“We used to play for silver, now we play for life!”
It’s Cubensis' 25th Silver Anniversary of tributing the Dead! Formed in 1987 in Southern California, Cubensis continue to prove that the music never stopped. You can catch Cubensis doin' the Dead live in SoCal all summer long. Can't make it to California? Check out a classic Cubensis performance here.
Learn more about Cubensis in the exclusive interview with founding member Craig Marshall below and at cubensis.com.
Tell us a little bit about the name Cubensis. Where did it come from?
Cubensis is the scientific name for the magic mushroom - the psychedelic mushroom. We thought we'd be clever so we named the band Sugar Cubensis in the beginning. That was to play on the words Sugar Magnolia - the song by the Grateful Dead - and also the fact that people took acid on sugarcubes. We thought now we've got a name that kind of sounds good in the mouth. Right about that time Bjork came along, if you remember her... she was in the Sugarcubes and people were coming to our shows thinking that we were the Sugarcubes. So we just shortened it to Cubensis and we've stuck with that.
How and when did you form the band?
Technically we got together in '87 to rehearse and then in '88 we actually performed out in public so we're calling this our 25th anniversary year.
We actually started the band because the Grateful Dead didn't play in L.A. but once or twice a year and that just didn't work for us. So we decided for our own amusement that we'd start a band. My brother had a friend at work named Chester who was a Dead Head and a guitarist and a singer. And my sister was dating a guy who was a Dead Head and a drummer. And there was a kid living in the house in front of Chester's who was a bass player and we all just kind of congealed in that way and started rehearsing at somebody's house in a garage and it went from there...
Do you exclusively play Dead tunes or do you have any of your own recordings?
We also play Jerry Garcia Band stuff, of course, which we consider fair play but we really do just play nothing but Grateful Dead songs and the cover material that they covered like Bob Dylan. That only leaves us with about 250 songs. [laughs]
What are some of your favorites to perform?
Truly, I'd say some of the ones that are most peoples favorites like "Scarlet Begonias," "China Cat," "China/Rider" as they called it. I love "Run For The Roses." The more complicated stuff interests me the most. "Lazy Lightning" is a song that comes to mind because it's got an odd time signature and it's interesting because of that.
How do you feel about improvisation when you get in to these jams? Do you kind of play them straightforward or did you get into the spirit?
Our whole thing is improvising. The Grateful Dead were brilliant. I don't know if they did this on purpose, but they left huge spaces inside their songs for improvisation - almost like they planned for other people to play their stuff. Like they said, "ok the next band can jam through here." We'll have a little bit of words, then a long jam segment, then a little bit of words. Although they probably didn't create it for us, they sure helped us out in that regard. Improvisation was the crux of the matter for them and it is for us. That's what sets us apart from say Dark Star Orchestra or any of the other jam bands out there - what we do with that space in between the lyrics.
Tell us a little more about the video you submitted...
My buddy Tibor was the videographer. It happened to be my birthday show - my birthday is January 14th and he said how would you like me to come down to the Light House in Hermosa Beach - where we were playing - and film the show. At first, I discouraged him. Because of the logistics of the place, the only shot he could get was from the corner. In other words, he couldn't get us dead on. But I said if you want to...so when I got down there, he was all set up and ready to go so we said we'd do it. We just played a regular set. This was before we'd even heard of the project. Then he and I were talking about getting involved in the project and I said you know, having a pretty girl, wouldn't hurt, would it? That performance by CC... I remember it distinctly because I actually teared up at the end of it. She just hit it so hard - such a great rendition of the song. That particular rendition was just awesome so it was one of the few that we submitted and it was a really wise choice as it turned out.
We hear you had a chance encounter with Jerry Garcia back in the day...
My girlfriend and I were going up to see the Grateful Dead in Eugene, Oregon. We were going up the day before and our flight took us to San Francisco and then on to Eugene. We're sitting in San Francisco for our 2-hour layover and she spots Jerry Garcia in the gift shop. I said I'm not gonna bug the man, he probably gets harassed all the time but she went up and said can I have a hug? He put down his briefcase and gave her a hug. She got an autograph and was just in heaven. Then I decided I might not get another chance so I went up and thanked him for all the music. I said was in a band called Cubensis and he got the joke. He liked the name. I said I see you're going up early to the show and he said yea, otherwise I'd have to travel with a band.[laughs] Actually the first thing I said was I'm in this band called Cubensis and we play all Grateful Dead music and he said "oh, yea so do we!" He started laughing, busted me up, so that kinda broke the ice. We started talking about all the secrets that he did with his guitars and at that point it struck me who I was talking to. I kind of got star struck, then everything he said after that kind of went over my head because I realized I was talking to the man, my favorite guitar player. I wish I'd had a recording but hopefully somewhere in my head, I internalized it. I got to ask him what I call the 64-thousand dollar question, which is how do you feel about us playing your music? He said as long as you do a good job of it, go ahead. I figured that meant nobody could tell me no.