says. “It's like the birth of the song, which in some ways is a very pure and beautiful way to approach recording, because then you're capturing the purest essence of the song. As a band you develop different arrangements. Over time you may approach the song differently, and it will take different forms.
“I think that's really great, because then when you come to see us live, you're getting what I feel is a more developed version of the record.”
When they first toured as the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the couple rarely performed solo material from their pre-TTB days, but fans who come to the Sun Center Studios show can expect to hear a song or two from the Derek Trucks Band catalog.
“We've started incorporating some of the solo stuff into the live show,” Tedeschi says. “We've been doing some things from the Derek Trucks Band, like some of the songs from the “Already Free” album, especially since Mike [Mattison] is in the band. He was Derek's lead singer, so it's easy to pull some of those out and mix it up. We usually do ‘Get What You Deserve.’ Sometimes we do ‘Down in the Flood’ or ‘Don't Miss Me.’”
Tedeschi says the band has been writing new material, but they prefer to debut it on the next studio album, rather than in a live setting.
“We try to save the new stuff for the next record,” she says. “Nowadays, everybody tapes everything. If you play it live, people have it. So you have to hold back and save some songs for the next record.”
While there are no firm plans in place, Tedeschi says she hopes the group will be able to start working on the next album in the fall.
“We’re so booked up this year, we don't have any studio time scheduled yet, but that doesn't mean we won't do something,” she says. “We might actually have an opportunity to go in the studio for a couple weeks in October or November and try to record. The great thing about having a studio at home is that you can do things on the spur of the moment.”