Dakota Theim — Tangled Heart
Between daylight saving time and the cold of winter fast approaching, the promise for sun will be lacking in the months ahead. Thankfully, singer-songwriter Dakota Theim has you covered with his latest album, Tangled Heart, which is due this Friday. The collection is an instant shot of Vitamin D for the brain that has the musical might to pull you out of any seasonal funk through the bright and shining rays of Theim’s indelible groove making.
The latest single, “Never Give Up On Your Love,” is available now.
I recently sat down with Theim to discuss the insignificance of timestamps, the ups and downs of love, and how he was shaped by the music from a galaxy far far away.
Americana Highways: I instantly fell in love with your upcoming album Tangled Heart when I first heard it. I told my wife it was superbly all-timey – a cross between old-timey and all new. For those unfamiliar with your work, give us the elevator pitch. What is Dakota Theim all about musically?
Dakota Theim: Thank you so much! I am happy to hear you enjoyed it right away. I strive to write memorable songs that have a timeless quality to them. A lot of people describe my sound as having a “retro” feel, which I completely understand why, but I personally don’t really think of it that way. I never really thought of music as having a timestamp on it—I grew up listening to a lot of different music from different time periods but I never thought of it as being “from the ‘60s” or “from the early 2000s”. I try to keep that frame of mind with my own music. I simply want to write the best songs that I can, that people can relate to. Hopefully they’ll make someone’s day better and maybe even make them want to sing along!
AH: What did you set out to accomplish with the songs on Tangled Heart? Was there a different creative POV going in than there was when you made Somewhere Under The Sun?
DT: When I made Somewhere Under The Sun I was intentionally making an album and I didn’t really care that much about the production. I just wanted to record the songs using very basic techniques and hope that the songs themselves would shine through rather than getting lost in a bunch of fancy production. When I started Tangled Heart, I had no idea it was going to eventually be an album. Somewhere Under The Sun came out two months before the pandemic hit so I took that time off from playing live to continue writing and recording new songs. I also started getting a lot more into production, so I bought some new mics and had a ton of fun experimenting with new sounds and techniques. I eventually realized that I had enough for an album so I sent it off to be mixed and mastered and I was left with Tangled Heart!
AH: So many of the songs on Tangled Heart live with you well after the record comes to an end, but what I enjoyed most about it was that it became a different experience upon the second listen than on the first. What do you hope people take away from the record when it reaches their assorted devices on November 19?
DT: That’s really cool that it did that for you! I hope this record takes people on a journey. Lyrically and emotionally, the songs have a lot of ups and downs which is supposed to reflect the ups and downs that people experience in a relationship. Some of the songs are straight up “I love you so much and I will love you forever” and some of them are more like “I love you so much but we’ve got some problems.” It’s extremely difficult to acknowledge that things might not work out with the person you are in love with. I hope that people can relate to both the ups and the downs of this album, and maybe be able to fit their own narrative to some of the songs. If not, I just hope people have a good time groovin’ to it!
AH: You played and recorded every instrument on the early demos for the album. Two-headed question here: How much did the songs change since those recordings, AND, will we ever hear those demos?
DT: Every once in a while if I’m lucky, a lot of the musical arrangement for a song will come to me as I’m writing it. In other cases, there’s a lot more shaping and sculpting that takes place between the initial demo and the final song. The majority of the final lead guitar parts were written by Ben Bilotti who plays in my band, and most of the bass parts were written by my other bandmate Alex Werner. I will play some lead guitar and bass parts on the demos, but 99% of the time I like what Ben and Alex come up with better than what I had. We’ve got a great collaborative relationship. Overall, I would say the songs don’t drastically change all that much from their demo versions, but the final versions are definitely more polished and complete.
I released the demos for Somewhere Under The Sun on Bandcamp, so I will most likely do the same for Tangled Heart. Some of the demos were recorded in the desert near Palm Springs, CA with Ben and Alex, and I really like the vibe they have so, yeah, I’ll probably throw ‘em up online eventually.
AH: What do you think the Dakota who first started playing the piano at 7 years old would think of Tangled Heart. Would it blow his mind that these songs would one day come out of his… well, mind?
DT: I think the 7-year-old Dakota would probably be a little confused. (Laughter) I’m not sure that I had developed any real kind of taste in music yet. At least I hadn’t discovered a whole lot yet at that age. I think at that time I was listening to the Star Wars soundtrack on my CD player or something. (Laughter) However, I have always had a strong love and passion for music so I think in a way I would be mind blown to know that my future self would be able to write songs at all. Hopefully I would have liked the songs and I’d be warned about any possible future relationship problems!
AH: There is something very cinematic about a lot of the songs on Tangled Heart. There were numerous times where I said to myself, “This would be a great opening to a series” or “This would really set the moment for a memorable scene.” Do you think cinematically when you write? Is there a picture in your mind?
DT: I don’t really write cinematically actually. Maybe the cinematic vibe of some of my songs is a subconscious thing from listening to movie soundtracks so much as a kid. Most of the lyrics I write are based on my own personal experiences. Musically I just craft the song until it expresses the mood or feeling I am trying to convey. There’s not really a conscious visual element to my songwriting process. I love the idea of the listener creating their own visual narrative in their mind. But hey, if any music supervisors are reading this, hit me up!
AH: Sticking with the writing, I know you are a multi-instrumentalist, but where do most of your songs start out? Is the piano the musical instrument muse that you rely on?
DT: It depends on the song. I’ve only ever written on piano or guitar, but I’d say its about 50/50 at this point. Sometimes for whatever reason I find writing on the piano much easier and other times the guitar is easier for me. I wouldn’t say I am exceptional at either guitar or piano so I think whatever the song calls for is what I stick with. Sometimes I switch back and forth during the writing process. Usually whichever instrument I write the song with is the one I will play on the recordings as well as in the live setting.
AH: What is something that has come out of your musical journey that you could have never anticipated when you chose to take this creative path?
DT: I never could have anticipated all the new friends I’ve made along the journey. I met Ben while we were both interning at a recording studio in Portland, now we are roommates and all his friends have become my friends. I met Alex early on in college and we’ve become best buds as well. It’s been amazing to see all the support we’ve received from both old and new friends. Even random people’s parents have shown a lot of support! I think just the sense of community around what we’re doing has been something I never would have predicted. Also there’s been multiple times where people met at our shows and started dating afterwards, which is kinda crazy.
AH: Beyond creating music, how important is music in your life as a listener? Do you rely on it in the many ups and downs that life has to offer?
DT: Music is very important in my life as a listener. It definitely helps when I am feeling down and helps me relax if I am feeling anxious. Listening to music is a great way to stay grounded for me. On the other hand, it amplifies good feelings too. There’s nothing like listening to one of your favorite songs when you’re in a great mood. Discovering new music is really exciting too. Since I started songwriting a lot more, the way I listen to music has changed a little bit though. I tend to listen to music through the lens of a songwriter now, but I think its also really important to enjoy the music for what it is as well.
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?
DT: I think it might be comforting to know what the future holds, as long as it’s a good future, but what’s the fun in that? Choosing to pursue music as a career can be very uncertain and the path is very unclear but it’s been really gratifying to look back and reflect on the progress I’ve made so far. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is to not worry about what the future holds and to enjoy the journey as it happens. I think it makes the whole thing more meaningful by not knowing what’s going to happen next.
For more information on Dakota Theim and Somewhere Under The Sun, visit http://www.dakotatheim.com.
Check out some other interesting interviews on our site, for example here: Key to the Highway: Ben Nichols