Singer-songwriter Jakob Dylan

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Grammy-winning singer-songwriter shares his thoughts on comparisons to his father and talks about working with T. Bone Burnett.

As the son of an iconic singer-songwriter, Jakob Dylan may have had a few doors opened for him, but the legacy was an equally heavy burden. He began his own music career when he formed the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning band the Wallflowers. After five albums with the group, he began a solo career, touring with T-Bone Burnett and releasing his first CD in '08. He's also written TV show theme songs and collaborated with other artists. Dylan continues making his own mark with his recently released sophomore CD, “Women and Country."


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Jakob Dylan to this program. The talented singer-songwriter is about to release his second solo CD called “Women and Country.” The album is produced by T Bone Burnett. Here now, a small preview of “Women and Country.”
Tavis: Jakob, good to have you on this program.
Jakob Dylan: Yeah, thank you.
Tavis: I could take this title, “Women and Country,” 18 different ways. How do you want me to take the title of the CD?
Dylan: Well, I think all titles are – they should be open to interpretation, but it’s two metaphors for all the things that we struggle and strive for and defend and honor and bring out great and awful things in all of us.
Tavis: Over the years, if I read your journey correctly, your musical journey, you’ve gone through a process of getting to the signature sound that you have now, starting, of course, with rock. We all know your earlier rock stuff. Tell me about that journey that leads you to a project like this, the musical journey.
Dylan: Well, I’ve been in rock bands since I was a teenager, but the sounds on this record and the instrumentation and the stories, I think I always did that within the context of a rock and roll band. I suppose it’s had a natural evolution, but it’s not – I think if you listen to the Wallflowers’ earlier material I don’t think this would be a stretch to think that I’d be doing this at any time.
The Wallflowers had – we used pedal steel and we used dobros very early on. Almost 20 years ago we were using those instruments.
Tavis: How does your sound end up taking shape, changing, metamorphosizing, when you go from a band to a solo artist, in your case?
Dylan: Well, simply in a band you’ve got a lot of input and a lot of ideas, and if it’s a good band, everybody’s valuable and you’re listening to everybody. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in a band.
Tavis: Have a band, yeah. (Laughs)
Dylan: You always do it this way. I still like being in a band. There’s different opportunities and there’s – hopefully if you have a good band, a character that you can rely on. It’s a team. Doing it this way, there’s a different kind of team working with T Bone and being in the studio with these kind of musicians. It’s a different kind of team. But it’s different and I still find great purpose for both.
Tavis: To your point about great purpose for both, for every artist who has done both solo and a band, each goes through his or her own process for deciding when, where and how to make that solo move, whether it’s Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson or Kenny Loggins or any of these people. Tell me about your process for deciding that the time was right to do the solo thing.
Dylan: I just always wanted to do lots of things. I never had thought that I would be in the Wallflowers and do just that for my entire career. I’ve been in the Wallflowers since I was – I started working on it when I was 18, 19 years old.
I just wanted to do something different. It wasn’t really a reaction to anything as much as I’ve done that a lot; and the idea of touring one more time and writing songs and going back with the same kind of sound and doing that thing again, I just wanted to do something different.
Tavis: There are two folk in particular I want to ask you about relative to the project. The first is Glenn Campbell. I’m told – I’ll let you tell the story – that we have Glenn Campbell to thank for this CD.
Dylan: Yeah. (Laughter) Well, if we like the CD, then let’s thank Glenn Campbell. Otherwise he’d like to be left out of the conversation. (Laughter)
Tavis: So why are we thanking Glenn Campbell?
Dylan: He made a record a few years ago with a friend of mine who’s a record producer named Julian Raymond, and they collected songs of younger artists and songwriters for Glenn to sing and put them in a newer context. It was a big success, people liked it a lot, so they’re doing another one, and this time they wanted to have original songs written for Glenn.
I’d been touring and I was very busy at the time, but I wanted to do that. I thought it was – I’m a big fan of Glenn Campbell and the project sounded great, and I just wrote “Nothing but the Whole, Wide World” with him in mind. I think there’s a lot of things he doesn’t want to sing about at this stage in his career, and I kind of understood that.
I kind of had an idea of what he’d like to sing, thematically, with where he is now, so I just put myself in that mind frame. Then I’d seen T Bone just visited with him, and I played him that song and he was really enthusiastic about it. I liked what I began with it, I liked the space that I was writing from with that one song, so I just used it as a jumping-off point to write a whole bunch more.
Tavis: How do you do that? You write a song for Glenn Campbell, you play it for T Bone – I want to talk about T Bone in a second here, because he’s obviously a legend in his own time – but you write a song for Glenn Campbell, you play it for T Bone, T Bone likes the song and says, “Jakob, you should do more stuff like this and do a whole record of stuff like this.”
So you leave the studio – I’m just blown away by the songwriting process. You leave and six weeks later you come back with a bunch more songs in that genre and bam, we get this CD. How does that work, as a songwriter?
Dylan: You’ve got a CD. I don’t have a CD yet, I’ll have to get that.
Tavis: I would give you mind, but I’m not –
Dylan: Yeah. (Laughter)
Tavis: I’m going to keep this.
Dylan: Well, there’s many different ways to write songs, and how you get them and what the impetus for them – I don’t see any one way to do it. I just wade in. T Bone, he’s very busy, and we’d always talk about working together again, and there wasn’t a lot of time.
He had first told me, when he had time that was available, it was only about five weeks away after we originally got together. I had first thought that there’s just no way that I was going to have the right songs in five weeks. But then I’d gone home and I thought exactly that, that that’s just what I’ll do – it’s only songs, and they’re only three and a half minutes long, and five weeks is enough time to get 15 songs or so.
Tavis: To your point now, does the songwriting process work better for you when you’re under some kind of constraint – time or whatever constraint – does it work better under constraint or better when it has the time to just gestate and flow?
Dylan: Well, it’s a little bit of both, but if you told me I had to make a record in a year I would probably take a year to write 12 songs. (Laughter) But if you said I had just till tomorrow –
Tavis: Five weeks, yeah.
Dylan: – I would get that done too. I work better with a deadline and a schedule and knowing that I have a place to record them and an opportunity to play them. If I’m just left to myself I won’t work as hard on them, they won’t be the same. I need a project in mind.
Tavis: We’ve mentioned T Bone Burnett about six times in this conversation already. For those who don’t know the name or are trying to figure out why you know the name, it’s because you saw T Bone win the Academy Award this year for best original song for “Crazy Heart,” the Jeff Bridges film. So glad that Jeff pulled that off.
Dylan: Mm-hmm.
Tavis: So T Bone obviously is a legend in his own time, as I said earlier. What’s it like working with T Bone Burnett?
Dylan: Well, I have a lot of shorthand with him. I’ve known him my whole life. I like to say that we first went on tour together in 1975, because he was touring – he was a member of my dad’s group.
Tavis: Right.
Dylan: So I’ve known him that long, and I worked with him – the Wallflowers worked with him in ’95 or ’96, I think we recorded, and we’ve always stayed close. It’s not always just been about music, we’ve been good friends and we had always talked about doing something together again, and looking for the right time.
Tavis: I want to go back to your songwriting process because I know that as you get older there are more comparisons made. I know it’s impossible for anybody sitting in a chair like mine interviewing you to not raise the name of the father that you just referenced a moment ago, although not by name. We all know, of course, this is Bob Dylan’s boy, Jakob, so I know you get asked these questions all the time.
But I want to kind of phrase this, if I can, a little bit differently. Compare and contrast for me what it was like when you were first getting started and were getting all these Bob Dylan questions to your comfort or discomfort, you tell me, at the age of 40 now, with these Bob Dylan comparisons, particularly now that you’re a solo artist. Can you compare the comparisons then and comparisons, or these kinds of questions, now?
Dylan: Well, without question the comparison’s a good comparison. I think any singer-songwriter wouldn’t mind the comparison. But it was different starting out younger. I wasn’t that comfortable, only because there wasn’t a lot of material. I was aware that there wasn’t much else to talk about when I was starting out. I think when a lot of people start out, you’re aware that the back story is going to take precedent.
I was always aware of that and I never had a great issue with it, and I never thought there was anything to prove with it. I never suggested, I don’t think ever, that people should listen to it in some context. I always knew that you can’t really – you don’t think of a tightrope walker and not think of a circus, and you don’t think of cattle and not think of farmland or something.
So I do know that it’s nearly impossible to think of me and not put the backdrop behind it. For the most part it’s never been that big of an issue. When I got into it, I always knew that it didn’t matter what I wanted to do, that would be there to some degree. I could have been a – I would have liked to have been a doctor, maybe, but I could have been a schoolteacher and they would have said the same things down the hall about me. (Laughter) They would have wondered why I got the job. So I just chose to get right in the fire and just accept it.
Tavis: Do you have any regrets a few years later now about having jumped in this fire?
Dylan: No. I was just drawn to it, and I haven’t really spent much time thinking should I or should I have not. I think a lot of people do that just naturally, as you’ve been doing something for a long time you wonder if you want to do something else.
But that’s never deterred me from doing it, and it hasn’t – I mean that literally. It has not been that big of a – I’m not really up at night worrying about it too much. I was going to have to do something, right? I wanted to do something that I enjoy doing.
Tavis: Now that you have some distance and quite frankly some work product in the rearview mirror, things that you’ve done over the course of your career, I assume that you’ve always thought your dad was pretty cool. Now that you, again, have that distance and you’ve written a bunch of songs yourself, what do you think now of your dad as a lyricist?
Everybody else thinks he’s the greatest ever and I’m suspecting you’re probably in that same category, but assess for me his lyrical work, his songwriting stuff, now that you understand what it is to do this every day.
Dylan: Well, I always understood the same thing that everybody else understands – that that’s the high-water mark for everybody, year after year. I think the exciting thing for everybody, not just me, is that it’s as – they say that his current records are as good as his previous records, so that’s inspiring to anybody who’s writing songs, because the trick really is year after year, you’re hoping you can continue to find ways to write something different that you’re excited about and that resonates with people.
I think there was a stretch of time there when people didn’t know what would become of artists as they got a little more advanced, but he’s giving a good lesson to everybody that I don’t think the game is ever over. You can just keep getting better, certainly.
Tavis: Finally, back to “Women and Country,” you would describe this record for fans how?
Dylan: Well, I think something special happened, I really do. I’m really glad to have been a part of – and I say that, be a part of it, because T Bone has got a real special way of creating an atmosphere in a room that is unique and it doesn’t happen very often, and it was really a pleasure to make. I was aware of it by the second day that I was being – I was a part of something, a group of people, and I did feel magic in the room just by the chemistry that was going on.
It is unique and it doesn’t always happen that way. I noticed it right away and I wrote it till we were done five, six days later, I could feel it.
Tavis: Not that you need reasons to go pick up Jakob Dylan’s new project, but the fact that he worked with the Academy Award winner T Bone Burnett is another good reason to pick up Jakob’s new project. It’s called “Women and Country.” Jakob, good to have you on this program.
Dylan: Yes, thank you very much.

Tavis: Oh, it’s my honor.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm