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Interview: Jakob Dylan (of The Wallflowers)

on October 09, 2012, 12:01am

 Interview: Jakob Dylan (of The Wallflowers)

After a seven-year absence, Jakob Dylan and The Wallflowers return with a revamped lineup and a new record, Glad All Over. A few weeks back, Consequence of Sound caught up with Dylan to discuss the band’s hiatus and working with Mick Jones on the album’s Clash-inspired first single, “Reboot the Mission”. We also discussed what brought the band down from the shelf, what it means to have former Chili Pepper Jack Irons on drums, and the uninspiring sessions with mega-producer Rick Rubin.

Over the seven years since the last Wallflowers album [2005’s Rebel, Sweetheart], all of you guys have kept pretty busy. Did life just happen, or did you put The Wallflowers on a conscious hiatus?

No, we went on a hiatus. We didn’t know at the time how long that would be, but we got home from whatever it was we were doing last, and we all agreed we’d spread out. It was time for everybody to do something else. I think everybody felt the same thing, but I certainly needed a break from the treadmill of touring, getting home and writing new songs for The Wallflowers. At that point, I couldn’t imagine doing it again, too quickly anyhow. I needed to do something different. I think we all needed some space. And we’d been working on that thing for so long at that point that… I think that we were smart enough to know that if the band was going to have longevity, that the breaks are necessary. Not everybody can just hit hard for 30, 40 years straight and get great results. A lot of us are more normal human beings, and we need some space from one another.

What made you feel it was time to come back with a new album?

The time was good. The time was healthy. People had gotten real busy and done a lot of worthwhile things. We always stayed in touch. we all supported one another, what we were doing during that time. I think there was just an appreciation for having a group. It wasn’t being attended to, and we weren’t doing anything with it, but it was still in our pockets that we were in this band together. We all did a lot of things that didn’t give us the same thing back. Being in groups is pretty special, and I don’t think they really get put together in the same way later in life as they do when you’re younger.

So, I think we had an appreciation and a fondness for the fact that we were in a group together, and it was a shame that we weren’t doing something with it right now. And then, really, it just took time getting us back in the same room. It took another, believe it or not, a year and a half or so of clearing schedules and getting people to the point that we had the time.

You switched up players again, this time adding Stuart Mathis and Jack Irons to the lineup. From talk I’ve read, Irons seems essential to your new sound. How has this new blood in the band affected The Wallflowers?

Well, by being one of the best drummers on the planet, it gives us a kick. You could say that. We could not have done this record without Jack Irons. Everybody knows that. I’ve known Jack, and we agreed that he was in the group. I still think it was just kind of an unknown factor of how the record would go and how the chemistry would be, but once we started playing, it became very clear that he’s commanding in a lot of ways. There’s no way we could have made this record without Jack Irons. We could have a different record, and that record could have been special, too, but whatever you’re hearing on this record could not have been done without Jack.

 Interview: Jakob Dylan (of The Wallflowers)

The Wallflowers have been described as “a straight ahead rock band in a time that doesn’t value straight ahead rock bands.” That probably puts up more of a barrier for you guys, but at the same time, it would allow for you to focus on who you truly are, which is a classicist rock band in the best way, shape, and form.

It’s funny. When people say that, it almost appears like a backhanded compliment. It’s nonsensical to me. I don’t see us one way or the other, straight ahead or not, but sturdy and dependable, I would say, and if that means straight ahead to people, then I guess we’ll take that as a compliment.

You know, that’s what we’ve always done. We’ve always dug down to the roots, and we’ve always tried to represent the history of American rock music. Being interesting, or inventive, or any of that kind of stuff, I’d rather just sit back and watch lots of other people chase that tail. I think we do something really dependable and sturdy. I think this record is that, but I think it’s further, it’s different. I’m more concerned about energy. I’m not concerned about being inventive.

The press release for this album describes the sound of Glad All Over as “a band of 21-year-olds ready to set the world on fire, but with the wisdom of a veteran band.” Would you say that this album was made from an “If I knew then what I know now” perspective?

You know, more from what we knew then was right. The less we knew was better. The less everybody knows is better. Because rock and roll is primal. It just really is. It’s instinctual. The more you do it, the more things you’re going to pick up along the way that you believe are useful, and some of them just aren’t. Some of them bog you down and waste your time. And the spirit that we had when we started in 1992, that spirit kind of found us again, and we had the realization that it’s actually that simple. It got over-complicated, and some of those complications were good. But our hunch early on, the way we did it when we were younger, was absolutely correct.

I listened to the band’s first record, and we were totally insane, and ambitious, and unwavering, and uninterested in who was going to listen to the music or not, and that’s kind of how we felt with this record, too. Those are legs you want to be on when you’re making any record, I think.

The first single, “Reboot the Mission”, features The Clash’s Mick Jones and even has that backbeat shuffle that’s associated with The Clash. Which came first, Jones collaborating with you or the song?

Well, he collaborated with us in spirit. He didn’t know it. [Laughs.] We worked up the song, we had it, and we discussed a lot of the lesser talked about, or I should say… of course, there’s all the songs of The Clash that everybody knows, but [The Wallflowers] have been such die-hard fans for so long, we talked a lot about how much they could stretch out and how really ahead of their time they were with those beats. It’s puzzling how they came across them, but we started that as an homage to them, and it just became obvious afterwards. I name check Joe Strummer in the song. For Jack Irons, it only made sense that if it sounds like The Clash, why aren’t we asking Mick Jones to do something on it?

A few minutes ago, you said that you stayed tried and true while other bands were chasing fads and tails of the moment. With that said, the last Wallflowers album, Rebel, Sweetheart, came in 2005 when a lot of bands were playing into the whole electronic scene, adding tweaks and sounds that were popular at the time, but you guys seemed to resist that. Does the electronic component not interest you?

You should chase whatever you want to chase, but this group’s never taken the bait. We’re not even pressured. I’d love to tell you that we stand up to the record company every year and tell them that we’re not going to do X, Y, and Z. Thankfully, we don’t work with too many people that put that kind of pressure on the band anyways. I think that bands should chase whatever they want to do. It doesn’t make a difference. It’s just got to be believable. You do have to be experimental in your own way, but you also got to know your parameters of what’s believable. I think that we’ve stayed the course, not for any real purpose other than it’s just always felt good to us. I don’t know that we’ve ever fit in with any scene or any other pocket of groups, anyhow. I don’t think we’ve ever watched a scene and thought, why aren’t we doing X, Y, and Z? I don’t think it’s applied to us anyhow.

When people heard “One Headlight” and they forget that that song, you know… this was a band that wore hats in their videos. and had beards. and was already playing banjos and mandolins on record. We were already doing that, and I know that that is very en vogue right now to some people. I remember my last record, a review that I saw that said I was wearing my very trendy. en vogue hat. It sounded slightly hysterical to me because this band has always appreciated that kind of music. We’re not jumping around with banjos and baseball hats and playing with punk rock spirit like there’s this new Americana thing. We’ve always been that to some degree. We’ve always known that it was good.

the wallflowers heather kaplan 11 Interview: Jakob Dylan (of The Wallflowers)

Photo by Heather Kaplan

You mentioned Bringing Down the Horse [the album with “One Headlight”], and that album was produced by T-Bone Burnett well before O, Brother and the whole 2000’s rise in Americana.

 Yeah, man. That song goes out with a dobro solo.

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to that record. You mentioned how the band formed in ’92, but really, didn’t the band form a few years earlier, and you had a debut album, and then you kind of dropped that band and reformed a new lineup around you and Rami [Jaffee, organist]?

That’s more right, yeah. I’d been working on it since ’89 or so. The first record came out in ’92. The band got reshuffled for what became the band that did Bringing Down the Horse.

Was there a reason for the re-shuffle, or were you just trying to find something different, because you had been with those guys for three years before the album came out?

Gotta jog my memory now… some people left, some people were asked to leave. Things just get solidified. The game had gone up on a different level at that point. We started out with a lot of ambition, but I don’t know that we were all at the same ability. It was a very strong-minded band, that first lineup. But not everybody could play as well as the others, and was as dedicated. That just kind of works itself out. Better opportunities come, and the weaker things just fall by the side, and that’s what began to happen with that lineup.

With the exception of one song off of that debut, “After the Blackbird Sings”, you are the sole songwriter for the band. During the hiatus, you put out two solo albums, both of which show a more intimate side of you. Is there something within The Wallflowers construct that doesn’t allow for such material and that’s why you did the solo albums?

That’s not why I did the solo albums, but when you make solo albums, your voice is very likely going to sit on top throughout. But when you’re in bands, there’s not always space for the vocals to sit on top, and there’s a lot of other things to push those sounds along. And there’s a lot of other reasons to put those songs together, and my voice isn’t always going to sit on top of The Wallflowers. It’s a different kind of lineup. But that’s also part of the reason I made those records the way I did. I thought if I want to make a rock and roll record, there’s no reason I’m not working with The Wallflowers then, because that’s the finest rock and roll group I know. So if I’m not going to use them, I don’t see why I’m going to go hire a bunch of people to sound like them.

We’ve heard those records, because people do that all the time, and it just didn’t seem worthwhile to me. Those records, I guess people use the word intimate, but that wasn’t really the objective as much as it presented itself easier to me that those records are going to be more subdued in lieu of having a band. I didn’t want to have a rotating cast of musicians coming in, and I wanted to pick something quiet. I wanted to find a way to have my voice sit on top and not have to find a sound. If you make a rock and roll record, you gotta have chemistry with people, otherwise it’s just musicianship, and that’s not enough.

What did you want to accomplish working with Rick Rubin on Seeing Things and by re-teaming with T-Bone Burnett on Women + Country?

Well, to be honest, I kind of wound up in a situation with Seeing Things with Rick Rubin. And that wasn’t really one that I would want to repeat. There’s a mixed reputation. You hear lots of different stories on that. I didn’t find it to be very creative. I didn’t feel pushed, and I didn’t feel like I was at a creative peak or high at all making that record, and it was very laborious and not in a creative way. And T-Bone I’ve known my whole life. He has such a special quality that there’s nobody that’s going to get in that room, no matter if you’re the singer, the writer, the dobro player, you’re the drummer… nobody’s failing in that room because there’s such positivity put into it. That’s just how life is. You gotta go where the light is, and you gotta go where the positivity is, and the encouragement is. He’s able to do something that none of the other guys can.