A CONVERSATION WITH THE SHERPAS
Puremusic: So we're here at the restaurant with everybody's favorite group, the Sherberts.
Tom Prasada-Rao: The Sherberts! [laughter] I love that name.
PM: For the benefit of the readership--your loyal fans all know the story, but--what is the genesis of the group? Where and when, and so forth.
Tom Kimmel: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away--
TPR: --called Texas.
Michael Lille: Kerrville, Texas. We were all co-winners of the New Folk competition at Kerrville Folk Festival in 1993.
PM: Kerrville has thirty-six finalists--
TPR: At that time they had forty.
PM: Okay, so forty finalists out of hundreds and hundreds of applicants, who knows, maybe thousands--
PM: And you guys all happened to be winners in '93.
TK: I wouldn't say "happened to be winners."
PM: [laughs] It wasn't just that the stars aligned.
ML: Out of the finalists, there are six winners chosen each year, and we were three of the six.
PM: Are any of the songs that won for any of you in that year still in the Sherpas repertoire?
ML: Somewhere in the extended repertoire, but none made it onto this record. [Honor Among Thieves]
TPR: None made the cut, no.
PM: Of the thirteen tunes on the record, is it pretty evenly distributed, which pairs of writers wrote what?
TPR: Actually we went at it from the point of view of what are the best songs from among the ones that we do all the time, the best songs that we've written. We really didn't try to make it equitable as much as we did try to say, "Hey, these are the songs we feel the best about."
ML: About half of them all three of us wrote together. And then the other half are duo-ed in different combinations.
TPR: The only one that has a writer who's outside of the Sherpas is "Angels."
TK: Which I wrote with Jennifer Kimball. [TK's first ex-wife, a great songwriter]
ML: And we love that song.
PM: It's one of the best Sherpas songs. How long ago did you write that with Jennifer?
TK: We wrote it in 1990, before I knew these guys.
PM: So the group started in '93, but it took a full ten years before the first record arrived.
ML: We met in '93, but the first time we went on the road was actually '94, as part of the Internet Quartet series.
TPR: Do you know Alan Rowoth?
PM: Yeah, we've met. [He's a prominent figure on the folk scene--a promoter, a radio and web personality, and more. Highly regarded.]
TPR: In '94 Alan decided he was going to sponsor these tours called the Internet Quartets, which he would put together. He would assemble groups of four to go out on the road and do ten, twelve gigs together.
ML: And there were maybe ten groups, and they would pretty much follow each other, so it went for a few months, each quartet doing the same circuit.
PM: And it was all bands of people that he would just draw together?
TPR: He put them together, yeah.
PM: So could it be said that Alan Rowoth formed the Sherpas, literally?
ML: It could be. It kind of could be. But he put us together because he liked us all individually. I don't know if he really saw it as us gelling, saw us being able to sing together and play together.
PM: Was it magic right off? Was it rough? Was it journeymen? How would you describe that first outing?
TK: I thought it was pretty magical, myself. I thought it was a really cool thing.
ML: As far as those gigs went, you know, like anything else you go into...
TK: Oh, yeah, I didn't mean the tour was magic. But I dug the singing and playing.
PM: I've asked it before, but I don't think it was answered to my satisfaction. Why is there never any bass in the trio?
TK: There is now, on the album. Tom plays bass on the whole album.
PM: And I'm sure any of you can play the shit out of the bass.
ML: He does [pointing to TPR], but we don't. We can play a few notes.
PM: I know TPR can really play anything he gets his hands on.
TPR: Thank you, but that's not true.
TK: Well, it is true.
ML: Hey, we'll be the judges of that. [laughter]
TK: But here's the thing, now, about playing folk gigs and stuff: if we have an opportunity to do a gig where we can get everything sounding right, Tom plays the bass with his thumb on the guitar. If you get his guitar sounding right, there's a lot of bottom happening.
PM: It's true. Yeah, if you can address his guitar's bottom end, it really swings.
TK: I think we could just add a percussionist, it'd be great.
TPR: Yeah, I think you're right.
TK: And then Tom could switch off and play some piano too.
ML: But a little bass would be great. In the other group I play in, it was all guitars, and then when another guy came back to join, we basically said, "You've got to learn to play bass." And he did, and it's been really helpful.
TK: We talked about me getting a bass and starting to work on it. And it's one of those things like, "Yeah, in my spare time I'm going to..."
PM: Yeah, right. continue