No Pain, Massive Gain
Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers says their latest album proves that harmony within a band pays off
Jakob Dylan knows there are some who would prefer to hear that making a record was a struggle. Some believe conflict and tension makes for better music. Not Dylan.
“People like to hear that there were fights and they like to hear that it was hard and it was really stressful,” the frontman of The Wallflowers said in a recent phone interview. “That doesn’t make better music. I never bought that rap. That’s just garbage. It can, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Why do people have to be miserable to make records? Does that make music any better? I’ve been doing it a long time. I don’t know why people are going on about that.”
The latest Wallflowers CD, “Glad All Over,” seems to support Dylan’s argument that harmony within a band makes for better albums. The band shows renewed energy and a willingness to introduce some fresh dimensions into the group’s sound.
“This record was done in less than a month,” Dylan said. “It was a lot of work, and it was never laborious. It was a very positive month, and everybody was at a creative peak, at a high, and that’s what you hope for each time.”
For Wallflowers fans, this strong return to action is welcome news, considering the group had been on hiatus for nearly seven years, while Dylan stepped out as a solo artist, releasing two CDs and touring behind both releases.
That hiatus marked the end of a decade-long run of The Wallflowers’ considerable success, enabling Dylan to establish his own identity as a songwriter, not so easy when your father happens to be arguably the greatest songwriter of the rock era — Bob Dylan.
The Wallflowers broke through with its second album, the 1996 release, “Bringing Down The Horse.” With hit songs like “One Headlight,” “6th Avenue Heartache” and “Three Marlenas,” “Bringing Down The Horse” went on to sell four million copies.
The group saw its fortunes level off as its next two CDs, “Breach” (2000) and “Red Letter Days” (2003), failed to come even remotely close to the huge success of “Bringing Down The Horse.”
There were also internal issues that led to changes in guitarists and drummers. And while the group made a solid fifth album, 2005’s “Rebel, Sweetheart,” Dylan knew it was time for them to all take a break.
“Certainly after the last record, we got a little complacent,” he said of “Rebel, Sweetheart.” “Things felt a little stagnant within the group. So that’s why it was necessary to do different things.”
When the Wallflowers reconvened, guitarist Stuart Mathis and drummer Jack Irons (a former member of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam) joined original Flowers Dylan, keyboardist Rami Jaffee and bassist Greg Richling. There was also a different approach to making music: More than ever, the other band members got involved in the creative process.
“I brought a handful of songs,” Dylan said. “Everybody wanted to be more involved. I wanted a little bit of relief in the writing process.”
Some of the full band collaborations add new wrinkles to The Wallflowers' sound.
“Reboot the Mission” intentionally tips its hat to The Clash,0 with its slinky beat and riffy rock sound. (Clash singer/guitarist Joe Strummer is saluted in the lyrics, and Clash guitarist Mick Jones appears on the track.) “Have Mercy on Him Now” has a strong element of Motown, and “Misfits & Lovers” is a chunky, frisky rocker.
Other songs, like “First One in the Car” and "One Set of Wings," fall closer to the band’s signature rootsy mid-tempo pop sound that became familiar to listeners.
“I think there’s an identity to those [collaborative] songs that is different than the other ones,” Dylan said. “A song like ‘Reboot The Mission,’ I think you can probably imagine I didn’t write that by myself.”
The rocked-up songs add a bit of juice to The Wallflowers’ live show.
“For the first time, [we] spent some time thinking about playing this stuff live on tour,” Dylan said. “We’ve had records that have had a lot of mid-tempo songs, and that’s not making for a great show at some point.”