Payin' Dues: The Word

The Word, a supergroup with a line-up comprising keyboardist John Medeski, pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, guitarist Luther Dickinson, drummer Cody Dickinson and bassist Chris Chew, issued their eponymous debut in 2001. Now they’re back with its follow-up, Soul Food. Recorded in just six days, double the time spent on their first, guests include Amy Helm and Ruthie Foster. “Every time we started playing we kept coming up with more music,” says Robert Randolph.

Tell us about recording Soul Food.

We wanted to show how the band had grown since our first album and we did two different sessions, one in Brooklyn, one in Memphis, three days in each. In Brooklyn we were getting our sound and our ideas together and forming the identity of the record. By the time we got to Memphis, we were deciding on the songs we wanted to go on the record. We wound up composing 22 songs, so we had to hone in on which ones we were actually going to use.

How was it coming back together after almost a decade and a half?

It was a lot of fun, even more so than the first time we recorded together, because we know each other so well now. I still had a day job when we recorded the first time. I was just a 19-year-old kid. This time we came in with the guns blazing, we all had a lot of ideas to bring to the table, especially Cody and John./o:p

What was it like recording in the late Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studio?

It was one of the best experiences I’ve had at any recording studio. The whole time there were instrumental spirits running around that grabbed hold of us. To be able to work with Willie Mitchell’s children and staff… Getting to listen to stories about Al Green, and use the same mics and drum kit as him, it was a treat.

How do you go about creating the music? Do you all write together?

For the most part we wrote all of the songs on this album together. New Word Order was Cody’s arrangement, but he had it in mind for The Word. It all just happens naturally as we start playing in a room together. At all times we were all playing in the room together and everything evolved organically, which is rare these days.

What is next for The Word?

There has been talk about an acoustic record. Glory Glory is an acoustic track. Everyone gathered around one mic and grabbed acoustic instruments. That will be something we’ll explore more./o:p

Soul Food is out now on Vanguard./o:p