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[fa:p:a=72157594270496732,id=235372854,j=r,s=s,l=p]We met up again with Bela Fleck on the first day at sea. He remembered us from the interview at Old Settler’s last year. We had a short conversation and hit on some key points. By the third day of the cruise we bumped into him a number of times. The Flecktones played two unstoppable shows on the main stage. They also played individually and with various combinations at many other times on the ship.

AUSTIN DAZE: So what do you think of Jam Cruise?

Béla Fleck: It seems like a great event. It’s sort of early for me to have much of an opinion because I haven’t played. But everybody seems happy. People are great. It’s great to be in the warm weather in the middle of January. There’s a lot of wonderful musicians out here. Beautiful girls. Decent food. Just to get up in the morning and open the shade and look out at the ocean is pretty amazing too.

AD: No Porta-Potties

BF: No Porta-Potties–that is a disappointment. I do miss the Porta-Potties.

AD: Are you having a good time so far?

BF: Yeah. Just kind of keeping a low profile, hanging out in my cabin a lot, wandering around every once in awhile to see what’s going on.

AD: How does it feel to walk around freely and be respected by fans? Is it much different than being on land.

BF: Well, in a way. When I’m at a festival I do walk around a lot and go hear bands play and I don’t usually hide myself. This feels a bit more exposed than I’m used to and a little more than I’m comfortable with. But the more that I’m here the more comfortable I get with it. I was just talking over there about how and when I want to go get some food, I want food so I go out and all of a sudden I’m a person on a line and now people are starting to recognize me and now I’m having conversations. It’s not like just being on my own on a boat just having a good time. It’s a little bit under the microscope. I’m a shy person and I find that a little uncomfortable. But the more it goes, just like at a festival, by the third day of the festival I’m totally comfortable with it. And we’re still in the first day here so…I’d say I’m just getting more comfortable with it all the time.

AD: We’ve heard of a rumor that you guys play each other’s instruments. How did that start?

BF: Well, Victor and I used to trade banjo and bass on a song, just as a fun joke. And the funny thing was when we handed them to each other the first time we seemed to know how to do it already, even though we had never played each other’s instruments. And it was very easy for us to work off a song and play it that way. But that’s been a long time since we’ve done that. We might do it once every three years or something just as a joke for fun.

AD: Is there an instrument you’d like to play besides the banjo?

[fa:p:a=72157594270496732,id=235372880,j=r,s=s,l=p]BF: I’m a banjo player, that’s the main thing that I do. I mean everything else is just a side thing. I mean I play a little bit of mandolin and a little bit of guitar but not very seriously. I’m just frankly not as interested in other instruments. I mean it’s fun to hear people play them and to jam with people that play different instruments but for me I just find playing the banjo is enough. There are a lot of areas to go into to and a lot of room for things that have never been done before so I always have a lot of energy for it.

AD: Did you invent the electric banjo and how did that come about?

BF: I didn’t invent the electric banjo but I had something to do with the model that I play and I’ve done some collaborating with people that have built electric banjos to try and get one that I like. Basically, nobody has made one that I was really that crazy about so I started going to companies that were making them and asking them to make modifications. But I didn’t invent it. There have been electric banjos for a long time. In fact, I have one from 1950 –a Gibson electric banjo–actually there was one even earlier than that. Long before I was born there were electric banjos. But the problem is a lot of them just sounded like guitars so to have an electric banjo that really sounds like a banjo is hard to come by. What I have really doesn’t sound totally like a banjo. It just sounds less like a guitar so it has a little more of my personality. But some people say when I play the electric I might as well be a guitar player, so that discourages me from trying to as well.

AD: You guys have been musical innovators. What’s next for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones?

BF: Well the band has a brand new record coming out in about a month. I believe February 14th is when it comes out. It’s called the Hidden Land and it’s our first album in I think about 3 years. This is the first time we’ve done an album in a long, long time that’s it’s just the four of us because the last three albums we’ve done we’ve had lots and lots of guests.

The last album was called, Little Worlds, and I think we had something like 20 guests, maybe even more–it was a triple album. It was a big, sprawling kind of thing and I thought it was really important to go back to just the quartet and really explore who we are. Because after three records with all these guests, people would come to the show and say, “who’s the guest tonight?” and it’s like, no it’s just us, we’re still the Flecktones and we’re the ones who come out to play. I felt like it was important for us to reestablish our identity in people’s minds. Especially the people that don’t see us all the time and remember that it’s just the four of us and that’s what the band really is.

AD: Tell us about your documentary.

BF: Well, this year we took the whole year off from the band–so we’re coming back after a year of not playing together. Tonight is going to be our first concert in 13 months.

I went to Africa for a month during our year off and recorded with musicians in Uganda, Tanzania and Mali and filmed it all for a documentary and recorded it all for a record. Part of it is a musical safari where I just wanted to go play with cool musicians that I liked, you know, thumb piano players, singers, drummers, guitar players, flute players, whatever I liked. But another part of the trip was to look at some of the roots of the Banjo, which comes from West Africa. I found instruments that were direct links to the Banjo and I played them.

AD: Do you have a distributor for the documentary?

BF: Not yet, not for the film. But I think Sony is going to put out the album. They say they want the record.

So far, I’ve spent all my own money to do it and it was a huge expenditure but I think it’s something that I just really, really wanted to do. I wanted to do something during this year off from the band that I would not normally do because it took so much time and energy to do it and so much practice and preparation it would have been hard to do. I spent most of the last year before the Flecktones took off their year setting it up. Learning about the music, studying the music, finding people I wanted to record with, putting together a crew to go with me. Luckily, I had saved enough money and I don’t have kids that are waiting for college funds so luckily I had the money to invest in this project. I don’t know what will happen with it but I’m really proud of it and thrilled with it musically. It’s going to be a great project.

AD: We’d like to see it some time.

BF: It will probably be out in 07.

AD: Well, thank you for talking with us again. We look forward to seeing you in Austin.

BF: Thank you, I think we will be there in March.

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