Anyone who has followed the career of guitarist Steve Kimock won’t be surprised that his new album, “Satellite City,” is full of virtuosic, tasteful playing. But they might be caught off guard by the song-driven, vocal direction of the record, recorded with singer Leslie Mendelson, bassist Bobby Vega and drummer John Morgan Kimock, the guitarist’s son. Dave Schools, the Widespread Panic bassist, produced the album.
And while the album has been released under the Kimock band name banner, the Bethlehem, Pa., native and California resident makes it clear that the recording process was more of a team effort than you might expect.
“I always have certain criteria that I’m kind of going for in terms of ensemble interaction and qualities of certain instrumental sounds I’m familiar with, so I have an idea of what I think the guitar sounds should be and what the drum sound should be and the keyboard sound should be,” Kimock says in a recent phone interview. “But there was a whole bunch of other stuff on this record in terms of production that I didn’t really have a super clear idea of what the overall effect might be.
“I think I had a pretty clear picture of about half of it, which is pretty good, and the half that I thought I knew what I was doing, I don’t know if I’m happier with that or the other half,” he adds with a laugh.
Calling the recording process “super collaborative,” the easy-going musician, known to many for his long-standing position as an in-demand player in the Grateful Dead universe, described it as “a push and pull because part of the philosophy at the beginning of the project to take some of the concepts of [previous album] ‘Last Days Of Frost’ and using some sounds that I don’t usually get to use when I’m playing lead guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll band, so I was playing more steel sounds and acoustic guitar and different types of things and synthesizers and bass, and I tried to take some of those tunings and sounds and use them as kind of seeds for these tunes.”
Whatever the game plan, the results are remarkable, an album of rich, sometimes haunting sounds, touching on jazz, rock, world music and singer-songwriter genres while maintaining a cohesive feel throughout.
Kimock and Mendelson, a Brooklyn-based vocalist who released her own new album, “Love and Murder,” in April, first came into contact when they were guests on “Weir Here,” the online variety show Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Bob Weir hosted at his TRI Studios in the Bay Area.
“I had flown in like that afternoon from Japan or something like that, so I was a wreck, but we still played together on the show, and the very next day I had a gig with my own band at the [Sweetwater] Music Hall, and Weir and Leslie were both available, so I said c’mon down and play. We kind of resolved to continue to work together.”
Mendelson has since become a key member of Kimock’s band, both in the studio and on the stage.
“I remember reading a Paul McCartney interview, and they were talking to him about how do you get this one and that one together, and he said the hardest part is just getting four guys in a room,” Kimock says. “And that’s a kind of thing that kind of separates Leslie from the rest of the pack. She’s one of those people with just a great work ethic. She just gets in a room and does the work. We both have a fondness for songwriting and songcraft. As much as I do my guitar jam band routine, whatever you call it these days, improvisational rock, that’s a facet of my personality, but left to my own devices, I listen to Bob Marley and the Beach Boys.
“We’re coming from very different places, but we really do overlap and have an appreciation for songcraft and the work ethic thing, so we have fun.”
Kimock, who played with Jerry Garcia before helping fill his role in The Other Ones on the post-Dead band’s 1998 and 2000 tours, might be expected to tick off those high-profile gigs as his most memorable, but it’s some lesser-known shows that get the nod.
“There are almost too many to mention,” he says. “In the recent past, the last Japan run I did with my band, me and Johnny and Bobby Vega and Leslie and Jeff Chimenti, that whole tour has been committed to memory. A little further back, an intimate thing, almost anything I did with [Bruce] Hornsby is kind of burned into my brain because he’s so much fun to work with. It’s hard to pick out specifics.”
Last year, Kimock and indie rock musicians from the band The National backed Weir on his Campfire tour.
“I tell you what, man, that’s another crew that gets my vote,” says Kimock, who said he was only made aware of The National from his drumming son. “In the same way that Leslie does, they’re just really willing, really creative, really there in the service of the song. That’s a great bunch of folks, and they did a good job on that record and on stage with Weir.”
While Weir’s Campfire Band is a newer concern, assembled in support of his “Blue Mountain” album, Kimock was a long-serving member of Weir’s dormant band, Ratdog, which drew mostly from the Dead catalog for its concerts. With Weir recently releasing and touring the solo album and selling out stadiums and arenas with Dead and Company, many Ratdog fans have been left to wonder whether the band is done for.
“This comes up occasionally, and let me be as clear as I possible can without any claim that I know what I’m talking about. The impression that I get is that Ratdog under that name is not likely to happen in the current Weir regime,” Kimock says. “It’s probably not gonna happen. It might be a little too snakebit on the occasional blowing-up-on-the-launchpad kind of thing. The Ratdog thing, when you think about all the people that played in it, that was a great band and an underrated band a great bunch of musicians.
“On the flipside, I’ve been doing some stuff with Weir with the Campfire Band and the ‘Blue Mountain’ record, and I know how much he’s enjoyed that. I don’t think it’s out of the question that he’ll do something like that again. And if it’s more if he winds up going a little bit more in the rock band direction as opposed to the folk singer thing, it’s likely he’s going to grab some of those guys and to promote that record go with a band in a different style. And if he does, I hope I’m part of it.”