For 50 years — save for a brief spell in the early ’70s — Mickey Hart has been a drummer in the Grateful Dead, one of the most popular and longest-running American rock bands ever. He has also had an esoteric solo career, releasing more than a dozen albums that explore various world-music styles and exotic rhythmic grooves.
Hart’s latest LP, RAMU, might be his most eccentric yet. The album is named after a vast database of sounds from around the world that Hart has collected over the years that he calls the Random Access Musical Universe. Hart treats this database as an instrument, both on stage and as a compositional tool in the studio, creating a collage of sounds that he later shapes into highly unconventional songs. (The RAMU even brought Jerry Garcia back to life — the song “Jerry” is built around an unreleased live track of Garcia jamming on his MIDI guitar in the late ’80s.) Other collaborators on the album include Avey Tare from Animal Collective and bassist Oteil Burbridge, Hart’s bandmate from Dead & Company.
At 74, Hart remains an energetic musician and conversationalist, particularly when the topic is the Grateful Dead’s enduring legacy. I caught up with him during an off-day for the current Dead & Company tour. Hart was suffering from a head cold, but it didn’t stop him from talking for nearly an hour about his love of “rhythm and noise,” his relationship with the Dead’s other drummer, Bill Kreutzmann, and his mixed feelings about this year’s acclaimed Grateful Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip.