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Contact Dwight

An Interview with Dwight by Celeste Krenz


1. Who are your influences?

Musically, I think I have songwriter influences and musician influences.

Collectively, from a songwriter and player perspective, I have always been a John Hiatt fan - with Ry or Sonny playing slide guitar.  However, some of my songwriting and playing probably goes back to when I was in high school listening to James Taylor, Eric Clapton, the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg.  Some others influences would include Robben Ford, Sam Bush, Tim O'Brien, David Lindley, Jackson Browne and Ben Harper to name a few.  

                                                    (click to see influences list)

Then there are Chicago and Colorado based performers that I am fortunate enough to see every year such as Kraig Kenning, Dave Andersen, Celeste Krenz and Bob Tyler, the 3 Twins, Charlie Provenza and Mollie O'Brien.   

2. How long have you been playing acoustic string instruments?  How many do you play?

I started playing electric guitar in 8th grade.  I had a friend that taught me all the Led Zeppelin stuff and I had a couple years of hard rock.  Then Stevie Ray came out and all I wanted to play was the blues.  Eventually, a girl in my class turned me onto some James Taylor and that's when I really picked up playing acoustic guitar.

I had a blues band in Chicago and that's when I picked up some slide guitar.  Then a year before I moved to Colorado, around 1996, I picked up a mandolin.  So while I bring out 6 or 7 different instruments to a show, they are different forms of slide guitars in different tunings such as the Weissenborn, and different instruments in the mandolin family such as the mandola, bouzouki and cittern.

3.  Where did your desire to play all these instruments come from?

I don't know...  I guess part of it goes back to flipping through channels on T.V. and seeing New Grass Revival on Austin City Limits.  That changed everything for me.  It was bringing bluegrass to mainstream and mainstream to bluegrass.  I went to a few bluegrass festivals and fell in love with the mandolin and the dobro.  Another side of it is that I feel I only get so good on an instrument, so in frustration of not playing better on guitar I just jump to another instrument. 

The last part of it is that it is history.  Each of these instruments have a history of people and culture and the music has evolved into something completely different than what it was created for.  The mandolin is a great example - the mandolin, mandola, mandocello and mandobass were all built for orchestras - mandolin orchestras - which were big in the teens. 

4.  How would you describe your music?

I don't know!  It's fundamentally acoustic singer-songwriter material.  I've listened to a lot of musicians who have taken the mandolin and weissenborn and apply it in a rock, country, folk or bluegrass format, so mixed in with my blues influence - it is what it is.  For the new CD, I shied away from guitar and mandolin solos and wanted to just focus on the song as a whole.  However, the lapsteel and mandolin solo was just improvised as and after the fact - I thought the songs were done and Bob was going to add some guitar solo parts – I just played through the songs with the instruments.

Overall, my music is a very introspective look at how I see or experience things and I just try to write them in a way that I feel some people will connect.  Hopefully, in a way that hasn’t been written before.  Several songs are written on travel experiences such as "Down in Tuscany".  I also have a love for visiting National Parks and have a bunch of songs I'd like to put down on one recording.

I find refuge in my music – every instrument I play, every travel, every relationship – each has a past, a present and a questionable future – and my music gives these instruments, these experiences refuge – a home in the present and a path of hope towards the future.

5.  Are there any contemporary artists that you feel like you have a musical connection to?

I guess I connect to different artists for different reasons.  I like Ben Harper's acoustic stuff.  He has a pure message in his words and music which is easy to connect to.  I like the way Tim O'Brien can just write a song and play it on mandolin or bouzouki and it just comes out in whatever style is appropriate - it's no longer falling into a bluegrass category, it's just music with bluegrass instruments.  Although he has got the celtic bug and I think "the Crossing" is one my all-time favorite recordings.

6.  Any that you would like to work and record with?

Tim would be great!  Sam Bush would be great!  Lindley, Robben...  I recall once going to Magpie, which is John Magnie, Steve Amedee and Tim Cook - of the Subdudes fame.  Hearing those melodies and harmonies between the three of them really made an impression on me and I really wanted to work with them.  And on this project – it happened!  So I guess I already got my wish.  And sitting in with Celeste Krenz is always a treat.  But I would like to develop a working relationship writing songs with them.

I also have musician friends I’ve met along the way that I’d like to work with, but we’re separated by a few states or an ocean.  Kraig Kenning and Rob Anderlik in Chicago.  Ange in California.  Jessica in Italy.

I guess I'd really like to find a songwriter to work with, because I have lots of ideas and I think they just need interaction and another perspective to get all the music out of my head.

7.  Do you feel free to create the music that's in your head or pressure to create "radio" music?

That's a great question...  I guess I've always written with structure and melody.  Even back when I wrote poetry, I would always rhyme and think within a frame of a story.  So I don't think too much about it, however, I have been challenged to change lyrics for the purpose of making a song less personal to reach a broader audience and sometimes that can be tough.

8.  What feelings did you have while recording your album?

I think it just turned out much different that what I thought going in.  It has a more laid back country feel to me when I listen to it and I thought it might be a little more organic or more edgy.  So my feelings were probably around trusting the musicians and producer on the songs with the band, and not get too caught up in how I had the songs stuck in my head!  The title track was just a song I wrote the week of going into the studio.  I wrote it the first day I got the bouzouki.  It was put on the "if we have time" list.  And slowly it evolved from this kinda slow reggae song - which I didn't want - to this song with just enough space or pocket to groove along to.  And then the lapsteel was added spontaneously.  He just started rolling and I did a couple takes of dinking around.  And then the hammond organ topped it off!  So that was a result of just telling myself to let go and let everyone go with their instincts. 

9.  When you write, do the music and lyrics come to you at the same time?

Ocassionally, all at once.  It's My Turn was that way.  Sometimes it's just an idea I scribbled and I sit down and the lyrics and music come.  Most often I write words and thoughts in a journal as I'm traveling or doing whatever and I frame up the idea with verses and then come up with the music. 

10.  Do you schedule time to sit down with the intent to write a song?

No.  Not anymore.  Although, I probably should.  Far Away From Here was written under pressure, because I was hosting this songwriter circle and I had tasked everyone to come back with a new song.  The night before the show, I didn't have anything!  So I had to sit down and come up with a song.

11.  You've been writing for quite awhile. Has it gotten easier?

No.  It's just different.  I used to write really long songs and try to have all these complex chord changes.  If you listened to my first batch of songs, every one would probably sound musically unique.  These days I try to write words a little tighter and music a more melodic.  I think playing so many instruments has made it a little easier because different instruments help spawn ideas.

12.  Do you have an "editor" when you write and if you do how do you shut it off?

I think playing the song with the instrument becomes your editor.  If it doesn't feel right singing and playing it - or it's difficult, you wind up editing and tightening.  I shut it off out of frustration.  Many times it's giving up words that had a very significant meaning to me at the time I wrote it and I don't want to give it up.  I guess "Somewhere in Between" is an example where the editor was shut off.  It's not an easy song to play and sing - its wordy, and the words don't necessary fall right with the guitar, but I was probably too frustrated to edit and I just found a way to make it all work.

13.  Recipe Box is a very personal song...what inspired it? Is it difficult to perform songs that are so personal?

I actually had written several songs after my Mother's death to cancer.  She was such a compassionate person and never ever expected anything in return for her gracious giving.  I think many people didn't understand her or read into her giving side too much, so she found ways to give in a way where you didn't always realize how special the gift was - except in retrospect.  Many of the songs using very specific instances were too personal.  Over a year after my Mother’s death my sister sent me my Mother’s recipes and just seeing her handwriting brought back all these memories.  And my Mom loved food.  So somehow I managed to write this song which hopefully captures the way I try to remember her and people can appreciate that or connect with their own personal experience of loss - or lost and found I guess.  I think after a loss, we all find our ways to keep someone close to us, in fear of forgetting everything.

14.  Music is a tough business...what keeps you going and what keeps you writing new songs?

It's my blood.  It keeps me alive.  I have so much running through my head all the time - if I didn’t have music, I'm not sure if there would be another medium for me to express it and clear my mind.  I think watching performers when they're on their game and connecting with an audience, whether it's an athlete or a dancer, or a musician - when they are totally on - it's so exhilarating to me - it gives me the chills.  I want to experience that more with music.

15.  If you won 10 million dollars tomorrow would you still pursue a music career?

I think I'd turn into Ani DiFranco for a while.  I'd be putting more out than anyone could handle.  I have so many different concepts for recordings and I listen to so many genres of music.  I think I'd have fun discovering bands and producing as well.  No question - I'd be into the music scene one way or another.

16.  You've been known to frequent National Parks across the country and you travel abroad as well. Does this inspire you to write more or is it difficult to write on the road?

It's really the best time for me to be writing.  I've been to 25 National Parks since moving to Colorado.  And there's nothing more inspiring than driving into a national park and hiking around with a camera.  I think a lot of ideas are honed in the drive.  Lately, I have been traveling abroad and it proves to be an incredible inspiration.  I wrote 5 songs the week I was in Tuscany.

17.  What do you miss the most about the way music used to be?

The rawness.  The tone.  I'm no engineer, but digital music doesn’t capture the music as it did in the analog days – it’s a different vibe and warmth. 

Growing up in the suburbs, I don't think I could ever understand and fully appreciate the traditional music I listen to.  I listen to all of this old blues and Hawaiian stuff and I love it, but I don't think I could ever fully appreciate it or connect with it, because it is so pure.  There is no – “lets make a hit record”.  It may be “let’s write something that the people can connect with”, but it's at a community level - try to capture something that says something about who, where and what we are at this given moment – as a community or race.  Tim O'brien's Crossing recording tries to capture the immigrant mountaineers’ stories and I think that is cool. 

18.  What do you wish for the future?

I'm probably like thousands of other guys - I want the John Hiatt story - I would be happy writing my music and letting others make hits out of them and still have a following to perform the songs in my own way with the instruments and musicians of my choice.  I hope the future brings on more musicians that take the history of the instruments they play and come up with new crossovers across genres that keep things traditional and fresh.  I hope the future brings me a new mandola.

19.  What do you get out of playing music?

Release and belonging.  Some songs are so personal that if no one heard it, it wouldn't matter.  I have somehow worked through my problems by writing them down and capturing the moment.  Some of my songs that I wrote years ago are still therapeutic to me.  Then the belonging side is just when you write a personal introspective song like that and you connect with someone and it's made a difference in their life - you feel like your not alone and you belong.

20.  Would you still write and play if you were stranded on a desert island?

Of course.  Would I be limited to island instruments?  A ukulele and a Weissenborn maybe?