What would we do differently if we knew then what we know now? For singer-songwriter Dallas Burrow, who’s latest self-titled album was released on July 23, he’d make sure to tell his day-dreaming self to buckle up and enjoy the ride, because no destination is worth reaching unless you experience the intricacies of the journey along the way – good and bad.
I recently sat down with Dallas Burrow to discuss uncertain times, embracing analog, and writing from an extremely personal space.
Americana Highways: Your self-titled sophomore album is available now. How was this one different from your debut in terms of releasing it into the world and relinquishing control? Was it easier? More difficult?
Dallas Burrow: Well, in some sense it was easier in that I had already gone through the release process once before so I had a little better idea of what to expect. It was perhaps a little more work this time around though, in that I have been doing more to promote this one, which is a testament to a great PR team, but it has called for me to devote more time to interviews, etc, which is ultimately a positive thing. That’s the idea, right? If you’re going to create music, you hope that people will hear it, read about it, learn about it, etc. But on the whole, any time you make music and put it out into the world is kind of like raising a child and then sending it out into the world to see what it will make of itself, so there is a little bit of nervous anticipation regardless.
AH: There are already so many unknown variables when it comes to releasing an album and giving it its proper promotional push, but now you have COVID-19 and the looming “will any tour we book see itself through to the end.” How does that impact your thought process as it relates to ensuring this album finds every set of ears it was intended to?
DB: Yes, there is certainly some inherent uncertainty to releasing, promoting, and especially performing music in this particular pandemic/post-pandemic/delta-variant era. However, I have personally been planning and acting in such a way that it’s business as usual. I make my living performing music and selling records, so that is what I am going to plan for, and with respect to the health crisis, take precautions where appropriate, but otherwise I haven’t let much slow me down. As soon as it was possible to go book and play I did so with measured caution, but also a marked willingness to get out and do it.
AH: There are some great, memorable tracks on this album. How much of your life do these songs represent? In other words – how far back do they go?
DB: Well, thanks for that. That’s an interesting question. In some cases the stories within some of these songs actually predate my lifetime. “My Father’s Son,” for instance, starts with my grandfather, then moves through my father’s story, my own, and ends up talking about my son, so there you have a song that spans four generations. The song “Look At Us Now” begins with some hypothetical speculation about the origin of life on Earth itself, so I guess that one really goes back a little ways. As far as other autobiographical tunes, “American Dream” and “Independence Day” both depict scenes from my childhood in early verses.
AH: What are you most proud of with the album and why?
DB: There are different aspects of this record that I am proud of. The personal nature of some of the storytelling is one point of pride. I’m really telling my own stories in a pretty honest and vulnerable way, which I think requires some guts, but also, hopefully, is something people can identify with. Recording to tape is something I always wanted to do, so that’s something I’m proud of. Working with Bruce Robison is something I’ll always be proud to have done. Involving musicians in the recording that I have played with on the road for some time is another thing I’m proud to have gotten to do. Releasing it independently is another thing. I am proud to have worked with the folks on my team as well, including the publicity folks, radio promoter, project manager – all really good people, and it’s been a real homegrown, organic project.
AH: For the end user the most memorable thing about listening to an album are the songs themselves and the memories that get tied to them, but for you, there is the entire experience of bringing the record to life. What is the biggest thing in writing and recording this album that you’ll keep with you for the rest of your life?
DB: Well, certain songs were written in response to some pivotal moments in my life that, as a songwriter, the best way I felt I could address the issues at hand were to write about them. “Easter Sunday,” for instance, was one of those songs. It was literally written in an attempt to save my relationship with my spouse and, in turn, my child. So that’s a very visceral moment. Luckily it all worked out for the best and my family is once again intact and living in harmony; the story has a happy ending. There are many examples throughout the record that deal with very personal situations from my life that these songs sort of help capture and preserve and I’m glad for that.
As far as memorable moments in making the record? The moment when Charley Crockett introduced me to Bruce Robison and I realized that working with Bruce was a realistic possibility, that will always be something I remember. Another moment was when Bruce picked up a guitar while we were working up a song called “The Holy Grail” and started working out a part to add to the track. That was pretty surreal. Then we had Bryan Duckworth, who played fiddle for Robert Earl Keen for years, come and add a fiddle solo to that tune. Bruce Robison and Bryan Duckworth trading solos on one of my songs…that is a moment in the record I’ll always remember.
AH: You recorded the album using an analog tracking process. What did that do to this batch of songs to heighten what you created during the songwriting process? What did it bring to them that a more modern method could not?
DB: Well, for one thing, the analog technology requires that you approach the recording process totally differently. At least in this instance, working at the Bunker, it meant putting all the musicians in one big cutting room, having the whole ensemble work up the material to the point that it’s ready to be recorded, which often entailed Bruce coming in and helping nail down the arrangement – add an intro here, add a musical bridge there, remove a couple bars here, putting in a stop here or there, decide how long a solo section will be here, etc. But ultimately, once the arrangements were decided upon, having a band record live to tape gives you a very warm, living, breathing, organic musical sensibility that is very difficult, if not impossible, to create or replicate in the digital world.
AH: What would the Dallas who first picked up a guitar think of this album if he had a chance to hear it?
DB: That question itself almost brings a tear to my eye. It’s been quite a journey. I’m talking about over half a life time of struggles, dues paid, defeats, victories, triumphs, having my ego blown up like a balloon, shot down to a healthy place a time or two, creative direction meandering through all manner of different styles, battles with personal demons, lifestyle choices, on and on. And now to be in a really relatively healthy headspace, have a family and happy home and to be able to capture some of that in these songs, record it with a legendary producer and now just be able to go out and play and work at making a living, it’s all a dream come true, but it’s one that no one could have just handed me. It’s a bunch of hard lessons and a continual journey to figure out what’s really important and realizing that it’s a ton of hard work and in many ways I’m still just getting started toward being the person and the artist that I want to be. The Dallas that first picked up a guitar would probably not be fully prepared to know what it was going to take to get from there to here, but he’d say, “Let’s go!” And I’d tell that kid, “Buckle up.”
AH: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and why?
DB: One area is this: I have a fairly wide array of influences as well as a wide array of goals. Everyone from Tom Petty to Townes Van Zandt. Now To honor the writing tradition of guys like Townes is a double-edged sword, because for one thing it’s a high bar to aim for in an artistic sense, but it’s also a fairly narrow market. In other words, even if you can write and play as well as Townes, the next problem is how to make a living. We are talking about a pretty esoteric listenership for that kind of material. Then say you want to write some Tom Petty hit-song style anthems, again a hard thing to do, but if you shoot for that target, do you alienate the folks who want to hear folkier, more traditional stuff? Maybe, but basically my answer has been to just write and play whatever feels good and let the chips fall where they may, but it is a lot to think about. Some will say write what you want to write and find the people who want to hear that music. Some will say write what people want to hear and build a career. I think there’s some of both in what I do. I want to entertain people, I want people to enjoy the experience of hearing my material, and I want to be able to make a living doing it. I also want to bare my soul and tell my stories and do things my own way, so it’s not as much a matter of compromising with myself as it is reconciling within myself the range of things that I want to do.
AH: Social media seems like an infinite double-edged sword that can both help and hurt an artist, but on a personal level, how do you view your relationship with the various platforms as they relate to promoting your music?
DB: Yeah, that’s a whole big conversation in itself, but basically I have sort of recognized that it’s a necessary evil, or at least that it’s necessary to help build a following, communicate with people, etc. It can be very consuming, so the best way I can deal with it is to get in and out; do what I need to do to create content, share what I’m up to and then get out and try to go get some other stuff done, or just enjoy life in general outside of the phone or the computer. I don’t want to live in there. Really, it’s a great resource and a helpful tool when used correctly.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
DB: Nah, I appreciate the unknown, the mystery, the infinite possibilities. Keeps it interesting.
Find Dallas Burrow’s music and more information here: https://www.dallasburrow.com