It may seem like placing an inordinate amount of faith in your fans’ stamina, to release four new albums across a three month cycle. But when the Tedeschi Trucks Band conceived that recently-completed schedule for their ambitious I Am The Moon project, it was precisely with the intention of giving their audience breathing space.
The 24-song set, released between early June and late August by Fantasy/Concord, comprises Crescent, Ascension, The Fall, and Farewell – nearly two hours in total, but running only around half an hour per record. The group are now preparing to tour it in epic, border-crossing proportions, both in North America and Europe, and guitarist and joint frontman Derek Trucks says that it was crucial to give each album time to breathe.
“It’s important,” he says, “because [otherwise] it’s too much to take in, even for us. There’d be a point where it’s like diminishing returns.” With similarly disarming candour, he imagines what the label’s reaction might have been when the TTB told them their plans. “‘Wait, no singles, 24 songs, great idea!’,” he laughs. “No, I’ve got to say Concord have been incredible. They were totally on board.”
The releases are based on an original idea by band singer Mike Mattison for a new take on the classical-Arabic legend Layla and Majnun. Best known in its 12th-century telling by the Persian epic poet Nizami Ganjavi, it is also the source material for another piece of art close to TTB’s heart, Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla,” the rock classic that focused on Majnun’s love-madness.
Tedeschi Trucks recreated the whole of its parent LP, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, for a live concert and subsequent album; Trucks remembers the “chills” he got when he found out that the day his partner Susan Tedeschi was born, November 9, 1970, was the day that record was released.
I Am The Moon was recorded in the group’s own studio, overcoming the perils and challenges of lockdown – without which, Trucks is convinced, it would never have been made. “I don’t think there’s any way we would have,” he says. “We tour so much and some of that, you become a bit of a creature of habit. You don’t think you could take four months off and not implode. Who stops working for a year? It’s not something you ever think about.
“So every record we’ve ever made, it’s been in breaks between touring. Generally, everyone goes home to their families and try to make sure everything’s healthy and good and your children remember you. So it’s hard to go straight from the road to two weeks in the studio and then back on the road. It’s not healthy for people.
“Generally when we make records, you really have to schedule time,” he goes on, “and it’s not as much as you’d like it to be, and it’s always in small chunks. So when we got months into the lockdown, and we realised ‘Oh, the summer’s canceled, the fall is canceled, next year is canceled…’ Once you got into that, there was this sense of, ‘What are we going to do in the meantime, to keep sane or to keep the band connected at all?’”
The master stroke, he recalls, lay in Mattison literally giving the group homework to do.
“Mike had this great idea of getting the songwriters and the core of the band to read the same source material, so we had something to all be thinking about, something to chew on. In the beginning it was just kind of a thought exercise, [but] it really just took on a full life of its own. If we didn’t have that time and space, there’s no way we’d have written 24 songs that were all connected to the same thing.
“Every record we’ve ever made, you write a few songs, everyone’s in the same mindset, you hit the road, everyone goes home, with all the troubles of your world, and everybody’s mentally in a different place. When you reconnect, you’re starting from a totally different vantage point. You’re not going back to that material you started with. If you’re having a new idea, it’s starting from some other thing. So records are often disjointed that way, where with this, we were there every day, everyone was in the same situation.”
Thus the album came to life in the studio that Trucks and Tedeschi had built as the fulfilment of a long-held dream. “Once people were down here, and everybody was staying on the property and we were living together, I’d wake up every morning and make coffee, Sue would make breakfast, I’d sit around with an acoustic guitar and you just stumble across something. Before you went to bed, you’d record it and maybe bring it out to the studio, run it by somebody and they]re like ‘Let’s start the day that way.’ Two hours later you’d have the core of a song. Maybe you’d put it aside and somebody else had an idea. It was pretty incredible, man.”
As the body of work grew, the collective came to understand that this was no longer going to be a regular release. “When we had, I don’t know, 14, 15 tunes together, we started listening and realising, ‘This is too much, this is not a record anymore,” says Trucks. “That next night, I’d been listening to Axis: Bold As Love, and some of the Hendrix records, and they would finish [after] 35 minutes. That was great. I [would] feel like ‘I want to put on another record now.’ I took that in my head and sequenced some songs I thought would feel good together, and there was this sense in the room that that was fun. That that’s what we needed to do.”
Now, with such a vast new injection to their song canon, they are touring with fresh energy and appreciation. “When we got back out on the road, it was [with] a different sense of gratitude and humility from the band and crew,” Trucks concludes. “It’s hard, you travel a lot and you’re away from people you love. But we’re really lucky to do what we do.”