The Third Mind is a 40% Pacific Northwest—sorry, there’s no way not to say it—supergroup, though bassist Victor Krummenacher (Camper Van Beethoven, Monks of Doom) had not yet moved to Portland (or joined Eyelids) when he and guitarist Dave Alvin (The Blasters, X) first conceived the project with Seattle vocalist Jesse Sykes, guitarist David Immerglück (Monks of Doom, Counting Crows) and drummer Michael Jerome (Richard Thompson Trio, Better Than Ezra).
It’s a project that started, half seriously, with a never-realized idea to cover the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” at a charity concert years ago. What eventually came out of that concept was a collaborative, entirely unrehearsed deep dive into San Francisco psychedelia (the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Electric Flag, Jefferson Airplane) and related inspiration from the worlds of folk (Fred Neil) and jazz (Alice Coltrane).
Instead of “Truckin’,” the Butterfield Blues Band’s “East-West” became The Third Mind’s totem, though the band’s self-titled debut also included a cover of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew”—a song that also appeared on the Grateful Dead’s self-titled debut.
The Third Mind were scheduled to play Mississippi Studios in both April and August of 2020, shows that never happened for obvious reasons. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvin was also diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Neither setback stopped The Third Mind from getting back into the studio to make another record as soon as possible.
The Third Mind 2 came out in October 2023, and now the band is finally kicking off its first-ever tour at Mississippi on Jan. 11. The Portland show is also just The Third Mind’s second gig ever, having played its first at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass last September, with Grateful Dead-adjacent guitarist Mark Karan (The Other Ones, RatDog) filling in for Immerglück (he’ll continue to do so on this tour).
Alvin joined Krummenacher (who briefly worked as a creative director for this publication) in speaking to WW on Zoom just a few days before heading up Interstate 5 from California.
Dave Alvin: We came in with “East-West,” which the Paul Butterfield Blues Band cut back in ‘66. A Mike Bloomfield composition [with Nick Gravenites], and that song really kind of created—I don’t want to say jam rock—but it created open-ended rock improvisation. As opposed to jazz improvisation, because there’s a difference.
I was a little scared [to record it] because, y’know, you’ve got to not play as good as Bloomfield, or Elvin Bishop, but you have to play in honor of them. And so I had some trepidation. But after we did it once, I felt like, wow, why doesn’t everybody do “East-West”? Because nobody does!
Victor Krummenacher: It was an interesting thing, choosing that. It was a stepping-off point for stretching out at some levels in the rock domain. But there’s a real history of modal improv with jazz at that point too. I felt like that song was kind of the link between those things. We’re not jazz musicians by any means, but I’m good enough.
Alvin: That’s the thing about rock improvisation. There’s gonna be mistakes. With jazz—with fusion guys, especially—there’s no mistakes. But there’s also no excitement, because it’s like, well, he’s gonna do that. He [rehearses] that at home. And it will all be perfect.
Whereas with The Butterfield Blues Band, like on those live bootlegs of “East-West,” they’re just clamming all over the place. But it didn’t matter. And it points the way not only to what the Grateful Dead or Quicksilver Messenger Service or bands like that did. It also points the way to Television.
The Third Mind, for me, is a reaction to a lot of pop music, where it is almost all choreographed. You know, every movement that any artists makes, whether it’s Lady Gaga, or Taylor Swift, or…who’s the cute guy from One Direction? Harry Styles. Whatever move they make on stage is planned. And there’s some of that in all musics now. Even in roots music and punk rock, to some extent things are choreographed.
But when I would go see the Dead Kennedys, or in the early days or I would go to see the germs, or I would go see X or Fear, or Black Flag with, you know, whether it was Keith Morris or Henry Rollins singing, you had no idea what was going to happen.
And when I was a really little kid, like, 12 years old, I saw Jimi Hendrix twice. And you never knew what Jimi Hendrix was gonna to do. Is he gonna play “Foxy Lady”? No. He’s gonna play 30 minutes of noise and then he’ll leave. And for me that’s what’s missing in a lot of music today. Maybe Bob Dylan. If you go to see Bob, you kind of don’t have an idea what Bob’s gonna do. The guys in his band don’t really have an idea of what Bob’s gonna do! There’s not a lot of that these days. The Third Mind is saying, we should get back to that. There needs to be a balance.
Krummenacher: I’m the guy who refuses to kind of play it the same way every night. And that’s caused me some grief at points. But I just really like a situation where I can feel out how the song is being played. It’s a dialogue, right? That’s where you’re going to get the spark that yields the moment that I think people will remember. If you go and see a good show, or play a good show, you’re transported. For me, it’s the place where time does actually stand still.
Alvin: One of the things that I think unites everybody in the band—and this gets to the [question of] are we just jamming—is everybody in the band understands songs. It’s not just, oh, I got this lick. Everybody understands how songs are structured, and it’s all musicians that listen to the other musicians. People say, “Dave, this is so different from what you do normally.” And it’s not.
Krummenacher: I think Television is a good example. I mean, I saw Television play many times. Tom Verlaine never played the same solo, ever. And they certainly stretched out. I saw “Marquee Moon” be eight minutes long and 13 minutes long. Or Led Zeppelin. If you listen to bootlegs of Led Zeppelin, those songs [have a] radically different feel tempo and vibe from [the studio records]. There’s something about being a musician where you’re actually attuned to the moment that’s kind of being lost and forgotten.
Alvin: When I was in the hospital bed, I had a, I don’t want to use the term bucket list, just a to do list, of certain things I was gonna do If I lived. I think number two was, “Third Mind Record. We’re gonna do another.” Because we got going on the first. And when we played the first live gig. It made sense. It wasn’t a fluke. It was like, “This is us. This is what we sound like together.”
My whole career has been…and I’m going to use a terrible word…organic. Nobody ever said, Hey, Alvin, what you ought to do is this. I mean, they did say it, especially in the 80s. “You want to have a hit record. ditch the pompadour and sound like the Eurythmics!” That’s true.
You just follow your heart, you follow what feels good to you musically, and expose yourself to as many other musicians as you can. I’m self-taught. So I learned by playing with people. And in The Third Mind, we’re all sitting in a circle recording, right? And we’re all looking at each other, and we have to listen to each other. We can’t just go ok, it’s GCD. You have to listen to what [everybody]is playing.
And then mainly we’re listening to Jesse. Because especially on the new album, just about every song starts with Jesse. She would kick on the track, like, this is my tempo, this is where I’m comfortable. And then we would come in and do our Third Mind thing around her voice.
The great thing about Jesse is, she likes abstract music. A lot of singers don’t. And she likes the band going place that maybe they weren’t supposed to go and taking their time to get there. Most singers are like, Oh God, he’s doing a 12-bar solo. Have you ever ever noticed Rod Stewart, in the old days with The Faces, when they’d be getting maybe a little out of hand? “Oh my god the, focus is not on me!” And Jesse’s not like that. Jesse is just, with the band. And in some ways leading the band.
It’s a wonderful way to play. It’s a wonderful way to learn. I’ve done a lot of weird things in my career that make people do the puppy dog head: “Why is he doing that? Why isn’t playing like The Blasters.” And I can do that still. But to become a well-rounded musician, you have to expose yourself to situations. For me, when you get down to it. I’m just a primitive emotional blues guitar player, a bar-room blues guitar player. But in 40 years of my career, I’ve managed to put that kind of guitar into a lot of different places. I haven’t really changed the way I play, I just change the situations.
Krummenacher: And that’s what I’ve always liked about you as a musician. And what I think good music does, is, we all can kind of hit our riffs and moves. But can you assemble those riffs and moves in such a way that they form an arc? And they’re emotive, and they tell a story? And can you do it on the fly?
SEE IT: The Third Mind and special guests The Rain Parade play Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., 503-288-3895, mississippistudios.com. 8 pm Thursday, Jan. 11. $30. 21+.