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 bands 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 [2005s 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 didnt 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 couldnt imagine doing it again, too quickly anyhow. I needed to do something different. I think we all needed some space. And wed 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 wasnt being attended to, and we werent 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 didnt give us the same thing back. Being in groups is pretty special, and I dont think they really get put together in the same way later in life as they do when youre 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 werent 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. Ive 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 hes commanding in a lot of ways. Theres 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 youre hearing on this record could not have been done without Jack.
The Wallflowers have been described as a straight ahead rock band in a time that doesnt 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.
Its funny. When people say that, it almost appears like a backhanded compliment. Its nonsensical to me. I dont 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 well take that as a compliment.
You know, thats what weve always done. Weve always dug down to the roots, and weve always tried to represent the history of American rock music. Being interesting, or inventive, or any of that kind of stuff, Id 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 its further, its different. Im more concerned about energy. Im 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. Its instinctual. The more you do it, the more things youre going to pick up along the way that you believe are useful, and some of them just arent. 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 its 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 bands 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 thats kind of how we felt with this record, too. Those are legs you want to be on when youre making any record, I think.
The first single, Reboot the Mission, features The Clashs Mick Jones and even has that backbeat shuffle thats associated with The Clash. Which came first, Jones collaborating with you or the song?
Well, he collaborated with us in spirit. He didnt 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, theres 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. Its 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 arent 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 groups never taken the bait. Were not even pressured. Id love to tell you that we stand up to the record company every year and tell them that were not going to do X, Y, and Z. Thankfully, we dont 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 doesnt make a difference. Its just got to be believable. You do have to be experimental in your own way, but you also got to know your parameters of whats believable. I think that weve stayed the course, not for any real purpose other than its just always felt good to us. I dont know that weve ever fit in with any scene or any other pocket of groups, anyhow. I dont think weve ever watched a scene and thought, why arent we doing X, Y, and Z? I dont think its 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. Were not jumping around with banjos and baseball hats and playing with punk rock spirit like theres this new Americana thing. Weve always been that to some degree. Weve always known that it was good.
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.
Its been a long time since Ive listened to that record. You mentioned how the band formed in 92, but really, didnt 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]?
Thats more right, yeah. Id 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 dont 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 thats 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 doesnt allow for such material and thats why you did the solo albums?
Thats 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 youre in bands, theres not always space for the vocals to sit on top, and theres a lot of other things to push those sounds along. And theres a lot of other reasons to put those songs together, and my voice isnt always going to sit on top of The Wallflowers. Its a different kind of lineup. But thats 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, theres no reason Im not working with The Wallflowers then, because thats the finest rock and roll group I know. So if Im not going to use them, I dont see why Im going to go hire a bunch of people to sound like them.
Weve heard those records, because people do that all the time, and it just didnt seem worthwhile to me. Those records, I guess people use the word intimate, but that wasnt 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 didnt 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 its just musicianship, and thats 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 wasnt really one that I would want to repeat. Theres a mixed reputation. You hear lots of different stories on that. I didnt find it to be very creative. I didnt feel pushed, and I didnt 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 Ive known my whole life. He has such a special quality that theres nobody thats going to get in that room, no matter if youre the singer, the writer, the dobro player, youre the drummer… nobodys failing in that room because theres such positivity put into it. Thats just how life is. You gotta go where the light is, and you gotta go where the positivity is, and the encouragement is. Hes able to do something that none of the other guys can.