Dawn ris­ing

All the way from Ken­tucky via Brook­lyn, Dawn Lan­des has packed her bags and is on the road again. She tells Tony Clay­ton-Lea about learn­ing French, mar­ry­ing Josh Rit­ter and be­ing the girl next door

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

WE’LL for­give the ex­cite­ment – Dawn Lan­des is about to head off into the great white yon­der of the tour­ing sched­ule. She is, there­fore, in some­what of a tizzy as she can­cels the milk and makes sure she switches off the lights in­stead of switch­ing on the im­mer­sion in her New York gaff. For some peo­ple, head­ing back out onto the road is akin to hitching a lift on the high­way to Hell. not for Dawn.

“To­day is fran­tic, but I love it, and I’m so ex­cited. I know some peo­ple think of it as a nec­es­sary evil, but the only evil part is the plan­ning. But I love all of it, and to make it even bet­ter, this time I’ve got all the guys with me. It’s bet­ter that way, but it’s more than that – it’s be­ing able to achieve the sound I want to get out on stage. I’ve played a bunch of solo gigs, but it’s more ful­fill­ing for me mu­si­cally if I can have a whole range of sounds. The mu­sic is more mus­cu­lar, for a start, and I also love to see peo­ple sway­ing and mov­ing around. It’s fun to see that. The down­side? Well, I don’t do a lot of song­writ­ing on the road, and that’s maybe be­cause I don’t seem to get a lot of time alone. You’re al­ways with peo­ple, even if you’re play­ing solo gigs, shar­ing ho­tels, cars...”

Lan­des is a Louisville, Ken­tucky-born singer, song­writer and au­dio en­gi­neer who has spent far too much of her time in the depths of record­ing stu­dios to be in any way in awe of the process. This is pos­si­bly why her al­bums to date (2002’s Dawn Mu­sic, 2006’s Two, Three, Four, 2008’s Fire­proof, and the re­cently re­leased Sweet Heart Rodeo) comes with a flour­ish­ing sig­na­ture, at­ten­tion to de­tail and a heart-shaped cen­tre. Sweet Heart Rodeo, in par­tic­u­lar, ar­rives with the kind of in­stinc­tive touches that have marked Lan­des out as one of a kind. The back story to the al­bum is cutely drawn (the ro­man­tic en­tan­gle­ments of Lan­des’s grand­mother), but with Lan­des in­volved there’s got to be a twist.

The first is that she wrote most of the ma­te­rial in Paris. Peo­ple-watch­ing, city-watch­ing. “I was in Paris for the win­ter of 2007 – 2008, for about four months. I’d al­ways ro­man­ti­cised the city, I sup­pose, and France in gen­eral. I’d toured over a lot and maybe it was the chal­lenge of not know­ing what peo­ple were do­ing and say­ing. Also, I found the lan­guage so beau­ti­ful I wanted to learn it, so it was a trial by fire. I took lessons and now I can speak French – yay!”

De­spite there be­ing lots of ac­cor­dion-based mu­sic in and around the boule­vards, Lan­des says she was drawn more to­wards the mu­si­cal styles of Serge Gains­bourg and François Hardy than any­one else. She was, in fact, so taken with the city and its mu­si­cal her­itage that she plans to record a French-lan­guage al­bum – just for artis­tic rea­sons.

“I don’t nec­es­sar­ily think in com­mer­cial terms. That said, I’ve had suc­cess with some TV com­mer­cials that my mu­sic has been used in. But those things more or less fall from the sky. I don’t even see them com­ing. They’re fun to do, es­pe­cially if you’re com­mis­sioned to do them, but I don’t get any­thing ar­tis­ti­cally from them. I’m not a very busi­ness-minded lady, which is, I sup­pose, good. I mean, I’m not stupid about things, ei­ther – I can keep my­self fed.

“Liv­ing in NYC, though, it’s such a strug­gle for most peo­ple. Every­one around me is al­most in the same sit­u­a­tion, so I don’t re­ally no­tice. But, then, with mu­sic, you’re not sup­posed to think about stuff like money. It’s all about free­ing your mind, isn’t it? I look to cul­ture for that – movies, books, vis­ual art.”

One of the al­bum tracks, Lit­tle Miss Hol­i­day, is a per­fect ex­am­ple of what Lan­des is talk­ing about: it was writ­ten as a re­sponse to Martin Scors­ese’s Taxi Driver, and

“I just love the fact that I can play mu­sic for peo­ple and get them mov­ing, sway­ing around, in what­ever way they want, in­ter­nally or ex­ter­nally, all over the place

em­ploys a fal­ter­ing café con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the film’s child pros­ti­tute, Iris, and the teenage ac­tor who played her – Jodi Foster.

“When I get moved by some­thing I in­ves­ti­gate it,” says Lan­des. “And Taxi Driver was in­cred­i­ble – it kicked me out so much that I started re­search­ing the movie, and I dis­cov­ered that the real Iris was ac­tu­ally in the film, but she wasn’t cred­ited – how about that? I also heard they met in real life, and the idea of th­ese two peo­ple sit­ting at a ta­ble over a cup of cof­fee, not hav­ing much to say to each other, was com­pelling.”

It is to Lan­des’s credit that her nar­ra­tive curves work – there is lit­tle or no sign of strain­ing to im­press, and no sign what­so­ever of over-reach­ing her creative aims. Con­nec­tion of some kind for the lis­tener is cru­cial, she says. “It doesn’t mat­ter what they con­nect with as long as they grab onto some­thing. Per­haps an im­age, or even a mis­heard lyric. I just love the fact that I can play mu­sic for peo­ple and get them mov­ing, sway­ing around, in what­ever way they want, in­ter­nally or ex­ter­nally, all over the place.”

Thank her fam­ily back­ground for such a free and breezy at­ti­tude. “My brother is a jazz mu­si­cian, my grand­fa­ther plays the vi­o­lin, and my mom sings. This was never a pro­fes­sion for any­one, but I al­ways had mu­sic around when I was grow­ing up. Plus, I was a dancer when I was kid, and ex­pe­ri­enced lots of move­ment.”

We hear noise in the back­ground of her apart­ment in Brook­lyn – it could be hus­band Josh Rit­ter mooching around (the pair mar­ried re­cently, and yes, they sure kept that fact hid­den) or it might be the plumber com­ing in to dis­con­nect the wa­ter.

Ei­ther way, it’s time for a last ques­tion. Lan­des has been de­scribed as “a girl next door of the in­die pop-type per­sua­sion”. Is this true or false? “It de­pends on what or whom I’m next door to,” she an­swers sweetly. “I like a lit­tle bit of un­pre­dictabil­ity. To me, the girl next door could be a wild girl, be­cause we don’t know much about her.”

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