Jake Dwyer is a multifaceted artist. Not only does he front his own Appalachian Blues group in the form of the Jake Dwyer Band, but he’s also a producer, videographer, photographer, sideman, and an all-around proactive individual.
The Jake Dwyer Band’s latest release is a six-song collection called Driving Thoughts that paints vivid images of navigating the beauty and hardships along life’s highways. Recorded entirely at his very own Shape Studios in Jonesborough, Tennessee, Dwyer discusses creating this original collection, the intersection of creative mediums, bringing back an Appalachian percussive tradition, and memories of his time on the road in this exclusive interview with Americana Highways.
Americana Highways: Driving Thoughts is six songs that you wrote and recorded yourself at your very own Shape Studios. The single you released from the EP is called “Arizona to Blue Ridge.” Where did that song come from?
Jake Dwyer: Last November and into December, we went on a tour to the West Coast and back with Martha Spencer. We were coming back through, you know, we had been out in the desert. Kind of through it all, all the different places and sights that you can see through the United States. We were coming back and you could see the mountains and everything. That warmth of being back home, and being back here in the Appalachian Mountains. I live over in Johnson City, so coming back into Tennessee coming up from Louisiana, getting back into there and you start seeing it. It starts to make you realize that you’re happy to be back home.
AH: This album is credited to the Jake Dwyer Band. Who are the members of the band?
JD: Josh Tipton, we call him Vegas. We got Kevin Portwine. Josh plays bass and Kevin plays drums for me. It’s a three piece, so we have a good time. We get to roll around pretty tight. On this EP we also had Martha play fiddle on a track.
AH: Is there a particular thread that weaves through the songs on Driving Thoughts?
JD: I drive a lot. I got a lot of mileage going to practices; between that and a lot of other driving that I was doing you start thinking about things that you’ve been involved with and different perspectives on different things. It brings up memories. I think a lot of it are some feelings that I did have at the time; it’s all relative to that. I think it’s all over a few months of driving; we did like 6,000 miles then. A lot of the times I was sitting in the driver’s seat.
AH: I feel like driving is a great place to be introspective and work on songs.
JD: Yeah, there’s a lot of late nights when you’re driving and everybody else is asleep. You don’t want to turn up the music too loud, because everybody needs their rest. You’re just in your head thinking, you know?
AH: For sure. Tell me about your home studio, Shape Studios, where you recorded this project.
JD: Yes, I built this home studio over the years. It’s always been a dream of mine, and I’ve been wanting to fulfill some of those dreams. I got a setup where I can do video and audio. I also do photos. Mainly, I do a full package for somebody. They’ll come in and record, and we’ll dream up what they want and how they want it to look in the world. We’ll do the music videos, and we’ll do the photos for it. We’ll do exactly what they need. That’s my drive in the studio – to keep on creating these projects and doing the whole thought from start to finish.
AH: How might it be different working on a project for another artist and seeing their dreams to fruition versus working on a project for yourself?
JD: Each person that comes through has a different level of pickiness. You have your standards and if you are producing an album, you hold everything to those standards. Ultimately, the artist needs to be happy or they’re not going to eventually release it or they’ll second guess it. I try to really tune in to what they are doing, but when it’s for me, I’ve already thought it out. When I’m writing all these songs, and I’m writing how they sound, in my head I’m thinking about how they are going to come across on the recording. I work pretty quick. It only took up five days in the studio with Martha coming in and mixing. We were done in a weekend with just recording the EP. Sometimes it takes a year to record songs for an artist.
AH: That’s one thing about you that I love is that you are so efficient, and so quick, but then the product is one of the best. And, I mean across mediums and across platforms.
JD: I appreciate that. I think that’s something I carry across in all my tasks. I want to be clean and really high quality, but also quick. That’s just how I move.
AH: Outside of your solo project, you also play the percussion with Martha Spencer and The Wonderland Band. You are bringing back an older tradition of having drums in old time music, and you’re also playing the washboard.
JD: Yeah, you don’t hear very much of the drums. I have a few vinyl’s that I got of Hank that you can hear different percussion on radio shows and live shows. A lot of that is from the late ‘40s probably. When I play with Martha I keep it simple. I came from a lot of different genres playing drums and percussion, but with playing this old time, it’s something interesting. Especially, when we do fiddle tunes. I’m not really sure the last time that has been done. We’re doing it our own way. With washboard it’s a little different, because with drums you’re sitting down playing the drum kit; your rhythm and your muscles are a little bit different. The washboard is mounted on you and you’re playing with brushes, and it’s a whole different muscle group. It’s just as driving.
AH: On your travels with The Wonderland Band, is there a spot that was particularly special to you?
JD: We had a cancelled show one night and we were near the Grand Canyon. We knew we wanted to go there. We went to this guy’s house in Flagstaff, Arizona area, and he had camels and he was a lighting engineer, so he had all these chandeliers. It was a very amazing house. It was like a log cabin, but it was just something else. He built it all himself; a wild man, but in a good way. We just called somebody needing a place to stay and his name came up, and we called him and he said come stay with me, we had never met him, but it worked out. It was beautiful.
AH: The last song on the EP is called “Touched My Hand (As I Walked Away),” and that features Martha Spencer on fiddle. Where did that song come from?
JD: That song I wrote about an experience that I had when I was leaving a show with a bunch of my friends. I wasn’t going to see a friend for a while, and I wrote that about the feeling I had in that moment. It was a memory that stood out.
AH: Your EP Driving Thoughts is available across various platforms including CD’s and cassette tapes. What was the idea to put this collection of music out on cassette?
JD: Me and one of my other bands played Dungeon and Dragons in this room that was all analog. We listened to cassette tapes. My dad gave me all of his cassette tapes and a lot of them are from the ‘80s. We got really into listening to cassettes, and I just really enjoyed it. So, I decided to release this one on cassette.
AH: The photograph of you on the cover is a great image. Who took that photo?
JD: My friend Julie. She’s done all my work for me. She really nails everything that she does. She’s got such a great eye. And, that’s one of my friend’s cars, a 1967 Chrysler New Yorker; very luxurious. We got that car and took pictures in it. It was an amazing day.
Check out Jake Dwyer Band at https://www.jakedwyerband.com.
All photographs by Julie Vittetoe.