Dead & Company’s Oteil Burbridge Talks Cannabis, Music, and Creativity
By Rae Lland April 9, 2017
There are some things that just belong together: earth and seeds, love and joy, sun and surf… cannabis and music. One may even say that cannabis culture blossomed hand in hand with music scenes and continues to do so today. There’s no denying the connection, and so it comes as no surprise that many musicians today have found a place in the cannabis industry, even developing unique strains that bear their name.
One such artist is Oteil Burbridge, bassist of Dead & Company and former member of The Allman Brothers and Aquarium Rescue Unit. Last year, in conjunction with the Denver-based grower Groundswell, Burbridge released his own custom strain, aptly dubbed Oteil’s Egyptian Kush–or OEK for short. I sat down with Burbridge to discuss his custom strain and how cannabis interconnects with his world of music and creativity.
Leafly: How did you get involved in developing this strain?
Oteil Burbridge: The founder of Groundswell, Rodney Coquia, I knew from a long time ago when I used to play with the Aquarium Rescue Unit. After I got the Dead & Co gig, Rodney asked, ‘What do you think about having a line of weed with your name on it?’ I could hardly believe it was something we were even talking about.
How did you decide what you wanted the strain to be like?
I told Rodney I love fruit flavors–I like hints of fruit in beer, blueberry or cranberry. Rodney suggested cherry, and I love cherry. Then I told him I wanted it to be up because I like to play, so I don’t want to be put to sleep. It’s not the nighttime go-to-bed [strain]; it’s for when I’m practicing or writing.
OEK is two strains blended together. One is called Alien OG and the other is OG Kush. It’s a hybrid that is indica leaning. The whole name for its parent strain is Cherry Alien OG Kush. When I heard that I said, perfect! I love all of those things.
Deadheads are known to be a pretty eclectic crowd. Have you noticed a difference in vibe when it comes to the Dead & Co audience, as opposed to other projects? If so, can you try to put the feeling into words?
I will say that Deadheads are way more open to things that are unfamiliar. In fact, they seek it out. They have an explorer’s mentality about music and life.
I just watched an interview with a very young Branford Marsalis about his experiences with the Grateful Dead. He said they were one of the only bands where the crowd payed close attention to the opening bands, bought his other records, and started showing up at his concerts. That’s really saying something!
In your experience, how intertwined is cannabis culture with music culture?
Well for one thing, at least in rock-and-roll, jazz, and funk, I’m pretty sure just about everyone’s favorite songs were written under the influence of cannabis and maybe a few other things. But I don’t think that you can’t write great music without it. It’s a convenience as far as getting into a different head space. Personally, it’s always made me hear new music in my head and want to play as soon as it kicks in.
I’ve heard you talk a bit before about the almost “psychic” connection that happens between musicians sharing a stage. Would you explain that concept a bit and how it feels to be in the midst of it?
If you play improvisational music for long enough, and you play with the same group of people long enough, you sort of mentally merge with each other to a certain extent.
There is also something that feels mystical about it when groups of people totally unrelated to each other achieve it. You learn each other’s tendencies by osmosis somehow. It happened with Bill Kreutzmann, Scott Murawski, and myself on the first day we met. We were all taken by surprise. Chemistry is chemistry. I feel bad for people who have a palpable and undeniable musical chemistry with people that they have grown to intensely dislike. It’s a cruel cosmic joke.
What does cannabis mean to you personally and how does it influence you creatively?
[Using cannabis] coincided with me learning to play the bass, so cannabis and bass have always been connected in a way and still [are fore me]. To this day if I smoke, I hear music going through my head. I remember one time I heard this classical piece playing like a radio in my head; it was not anything that I’d heard before. It was really weird, and I wish I could have transcribed it. But I did enjoy just sitting there and listening to it. That was a really intense experience.
I’m working on some new stuff right now. When I vape and just get down in the rabbit hole, I’m finding a bunch of stuff. It’s an interesting creative period right now.
Why do you think cannabis is so popular among creative people of all types?
That I can’t really answer. Different people like different things. My wife Jess is extremely creative and she doesn’t like it at all! Also people go through different stages in their lives. Some people like to take a break for a while and then return to it later.
Other than legalization, what would you say has been the biggest change, cannabis scene-wise, between your days with Aquarium Rescue Unit and now?
I think people have felt the same way about cannabis for millennia, but in the last 100 years it was stigmatized on purpose by our government for racist and corporate reasons. Of course, modern science applied to cannabis culture has greatly improved the taste, aroma, and variety of buzzes! God bless our American growers. For me personally, it’s just nice to not feel like a criminal anymore for something that is so obviously not criminal.