| An Interview with Dylan Sevey of Dylan Sevey and The Gentlemen |
About two years ago, a friend of mine—Dan Swain—was recording an EP, and he needed a band to back him up. So, originally the band was Dan Swain and the Gentlemen. Since Dan also played the drums, he and I eventually started switching off. Then, Dan had to leave the band, but the rest of us wanted to keep the group going. And Dan was kind enough to let us keep “The Gentlemen” as part of the band name.
What other projects have you and The Gentlemen been involved with in the past, and what is your background as musicians?
Our keyboardist, Brendan Moore, is a jazz musician, so he pulls a lot of that in. I love old blues, folk, country… The first band I was ever in was called the Angry Dishwashers—that was in the eighth grade—and I still have a cassette tape somewhere that we recorded; I guess I would call it amateurish alternative rock. Then, near the end of high school, David Ponte [lead guitarist of The Gentlemen] and I were in a band called The Overtones. Dave has been one of my best friends since the sixth grade, and we had always wanted to form a blues-rock, Allman Brothers-style band. David started playing guitar when he was 13, but he never played for anyone until high school, and by then he could just shred. We did that for a year and a half, and then Brendan and I were in a band called Milkbread, which played at Foo Fest last year.
What other artists have influenced you, and how would you describe the sound of your band?
For the most part, everyone in the band is on the same page in terms of musical influences. We all love the classic rock stuff: the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, The Band, Bob Dylan … All of us are into a lot of diverse groups—and we really love groups that are diverse with their sound. Wilco is a huge influence, and they’ll go from a super gentle folk song to a crazy experimental freakout over the course of one album. That’s our goal: to be able to play everything from hard-hitting blues to Waylon Jennings-style country.
We do primarily three genres: blues, folk, and rock. People will come up to talk to us after shows, and they’ll tell us that they love one genre we do and that we should just focus on that. But we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. Between those three genres, you can do almost anything, and we want to be capable of doing whatever genre as long as it sounds good and sounds like us, like our band. I don’t think being diverse means you don’t have a sound; I think being diverse is a sound. We know what we want to sound like, but we thrive on a challenge. If someone says, “Oh you can’t do that,” then we immediately want to prove them wrong.
I don’t think being diverse means you don’t have a sound; I think being diverse is a sound.
We try to push our own limits as much as we can. For instance, we’ve been doing a lot of cover shows. We did a full 1970’s show, a Beatles tribute show, and I set up a show recently at the Columbus Theater on Bob Dylan’s birthday. I was named after Bob Dylan and I’ve seen him live 11 times, so we’ll just say I’m a fan… We did three of his songs: “Visions of Joanna,” “If You’ve Gotta Go, Go Now,” and “Cold Irons Bound.”
What made you want to become a musician?
I went through what any kid goes through. When I was eight years old I heard “The White Album” for the first time, and that was it. Since then, I really haven’t wanted to do anything else—which is fortunate, since I am pretty pathetically incompetent at anything that’s not related to music. I lack simple common sense sometimes. Like, we were just on tour in Tennessee. Well, we were on our way to this important meeting, and I realize that I forgot the CDs. So I go to make this U-turn and just drive into a ditch… Like I said, no common sense.
We recorded the album over the course of three weeks, which is not a whole lot of time. But luckily, we were working with the amazing Chris Piquette, who was able to capture exactly the kind of recording that we wanted. I write songs about real things, emotions, and people… I try not to write about something I don’t know and that doesn’t mean something to me. We don’t have a lot of gimmicks onstage. That stuff can be great, but it’s not us. I love those artists who completely engulf you in the music. Chris helped us get across that same sort of honesty in our recording of Join the Club.
This album was really a culmination of what I’ve been working on from the time I was 17 or 18. Or even when I was 8 or 9, because that’s when I started writing song lyrics! There are songs on the album that I wrote as far back as 2008. So just listening to the album, I can hear so much of how I’ve evolved and changed as a songwriter since then, when I was mainly writing about my awful relationships and breakups. Obviously, there’s more maturity over the years, and I’ve noticed that I’m much more capable of writing about different subjects now; and I can write different types of songs: ballads, story songs… I think discovering the band helped open me up to new kinds of songwriting. There are some songs on the album that I don’t think would have come out as honest or good if I hadn’t had this group of guys in the band. They were able to bring out what each song means to me. We’re in the process of putting a second album together right now, and this first album was a nice starting point to see what we’re capable of doing as a band.
What should we expect from your second album, then? How will it be different from Join the Club?
Well, I wrote most of the songs on the first album independently of the band, whereas the second album will have a lot more influence from the other guys. At this point, my name might be the band name, but it’s really much more of a group than just these guys playing my songs. Just as you can see how I evolved as a songwriter in our first album, you’ll hopefully be able to see how we’ve evolved as a band in our second album.
We want to be as complete a band as we can be. We don’t want to ever sacrifice the music for the lyrics, or to sacrifice the lyrics for the music. I want the songs I write to be as complete as they can be, and that’s where it helps to have such great musicians. They can always bring something to the song that is even better than what I was imagining in my head.
We’re also trying a sort of musical experiment for this album, where we learn all of the songs and then completely deconstruct them, rewriting the songs to sound completely different. So we should have an “A version” and a “B version” of every song, and we can see what works best. This is an approach that Wilco has used, and we’re really excited to try it and see where that goes. We’ll be playing at least one and maybe two of our new songs in our set at Foo Fest.
What was it like to play “My Enigma” at the Indigo Girls concert at Lupo’s in February?
It was something that up until the last minute I wasn’t sure I could actually do. They didn’t ask me to open for them; instead, they wanted me to play a song in the middle of their set. I was scared all their fans would get pissed off. If someone did that at a Bob Dylan show, I would be like, “What the fuck?” So I was tentative, but at the end of the day I figured the worst that could happen was that I wouldn’t jive with Indigo Girls’ fans and the crowd would hate me.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocJRNSeo55g[/youtube]
Luckily, there was no heckling or anything. The song was was really well received, which was so cool. Especially since it was my first time playing at Lupo’s, which was the one venue in Rhode Island that had always eluded me.
How is it different to play a festival than to open for a band or to play a smaller venue?
It is a little different because you need to think about what the vibe of the festival is and what the audience is expecting, so then you can adapt your material accordingly. At last year’s Foo Fest, the bands that resonated most with me were the ones who brought all the energy and got the audience involved. At Foo Fest this year, the main objective for us will be to get people excited and bring a more hard rock element to our performance. We want to put on a thirty-minute set of, “Holy crap, what’s going on?” Since our band tries to cover such a wide variety of sounds, the chance to focus on what particular aspects of our sound will work for that festival is a welcome challenge. It’s not a compromise, but an opportunity to show that we’re capable of doing something different.
And remember to check out their set on August 10th at Foo Fest. They’ll be playing the INDOOR STAGE from 2:15-2:45!