WILL DAILEY by Glenwood
“The one thing I tried to make sure of while putting my last two records together is that I was being purposeful. I could spend all my time recording songs and jerking around but now that everyone and their rabid dog can put a song on the web for free, I think artists have to pay attention—more than ever now—to the material they are putting out. The saturation epidemic is creating an immunity to “new” music. So in these ten songs I had to be sure that there was a need to record them and not just a want. Wanting isn’t good enough anymore. Wanting purpose does not bring purpose. Wanting peace does not bring peace. Wanting happiness will not bring happiness. Luckily, there is a need now, more than ever, for all those things.” – Will Dailey
To listen to Will Dailey wax poetic on his rationale behind crafting his latest record, Back Flipping Forward, the state of the industry or even the nation is to listen to someone who puts his time, sweat, money, and heart in the place where others just place their ambition. He talks the talk and he walks the walk.
On March 13, before his flight to Texas to play South By Southwest, and before he would return to headline the Paradise on March 24, Will Dailey and I talked about playing music in Boston for 10 years before recently seeing his hard work pay its biggest dividend to date: a record deal with CBS records.
A brief history of Will Dailey locally: he started Wheelkick Records and The Dissolver webzine, fronted the stellar and critically acclaimed rock band Mappari before setting off on a solo career as a singer-songwriter. He sold his car to finance his debut, Goodbyeredbullet, and then headed off to LA to court label support. His recent CD, Back Flipping Forward, won him Boston Music Award for best male singer-songwriter (2006). That, and he has a guitar sponsorship with First Act.
Along the way, he’s shared the stage with Ric Ocasek, Tegan & Sara, Grant Heart (Hüsker Dü), The Figgs, Kay Hanley, Glen Tilbrooke, The Damnwells, John Butler Trio, Tim Burgess, Piebald, and Brett Dennen. He’s seen his music hit mainstream television (Jericho) and recently recorded one of Jack Kerouac’s poems with Dana Colley and Billy Conway (Twinemen).
Noise: You’re one of the few local musicians I know who managed to skip the day-job trap. What haven’t you done in the name of music? What have you done?
Will: Sold my car, worked about 37 different odd jobs, parted with guitars I’ve loved to pay the rent—some might meet that with condemnation but I had faith I would get them back, built a nice little pool of dept.
Noise: For readers who don’t know you, you are a driven man, one who eschews the hard partying and is a reliable guy. What’s good and bad about that?
Will: Pluses: I’m not fucked up on drugs. Minuses: I don’t have any excuses. Plus, I was always too poor and had to drive myself to the next gig or book another show myself the next minute. I never had the time to waste the time. I look to people like Ian McKaye for how to handle myself professionally.
Noise: Why did you go and what did you do out in L.A.?
Will: To kick my own ass. Get some sun, see some friends, see what everyone is complaining about, follow through on some musical buzz, chase coyotes, play up and down the West Coast with more ease, find some money to record another album, take a break from Boston, develop home sickness, find Robert Goulet’s Hollywood star, work for Indie 103.1. I played shows, recorded demos, got a manager, got an agent, got an indie-label deal and came back home.
Noise: What is your deal with CBS?
Will: It’s a major record label deal—big company—with an indie-deal mentality: just starting out and trying to foster the new paradigm in a mutating industry. Digital sales and TV placements are as paramount as touring and other traditional forms of exposing artists. We’ll see how it goes. Right now, I am on my third record deal but the first one that is a major. It doesn’t feel that different. I’m still hustling my ass off, but I feel like I got married and changed my last name… and there was no honeymoon. I just have a lot more people to communicate with when it used to just be me.
Noise: You’ve been traveling a lot lately; what were you up to in New Orleans?
Will: I went down to the lower 9th with some good friends just before Christmas. We worked for Habitat for Humanity on the Musicians Village project that is being partnered by Harry Connick, Jr., Branford and Ellis Marsalis. It was part getting some anger out and putting my money where my mouth is. I could say a lot about the whole experience and situation but I think the readers of The Noise are well-informed, and I am in a good mood right now and would hate to spoil it.
Noise: The big news is that CBS is taking your record Back Flipping Forward and re-releasing it. Where was it recorded, and with whom? Talk about what was new in terms of recording for you.
Will: I recorded nine of the ten songs at Q Division with Tom Polce. I was pretty burnt out when I had to start. As far as the L.A. trip, wound up in L.A. hospital with appendicitis and no health insurance and with the no insurance they kicked me out of the hospital as soon as I came to and didn’t give me antibiotics so then it got infected. The bill was 50 thousand dollars and I was cleaned out and fighting the rest of the bill. At the same time I got this indie deal and the money to record Back Flipping Forward. I decided the best way to do that was in Boston with musicians that I trusted and knew. I had a budget for nine days and I knew that if I teamed with Polce—a cross between a Viking correction officer and a child prodigy—we could get the best possible album. I would have picked him over Rick Rubin at that point in my life to achieve the best album. That struggle to the finish line I guess is the back flipping forward. It is seldom one foot in front of the other.
Noise: How would you compare the two records?
Will: Goodbyeredbullet was recorded at Studio 247 with Jack Younger on 16 track one inch tape. No automation in the mix. Pretty raw and down to earth. A lot of first-take kind of stuff.
Noise: How has your use of piano, horns, and non-guitar, bass, and drums evolved as a recording artist?
Will: Exposure and finance. On the two albums there is mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, B3, harmonica, all kinds of back up vocalists and it just comes from a need to diversify the sonic landscape and answering what the song calls for.
Noise: How has your songwriting changed since Goodbyeredbullet?
Will: Well, it’s evolved… hopefully. Pushed it further. Some of these songs were little numbers that I wrote that were taken to a whole new level with Ken Clark on B3 or Tim Obetz on pedal steel.
Noise: What songs are you the most proud of from your newest record?
Will: It’s hard to pick one over another. I am really proud of “Dear Grace” because it is this little live to two-track performance that I did during a night off in California. I put some more tracks over it and it turned into a little gem. Songs like “Hollywood Hills” and “Undone” are really pleasing in simply that they feel complete with the horns and everything. Nothing was spared. The songs on this album get everything they need. I’m proud that it is an album you can listen to front to back. The way radio is accepting it is nice too. There doesn’t seem to be one song. Which I think might be a good thing. Of the stations adding the album there are five different songs being played right now.
Noise: I hear a Stones influence on songs like “Undone”; what era Stones do you dig?
Will: Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers. I had a very embarrassing moment while expressing my affinity for “Moonlight Mile” in front of six friends last year and they don’t let me forget it. I was drunk and who knows what else was going on but that song kills me.
Noise: Before we close the shop down… the touring question: How goes it?
Will: Some days are better than others. And youth centers in the middle of the desert can be better shows than the premiere club in a major city.
Noise: What writers, artists are currently with you (in your bag, on your iPod, etc) on your musical travels?
Will: David McCullough, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Wendell Berry, Joanna Newsom, E.B. White.
Noise: What are you hoping to do this calendar year?
Will: Tour and then sleep on Christmas day and then tour. Maybe record a single for a new song called “Peace of Mind” and then tour. Get things flowing with the label, see what comes of it.
Noise: Is there anything you would do differently in your musical path?
Will: I would have become rich off my first gig. Other than that looking backwards can be a little self-destructive. I try not to do that. But it scares a lot of people when they drive with me.