After catching her at Mercury Lounge, QRO got a chance to talk to Louisville-by-Lower East Side’s Dawn Landes. In the interview, Landes discussed her recent tours in Europe and America, playing in churches, on radio, and in giant Dutch theaters, her new album, Fireproof (QRO review), why she didn’t try to recreate the record she made that was lost in a burglary, her new studio in Brooklyn, having a song in an ad for AXE bodyspray, how Cheerios, The Redneck Comedy Tour, and truckers saved her life in a blizzard, and more…
QRO: How was your recent tour in Europe with Josh Ritter?
DL: It went great. It was really fun. Great audiences, some really cool venues – we played some opera houses and churches. Cool stuff.
QRO: How did it compare with your tour there last year with Ben Weaver?
DL: Well, the audiences were bigger, definitely. And I also had Ray Rizzo playing with me, so for me, it was much more exciting – I could flesh out the songs much more.
That [Ben Weaver] tour was interesting, because it was really low budget, and I was playing bass in Ben’s band. And I was also opening the shows, too.
QRO: What happened to your shows in Ireland in January?
DL: There was a flub with the booking agent, but I am playing a festival this summer [Electric Picnic]. I’m really excited about that.
QRO: Did you notice the weak dollar when you were over in Europe, or now that you’ve come back?
QRO: How did the Josh Ritter tour in Europe compare with your most recent American tour, with Jason Isbell (Drive-By Truckers) and Will Hoge?
DL: That was really fun, such a ‘country-rock revival’ kind of tour. Both of those guys have full bands, and put on a really rockin’ show, so I felt like I had to up the ante a little bit. I played mostly electric guitar, and really got the band playing more ‘like a band’, you know?
QRO: You said you’ve toured Europe a lot, more than the U.S., and your last record, Two Three Four EP, was only released in the U.K. – is there any particular reason you’ve done more over there than in America?
DL: My first record, Dawn’s Music, was released in France, and then it got released very minor-ly in some other territories. Two Three Four EP got released a couple years ago.
I don’t know why. That’s just the way it kind of happened. The first label ever to put out my music was a little French label, based in Toulouse in the south of France. And so, I did a lot of touring in France, did some workshops and met a lot of French songwriters and musicians.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because the United States is so big…
QRO: Do you think it’s odd, considering there’s such an ‘Americana’ feel to your music?
DL: Which is funny that it took so long to get the record out here. Just the way it goes, I guess.
Well, Jimi Hendrix – that’s been going on for a long time. Because pop music is so different, and the press is so different in the U.S. and U.K., but I think they pay attention to each other? If something happens in the U.K., people in the U.S. are like, ‘Oh, something’s happening in the U.K.…’
Like, I did some shows with Feist (QRO live review), before she blew up. I think she had two or three albums out over there, first.
QRO: How was South by Southwest (QRO Festival Guide) last month?
DL: It was really cool. I played a few parties and stuff, and then our showcase was in a church.
I thought it was cool.
I’ve played there officially for two years now, and it’s so overwhelming, ‘cause there’s so much music there. And our show was pretty late at night, and it was in a church, and it was one of the few shows where you could actually sit down. And I thought that was really cool, because everyone was really tired. That was a cool environment, sounded awesome, looked cool, stained glass, and then there were chairs for everybody.
QRO: Do you do anything differently, at ‘industry showcases’ like that?
DL: I treat every show hopefully the same. They’re all different, but it’s still a show.
I mean, I even played a radio show [Wednesday] in Philadelphia. I still treated it like a show, even though there was no audience. People are going to hear it, so you might as well just give it.
QRO: Do you prefer playing smaller, more intimate venues like Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review) or that church, or opening at larger places like you did with Isbell & Hoge?
DL: It depends. I feel like I feel more comfortable in smaller venues, because I’ve playing in them for so long. But sometimes, like on the Josh Ritter tour, we played this really awesome, big theater in Groningen in the Netherlands. That was one of my favorite shows. It was just gorgeous; it looked like a palace.
QRO: How does going on the road as part of a bigger band, like HEM, compare to going on the road just as the opener to a bigger band?
DL: Well, I have to do a lot less, which is nice…
I’ve done a lot of touring, and sometimes I’ll even do sound for a band, and then I’ll open for them, and it gets really awesome. But when I played with HEM, it was obvious, such a flow. I was just singing background vocals, and playing a little bit of glockenspiel and percussion stuff. It wasn’t difficult for me; it was fun. It was like singing along with my friends.
When I played bass with Ben that was a little harder, ‘cause I’m not the most proficient bass player. I had to think about it a little bit, but it got easier.
QRO: Next month, you’re going to be playing the Nelsonville, Ohio Folk Festival. Do you do anything differently when you’re playing outdoors?
DL: I really love playing festivals and things. I like playing in the sun, actually. I like seeing the sunset, depending on what time you’re playing. Sonically, you can’t control it as much, but I do like playing – it’ll be fun.
QRO: Why didn’t you try to recreate any of the record that you lost in that burglary?
DL: I think because it was just sort of a sign, just to kind of move one.
QRO: Other than that, how was making Fireproof different than making Two Three Four or Dawn’s Music?
DL: For Dawn’s Music, I did most of the recording by myself, after hours, when I was working at studios, as an assistant or interned, and I played most of the instruments, too.
Fireproof was more of a band effort. We did all the basic tracking in one day; it was much more of a ‘live’ record, even though I added a bunch of bells and whistles afterwards.
QRO: How does it feel to finally have a full-length out in the States?
DL: Honestly, it just feels the same. It’s strange – with MySpace, and having a website, and the fact that people can hear music on their computers, people have been able to hear my music in the States for a long time. But it does feel good to have it in stores. That’s really cool.
QRO: Do you have any material that’s been written since Fireproof?
DL: I do, yeah.
QRO: Do you play any of it live?
DL: I’ve been bringing out a couple of things, live, yeah.
QRO: What was it like, moving from Louisville, Kentucky to New York City?
DL: It’s been a long time now, maybe about eight years since I did that. I was going to college [NYU], and pretty terrified of the city. It took me a while to come out of my shell, start playing music out in the city, instead of just in my dorm room.
QRO: It seems like the ‘anti-folk’ scene of the Lower East Side has really blown up recently (Moldy Peaches, Regina Specktor, Nicole Atkins). Was it hard to make your way into it?
DL: I don’t think I ever really did make my way into that. I don’t really feel a part of that scene, at all. I know who all those people are, and I really like their music, but I never knew any of them. I was too nerdy – too nervous, too much of a dork.
QRO: How did you get your start in studio engineering?
DL: I’ve always recorded my own music, four-track stuff in high school. I love recording. I took some classes in college, and then I got an internship at Philip Glass’ studio. And then I decided that’s what I wanted to do, full time, so I quit school and just started working at studios.
QRO: Do you still do that stuff, other than your own music?
DL: I just built a recording studio in DUMBO [Brooklyn] – I’m going there after I [leave here]. It’s pretty cool. I had two people build it, and I’ve got bands in there now.
We just had a band called Arizona in there, and the French Kicks are doing some stuff in there.
QRO: Who’s that in your ‘backing band’?
DL: Ray Rizzo is a mainstay – he plays drums, sings; he’s all over the record.
Right now, I’ve got Morgan King playing bass with me. He’s awesome; he plays in a band called Robbers On High Street too (QRO album review).
QRO: And who’s that woman?
DL: She’s awesome. Her name’s Eleanor Whitmore. She just moved here from Austin, Texas. I met her on the Jason Isbell tour, because she was playing with Will.
QRO: How do you know Balthrop, Alabama?
DL: They’re so great. I just met them ‘cause I live in their neighborhood, and we have some friends in common. And I really like their songs; I’ve seen them play now a couple of times.
QRO: What was making the video for “Bodyguard” like?
DL: That was really fun, actually. We shot that in the totally empty space where my studio is now; before we started building walls and soundproofing and everything, it was a totally empty space.
Valery [Estabrook] and Stephanie [Testa], the two ladies who shot and directed it and everything, just brought in this enormous green screen, and we just kinda danced around for a while. It was all animation and stuff; they worked on it for a while. It was fun; it was cool.
Dawn Landes playing “Bodyguard” live @ Mercury Lounge, New York, NY:
QRO: Who’s that other girl in the video?
DL: I used to baby-sit her, and I used to work in her parent’s bookstore. I’ve always been a fan of hers; she’s one of my favorite ‘brains’, one of the coolest people I know.
QRO: How do you feel about having your song “Straight Lines” featured in an ad for AXE bodyspray?
DL: The same way I feel about it being featured in an ad to promote bike riding in London.
It doesn’t have any relevance to the song. I mean, I think it’s cool that somebody wanted to use it, and, of course, I’m happy to have them pay me to use it. It’s just funny to me how different people can take a song and put it in such different contexts.
QRO: Are there any particular songs from the current record you really like playing live?
DL: Umm… I like playing all of them… Let me see… There’s one on there called “I Don’t Need No Man”, and that’s kind of evolved; we do it a little bit differently on stage than we did in the recording, and that’s always a lot of fun.
QRO: What was that Balthrop, Alabama song you did?
DL: That song’s called “Tell The Stars”.
QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, or just don’t play anymore?
DL: There are a bunch of songs I don’t play live, for one reason or another. Especially when I’m playing solo, I’m kind of limited to what I can do.
It’s funny, I played a radio show – it was actually for a blog or an online thing – and this guy asked me to play “Private Little Hell”, and I didn’t remember how to play it. I haven’t played that one in a long time. I was like, ‘Can’t you just play it on CD?…’
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at, on the most recent tour in Europe?
DL: In Europe? Probably that venue in Groningen in the Netherlands. That was really pretty.
QRO: What about that recent American tour with Isbell and Hoge?
DL: Well, the Louisville show was a lot of fun for me, because I haven’t played there in a long time. I just love that town, so that was probably my favorite show.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
DL: I have a pretty interesting one…
I was asked to blog for this magazine called HARP, for the Jason Isbell tour. I was supposed to turn it in after our first show, and we didn’t make it to our first show because we got caught in this huge blizzard, and were stranded on the interstate in a van for eleven hours – and the heat went out. So, we almost died.
And the weirdest part about that whole thing was, the reason we didn’t die was because some nice truckers let us into their big truck, and they gave us Cheerios, and we watched The Redneck Comedy Tour on DVD. That was a weird one.
Dawn Landes playing “Picture Show” live @ Mercury Lounge, New York, NY: