Dawn Landes: Breakups, Hip-Hop Dance, and “A Mozzian Brand of Existentialism”

While Dawn Landes is best known as a folk singer/songwriter, she’s also a noteworthy engineer and producer, who also indulges in indie pop in her trio, The Bandana Splits,...

While Dawn Landes is best known as a folk singer/songwriter, she’s also a noteworthy engineer and producer, who also indulges in indie pop in her trio, The Bandana Splits, and even recorded an album of original songs in the style of French Ye-Ye girls.  But, during our recent chat, she informed me of a very recent project that surprised even me.  She had just premiered the video for “Bluebird,” the title track of her upcoming album, due out February 18th on Western Vinyl… And let’s just say that the collaboration with dancer Storyboard P is just not exactly what you would expect to see being soundtracked by a soulfully hushed Americana number.

“My video just came out, just now, on Wall Street Journal, so I’ve been telling everyone about that.  I just made a really cool music video with this awesome dancer I’ve been obsessed with for a few months now.  He’s this hip-hop dancer.  He’s just awesome.”

Landes first came across Storyboard P at a party at which they were each performing and she was inspired to the way he moved to her music… she even goes so far as to compare him to Charlie Chaplin and Pina Bausch.  Landes also tells me that this isn’t the only video project we should expect of her in the near future.

“For this album I’m doing three music videos, which is two more than I’ve done for any other album.  I mean, it’s a big thing now.  That’s how so many people experience music.  People just go to YouTube.  I mean, look at Beyonce, with a video for every song.”

And while Bluebird is being touted as a breakup record, inspired by her recent split from husband Josh Ritter, she tells me that there’s a lot more to it than that: “Albums are postcards from a certain point and time and this was a time in my life coloured by many things, including a divorce, but my music is inspired by many things, from a song I hear, a book I read, just anything I experience.”  This album also represents a brand new recording process for Landes: “This is the first album where I’ve ever worked with a producer, but I worked with Thomas Bartlett for this one.  That was a really big difference for me, considering I’m a producer and engineer myself.  I never trusted anyone enough before, but working with Thomas has been really great.”

The songs of Bluebird are elegantly somber, but also incredibly proud and hopeful.  I tell her that my favorite track is album closer “Home,” which I tell her I find brilliant and that it reminds me of a Mozzian brand of existentialism filtered through a country aesthetic (It opens with the lines, “Lord please, follow me home, ‘Cause I’m down on my knees, and I feel alone.”)  She seems highly amused and, I hope, a bit flattered by my assessment, but tells me that it’s the title track that she holds nearest and dearest: “’Bluebird’ is very special to me.  I feel it was a gift that was given to me and I love it when that happens to me.  I don’t know if I believe in divinity, but that would be what I consider a gift.”

[youtube  http://youtu.be/dChn32CwbpA]

Dawn just began a short string of dates, which she’s very excited about: “I’m excited to tour because I haven’t toured the states in quite a while.”  A number of these dates include support slots for The Autumn Defense, including a date that will have her playing Boot & Saddle on Valentine’s Day.  She’s especially excited about these dates alongside the Americana-tinged indie pop duo: “I really like those guys.  I like their music and they’re so good live.”  Of her live sets, she tells me they’re going to be a little different from previous tours: “I’m bringing a guitar player and another singer.  This is gonna be a little more folky and intimate that previous tours.”  However, what she’s currently most focused on and antsy about isn’t the kind of musical venture she’s taken on in the past.

“I’m writing a musical right now, actually… I mean, Cyndi Lauper did it, so why not?  I mean, being here in New York, I know a lot of theatre people and I recently ran into a director that I haven’t seen in like seven years and he wanted to work with me.  I’d just read this memoir about the first woman to row a wooden boat across the Atlantic, which I just found so inspiring.  And she’s also an academic.  She’s just a really impressive person, but in order to do the musical we had to get her permission, so we had a show and played the songs for her in Louisville, where I’m from, and she just thought it was great and I was so happy about that.  I mean, I’m terrified of her. She’s like an intellectual giant.”

And while musicals are something new to Dawn, she’s very excited about the project (which just got funding and requires that she have it written by the year’s end), despite the fact that she has no idea when it will eventually see the light of day: “That’s the thing about musicals.  They take forever.  I mean, Karen O did a musical, which I saw and which was great, but that took forever… and she’s Karen O.”  But that’s not enough to scare Dawn from the project: “I think it’s really exciting.  I mean, musicals are entertaining and people really get into them.  And it’s also always nice to expand your palate of what you can do.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.