Published Oct 01, 2012It's been seven years since we last heard from Jakob Dylan's band the Wallflowers, although in the meantime he released two fine solo albums and appeared on several soundtracks and tribute projects, including his father Bob's The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams. Yet, Dylan always intended to return to the Wallflowers, and the band's new album, Glad All Over, once again shows off his rock'n'roll chops. The line-up is slightly tweaked, with Dylan, keyboardist Rami Jaffee and bassist Greg Richling joined by new lead guitarist Stuart Mathis and former Red Hot Chili Peppers/Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons. But there's a clear sense on the album of rekindling the band's original spark, particularly in Glad All Over's first single "Reboot The Mission," one of two tracks featuring Clash guitarist Mick Jones. We spoke to Dylan on the phone from Los Angeles.
The new album has a nice loose, live feel to it, much like the first self-titled Wallflowers album. Did making it seem like starting over again in any way?
It did, although I don't think we did anything in particular to make that true. Having taken the break, we came back feeling rejuvenated, and I think we realized we were right the first time. Things get complicated, and bands can get confused at times. We kind of simplified things when we got [in the studio], and had a lot of confidence in trusting one another. It's rock'n'roll music, it's not that complicated really. You've got to have a good song, and then get a good recorded performance, which is all we tried to do.
Even though people are calling this a reunion, there's still a couple of relatively new faces in the band. Did it feel natural having these guys in the studio?
I don't think any of us really knew what to expect. We got together a bunch of times and did a lot of talking, but we didn't really play as a band together until we got to Nashville [to record]. I would say we had our fingers crossed, but we all had a hunch that it was the right arrangement of the group and it was the right place to be doing it. We waited a long time; we'd been talking for the whole year beforehand, so we were anxious to get started.
In a way I was little surprised to hear the band was getting back together because I thought your last solo album, Women + Country, was really strong. Have you always felt more comfortable within a group setting?
Maybe so, but there's room for all of it. I did those [solo] records, I'm glad I did, and maybe there's more of them. But I can wear a couple of different hats and do different things with different results. If I'm going to make rock 'n roll records, I don't think there's anybody better for me to do that with than the Wallflowers. If I'm going to make records without them, they've got to have a musical purpose.
Women + Country certainly did have that, and it was an interesting group of people you worked with on that album. What did you take away from that experience?
Well, that was a piece of work, and I mean that in a good way. That was a conceptualized record. I had a mission in mind and a specific backdrop in mind. Those songs wouldn't really fit onto any of the other records I've made. They were conceived to be together, almost on a stage with or without me, and I'd like to see that someday. I think those songs all became a time capsule. When I was writing them, I don't recall what I was doing, but I was surprised that they kept piling up. As they did, I found that they had a connection with one another, and that was probably going to be it. I don't think I want to revisit that territory anytime soon. That was a bit of role playing, and being with the players on that record really allowed that. I couldn't do that in a band like [the Wallflowers]. There's a time and a place for everything, and I was getting what I needed with that group of musicians. Maybe what I was looking for on Glad All Over was how your perception of America has evolved since you made Women + Country. That's always seemed to be the predominant theme with your writing. Is that fair to say?
Yeah. I write primarily about the human condition, and Women + Country plays into that. I would never say that they are political songs or of the times. I hope they're just timeless. But they're rooted in the human spirit, and the landscape can change. That last record was really specific, and it's been told to me that it sounded like the Dustbowl. Those were images I was trying to use, and that's a language I'm comfortable with, but this record doesn't have quite the same purpose. Sometimes you have to be led by your muse, and I'm a believer that none of these songs come to you by accident. There's reasons that these things come together in the short time you write them, and sometimes you just have to get out of the way and sort of discover later why that happened.
The first track on Glad All Over, "Devil's Waltz," has a great swampy feel to it. Is that an example of how things came together in the studio?
Yeah, it's a very simple song in its chord structure, so we just pulled at it until we found a groove that was a little unusual for us. That just takes dedication; after you've been writing songs for a long time, you find the same chords coming back around and your voice is dialled into them. That song hung around for quite a while until we got something out of it.
"Hospital For Sinners" is another track that sounds like you're pushing the band's boundaries too.
That's another example of what we talked about as far as not clogging up the songs with too many chord patterns. I think songwriters waste a lot of time doing that. I've done plenty of that, I can do plenty of that, and I will do plenty of that, but to keep the energy high and the momentum moving forward, we didn't want to get hung up on the structure of these songs. That song was sort of a tip of the hat to a band we listen to a lot, ZZ Top. They don't mess around much with that stuff. I don't know if it's true or not, but I imagine Billy Gibbons doesn't write anything without his band in mind, and starting from scratch right there in the studio. Those guys are so good that they can do something new each time with the same three chords that sounds great. That's all you can do, sit back and try to learn from the people you admire. I've spent a lot of time doing things the other way, which is fine too, but if we were going to do this record without me coming in with fully-formed songs, then it was a case of let's investigate who else is doing it that way.
Have you heard ZZ Top's new album [La Futura] yet?
No, I haven't. Did Rick Rubin produce it?
Yeah. It's very heavy.
I'm looking forward to hearing it. Rick seems to try to make people sound like what he feels was their glorious moment. They [ZZ Top] have a lot, so I'm curious to hear what approach he took with them.
What most people are going to immediately pick up on with Glad All Over is the Clash connection on a couple of the songs. How important were they for you growing up?
Well, at this point it sounds like I'm working for their PR team. I got myself into that jam a long time ago talking about them. But certainly, I haven't bumped into anyone my age, either playing music or just a fan of music, who won't undeniably say the Clash wasn't one of the most impactful and powerful groups, in whichever version of them you like or whichever record you like. There was just nobody any better. I've never been caught up in the whole punk rock tag — I didn't care about that — they were just a terrific rock'n'roll band who moved me then and still do. Those records have aged so well compared to most other punk records from the early '80s. They're very nostalgic and make you feel a certain way, but they're not really lasting the test of time, not like those Clash records.
So was working with Mick Jones everything you hoped it would be?
Well, I'd love to tell you that we stayed up all night and told stories, but people aren't able to do that so much all the time. He lives in the UK, and I sent him two songs and gave him plenty of room to wiggle out if he didn't want to do it. I understand that, because I get asked to do things a lot and you never want to let people down. But nonetheless, he jumped on it. It was unmistakable when we first heard it that he was attentive and focused, and from what I understand really happy with how it turned out.
Lastly, I have to mention Glen Campbell's version of your "Nothing But The Whole Wide World" on his last album, Ghost On The Canvas. That must have felt pretty good hearing him do that song.
Oh yeah, that was a thrill. I was completely honoured, and I certainly loved the version that he did. I haven't done that much writing with a specific singer in mind, so you're always prepared for that stuff to not work out. But that one worked out well and I couldn't be happier.