As a musician Dawn is about as versatile as they come. I’ve seen her perform with countless lineups of talented musicians and always, always, a great sense of who she is and her approach to music comes out. She has that sought after ‘sound’ so many bands are preoccupied with developing. In both her live show and her record ‘fireproof’, i’m always impressed by dawn’s ability to use percussion and percussive sounds in subtle and inventive ways. Whether it’s a gentle guitar ballad or some soul coughing style slice of studio fun, there’s a sense of seriousness and playfulness that merge and draws me in.
Dawn and i were able to trade emails while she was in austin for sxsw and the activities surrounding it. Whatever keyboard she was writing on had the caps lock stuck down.
You're no stranger to the recording studio. Tell us a bit about your experience behind the booth and in front of the mics.
I basically dropped out of nyu 5 years ago to intern at a recording studio (looking glass, owned by philip glass) and have been slaving away in ny studios ever since. I’ve worked as an assistant and freelance engineer in a handfull of ny studios, and even named this album after one, "fireproof" which used to be based in red hook, brooklyn but has been moved since to la. I’ve been a part of some great sessions as an assistant and engineer - got to work with ryan adams, joseph arthur, hem, patti griffin, linda thompson, brendan benson, etc.
For my own music, my first album was recorded afterhours at dubway studios, when emery dobyns and i were just starting out as interns, twiddling lots of colorful knobs and getting giddy over crazy plug-ins. This new one (fireproof) was more traditional. All the basics tracked live to 2" tape in one day, and all the overdubs done in a week afterwards, when i camped out in the studio and just started adding things, and fuckin shit up, as you do.
Tell me a bit about your writing process. How do you develop your music and lyrics?
Hmm, inspiration can strike like a lightning bolt or a bowling ball for me. It's either a godsend or an idea that hits a bunch of other ideas and knocks everything over
How did you come up with ‘bodyguard,’ with its marvelously visceral imagery?
Those images in "bodyguard" literally came from a dream, as a lot of my songs do. That one just happened to forshadow a real live bushwick robbery. You have a unique way of combining personal emotions with interesting images ("they took the moldings off the walls/erased our signatures from things" – bodyguard or "we are like kids in a play / set in the victorian age / we only know what to say / because we practiced at home" – kids in a play). What are some songs or artists that were a particular influence on your approach to lyrics?
Lyrically i'm much more influenced by authors and poets. I think when i wrote "bodyguard" i was reading a lot of bukowski - "kids in a play" i dont remember, but i could lie and say i was into shel silverstein, i love him, and wish he was still around to marry me.
The cover of fireproof has a really interesting image of a woman with long braids feeding a banana to a two headed bird. Care to unpack this?
That drawing was taken from a graphic novella called "circus song" by a great artist and good friend, danica novgorodoff. I steal her images all the time, and try to write music for them.
Do you have any upcoming touring plans? Where are you now?
Yeah, "fireproof" is coming out in europe in may (on a label called fargo) and i'll be over there for at least a month, maybe more, touring to support that. Right now i’m in austin, texas. Gonna record a cover of that peter, bjorn, & john song "young folks" tomorrow with a group of bluegrass musicians that i met last year at sxsw at a bbq called the wst band (the youngest member is 68 yrs old!).
What are you working on now?
Well that, and i'm workin on a cover of a harry nillson song for a nyc826 compilation cd. They're a cool organization and it's for charity, if you've never seen the kids animation film "the point" by nillson, you need to! Amazing songs and arrangements! In fact, i'm scared to even attempt this cover. I'm also workin on my 2nd film score with a friend steve salett (from the king of france band).
When you tour, do you have a steady band you work with?
For the bigger shows, people usually ask that i play solo, but if i could i would play every show with ray rizzo (drums, kaoss!) And eric stevenson (cello), two kickass musicians from lousiville who just happen to have known me when i was in high school! There are so many people i love playing music with here in ny. Sam cohen (guitar,steel - his bands called apollo sunshine), bob hoffnar (pedal steel), jonny flower (bass), all the people from the band hem, and i'm the kind of person who'll pull an impromptu variety show out of my ass.
Do you have any favorite places to perform? People to perform with?
I love petes candy store, and played union hall a while ago. Both have such a cool asthetic. There are so many great bands and songwriters here that i'm excited about now: arizona, dave deporis, the last town chorus, get happy choir…