Write. Perform. Repeat. Always repeat.
When G. Love and Special Sauce released their self-titled debut album in 1994, it was received as part of hip-hop's expansion into alternative rock, folding the blues into a white kid's street life with live beats. Almost 20 years later, hip-hop is mainstream and G. Love can be heard as a forerunner of the current wave of Americana, embracing acoustic instruments and traditional forms to make contemporary music.
G. Love and Special Sauce return to the House of Blues Monday to play a Lundi Gras show with Swear and Shake opening. The show will end a five-week tour, so the band is ready, as G. Love says by phone from Houston, "to get it going." They've played shows during Carnival before - once with Galactic, once with George Clinton - in the late '90s, but this is the band's first Lundi Gras show.
"I just like to go with the flow," he says. "When I'm playing, it's my work and my passion and everything, but I look at our show as a party. I want people to feel inspired, to feel they can let it all hang out. So I like to let it all hang out when I'm onstage."
Part of the band's charm is to make its music sound effortless. Nobody sounds like he's working too hard onstage including G., whose slightly slack-mouthed delivery hides the effort put into making it sound that way. "It's like a martial artist," he says. "They say repetition is power. We spend hours and hours individually and as a band working on our tunes, working on our show, composing and everything. When you get onstage, you don't want to act like you're in study mode. A martial artist, they train to do these katas and techniques all day long, then if they have to go in a tournament or a real life situation, it just has to flow. We're trying to get at that flow. The best nights flow like a raging river."
The martial arts reference doesn't come from watching too many Karate Kid reruns; G. used to practice aikido and tai chi, but the piece that stayed with him most was a sign he saw in a dojo - "Power in repetition."
"I believe that in a lot of aspects of life, particularly music. You have to constantly be writing, even if some of the shit you're writing is just fodder. The process of picking up the pen and the guitar and trying to write something even when you're not truly inspired lets you hone in on that craft so that when real inspiration comes, you're ready and you know how to write a song."
That practice has made him prolific. He has recorded nine albums with Special Sauce and four solo albums. He has another solo project ready to go, the result of going into a studio with Jack Johnson to cut some acoustic blues inspired by Bukka White, Lightning Hopkins and Keith Richards. The best of those sessions will be released as an EP titled Bloodshot and Blue to be released on vinyl on National Record Store Day. When the tour's over, the band plans to go in the studio and record a new album for a late summer release.
The challenge is how to honor all of his writing in a show. By G.'s count, G. Love and Special Sauce have 16 albums' worth of material along with unreleased material, and they want to honor their art as well as the audience's interest in hearing their favorite songs. "How much new material can we afford to bring in the show?," he asks. "You want as an artist to play your new material so that you can progress because that makes the old stuff fresh." Special Sauce has been playing three or four unreleased songs on this tour, and one night they added another song, "Chicken Scratch Hot Sauce," but musically it was a undeveloped, and the push-and-pull of ideas in performance told them it needed be be thought through before it was ready for the stage again.
At the same time, G. remembers seeing Paul McCartney and as much as he liked newer material, like everybody else he wanted to hear the hits. He tweaks some of the older material to keep it fresh after years, but he understands his audience wanting to hear "Cold Beverages." "It's like urban poetry," he says, and like most songs, it's a snapshot of who and where he was when it was written. He was waiting on brake job in 1993 when he wrote the lyrics in the margin of a newspaper. After playing the song soon after, he remembers, "One of my musical friends walked up and said, G. man, I hope you like that song 'Cold Beverages' because you're going to be singing it every night for the rest of your life. And I pretty much do."