Interview: Tim Lefebvre of Tedeschi Trucks Band
Over the holidays, we had a chance to speak with Tim Lefebvre, bassist of Tedeschi Trucks Band. Tim joined TTB in 2013 and was kind enough to elaborate on that experience, as well as share some insight on his elaborate musical background. Learn a little more about Tim's journey below, and look out for another monumental year from Tedeschi Trucks Band.
You’ve been involved in just about every facet of music business: recording, producing, movies, television, and multiple bands. At what age did you begin playing music, and when did you realize that this could be a career?
TIM: : I started playing saxophone in fourth or fifth grade in my school band program in Foxboro, Massachusetts. My dad was a music teacher in middle school, so I was obviously surrounded by music as a kid. It was always kind of in the back of my mind that I wanted to do it. I went to college and double majored in Economics and Political Science. I really liked Political Science, but it wasn’t ‘lighting me on fire.’ I went to a few job interviews, and then I got a call to play a gig on a cruise ship. So I played this gig on a ship for about four months. That’s when I decided that I really wanted to pursue it. Also, the band members I was playing with on the cruise ship were all grizzled, 40-50 year old musicians. They were lifers, and they thought I sucked. I was in my early twenties, fresh out of college. I kind of made it my mission to improve. After that, I vowed to stay hungry, pursued a lot of opportunities, and always said yes to anything I was available for.
What has been your approach towards playing with such a diverse variety of musicians over your career?
TIM: I think without knowing it, I’m kind of injecting my sound into it. It’s not a conscious decision where I think, “I’m just going to play my shit,” you know what I mean? I think with Tedeschi Trucks I am doing a little of that. But more or less, I’m trying to serve each genre correctly. Trying to play like James Jamerson, where it’s appropriate, or at least my version of it. It’s just trying to do the right thing with each genre in order to sound legitimate, or genre-correct. The only genre that scares me is Latin music. I can’t ever say that I would be good at that. But with everything else, I give it a shot and try to make it sound legitimate. It’s a fun ride. That’s part of the joy of it.
In October of 2013, you began touring full time with Tedeschi Trucks Band. What led to this opportunity, and how has your life changed since joining a group of such magnitude?
TIM: I think what happened was I did a one-off with Donald Fagen on the David Letterman Show. I think it was the idea of the producer to get me, Keith Carlock, and Wayne (Krantz) back together on stage. John Leventhal was the other guitarist. John came to a gig of ours (me, Wayne, and Keith) at The 55 Bar in New York City. I think John planted the bug in Derek’s (Trucks) ear about my connection with Wayne, and that it might work. I was also out in Austin, Texas at one point playing music, and one of my friends was playing music at a bar with JJ Johnson, one of the drummers for Tedeschi Trucks, which was totally random. So we ended up playing together that night. I had met JJ in LA a few times, so there was familiarity. It ended up being a nice hook up. I think those two situations together led to five-gig audition with Tedeschi Trucks in August of 2013. Apparently, I played well enough to get the gig.
The experience has been incredible thus far. It’s also made me very visible to an entirely different scene of people. It has led to me being on the cover of Bass Player Magazine, which never happened before; doing so much obscure, avant-garde music. Being a member of this band, my public profile has become much bigger. It’s a great group of people to work with. I’m trying to keep my other projects going too. It’s been an incredible ride though. It’s a seriously amazing band to be a part of. I was familiar to playing with a band of that size, because I used to play about four times a year with the Saturday Night Live band. So it wasn’t something that I was finding daunting or anything. It is a collection of really great musicians, and it’s really fun to play that music all of the time. I really look forward to being on stage at every show.
TTB is clearly in high demand and a staple amongst the major music festival scene. Did you have much experience playing festivals prior to joining the band? What are a few of your favorite experiences thus far?
TIM: Yeah, I played a bunch of festivals, but it was always with jazzier type groups, that tended to lead more towards dub and electronica. There have been several jazz festivals with Tedeschi Trucks that I have already played before. With the Jam festivals, no, I was never a part of those. That’s been really cool; playing in front of so many huge audiences and seeing a lot of great bands. I haven’t personally done much on-stage collaboration at the Jam festivals. I sat in once with The Black Crowes and once with Gov’t Mule, but that’s about it. I try to be respectful. I like to stand in the background, and if anyone ever invites me to play, sure, I’ll go play. It’s quite exciting to watch it all go down though. People lose their mind when they see all of the different collaborations.
What albums end up getting the most play when you guys are on the road? Are there any young up-and-comers that you’ve been a particular fan of lately?
TIM: I don’t know how many of the bands are up-and-comers, per say, although there are some that are pretty damn good. JJ (Johnson) always knows about them, at least more than I do. But I try to stay pretty current. My taste is so eclectic. I’ve been really into this band called Fink, from the UK, for quite a while. It’s singer/song-writer-ish, but it’s really hooky and dubby. For some reason, it really speaks to me. Junip is another one. They’re a Swedish folk rock duo. What else…? I’ve been into a lot of psychedelic, analog kind of shit. Whatever projects Nigel Godrich has been producing; which has included Here We Go Magic, Ultraistic, and of course Radiohead. I haven’t been listening to as much jazz, although I’ve been playing on a lot of jazz records. I’m a big fan of Ambrose Akinmusire, who’s a trumpet player that is a really special talent. In terms of bass players, there’s so many guys that I like. There’s jazz bass player from New York named Linda Oh, who is pretty incredible. There are so many that I could go on and on about.
Over the years, you have experienced first hand how much the music business has evolved. What are your thoughts on the digital music revolution, and what would your advice be to a young artist just beginning their career?
TIM: I think it’s a lot tougher now. I really don’t know what to say to any of them. Traditionally, the places to be have been New York and Los Angeles. I can still vouch for LA in terms of being affordable. But I don’t think New York City is anymore. I don’t really ever advise someone to move to New York, unless they really want to play cutting-edge jazz, and they have saved some money. It’s pretty hard to pull it off in New York, because it’s just so expensive to live there. So there’s that, and I know people aren’t selling records like they used to. That has really changed everything. I think playing live, you keep trying to build audiences. I think that’s the case with Tedeschi Trucks. We’re building up the audience slowly. We aren’t trying to dive into anything that is too much. It’s very smart on the bands’ part. It’s like a slow burn, and I think it’s been working. I’ve been at home basically one week a month for the last year, so obviously things are going well on that front. Whatever revenue there was in records, hopefully it’s making its way over to the live performances. At least that’s what I am gathering. I think it’s still something to look forward to.
Are you familiar with Snarky Puppy? Michael League is a friend of mine. At one point, my band and Snarky Puppy were on tour together. For years, he took Snarky Puppy on the road and put it all on his credit card. They were just sleeping on people’s floors, playing all over. It finally paid off and turned around for them. They just toured their asses off for years. I’m not sure if I know anyone who has worked harder than Michael League. He’s the leader, bassist, and composer of the band. And that’s not a small band. It’s a huge band. And they’re very successful now. Those guys are selling out huge venues now. People love it. The live energy is great. They’re a really fun band to listen to. I’m really happy for those guys.
My theory on all of that is that if you’re good at something, you’ll eventually get paid for it. You know what I mean? The taste always comes around. I think that’s a thing you can sort of cling to. If you’re good at something, it will happen for you.
The tour dates are filling up quickly for 2015. What are you most excited about entering a new year with the band?
TIM: Well, selfishly, I have one project going on that I can’t really tell you about, but it’s huge. I’ll have to wait to announce it when the record comes out. This band I have in New York, we’re recording with a really big artist. It’s very much on the down low, but it’s gonna be huge. That will come out sometime during Spring or Summer. I’m not sure yet. That’s all I can say about that. I’m excited about that.
Tedeschi Trucks is working on a new record, and I’m also extremely excited about that. A lot of the songs are being co-written by the band. We’ve been doing a lot of collaboration, which has been really fun. I think the band really has it’s own sound now and it’s behooving us to make a new record, so we are working on it. It should be finished before the end of the year. I think we will do some sort of live DVD at some point too. I’m sure we will be pretty busy. Life is good, and I am really glad to be a part of this whole scene.