From the beaches of Hawaii, singer-songwriter Dustin Welch took some time over the holidays to answer questions about his sophomore record, Tijuana Bible, working with Soldiers of Song and his ideal super power.
Q: Your new record, Tijuana Bible comes out in February, what can you tell us about it? Do you have any favorite moments on it?
A: I get really excited about this stuff, so forgive me if I get a little too verbose. In the first 30 seconds of the first song, you begin with a giant rock drum beat, which is then joined by an almost techno trance style bass line underneath a sort of West African chant, and completed by this dark Appalachian banjo part a couple bars later. Violin and a monster electric guitar enter in as the song builds. The pianist had never played in a rock band before, but is one of the greatest jazz piano players I’ve ever encountered, let alone worked with. On that particular song we had him on some wild ass synth which I think he was running through a Wah-Wah pedal. The rest of the album, to me, is indistinguishable what particular genre you would define it as. I’ve got several favorite moments, but it was a gratifying thrill to record Astor Piazzola’s “Libertango” as an intro for the song “Tango Blues” which I first had the idea for fifteen years ago.
Q: The title makes it seems like the new album could be a follow up to Whiskey Priest. How are the two records similar or different?
A: It’s the second record in what’s gonna have to end up being a trilogy. Since it’s the sophomore album we tried to make the arrangements more sophisticated, which I’ll chalk up to the prefix. I had several of the songs already that ended up on Tijuana Bible when we made the first album, but Whisky Priest was intended to be a bit more introductory. The band on ‘TJ’ is entirely different, with the exception of my violinist, Trisha Keefer. I hope I never have to make a record without her. Thematically, I tried to get into the state of our celebrity obsessed culture, like in “Party Girl” and “Tango Blues”, which didn’t occur anywhere on the first album.
Q: There’s a great story on your website about getting a mandolin when you were 5. When did you learn how to play music and when did you know it was the path you wanted to take professionally?
A: That particular mandolin was virtually unplayable, but actually having an instrument of my own was huge to me then. I’d pull it out of the case when we had company over and act like I knew how to tune it and start banging around making up nonsense. I believe I was eight when my dad noticed me sitting down with his guitar in his office and he asked me if I’d like one of my own. We bought an old Gibson-made Wards catalog guitar from Mike Henderson’s neighbor, which I still play to this day at virtually every gig. There was never a question in my mind or anyone else’s that from then on that my path was set.
Q: Did you ever consider some other career?
A: My father called me from a basement dressing room somewhere when I was about twelve, begging me to reconsider going into a life of a touring musician. It was always real hard on him being away from his children. I remember talking to him on the house phone saying I’d just have to do whatever it took. I still haven’t decided if I knew what that meant at the time. If I had to peruse another line of work, I’d most certainly be a private detective.
Q: What does your creative process look like? Is it at all informed by the other songwriters you’ve known (if so, how)?
A: I love the process so much, I’ll take a long time to write anything I really like. I also prefer co-writing, because it forces you to have a discussion about the characters or the story. The lyric becomes more conversational that way. And yeah, of course there’s certain techniques I’ve picked up from some of my songwriting teachers, but I’m not necessarily overtly conscious of it.
Q: Besides your instruments, what are the top 5 things that you must have while on the road?
A: The obvious gadgets are pretty integral to get us where we’re going and keep the machine running smooth; my iPhone which serves as radio and GPS, my iPad which holds a bunch of books and crossword puzzles for the waiting game. Power converters are always handy. Aside from that, I’m pretty easy. I try to stock up on good stuff to snack on, so it keeps us out of the fast food joints and so there’s something to eat at the end of the night after we’re done playing in case everything’s closed up.
Q: If you could sit down for an hour and play with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?
A: This is a hard question to quantify or narrow down. If we’re talking strictly musicians, either Mingus or Bach. As far as singers, Nilsson. Songwriters, Hank Williams or Tom Petty. Same question for all, “Could you spot me 50 till my brother straightens up?”
Q: You work with a group Soldier Songs out of San Marcos. Can you explain a little more about what they do and how/why you became involved?
A: This begs for a very involved answer, so I’ll try my best to give you the abridged version. I’d go play benefit gigs when I could for an organization called the Welcome Home Project, which was intended to provide instruments for returning Vets. I recognized that it wasn’t enough to just get an instrument to them, so I decided to start holding weekly workshops out of music venues, which would allow them to be in a more social environment. I focused on songwriting as an additional form of music therapy. This was a year and a half ago, and we now have five chapters throughout Texas and several more elsewhere in the country. We’ve seen folks be able to get off their meds, their nightmares and seizures going away, their families grow stronger. And the songs… oh man, these things convey stuff no psychiatrist will ever hear, nothing even the most candid news report could convey.
Q: What superpower do you wish you had?
A: Okay, so my publishing company and my pseudo-record label is called Super Rooster Music and Super Rooster Records. This is actually a reference to the old Chicken Shack days of Music City renown, which bred a hot bed of what we will likely one day see as being one of the biggest influences of Americana music of our current generation. However, if I was a superhero, I’d be called Mano Man, and I’d have the ability to impress the apathetic, and stimulate the de-sensitized. I’d wear a bathrobe and a cape at all times and drive a 1966 Checker Cab Marathon 3-on-the-Tree Station Wagon.
Q: Is there anything else people listening to your music need to know about you?
A: Ha! I think you’re just gonna have to ask them. I’m a little surprised anyone would wanna know this much! There’s plenty more I could say about myself, but I’m not sure it would make listening to my music that much better…but thanks for asking!