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Schools In Session

Stockholm Syndrome helps Widespread Panic bassist wander off jam-band course

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With Widespread Panic in the midst of a yearlong hiatus, the band's fans must spend 2004 looking elsewhere to satiate their desire for fresh, groove-oriented material -- especially with the "we really mean it this time" demise of Phish just a short summer tour away. Luckily for them, Holy Happy Hour, the debut album from Panic bassist Dave Schools' new project, Stockholm Syndrome, has its fair share of the kind of loose-limbed rock excursions that the tie-dyed demographic finds so appealing. But despite the surface jam-band similarities, Schools doesn't want anyone associating Stockholm Syndrome with the "J word."

"Part of my thing in the last few years has been to let the rest of the music world know that there's more to me than being a jam-band bass player," the prolific musician says, checking off his "electronica-style" project Slang and his power-pop trio Acetate. "Shit," continues Schools, "I'm on tour with J Mascis (ex-Dinosaur Jr.) right now."

But Schools is also quick to assert that all those extracurricular activities don't mean he's turning his back on the jam-band circuit.

"I've got no problem with [that association]; I'm very proud of what Panic has done," says Schools. "We more or less created that genre, along with Phish. But nonetheless, there's a label associated with that [scene]. When people think "jam band,' they think Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic. And they discount it."

While those who are quick to dismiss the spiraling, free-form rock of Widespread Panic will shrug off Stockholm Syndrome out of hand, the semi-super group of noted jammers -- a collaboration between Schools and the road-warrior singer/songwriter Jerry Joseph (of the Jackmormons) -- boasts a number of departure points from Schools' day job. For one thing, the other members of Stockholm Syndrome -- guitarist Eric McFadden (Les Claypool, P-Funk All Stars), drummer Wally Ingram (Sheryl Crow, David Lindley) and keyboardist Danny Dziuk -- bring their own distinct musical backgrounds to the project. As a result, the songs on Holy Happy Hour are tighter in structure, which Schools says was a deliberate choice on his part.

"The way the record sounds has a lot to do with me and the way I sort of orchestrated things in the studio," says Schools, elaborating. "I basically played bass for one hour a day, and was in the control room with [producer] Terry Manning for the other 20. We worked really long days. I wanted to make a rock record, and I think I succeeded. It gets heavy. It runs the gamut. Sure, we can jam, obviously. The musicians are of the caliber that they can do anything. But I wanted to prove that there was more to me, and Jerry wants to be [known as] more than just the singer/ songwriter with the heroin-death-Jesus complex."

Both goals are accomplished on Holy Happy Hour. Schools shepherds the talented assemblage through a workout that targets its classic guitar rock muscles ("Counter-Clock World," "Tight"), sporadically indulging in a Jimmy Buffett-ish Caribbean vibe ("Sack Full of Hearts") or even a bit of playful noodling (a cover of the Climax Blues Band classic "Couldn't Get It Right"). And Joseph, while still a lyricist in occasional need of an editor, unleashes some pointed political criticism on "Empire One," a barbed take on the Iraq war ("Ask me if I'm lying, Hell yeah I'm lying ... You're either with me or against me, better choose").

If such specific rants are different from Widespread, Schools asserts that's another deliberate direction.

"In Panic, as a rule, we try not to take a stand on anything," says Schools. "If we do, we want it to be localized, [so] we can see it directly helping people. At the same time, it's hard not to feel certain ways about things. I wanted a sort of political voice, and Jerry's great for that."

If audiences register a positive vote for his new project, Schools is ready and willing to keep Stockholm Syndrome going beyond the initial collaboration, and he says the other members are on board as well. For his part, he's confident he can juggle the gig with his other responsibilities.

"Panic these days routinely plays around 80 shows a year," says Schools. "And a year has 365 days. That leaves plenty of time for another band -- and for my dogs."

Stockholm Syndrome plays the Visulite Theatre Thursday with openers Tishamingo. Doors open at 8pm, show starts at 9pm and tickets are $15. Stockholm Syndrome plays an in-store at Manifest Dics & Tapes on South Boulevard at 6pm on the day of the show.

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