Photo Courtesy of Will Dailey.
Between walking away from a major record label and not limiting himself to any one genre, Will Dailey is a local musician with a clear commitment to carrying out his craft authentically. He recently sat down with web services coordinator Nora Onanian to chat about what being a Boston musician means to him, his excitement over the return of live music and more.
FIRST OFF, I HAVE TO ASK, I HEARD THAT YOU’RE ATTEMPTING TO PLAY 100 SHOWS THIS YEAR. TELL ME ABOUT THAT – WHERE DID THE GOAL COME FROM AND HOW’S IT GOING?
WD: Attempting is a good word for it. It was like in February, I was just kind of locked up in my own brain and tired of being curled up in a ball on the floor. I really didn’t know exactly how everything was going to shape out, as we still don’t. But I just thought, ‘what can I do to just heal myself a little bit?’ And also do what’s been missing for so many of us for so long, which is kind of being together in some shape or form that’s not online. It can be helpful at times to have this kind of [virtual] connection and also really difficult and toxic.
At the time I just thought, I’ll play 100 backyard’s, 100 outdoor whatever. I just thought 100 was a number that just meant that I filled my cup. I’m at 30 so far, so I think the City Winery in Boston, that’ll be thirty five. So I’m getting there. I don’t know how many are booked right now, because once I started playing them, it all got really crazy. And I think everything turning back on happened a lot more suddenly than I was ready for or a lot of people were ready for. It’s just a little chaotic right now.
YES, DEFINITELY. YOU MENTIONED THE CITY WINERY, ARE THERE ANY OTHER PARTICULAR ONES YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT OR ANY LOCAL SHOWS THAT YOU WANT TO SHOUT OUT?
WD: Well, there’s the City Winery on July 22nd. I’m playing with Brandi Carlile and Pearl Jam in September in California, doing a bunch of California dates. I’m playing with KT Tunstall in upstate New York. And I’m playing in this famed rock and roll music photographer Danny Clenches’ Gallery in November on my way down south.
I’ve done so many wonderful backyard concerts. And really weird gigs, too, like on an island, I played on the roof of a bar. But we did have our first club show with the band – I’ve been playing a lot of these solo. We played Providence, Rhode Island, with the band. It was like our third show as my trio, and it just felt great to be in a club. It felt safe and it felt like they didn’t let too many people in. But it felt as full as it should be and full of energy. And it just felt great.
YEAH, THAT’S AWESOME. YOU DEFINITELY SEEM EXCITED ABOUT THE RETURN OF IN PERSON LIVE MUSIC!
WD: Definitely. I mean, it’s just something that I’ve done my whole life and need to kind of I guess you would say, cope, right? And without it for a year and a half, I would take it in any shape or form right now.
TALKING ABOUT THAT, I SAW YOU DID A LOT OF LIVE STREAMS DURING THE PANDEMIC, I THINK YOU CALLED IT YOUR ISOLATION TOUR AND USED THEM TO RAISE MONEY FOR A BUNCH OF LOCAL MUSIC VENUES AND OTHER LARGER CAUSES. COULD YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO DO THAT?
WD: Well, it just kind of kicked in one night in that first week or two where everyone was just shell-shocked and freaking out. I noticed that my friend’s bar, this club that’s no longer there, called Great Scott’s in Allston had a GoFundMe for the bartenders and the sound staff that weren’t salaried. They were like $500 short and I said, ‘well, how about I go on, I’ll go on Facebook.’ It was like Tuesday at three o’clock, I went live on Facebook and Instagram at the same time. And I’m like ‘let me see if we can get a couple hundred bucks. I’ll just put my Venmo up.’ And we did $1,000 in 40 minutes.
So then I just did the next club the next night. And then it just kind of snowballed into this thing that kind of took over my life. But we raised, for clubs alone, around $26,000 in those two and a half, three weeks. And then I did a show for Chelsea because the city of Chelsea was hit hardest by the pandemic. We did one show with a bunch of different artists like Anjimile, Alisa Amador, wonderful Boston acts. Chad Stokes from Dispatch and State Radio. And we did $13,000 in two hours for the One Chelsea Fund.
WOW, THAT’S GREAT.
I kind of conducted what I thought would be something that would end in like two or three months. And then about two or three months in I was like, ‘oh, no, I can’t figure out what to do with my life right now, nothing’s coming back on.’ I remember all my shows at the time just kept getting pushed out, pushed out, pushed out. I kept thinking I’ll get back to work and then realized I’m not going back to work. And it just kind of brings you back to 100 shows. I feel like that’s the best way to just kind of heal my own psyche after all that. In my own personal momentum with my art.
IT’S AWESOME THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO RAISE SO MUCH MONEY FOR THOSE VENUES AND ALL THE LOCAL CAUSES. I THINK IT SHOWS THAT YOU CARE A LOT ABOUT THE COMMUNITY. LET’S TALK SOME MORE ABOUT THAT. HOW DO YOUR CONNECTIONS TO BOSTON INFLUENCE YOU AS AN ARTIST? AND WHAT DOES BEING A BOSTON MUSICIAN MEAN TO YOU?
WD: OK it means I’m not that smart. Having a music career in Boston is not the brightest thing to do because there’s no music business here. It’s a little bit harder. It is a city that values the arts but doesn’t know exactly how to value them to ascend. And it’s constantly working on that, which is actually why I love it. It’s constantly trying to figure out and ask how.
I love that there’s the grit here in the performers, the writers, the players, the studio personnel. And I love being in the town with people that I look up to and that are my friends now like Buffalo Tom and Belly. I have great pride in just playing music with them and calling them friends and learning from them, as much as I do also from the folk community here and the hip hop community here, which is so dynamic and has so much depth and power.
Whether it be the rock, the folk, the hip hop community, everyone’s got to have a little bit of insanity and a little bit of grit to survive, to have a career in the arts. And not just have a career making money off of it, but just to do the art that you want to do. To actually have the assets you need, maybe it’s the studio, maybe it’s the players that you want or the studio, the producer you want or the tour you want, you need to have a career in it. To try to do that from here is arduous. So I really appreciate everyone here who does that and the kinship that we have.
SOMETHING ELSE THAT I’D SAY REALLY SHOWS YOUR MOTIVATION TO STAYING TRUE TO YOURSELF AS AN ARTIST WAS YOUR DECISION TO WALK AWAY FROM A MAJOR RECORD DEAL, I THINK ABOUT 10 YEARS BACK. COULD YOU TALK ABOUT THAT A LITTLE BIT?
WD: Yeah, I think it was about 2012 or 2013 I like went from a DIY career to all of a sudden on the biggest label in the world. And as soon as I was, it felt like an accident, it felt like I kept tripping up a hill and then I got to the top and I thought ‘I’m not really comfortable here. This whole place feels like it’s falling apart. I will spin my wheels here for five years until they decide to just throw me out while I try to jump through all the hoops.’
And then I also thought, there’s so many artists out there in the world who would know how to manage this situation better than I. Just because I don’t know how to manage that situation on that particular machine or mountain doesn’t make me of less value. And just because someone does know how to handle it, who deserves my spot, doesn’t make them of more or less value. It’s just the way those things work.
My value is better shared being a little bit more of a DIY indie artist who’s doing it themselves. That’s just how I fit in. That’s just how I find my power and my strength and how I can share my strength with others.
So I had a little chess match to get out of it, really, and it was successful. And then in doing so, I went and restarted my own label, did my own record and had more success, like I thought I would, than I did on the two labels I had just gotten out of. It felt like ‘OK, I just made a good decision,’ and it worked out. At least I got one of those in my life.
AND YOUR ALBUM, NATIONAL THREAT, WAS INSPIRED BY THAT DECISION A LITTLE BIT, RIGHT?
WD: Yeah, right. 100 percent. A lot of the songs on it mixed with just the vibe of how I put it out and the album title. Everything kind of came down to the feeling of doing music for your life and as a way of making it through this world and paying your bills. When you’re paying your bills with your art, it gets really tricky. And how to survive and stay mentally intact is- I applaud anyone who does it in any small way, and in any big way. When I see someone like Prince who died too young or Tom Petty who died too young, I think a lot of that comes from a symptom of how crazy this lifestyle can be in the environment that we create, especially in America, for it.
YEAH, DEFINITELY. YOUR MOST RECENT RELEASE WAS LAST SEPTEMBER, YOU RELEASED YOUR EP PATTERNS OF DESTRUCTION, AND ON IT YOU COVERED SOME MUSIC GREATS. THERE WAS PRINCE, NIRVANA, ARCADE FIRE, TOM WAITS. DO YOU FIND YOURSELF CONSCIOUSLY DRAWING INFLUENCE FROM SPECIFIC ARTISTS? I KNOW YOU TALKED ABOUT HOW YOU’RE INFLUENCED BY THE BOSTON MUSIC SCENE A LITTLE EARLIER.
WD: Right. Yeah, I mean, influence is a funny thing because I’m influenced by everything. I’m influenced by things that I dislike, I’m influenced by things that I’m turned off by. Sometimes you’re influenced to just go so fast the other way. That’s an influence. But that’s not true for those artists on that EP.
It’s kind of this culmination of songs that I’ve done, pretty much one for every record. While we’re in the studio, I just deconstruct a song that I love or have enjoyed playing on my own as almost like a palate cleanser when we’re in the studio and we’re working so hard and we’re kind of losing our minds and we don’t know what time of day it is. It’s like, ‘oh, let’s go work on that.’ Like the Tom Waits song is one take at two in the morning. And, you know, the Prince song was like, let’s just take like one of the funkiest, fastest prince tunes and just slow it down into a ballad to give us some peace of mind and just walk away from everything that we’re doing here for the day and visit that for a little while.
Then I realized I had this whole little body of work of songs and artists that I love and have influenced me. I kind of just deconstructed and kind of rewrote, rearranged the songs around melody. And I just thought it’d be fun to kind of put it into one little EP. It’s like a little exercise that I’ve accidentally done over the years.
YES, THAT’S COOL. SOMETHING I’VE NOTICED IN LISTENING TO YOUR MUSIC IS THAT IT SEEMS LIKE YOU DON’T REALLY LIMIT YOURSELF TO ONE GENRE OF DIFFERENT STYLES. COULD YOU SPEAK TO THAT?
WD: Yeah, it’s a huge problem. It’s funny, because I guess thanks for noticing and allowing me to talk about it. So much of the art world is designed to fit in somewhere. Certain blogs, certain clubs, certain festivals, everything has a brand, everything is branded. And I’m so exhausted by brands. I just couldn’t imagine letting my music be subjected to branding or being boxed in.
The idea of art is not to think outside the box, but to think outside the idea of even having boxes. I don’t want to have witnessed any color in the spectrum of this lifetime and think ‘maybe I shouldn’t use it because it doesn’t fit in’ or I might totally fall flat on my face because if I did, at least I had the experience of doing it. And what does that experience yield next just from taking that bite, right?
WD: So I do think you pay a price in the music world when you don’t. That’s what I hear all the time and those are usually the artists that I love the most.
I would say in the long run, it pays off because you get the people who appreciate that. You get people who appreciate loving something really intensely that you made and be like, ‘I can’t believe you did that’ to the next thing. Or people who just love the whole ride and trying all that out. We had a disco song on the last record, followed by a folk song. I don’t want to make songs that you can put on the background for dinner, or get blocked out to and they make sense, and you don’t even need to worry about what’s happening. I would rather have it be something you have to pay attention to and that kind of makes you say ‘What the heck? This is what’s next? What’s happening now?’ and yield new things on each listen and have fewer people listening and be comfortable.
I DON’T THINK THAT’S A PROBLEM!
WD: That’s also why I appreciate WERS because I listen to ERS and it’s just like that’s how I feel listening to the station. It’s like, you know, you hear Billie Eilish and the next song is some Peter Gabriel B-side that I can’t believe is being played. I’m like ‘this is the Peter Gabriel song I tell everyone about, how come this isn’t one of his more popular songs.’ And then I hear it on ERS and I just feel like, ‘oh, this is where my brain belongs.’
I LOVE THAT. OTHER THAN YOUR 100 CONCERT QUEST, IS THERE ANYTHING IN THE WORKS FOR YOU RIGHT NOW?
WD: You know what? No. I mean, I’m producing other records for other people. I’m writing a lot, I’m playing all my new songs live. I have a lot of records out there, I’m always right for discovery, plenty of people don’t know me. Plenty of people do. I’ll find some more people who don’t know me. Play my new songs live.
Recorded music’s been around for a hundred years, music’s been around for thousands of thousands. I feel like we end up on this conveyor belt that just ends up in an abyss sometimes with new music. And we’re in this tyranny of content that just keeps going and going. After this pandemic, I just want to bring people closer for now. Closer to me, closer to each other. And I’ll share my new songs that way for now. I’ll probably put out something next year or something like that, but I’m not worrying about it. Not staking myself on it, you know?