Well, with a name like that you have to listen, don’t you? I heard Mr. Dead a few weeks back on a session he did on the Sunny Govan Switchback. With an interesting list of influences and some songs that beggared belief that they didn’t originate in some dusty back town off of Route 66 I went in search of him. With two releases, a solo album and a single (backed by The Doubters) under his belt he had this to say for himself.
You were in a “succession of local bands” before coming to your present incarnation. What type of music were you playing then and what led you to the current set up?
I sang and occasionally played guitar in rock bands since 1997. My big influences were the bands that came form the ‘Alternative Rock’ explosion in the 90’s … Nirvana, Blind Melon, Jane’s Addiction etc. Among the rock music I had some Johnny Cash and Tom Waits … but I started paying a great deal of attention to alternative Country / Americana in 1998 or so after I heard Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac and Richard Buckner’s Bloomed and Devotion & Doubt. They were shaping how I wrote songs and I brought that influence in to the music I was writing with the band … certainly within the lyrics … and Whistle of a Distant Train came from then. I guess Jim Dead began when the ideas I was bringing in weren’t sounding as I imagined. I never specifically wanted to play country music, but I wanted to strip the songs right back and focus on the words and the stories.
I read of a T Shirt that said “ Old Punks Never Die, they just go Country.” Not that we’re saying you’re old but any relevance there?
Could be that it’s easier to sing? I guess it would be fair to say that it’s a lot easier to tell a story without shouting. It’s also a completely different feeling … and a complete departure. It’s like missing the rush-hour and getting a seat on the bus.
Who or what are the particular influences in your style and songwriting?
There’s so many … Johnny Cash is obviously a huge influence, as is Richard Buckner, Tom Waits, Mark Lanegan, Damien Jurado and Steve Earle. There’s been other artists that I’ve heard over the years that have had an impact on what I’d like to bring to my music, but I always tend to come right back to those early influences.
Where does Jim Dead and the music come from?
I have an interest in the mysterious, and that Golden Age of Medicine Shows and Carnivals. It’s about a community that existed back then, where those sorta shows would come along and stir up the imagination of the locals … so I write about everyday things that happen in a sleepy town called Deadsville.
Go Tell the Congregation was all about hope … and the familiar settings for bleak Americana records, but it was doing things a little different without being gimmicky. For me the album was a reaction, and exploring how people react to things.
Your album was a stripped down affair, the EP with the Doubters had more flesh on it. Will you be pursuing one of these directions or continuing on both fronts?
At the moment I’m working on my own and with the Doubters. Most gigs that I’ve played have been solo, though those guys had been involved in two great events at the end of last year. Essentially it’s solo where I get the most enjoyment … maybe because that’s how the songs were written and nothing gets lost. But it’s been great to see how the songs translate with those guys and I’m sure I’ll keep recording with them and we’ll do some shows. I see The Doubters as a collective … and there’s still work to be done. I want to stretch myself … see what we can do.
Aside from the usual suspects you mention Giant sand/Howe Gelb as influences, when did you hear of them? Anyone else that you haven’t mentioned?
A friend of mine introduced me to Giant Sand … there’s something about the sound that just pulls me in. At times it’s ramshackle. And when you listen to their discography it’s sorta like listening to Howe Gelb’s never-ending road trip … crazy, vibrant, dusty and tired.
Whiskeytown, The Afghan Whigs are also great bands that have a bit of an influence in how I structure things.
Current favourite albums/songs?
Surprisingly I think Johnny Cash is the only ‘country’ artist that I’ve been listening to. American VI was a huge record … I just think it’s great. I’ve been listening to Mos Def [The Ecstatic] and the Wu-Tang Clan [Iron Flag and 8 Diagrams] … though I guess you could say that there’s a link between Hip-Hop and Country. And a friend of mine has introduced me to James Apollo. And Craig Hughes’ Pissed Off, Bitter and Willing to Share.
Finally, what’s coming up. Anything you want to plug?
Since this is a wonderful chance to plug myself, my debut record, Go Tell the Congregation, is available via iTunes, CDbaby and Amazon MP3 … all the latest Jim Dead news is on MySpace.com/JimDead.
I have a few gigs coming up which should be great. I’m playing Café Tibo on Duke Street with Lou Vargo on April 18th … I’m particularly looking forward to that. Then I’m playing at That Devil Music (The State Bar) alongside Craig Hughes and Man Gone Missing on May 7th. The Doubters are playing The Free Candy Sessions at The Liquid Ship on Great Western Road on May 14th.
I’m also working on some new songs and I’m hoping to get some new music out there soon.
Best of luck with that then.
Bone Blue Moon when done with The Doubters has a forlorn, fatalistic sense about it. The electric guitar sings as if in a canyon and Dead sounds like he’s kinfolk of Will Oldham on a song that drinks deep from the dark well of American folk. On the same song and shorn of the ornamentation provided by the band the solo Dead sounds as if he’s been touched by the ghost of Harry Smith. Spooky stuff indeed..
Check him out here