Bido Lito interviews Johnny Dowd – Live Show at Dumbulls

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Executed American Outlaw

JOHNNY DOWD has been making records and touring since 1997. His latest album, Execute American Folklore was released last month. He plays Liverpool for the first time on 20th October at Dumbulls Gallery.

“I thought every record I made, with the exception of Wrong Side of Memphis, would be my ticket into the mainstream and big record sales. The fact that I have been wrong each time doesn’t discourage me.”

There are two types of “outsider artist”, those that make a decent living and get featured on film soundtracks, get a book written about them, maybe even survive on the outskirts of a major label (Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits) and those that self-drive their rental car across Europe to play tiny gigs to a devoted following. Johnny Dowd is the latter. 15 or so releases into a career that started late (Dowd released his first CD in his late 40s) Dowd has flirted with flirting with mainstream success, been featured on the Americana documentary “Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus”, been selected by Matt Groening to play the New York edition of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival and covered a range of styles from country and folk through to twisted electro-funk.

Joe Florek called him at his home in Ithaca, New York state where he writes, records and runs his home removals business. Just so you can imagine his replies, consider each reply in this interview as a slow, measured, southern drawl (he was born in Texas, grew up in Memphis and moved north in his teens) reminiscent of Harry Dean Stanton sat on a porch with William Burroughs.

Bido Lito!: With some artists, you don’t really know what they do. You assume they exist in some kind of artistic bubble, writing songs and waiting for their muse to turn up. With other bands, such as Steve Albini’s Shellac, for example, they are very open about their day jobs and the time and money it costs to be an artist these days. How do you balance those things?

Johnny Dowd: Musicians who do it the way I’m doing it, basically a full time job and then the music second is because they aren’t financially successful enough. I guess if I was more successful I wouldn’t have that story, I would just be on the road playing music and making money. Because you need money to live, you know? When you were younger, you could go out on the truck all day and then gig at night and it was never really a problem, you had a lot of energy. In terms of balance, it’s never been a problem. I don’t have to go away anywhere to write. I can put the phone down now and just switch off and write a song if I want to. I can write in the office if I’m not out on the truck, or at home. I guess I have a pretty fast on/off switch as far as that goes.

In terms of success, there was a time a few years ago I was getting pretty pissed off, thinking maybe I should be more successful. That’s how it works with my regular business, you know? If you do a good job, and then people tell you and they’ll call again and give you some more business. It’s not like that with the music business, totally different. There’s hundreds of bands out there that I’m better than who are way more famous, but also there are bands that are better than me that never got out of their living room. If you’re looking for justice, it’s not in the music business, you know.

 But I love making music, and it’s like fishing or sex or anything you like doing; it’s enjoyable in and of itself. So whether you’re playing to 4 people or 4,000 once you have the amps turned on and everything, and start up, it’s fine. It’s good. Just the money at the end of the night is different. It’s a bit less.

BL!: How many albums have you released, is this about 15?

JD: Well, Maybe ten or so regular albums, but also some live stuff and some collaborations on top of that. This year I have my new album, Execute American Folklore coming out and a double album of demos and live stuff with my first band from years ago, Neon Baptist and then I have this one, long 25 minute song that is influence by Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew or something. That might be ready for the tour. (Thinks) Maybe not. What date is it? No, that won’t be ready.

BL!: Does it have a name?

JD: It might be called the Back End of Spring or the Black End of Spring. I dunno. It’s instrumental, so I can call it anything. I could call it Your Mama, you know? It doesn’t have to be called anything related to the lyrics because it’s instrumental. I’ve had that title for a long time, I might save it for something else.

BL!: Do you write stuff differently now to how you wrote your first albums? Now you’re getting deeper into your career?

JD: I have changed a bit, I used to just do the traditional thing of sitting there with an acoustic guitar and working on a chord progression. Now I like to work with a drum machine, in a way because it’s more limited. I just get a beat going and then kind of freestyle over it. Not like freestyle rapping. But like blah, blah, blah, talking some lyrics over it until something comes. Or maybe I’ll have some lyrics lying around that will fit it. One thing about some people who maybe run dry when they get really old, some guys have been doing this since they were teenagers and by the time they get to 50 or 60, they’ve been writing for 40 years. But I only started when I was in my 40s, so although I’m 67 years old now, I’m only like……..20 in musical years so I still got plenty of ideas and songs, I reckon. My body is 67, but my musical mind is pretty young, it’s like the opposite of dog years. I haven’t exhausted the musical well.

BL!: Some of my favourite songs of yours are the story songs, where you’re getting one side of a conversation or a view of a character. You have a song, Betty, where you’re calling up an old girlfriend, asking for a leather jacket back that you gave here when you were kids. It’s like a less romantic version of Martha by Tom Waits.

JD: Well Martha is a great song. I used to like the whole thing back in the 60s, there would be comics like Shelley Berman or Bob Newhart and you’d only hear their side of the conversation for the whole routine, so you had to do a bit of work and imagine the other side. They were really funny, and I liked that kind of thing. I like some humour in my music, I like Nick cave and I get Nick Cave and Tom Waits a lot as comparisons but I like that there’s some humour in Tom Waits. No matter how dark the subject matter. And I listen to a lot of Hip-Hop , and there’s a lot of humour in that stuff too.

BL!: There’s another song called Big Wave, from one of your early albums that I used to be listen to a lot, it was on the cover of an Uncut CD about 15 years ago. It’s the story of a guy driving round West Virginia, miles from the ocean, but he still has a surfboard on his car and dreams of the big waves crashing down in Waikiki. That has a lot of dark humour in it. The image of this guy pulling up to the feed store in his truck with a surfboard on it.

JD: That’s it in a nutshell. That’s what I’m trying to do. No matter how weird or dark it is, there’s some humour in there too.

BL!: I saw on your Indiegogo campaign, you said “You people opened your hearts andopened your wallets” to raise $17,000 for the album and tour. You did that OK, but you sold a really beautiful old Hawaiian guitar. Was that a wrench or was it just something you wanted to lose so you could do the tour?

JD: Oh, I never learned to play that thing. So that wasn’t a problem in terms of being sad to sell it. I had it about 25 years and I always said I’d learn to play it and I never did. So I thought I’d let it go and help out a little on financing this tour. I always thought I’d learn to play jazz properly or learn to play like Son House or whatever, and then I thought I’m just going to concentrate on playing C, F, G in time.

BL!: You play a wide selection of styles, do you ever have to disappoint someone if they come up and ask for “first there was funeral” (from “….Wrong Eyed Jesus”) or some Americana stuff and then this new record has a lot of electro stuff on it, like an experimental version of Beck or something. Is that a pressure?

JD: Well, as far as this tour goes, I’ve got a drum machine and two other guitarists. So I’m going to play 4 or 5 songs of this album, some stuff off the other albums and then some stuff just me with a guitar, some of the folkier stuff, like “first there was a funeral”. So if you are a fan of any one particular era or style of Johnny Dowd, you should be happy. (long pause) Or I might not. I never have any fucking idea what I’m going to do, really (laughs). If anyone calls out a song, I’ll make a stab at it, But if it’s bad, it’s like “That’s your fault forshouting it out, I didn’t say I could do it”.



BL!: Obligatory Liverpool question, you grew up in the sixties, were the Beatles on your radar when you were young?

JD: Not really, to be honest, when they came out, later on I went back to them and I can appreciate the albums. But at the time, the first stuff, I didn’t think they were doing anything that the Everly Brothers weren’t doing better. I usually listen to more black music, RnB, James Brown, Otis Redding, Son House and these days the only new music I listen to is Hip-Hop, like Kendrick Lamar just came out with a bunch of great stuff. Some people might say well, I can’t hear anything like that in your music. But what I listen to and what I sound like are different. It’s all in there, somewhere.

BL!: How about writers? Harry Crews was in Wrong Eyed Jesus with you, and Big Wave reminded me of one of the deluded obsessives from Flannery O’Connor, both classic southern gothic writers. Are they anything of an influence?

JD: Oh yeah. I’ve read both authors extensively, that is at least as big as any musical influence on me, even as a kid, long before I was writing music, even, I was reading voraciously.

BL!: The venue you’re playing in Liverpool is famous for a Bob Dylan photoshoot, back in the 60s, I thought that might interest you.

JD: Well, I rate Dylan as a songwriter, definitely, so I’ll have to get my picture taken in the same place, and then play the show. Looking forward to seeing Liverpool. Sounds like a plan.

Johnny Dowd plays Dumbulls Gallery on 20th October with Park Doing and Dead Hedge Trio. Tickets in Probe and Dig! Vinyl or online here.

 – Original Article

 

Nerve Magazine interviews Johnny Dowd – Live Show at Dumbulls

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The Maverick’s Maverick

  • By Paul Tarpey
The Maverick’s Maverick

Interview with New York singer songwriter Johnny Dowd who is performing live in Liverpool on October 20th at Dumb Bulls on Dublin Street.

By Paul Tarpey

If you haven’t seen it before the USA is about twenty or so scattered clutches of tall buildings mapping out endless desert. But somewhere in this landscape there is space for madness to hide. Johnny Dowd is a Griot for these spaces. I’ve seen his type before. I saw Randy Newman at the end of the 70s. I saw Kinky Friedman in the early 90s. A quick check on the calendar has shown it’s time for more of this. Your comparisons for Dowd will be different so there is no point me telling you why mine are the right ones. We can discuss it after you have been to see him.

New York singer songwriter Johnny Dowd is arriving in Liverpool on October 20th to play Howl At The Moon at the perfect Dumb Bulls in Dublin Street. He isn’t as well-known as most of the comparisons but he may well be one day so go fuck yourself if you missed your chance to see him in his natural habitat.

His stuff is generally listed as a kind of Americana but the music is really just there to punch his fables deep into your spleen. And he’ll use whatever weapon is at hand. The man himself (spoiler alert) has suggested that his song Betty will give you some kind of an idea. I won’t argue with that although you might want to try Sexual Revolution from his new album Execute American Folklore as well to sample the ragged guitar and beats shrouding his deadpan dark humour. He is a man of over sixty years but that time hasn’t been spent obsessing on the music biz. You will hear real life and you’ll shudder at the recognition. It really would be an absolute bastard of an event to skip.

Tickets are available from Probe Records or here ents24.com/liverpool-events/dumbulls/johnny-dowd/4752097

If you want to know where the glorious Dumb Bulls is then follow this link. And read this exclusively exclusive interview: postmusicshow.blogspot.co.uk/p/drop-dumbulls.html

What should fans expect from the new album?
Tuff beats/honest lyrics. If u don’t like one song don’t give up, the next song will be in a somewhat different style. It’s a good record to drive around in yer car and and drink beer or get high. Like they used to say on AMERICAN BANDSTAND, it’s got a good beat and u can dance to it.

What was the process it took to fund it?
My wife, Kat Dalton, set me up with and ran an indiegogo campaign. People responded. They opened up their hearts and their wallets.

How does he feel about his songs being labelled as ‘uncategorisable’?
Fine with me, a great compliment. I understand why someone would dislike my music, it makes them uncomfortable. It’s a mix of ingredients that don’t seem to go together, like marshmallows and Mexican food. Possibly people that dig my tunes enter into the same space/ time continuum where/when the music was created, I guess you’d have ask a “fan”.
I grew up in the 50”s and 60”s in a small town in Oklahoma, Paul’s Valley, I haven’t changed much since then.

His lyrics could stand alone. Has this opened up other areas of writing?
I could never write a novel. I’ve written poems but they are the same as my lyrics. I guess they could be thought of as story poems—poems to read aloud in bar full of drunk people. I can write more complex lyrics because I am unencumbered by melodic restrictions. I can’t sing.

Does humour always emerge from the stories or does he just want to make people laugh?
Absolutely both. Probably more than the shared space/time continuum as far as why someone would like my music is a shared sense of humor. I do love to make people laugh. At some point I would like to put a stand-up routine together. I do have one joke ready for this tour about a man with a large orange head.

What does he regard as absurd about performing and about life?
I’m always amazed just before I go on stage that I am about to do something and people have paid to see it. Life/death, u could call it absurd or u could call yer momma. In the end of the it won’t matter.

How does becoming a solo artist at a later age reflect in his music and the reaction to it?
I’m not sure I really started at a later age. I was 16 emotionally.
[alternate answer) I had a buttload of experience to draw on. Reaction to the music? u would know better than I. That’s one of great things about music. Age is irrelevant. In a marketing sense it’s a mixed blessing. I’ve never really thought of myself as a solo artist, my focus has been on being a good band leader.

How has performing changed over the years?
I enjoy performing more than ever. Before I hit the stage I say to myself and to my band members “let’s have some fun.” And we always do.

If he could pick one moment of serendipity that meant his music reached a larger audience, what would it be?
When I made the cover of Rolling Stone

How would it feel to be much more widely appreciated after he has gone?
Honestly I don’t really care but I would love to be more widely appreciated NOW

If he could tell the people of Liverpool to listen to one of his songs before coming along to the Liverpool gig what would it be?
Another tuff question? I’m going to assume u are familiar with my music so I’ll let u answer that. The song BETTY off my record NO REGRETS might be a place to start.

If he could tell them to read or listen to anything else what would it be?
Captain Beefheart/link wray/sun ra/james carr/sinatra
jim thompson/bible/william trevor/harry crews.

What are his expectations of a Liverpool audience?
Lots of pints being drunk and a request to do a Beatles tune.

 – Original Article

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Johnny Dowd is an American alternative country musician from Ithaca, New York. Typical of his style are experimental, noisy breaks in his songs and strong southern gothic elements in the lyrics as well as in the music. There is also a strong undercurrent of black humor and the absurd in his work.

Although his early albums were most celebrated in the alternative country community, he has never quite fit into any particular genre. As a singer-songwriter, his music is most often compared to that of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Captain Beefheart.

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In 2001 I pulled a CD off the front of a magazine expecting the usual wash of corporate indie and limp Americana. Instead there was a track called Big Wave by Johnny Dowd.

It sounded like something from another planet: Theremin style keyboard, surf guitar, tribal drums and a croaked lyrical tale worthy of Flannery O’Connor, of a man driving round a

dusty midwestern town with a surfboard strapped to the roof. Never leaving. A thousand miles from the ocean, but still defiant:

“I don’t care what they say in this one horse town/cos they ain’t ever surfed waikiki, when the big wave comes crashing down”

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Expanding his horizons from the Alt Country pallete, his later work includes dirty keyboard grooves and twisted drum machines to go with the darker than black lyrical humour.

15 years after being entranced by that song, I have the chance to put on a gig by one of music’s true originals. You can be two types of “outsider artist”. The type people know about like Daniel Johnson or Tom Waits, or the type that still drives their own car across Europe to play at a tiny venue in the docklands of Liverpool.

Johnny Dowd is the latter, and this will be an extremely special gig. Don’t miss it.

Tickets online and from Probe records and Dig! Vinyl

Big Wave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfxmUvRIJiM

Appearance in documentary: Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttOjGuiQfUk

Videos and info
http://www.johnnydowd.com/video/

http://www.wegottickets.com/event/366762

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Local Support added:

Dead Hedge Trio
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9yPPFU07jw

and

Medicine Stu+Blues Steve
https://www.reverbnation.com/themedicinebow

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20 Oct

What does alt country mean to you? The term’s largely redolent of breezey Americana types like Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo and The Old 97s, but at the weirder end of the scale are the likes of Johnny Dowd. The 68-year-old’s music draws from the same well as the aforementioned trio, albeit with gothic undercurrents, chaotic discordancy, minimalist electronic pulses and an idiosyncratically dark sense of humour. This rare visit to Liverpool represents an unmissable chance to catch a maverick who’s pursued his own unique vision since the 70s: we strongly advise you to take it.
DROP the Dumbulls, 8pm, £8

 – Original Article