TODD STOOPS INTERVIEW By Kris Pettersen January 2018
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Todd Stoops has been making waves in the live music world all over the US for the last decade or longer, first with legendary band RAQ (originally Shadraq), and now with many different projects from the John Kadlecik Band to Electric Beethoven and more. Our good friend, Kris Pettersen, caught up with Todd to talk about all of his projects and all things musical and life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuv1umZn1zo
LMNR: Where are you from, where did you grow up?
Todd Stoops: I grew up in Stratford, Connecticut, and lived there until the summer after I graduated from High School.
LMNR: How old were you when you first started playing music, what was your first instrument? TS: My Grandmother gave me an electronic keyboard for my 5th birthday and I began figuring out church songs and other kids songs by ear – I played “Michael Row The Boat Ashore” about five thousand times until my parents hid the keyboard from me!
LMNR: Did you study music?
TS: I started studying music in elementary school. While I would mess around with the keyboard and eventually upright piano at home, I played clarinet, trumpet, and eventually settled on drums and percussion in grade school. I focused on concert and marching percussion through high school and college.
LMNR: Who were your musical influences? What were some of your favorite bands growing up? What was your first concert?
TS: My first influences were the artists that my parents listened to regularly – The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Chicago, Jim Croce, Billy Joel and some others – as I got older I was turned on to the Beastie Boys, Van Halen, Rush, and more aggressive music. My very first concert with my parents was Chicago and The Beach Boys – they co-billed an outdoor amphitheater in Connecticut. It was a loud and awesome experience for an 8 year old boy!
LMNR: What are your current projects and do you have any gigs planned for 2018?
TS: Electric Beethoven has some touring plans yet to be announced this upcoming year. I will also be performing with Jazz is PHISH on January 20 in Denver at Cervantes Ballroom; with the Joe Marcinek Band in San Francisco at the Boom Boom Room on Friday, January 26; with Dave Watts and a stacked line up of musicians for his annual birthday bash in Denver at Cervantes on January 27, and with John Kadlecik, Jay Lane, and Reed Mathis as “Fellowship of the Wing” at the Gem and Jam festival in Tucson, AZ on January 28. RAQ is playing Colorado the first week of February in Frisco, Boulder, and Denver and will be playing in the North East in April. I will be performing with Mark Levy, Scott Rednor, and Rob Eaton Jr in Vail, CO on February 16th and 17th. Katharsis (Dave Watts, myself, Marcus Rezak, and Chuck Jones) will be playing Colorado for 5 days from March 7 through the 11th, and on the East Coast in April as well. And keep a look out for a new Dead-related project called “Shred Is Dead” with Marcus Rezak, Jay Lane, Mark Levy, and Jay Burwick. We have touring plans in March and April as well. Busy!!
LMNR: Are you currently or do you plan to do any studio recordings?
TS: We (RAQ) are currently finishing a studio EP – I also have plans for a solo project which includes a ton of my friends, to be released in 2018.
LMNR: What is your current set-up and do you alternate anything about your set-up depending on which ensemble you are playing with?
TS: My current rig includes a Nord Electro, a Nord Lead3, a Moog Lil Phatty, and I also run a variety of soft synths including MainStage, Native Instruments, and Syrum. What I bring always depends on the project I’m performing with (for example, Electric Beethoven is a different rig than RAQ, etc.).
LMNR: Are your effects built into your keyboards or do you have separate effects?
TS: I usually run built in effects but have used outboard pedals in the past. I have found it easier to run effects from my computer as of late.
LMNR: What is your first experience or influence with a B3?
TS: I bought a digital Hammond XK-2 back in 1999. That was my first foray into the world of Hammond organs – I was included in Hammond-Suzuki’s artist program when I joined RAQ in 2002 and began using an XK-3 with a custom “Goff Pro” Leslie 145. In the studio, or any venue that had a real B3/Leslie combo, I would always use the “real thing.”
LMNR: With a B3, what is different, other than sound, vs. playing a keyboard?
TS: A B3, or similar drawbar Hammond organ, is completely different than playing a keyboard. You have full control over the 9 harmonic drawbars that add or detract different harmonic elements from the final sound produced. There is no “sustain” on an organ – in order for the sound to be produced, you have to hold the notes down. That just scratches the surface but to sum it up, a Hammond organ is a musical instrument all to it’s own. Absolutely one of the most unique, important, and influential instruments ever invented.
LMNR: What is the coolest, most interesting instrument you have ever experienced playing?
TS: I once had the opportunity to play a drumitar which is the instrument “Future Man” Roy Wooten plays with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. It is a midi drum machine set up like a keytar. Pretty wild!!
LMNR: You recently had an opportunity to play with Bob Weir. Tell me what that was like.
TS: It is always an honor and pleasure to perform with Bob or any of the Grateful Dead members. I had the opportunity to perform with Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann over New Year’s 2016/17 in Hawaii and that was amazing. I am a long time GD fan – my friends and I used travel all over the country to see shows in the 90’s before Jerry died, so getting the chance to make music with them was one of the most special times in my musical life. Most recently, Bob joined the John Kadlecik Band while I was performing with the group at Phil Lesh’s “Terrapin Crossroads” in San Rafael, CA in December 2017. That was a great night!!
LMNR: When did you find out you Bob would be sitting in? Did you have to learn any songs on the spot?
TS: For the Terrapin shows, we found out during soundcheck that Bob was coming down – always exciting! I know a ton of GD/Weir material so thankfully I didn’t have to do any last minute homework!
LMNR: Did you ever see the Grateful Dead? When/where was your first show, how were you turned on to it? Do you have a favorite Dead song?
TS: Yes! I was lucky enough to see around 50 GD shows while Jerry was still alive! I was turned onto the Dead from some friends in high school (who were turned on by their older brothers and sisters). My first show was Giant’s Stadium in NJ in 1992. The bus came by and we all jumped on! We had some amazing adventures traveling around the US to see the boys perform – wouldn’t trade it for anything. Picking a “favorite” GD song is tough. It all depends on your mood. Some days it can be an up tempo fun one, other days it can be something slow and deep. I would say that Stella Blue has resonated with me deeply over the years, along with Estimated Prophet, the Terrapin Suite, Wharf Rat, Black Peter, Music Never Stopped, I could go on and on!
LMNR: Did you ever think this much of the GD catalog would find its way into your repertoires?
TS: It’s always been a huge part of my life so I’m not surprised – When we started spending so much time at Dead shows, the music was always on in the car, and at home, and I started learning all of the Dead music I could… THE BEETHOVEN 🙂
LMNR: I have listened and I honestly think it’s some of the most interesting, progressive, healing, soul-journeying improvised music I’ve ever heard. How was Beethoven a part of your life/music prior to this experience?
TS: To be completely honest, I didn’t have much experience with Beethoven before I was asked to be a part of this project. I was familiar with the most popular Beethoven works, but never studied or learned any of his amazing music.
LMNR: Have you grown from this experience, musically and otherwise?
TS: Absolutely! Not only musically, gaining a wealth of knowledge in learning his work, but also as it had to do with the project’s approach in improvisation. We learned the symphonies and then completely improvised the music without any sort of “net.” It’s a wild and dangerous ride, and extremely fulfilling!
LMNR: Are there other songs or melodies that you recognized while exploring these symphonic frontiers? If so, what stood out?
TS: All over the place, and too numerous to name! You can draw comparisons between hundreds and hundreds of “modern” songs to the chord progressions and time-against-time feel that Beethoven introduced in the 1800’s.
LMNR: When did you first meet and play with Reed, Jay, and Clay?
TS: I met Reed in 2003 when RAQ and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey performed together in Chicago. Wow what a musician and what a freak out of a band! We talked about those guys for months – it was a great night and we were blown away by their musicianship and personalities. We would see each other at festivals and the like sporadically over the years. I performed with Reed in 2012 as part of our friend Dave Watts’ (the Motet) super jam in Denver, and we kept in good touch after that performing in a few other super jam configurations. Reed called me late 2015 to turn me onto his Beethoven project, and the rest is history. I met Jay Lane at Gathering of the Vibes when he was performing with Primus and Ratdog a few years earlier through mutual friends, but never got the chance to perform with him until we formed the Beethoven lineup. I met Clay Welch on the first day of Beethoven rehearsals in July of 2016.
LMNR: How does the impeccable timing come together deep into these jams? Is there some innate magic influence contributing to that?
TS: It’s hard to pinpoint – the idea is to listen to and be completely open to what your bandmates are saying while being able to add your color without clouding the final picture if that makes sense. And timing is the glue that holds it all together and makes it possible. Everyone in the project has pretty impeccable timing which helps!
LMNR: Tell me about your experience playing in Kauai. What came of that experience?
TS: It was amazing! We played what was supposed to be a private party for New Year’s Eve in Hanalei Bay, Kauai. By the end of the night, any of the general public that were walking along the beach followed the music and found their way into the party which must have been pretty wild if you didn’t know what to expect. Imagine walking down the beach hearing a Grateful Dead song being played, then make your way through some palm trees and ocean brush to see Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann playing – pretty wild! The group was Bill, Bob, Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Reed Mathis, and myself. And if that couldn’t be good enough, Taj Mahal showed up and we all backed him up for a handful of songs. It was fantastic. Reed and I stayed around for a few days afterward to make music with Bill – Eric Krasno ended up joining us and we recorded a private show to be broadcast during the inauguration of Trump as an alternative. We called that project “Rooster Conspiracy” – 2017 was the year of the Rooster, and there are thousands of wild Roosters running around the island of Kauai so it made perfect sense.
LMNR: What was the last concert you went to see?
TS: When Electric Beethoven played post Phish for their Baker’s Dozen run, Jay Lane and I went to the Phish show earlier in the evening. It was awesome!
LMNR: What are the last 5 things you downloaded to listen to?
TS: Big Yuki, Tennyson, Jaw Gems, Jimmy Herring/John McLaughlin, Lettuce.
Keep up to date with all Todd’s gigs and projects here:
Listen to Electric Beethoven’s album Maps We Found in the Ground below, and also on Spotify. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi1qUJWVTlM
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