Alison Krauss & Union Station Member Flies Solo
Dan Tyminski is well-known in music circles for being a Grammy-winning guitar player and vocalist with the country/bluegrass band Alison Krauss and Union Station…for being the singer who gave voice to George Clooney’s “Man of Constant Sorrow” in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou”…and for his surprise, genre-breaking version of Swedish producer Avicii’s electronic dance hit, “Hey Brother.”
What this longtime collaborator and self-described sideman is less known for is…being Dan Tyminski, songwriter and solo artist.
That’s likely to change with the recent release of a Tyminski solo album, “Southern Gothic” – a project that finally moves the 50-year-old Vermont native out of the penumbra of the spotlight and into its bright center.
The 13-song album was co-written with an all-star team of country luminaries, but it mines a wide array of influences that defies pigeonholing it into any one genre.
“When people ask, I jokingly say to them, it’s a country, pop-y, church-y, swampy, bluegrass-y, electric-y album,’’ Tyminski says. But as the “gothic” part of “Southern Gothic” would suggest, it’s also a serious exploration of some the darker dichotomies of human nature – which the listener learns from the title cut’s very first words –
Blackbird on the old church steeple
Spanish moss hanging in the setting sun
Every house has got a bible and a loaded gun
All the songs were originally written for other artists,
until serendipity and self-examination led Tyminski to
decide to record them himself.
It’s a story Tyminski shared with Cigar & Spirits during a recent interview from his Nashville home.
How did “Southern Gothic come together?
Quite accidentally. If I had to put the most condensed version together, like in a sentence or two, I would say that I found myself having written a body of work that I was so passionate about, I thought I needed to take the spotlight and do this record.
I didn’t set out a long time ago to really want to do a solo record. I found myself taking a writer’s deal – you know, I write songs with other people in Nashville, and I found myself with a bunch of material I didn’t even realize I had the ability to write.
When I was presented with the offer from Universal (Music) to do this record, I had to consider hard if I wanted to step aside from what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years, which is Alison Krauss and Union Station. I’ve been so happy there, and still remain happy there …but this record was born out of realizing that I had something to say with my songwriting.
Is there a theme to this album?
If you asked Jesse Frasure, who produced the record, if you asked him what the common thread through the record is, he would say it’s my voice. I say that, through a lot of this record, I get to kind of hold a mirror up to society, and not necessarily say I think you should or shouldn’t do anything, but it’s just the things that I see – I think there’s a lot of contradictions that we tend to ignore in the world, and I get to sing about some of them.
You seem to be saying there are things going on in the world below the surface.
I think there almost always is. I do believe that there’s a light and a dark side…it’s getting to some of the hypocrisy that’s out there.
You know, you get to touch it with the first line – “Every house has got a Bible and a loaded gun.”
Hopefully, there’s a continuity within the record…that it’s not judging, and it’s not preaching, but it’s observing.
You wrote many of these songs for other artists before deciding to record them yourself. What led you to go that route?
I took my writer’s deal fully expecting to write songs for other people and to pitch to other artists. But I found myself driving home, listening to some of the demos, thinking I really secretly wished I could do that stuff. But I remember spiritually signing off and saying, “You know what? I hope they end up in a good home.”
That’s kind of where I left it emotionally. I said bye-bye. (But then) I got an offer — the people at Universal were listening to these songs that we would pitch to send to other artists, and they liked them in the version that we sent them. They said, “Would Dan be interested in doing a record himself?” So it was kind of like a secret little dream that I didn’t even know I had. And it’s a dream come true that I got to do this stuff myself.
The album has some serious things to say.
It’s not a fluffy record. There’s a lot of deep content on the record, there’s a lot of double meaning, a lot of hidden meanings. I never found myself with a body of work that I felt so strongly about, and was as emotionally attached to, that I wanted to give this much of myself to.
Stepping outside, it’s definitely not my comfort zone, it’s not what I secretly pined to do, but I think this album is important, and this music is important to me. I think it reached a point where it was important enough to be willing to step out and take center stage.
You’re billed only as “Tyminski” on this album, not “Dan Tyminski.” Why is that?
I wanted to draw a line, so that when people heard this new music, that they would understand that if they were listening to “Tyminski,” that they would not expect banjos, and the music that I played for so long.
I will always and forever, probably, have that element of Max Baer to me, where he was Jethro Bodine for evermore after he had that role (on “The Beverly Hillbillies)…There’s a generation of people out there that see me as “A Man of Constant Sorrow,” from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” the soundtrack. So many people know me for that type of music, so we wanted to draw a line and let people know that “Tyminski” is going to be some different music.
You kind of took a step away from your country and bluegrass roots, into electronic dance music, when Avicii asked you to record his “Hey Brother.” Is “Southern Gothic” a continuation of that direction?
I don’t really compare that song sonically to what this record is, but I will say that is by far the farthest I ever stepped outside of the box. And what surprised me about “Hey Brother” was, when it was all said and done and I listened back, it sounded right, I didn’t sound like I was forcing myself into any other genre. And it kind of gave me a little confidence to step outside of the box and experiment with styles of music that were different than what I’ve played my whole life. I will credit “Hey Brother” with giving me some courage to try to go other places in music.
You turned 50 in June. Did that represent to you any kind of milestone, some jumping-off point to the direction you took with “Southern Gothic”?
I actually something I hadn’t even considered, if this is some sort of a subliminal midlife crisis record. But it’s truly not. I just found myself taking a publishing deal late in my life, and for the first time in my career of playing music, I decided to write music, and lo and behold, I found myself creating things I never dreamed I would be playing.
You’re also quite the cigar enthusiast.
I have had a cigar habit for most of my adult life. I have a pretty extensive five- or six-cigar a day habit.
Do you have a favorite smoke?
I have so many brands that I love. I smoke probably more Fuente cigars than I do anything else. I’m a big Opus X guy. Power Ranger is by far the one I always gravitate toward, I always buy ’em up whenever they come around. But I love so many cigars. I mean, yesterday was a Davidoff day. I love Padron cigars…When you need a cigar you can absolutely trust no matter what, I can always get a Padron and know the draw is gonna be perfect, it’s gonna burn great.
But again, I smoke probably more Fuente cigars. I love their whole line, everything they have speaks to me. Of course, I have to love the Fuente cigars! There’s a Tyminski Fuente cigar. I have my own line of Fuente that they graced me with.
You’re smoking a stick on the cover of “Southern Gothic” – what kind is it?
I am smoking a Power Ranger, an Opus X Power Ranger.