“I’m just trying to count the steps behind me, and there are so many steps,” says John Popper, Blues Traveler’s harmonica-wielding frontman. Two decades after time-capsule hits like “Run-Around” and “Hook” seemed inescapable, the band that Popper once described as “transcultural” is now transcending genre: Each song on the group’s new Blow Up the Moon, out April 7th, features guest artists like ‘NSync’s JC Chasez, 3OH!3, Hanson, Plain White T’s, Jewel and Bowling for Soup. It was recorded in Dave Grohl’s Northridge, California, studio. “His vibe is very much in the place,” says Popper. “There’s a giant portrait of him with a snifter of brandy in the main mixing room. He’s got his Hugh Hefner bathrobe on and an ascot, I believe. It’s quite a thing to behold.”
Why did you collaborate with this particular set of artists?
Well, I really gotta give the credit to Lani Sarem, our manager. She really had an idea for a collaboration record, and the artists she had in mind were with Blues Traveler in mind. It seems to me that the coolest thing about us is that we don’t know what’s cool about us, and so if we actually said, “Hey, who would this band work well with?” I think we’d fuck it up somehow. So you kind of need somebody who’s looking at you and saying, “Do you know what’s cool about you?” They remind you about a part of yourself that you might dismiss.
What kind of stuff did you get reminded of?
It depends on which band we worked with. With Bowling for Soup, I remembered that I like to have fun with lyrics and be funny, and that was also true with Plain White T’s. I really remembered I love sounds with 3OH!3. Working with Secondhand Serenade, I just felt like a songwriter, you know, working with another songwriter. How Hanson built a really great system where they become the producers, you can see how this came from the experience they had growing up. They had to forge a place where they could really control the sound they heard in their head. That made us nervous, but our faith was rewarded because when they showed us the product, it was amazing.
You actually worked with them on their second album.
Yes! It was so weird working them as adult men, ’cause you just always think of them as kids.
What was it like to work with them 15 years later?
The funny part is that back then Taylor had this specific harmonica part in mind. He could play it, and I, for some reason, couldn’t play that exact harmonica line. He actually had to do the tagline, and I did all the rest of it. I got to meet their family. It’s like the little Hanson brood and they’re just running the whole factory, and it’s kind of cool. The three of them are telling a story, and at this point I was 400 pounds. Zach goes, “…and he was so fat.” Then they all froze and got really embarrassed. I remembered that for 15 years, this weird little Hanson moment. Of course, when we got into the studio, I go, “I remember this moment!” They all wanted to thank me for bringing it back up again [laughs]!
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