Jakob Dylan is to the Wallflowers what Trent Reznor is to Nine Inch Nails and John Fogerty was to Creedence Clearwater Revival. The leaders of such groups are, or in Fogerty’s case was, the band.
The Wallflowers, who finally released “Exit Wounds,” the group’s first album in nearly a decade, last Friday, will soon start a long-awaited tour. Dylan, 51, chats about his band’s constantly changing lineup, what it was like conducting Tom Petty’s last interview and why it’s not normal to be in a band with the same guys 30 years after forming.
You were obviously busy working on solo albums and your excellent Laurel Canyon documentary, “Echo in the Canyon,” but why so long between Wallflower records?
Some people write on the road better than others. When I’m on tour, my brain is focused on performing. I also don’t feel the need to make records unless I have something to say. I have enough songs. Also, the documentary took time, and, well, time slips away. This record was supposed to come out last year but was delayed for release due to the pandemic.
Shelby Lynne adds so much to the album with her vocals, which are sublime.
Shelby is amazing. The material asked for Shelby. There’s not a lot of singers like her. What’s interesting is that you never know what’s going to work when you bring in another singer. I recorded some songs with Frank Black a couple of years ago, and I didn’t use them. We didn’t sound good together. Frank sings so big that he swallowed me up. But as soon as I heard Shelby sing these songs, I knew we were golden. Shelby doesn’t play the game. She’s an outsider and a real asset to this album.
“Move the River” is so catchy, and it has that old school Clash feel. What inspired it?
Thank you for saying inspiration and not asking what it’s about. It’s a tricky one. It was one of the first songs I wrote for this record. The song represents all of the craziness this country has lived with over the last few years. In life, if you can’t get through it, sometimes you have to move it.
Aren’t turbulent times, like these, good for songwriting?
Absolutely. It’s a very fruitful time to write songs. There is so much to write about.
You’ve passed the midcentury mark. So many amazing albums have been written by folks in their twilight years such as Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and one of your relatives.
It’s wisdom through experience. There’s no reason why you can’t get better as a songwriter. However, rock and roll is a young man’s game. There’s nothing like that youthful exuberance you have as a 20-year-old. That never happens again. That’s the privilege of that age. You don’t know anything yet. That’s why some of the most exciting music comes from kids who are so young.
Some kids dream of becoming musicians but are steered toward a more practical career. Considering the environment you grew up in, it’s hardly a surprise that you became a musician.
It’s no secret how I grew up. I grew up with kids who were creative back in the ’80s. My friends took guitar and piano lessons. But their parents eventually told them to focus on something serious. I never got that memo. I’ve been fortunate enough to do what I love. It’s so significant.
Kids dream about becoming musicians. I don’t think there are any 8-year-olds who dream of working in a tower. It would be a shame to go through life and never trying to do what you’re passionate about.
The Wallflowers lineup is often changing.
No lineup has ever been on two albums in a row. I’m not going to apologize about that. It was always my band. People ask me about the new members of the band, but I’m never asked about the former members of the Wallflowers. It’s always been my band. You shouldn’t expect to be in the same band with guys in your 20s and your 50s.
It’s just not normal. You’re not in the same band for that long unless you’re making a lot of money. There are exceptions like with U2. But most bands that hang on with the same lineup that long are playing the old hits, and they hate each other.
That’s always been the rumor about the Eagles.
I saw the Eagles a few years ago with Vince Gill, and he was fantastic.
It’s a great story about Gill since he turned down a gig as the guitarist for Dire Straits back before he made it as a country solo artist. He finally got to play rock songs in an iconic band.
It’s obviously about playing for passion since Vince doesn’t need to put anymore food on the table. It’s a great thing.
Speaking of the Eagles, I loved your documentary, “Echo in the Canyon.” So great you focused on the beginning of that scene with the Byrds, who are arguably the most underrated band in rock history.
I agree with you. The Byrds have so many great songs. That group birthed a lot of great music with their influence.
Somehow the Byrds accomplished so much with David Crosby in the mix.
(Laughs.) God help us all. He is not in the business of making friends, but he seems happy. You don’t have to be nice in this business. Look at Morrissey. He can’t stay out of the papers, but he’s the kind of guy you want to hitch your wagon to. Sure, some people hate him, and there are many people who love him, which is more significant than selling the most albums.
Fiona Apple, who you sing with during the documentary, is one of those polarizing artists.
Fiona is really, really good at what she does. Her fans are fanatical. She offers something so unique. She’s not for everybody, but she really moves people.
And then there are those who are very popular and move people like Tom Petty. Your interview with Petty was so revealing. Petty came across as the ultimate fan when you were chatting with him about the impact the Byrds had in 1965.
Tom never lost that adolescent spark when it came to music. We were so fortunate to be able to speak with him since he spoke as a student of the music, not one of the giants of the industry.
It was fun speaking with him in a guitar shop for two hours after it closed and having him mess around with guitars and amps.
Petty always seemed to relish performance. I never saw him go through the motions.
Some people do, but he didn’t. I remember being on the road with Tom and the Heartbreakers around eight years ago, and during (keyboardist) Benmont Tench’s boogie, I watched Tom rest up against an amp and just close his eyes and shake his head to the music. Tom was never ambivalent, bored or pandered to an audience. He was locked in onstage. They don’t make them like Tom anymore.