Improvising with the Everyone Orchestra

Few touring bands these days are as unique as the Everyone Orchestra.  As they settled into the southern stretch of their spring '07 tour, Honest Tune contributing writer Bill Whiting caught up with founder Matt Butler to talk about his vision, his past, and where he gets his inspirations.

Honest Tune: How did the concept of Everyone Orchestra come about?

Matt Butler:  The Everyone Orchestra concept developed out of a number of collaborative musical experiences I had during my time with my band Jambay in the 90's as well as experiences hosting an open mic, and participating in Zambiland Orchestra and Burning Man.  Also, working with Ken Kesey as well.


HT: When did you decide to turn it into a full-fledged work project?

MB: Well, it's been keeping me pretty busy the past couple of years, but I still have time for other things.  This past 12 months, we have done a few short tours which is a big step up as far as the amount of work it demands.  Mostly, we've done one-off events or festival super jams. 

The first time we did an Everyone Orchestra show, I immediately felt the need to explore it more, as it just seemed to transcend the expectations of everyone involved.


HT: How many individuals does it take to bring Everyone Orchestra to a nearby town, and who are these talented people?

MB: We've had 7 musicians on stage, and/or we've had 30 or more as well.  I personally like about 12-16 musicians plus my sound and production people to help things move along smoothly.

My core players have been Chris Haugen and Mike Sugar from Jambay, keyboardist Asher Fulero, Scott Law, Tye North, as well as Hot Buttered Rum, ALO, and New Monsoon.  But, Steve Kimock, Jon Fishman, Reed Mathis and Jamie Janover  have all done a bunch of Everyone Orchestra's as well, so the line between core players and special guests is a bit blurry as time goes on.

Basically, it is a rotating cast.  I always like to have a few musicians that are familiar with the concept, and at least 1 or 2 (if not more) that are participating for the first time.  The mix keeps everyone on their toes, which I believe is part of the magic.  Two years ago there were 75 different musicians that participated in Everyone Orchestra.  Last year we doubled that amount.  Each individual brings their own unique talents, and I try my best to create space through conducting for everyone to shine.


HT: Give us an idea of a place that Everyone Orchestra played that had incidents or highlights.

MB: We played the Xingolati music festival on a cruise ship when the sea was quite rough.  The stage was really rocking and rolling.  With every really big sway, the players would look across at each other with raised eyebrows!

I had Rob Wasserman, Vince Herman, Jamie Masefield, Jon Medeski, DJ Logic, Durga McBroom (who sang backup with Pink Floyd), G-Love, Scott Metzger and more on stage with us, and the jams were way surreal and magical that night.




HT: Who have you listened to in the past and recently that have influenced your present musical direction?

MB: Peter Gabriel, The Grateful Dead, Camper Van Beethoven, Firehose, and Peter Tosh in my formative years.  Currently, I'm really digging Sufjan Stevens.


HT: What kind of musical package are you thinking of for next time?

MB: I'm mainly focusing on festivals for now, and a residency concept for the Bay area.


HT: Where did you hook up with the players on the recent tour?

MB: I met Jeff Sipe years ago when he was playing with the Aquarium Rescue Unit.  My band Jambay played with them a few times back then.  Chris Haugen and Mike Sugar are, of course, from Jambay.

I met Steve Kimock when Jambay toured with Zero.  Jeff Coffin is a new friend that I met last year on Jam Cruise when he sat in with Everyone Orchestra there.  And, I met Tanya Shylock last year at Smilefest.


HT: Are you planning any music and/or video to be released from Everyone Orchestra, present or past archive, commercially or through downloads?

MB: Yes, we are planning on releasing most of the shows soon digitally.  Jam Cam has an episode coming out this spring of last year's Everyone Orchestra's Pangaea Project Benefit.


HT: In which part of the country did you start playing music?

MB: I come from a very musical family in Eugene, Oregon.  My mom still plays in the symphony there.


HT: What are some of the songs or new material that the band hashed out during recent tour?

MB: Groove in A (that's a joke.)  The crux of Everyone Orchestra is improvisation, so we are constantly working on communication between the players, the conductor, and the audience.


photos by Brad Kuntz /