We’ve Got A File On You: Jakob Dylan
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
From being a ’90s hitmaker to a roots-rock journeyman, Jakob Dylan has moved through a lot of different eras in pop music. Everyone first got to know him, of course, as the frontman of the Wallflowers. But for a long stretch of time going back to the late ’00s, that wasn’t necessarily a name you heard that much anymore. In the years after 2005’s Rebel, Sweetheart, Dylan embarked on some solo LPs, put out one more Wallflowers album, then spent half a decade on his multi-faceted Echo In The Canyon project. Now, he’s revived the Wallflowers for Exit Wounds, the first album under the moniker since 2012’s Glad All Over.
Exit Wounds takes its name from the idea that, no matter where you were standing, most of us are coming out of the last four or five years with some scars and wreckage. Fittingly, the album has a lived-in, weathered quality. It’s more full-band than Dylan’s solo albums, but it’s probably the least rock-oriented or anthemic of any Wallflowers album. These are often contemplative, dusty songs, a slightly older and wiser Dylan looking out at a battered world and trying to hang on to a bit of hope for the future.
Ahead of the album’s arrival, we called Jakob Dylan to talk about Exit Wounds, and all sorts of twists and turns from across his career — everything from enduring pop hits to singing in a Rugrats movie.
Exit Wounds (2021)
This is the first new Wallflowers album in almost 10 years. Why did you want to revive that vein of your songwriting at this particular moment?
JAKOB DYLAN: I wasn’t expecting or hoping for it to be 10 years. The last record was 2012. I toured for quite some time. If you’re in a band this long, you don’t have to make records every year. If you have enough of a catalog you’re able to just go out and work, which is what I always wanted to do, with or without records. Then I got sidetracked for a little bit with this Echo In The Canyon movie and soundtrack, playing with a lot of other people. I eventually always go back to the Wallflowers. It’s something I started when I was very young, and it’s almost like its own entity or project when I feel those songs are on my mind. I felt it was time again to do that. I wish it wasn’t this long, but we all got held back with the pandemic. It would’ve been out last year, but we had to wait, like a lot of people.
Part of the thing with Glad All Over was that the band all wrote in a room together, when historically you have written all the songs. Now on Exit Wounds there’s a whole different band around you. What was the dynamic for you in this new iteration?
DYLAN: Yeah, the last one was kind of mislabeled as a reunion. That was something the record company I was with at the time — they always look for some kind of story or something. I didn’t think it was inaccurate, I just didn’t think it was totally accurate. I’d always written all the songs and I was happy someone else jumped in and shared that. Collaborating on songwriting is always good and I experimented with that, but at the end of the day with the Wallflowers, it is my thing and I’m not totally comfortable spreading that out. I’m not somebody you’re going to hire to play bass on a record. Really my strength is songwriting. There were some good strong things on that record, but I think it lacked a bit of focus that I can do if I’m doing the songwriting on my own. There’s room for all of it. But this record I wanted to handle all of it.
I found a quote where you were talking about “One Headlight” and you said you gravitated towards the optimistic songs in the end. At the same time, you said these new songs emerged from the very anxious years we’ve all just been through. Do you think this album still gets to that optimistic point, or is there more world-weariness and trepidation seeping into your writing?
DYLAN: I don’t think any more than whenever I’ve written records. You could listen to songs and be curious when I say they’re positive. But I think they are. You explore the ideas of whatever you’re writing about but at the end of the day I want an escape hatch. You do have that opportunity to decide what you’re going to project into the world and I prefer to project positivity in some way. You can describe that in many different ways. As a cliche, you could say “light at the end of the tunnel.” But those are the songs I end up wanting to sing for longer. I want to sing songs that do have a bit of hope. That’s more of the energy I’d like to put out. Anything other than that, I don’t know why you would. There’s enough negativity out there. I’m trying to write songs I want to sing for the rest of my career, and those songs tend to have positivity in them.
I love some of these titles, like “The Dive Bar In My Heart” and “I Hear The Ocean (When I Wanna Hear Trains).”
DYLAN: Well, “The Dive Bar In My Heart,” I mean — who doesn’t like a dive bar, for starters? Wherever it is, on the street or your heart. It’s a place you want to go and be left alone. You can’t escape your thoughts. They’re always going to be with you eventually, and you’re going to have to deal with them, but there’s moments of your day when you want to be left alone with them and not have the pressure to sort them out. Take a break from the rigmarole. That’s how that title came to my mind.
“I Hear The Ocean (When I Wanna Hear Trains),” that’s a feeling of being displaced. That’s fate. You can want to be somewhere else but the reality is you are where you are. You’re always going to be pining to be somewhere else, that’s natural for everybody. No matter how good things are. I don’t think I’m alone in often wishing I was somewhere else.
Guesting With Trash Matinee And Forming The Bootheels (Late ’80s)
As far as I can tell the first time you recorded something was playing with your friend’s band Trash Matinee, though I can’t find much of it online.
DYLAN: You have a super Google. [Laughs]
This is late ‘80s in LA, and the stereotype I think about is the hair metal era. What were you interested in during those days? What kind of music were you playing?
DYLAN: I haven’t heard that name Trash Matinee in so many years. I don’t even think I could drive. It was a garage band, and that’s where most of us kind of start. At that time I was really into guitar bands. I mean, I still am, they’re still my favorite. I’m not even sure what was really going on at the time. If you’re talking about the mid-’80s in Los Angeles, I had never been to the Sunset Strip. I spent a lot of time at Tower Records during the day. When people talk about the hair metal stuff, I didn’t see much of that. I wasn’t old enough to go to clubs and it just didn’t appeal to me anyway.
The music I was listening to was, you know, a lot of English bands. Music on the radio was great, too. We’re not living in a time where great bands are on the radio — if you’re a great band, you’re probably not on the radio. But you’re talking about a time where the Clash and Elvis Costello were all over the radio. That was a good starting point. If you liked Elvis Costello back then and read his interviews, he’d lead you to a lot of great artists. He was talking about the entire catalogue of rock ‘n’ roll all the way back.
And you formed your first band the Bootheels around this time?
DYLAN: Trash Matinee, I wasn’t really in. The Bootheels, we were just kids. I was still in high school and I was just a guitar player in that group. I was checking it out. I think as it should start: We were in a garage and we had nothing else to do. We had shitty gear and we weren’t old enough to play gigs. We had our own parties and invited people to the garage. It was only six months or so. You could say that was kind of the beginning of the Wallflowers, only in that I did that and then I went out to college in New York, to Parsons for a stint. While being there, I was pretty hung up on what I’d just done in a group, and it was clear to me I wanted to be in a group rather than studying art. I got that bug starting with the Bootheels. It was right after that I came back from New York to Los Angeles to start putting the Wallflowers together.
“6th Avenue Heartache” And Mike Campbell’s Guitar Lead (1996)
So fast forward some years — the Wallflowers put out a debut, it doesn’t quite take off, then Bringing Down The Horse is this ambitious followup and breakthrough. This song has a beautiful guitar part from Mike Campbell.
DYLAN: The band that had made the first record in ’92 — I wouldn’t say it fell apart, but it needed a change. I thought it was a strong record, but I didn’t feel like — it’s a really bad feeling when you’re writing songs and you’re thinking your own group may not be strong enough to explore these songs. So you’re being held back. That’s not to say my songs were necessarily better than my band was, but I just didn’t think we were well-rounded enough to explore those things. Some people left, some people were asked to leave. By the time we got to making Bringing Down The Horse with T Bone Burnett, we were without a guitar player. These were positives, these were changes that needed to happen.
We had the song “6th Avenue Heartache” for the first record, but the producer and record label at the time didn’t really hear it. I thought that was OK. When we tried recording it for that first record, I didn’t think it was any good. I thought we could be doing much better than that. So I was happy to put it aside thinking, in the near future, we’d be able to play this song at a much better level.
We had a couple different people in the studio recording with us for Bringing Down The Horse, but there’s going to be holes. There shouldn’t be any misconception that someone like Mike Campbell was somebody I could just call up and say “Hey,” like a family friend. Sure, I’ve met a lot of people, but I don’t have that kind of contact with people. Mike Campbell did not come to the studio. We sent the track to him and he sent it back and, yeah, it was Mike Campbell and it was a rush. I wish we could say we sat in the studio and hammered it out with him but that’s not how we did it.
We did one of these interviews in this format with Mike Campbell. He claims you once walked up to him after “6th Avenue Heartache” had come out and thanked him for giving you a career.
DYLAN: [Laughs] I believe him. I believe I said that. Well, he did really. It was our foot into the game really. The record company at the time, they released “6th Avenue Heartache” with Mike Campbell playing that part, but I don’t think they had a plan that there was going to be “One Headlight.” Nobody talked about that song. So, Mike Campbell and his iconic playing, he did give us a real good start. That being said, I’m sure Mike plays on a lot of stuff people don’t hear. But things lined up so that people heard that one.
It’s funny, you think about somebody like Mike Campbell — he did that day in, day out with the Heartbreakers. He’s not even in my band but he gifted me that part. Imagine if you had somebody like that by your side for 40 years. Someone like that can elevate a mediocre song into something special. Not every song is going to be your best song. Some songs just sound great. You may not like “6th Avenue Heartache,” but I don’t think you can deny what a pleasing sound it is. If you had someone like that by your side for all those years, I wouldn’t say your job is easier as a songwriter, but you have this backbone, along with the rest of the people in your band.
I don’t think he’d want the responsibility of saying he gave me a career, but he sure helped out a lot. I think we’re even, because I introduced him to Pete Townshend.
Women + Country (2010) And Writing “Nothing But The Whole Wide World” For Glen Campbell (2011)
You reunited with T Bone many years later at a very different point in your career, for a very different album.
DYLAN: I was at a different point in my career, you’re right. So was he. When we did Bringing Down The Horse, I don’t think he’d be offended if I say it was a lot less of a together process. He’s always been the wildly, brilliantly talented T Bone Burnett, but by the time we made Women + Country, he was on a different plane. He’d already done a lot of stuff and he’d solidified his style as a producer. I think he also kind of stopped working with bands. Working with bands and working with solo artists are not the same thing at all. Some producers can do both, some can’t and some shouldn’t. Working with bands, you’re part producer, part schoolyard cop keeping everybody organized. It’s a lot to do. When you work with a solo artist you don’t have five different personalities to deal with. I understand why someone like T Bone doesn’t work with bands very often anymore. If you’ve been doing it that long and you’re T Bone I imagine working with bands is a fucking nightmare.
I think when I knew that was not going to be a full rock ’n’ roll band record, of course T Bone came to mind. But I also knew he had less time. Bringing Down The Horse must’ve taken, on and off, six months to make. He wasn’t doing that anymore. He was making records a lot quicker. So I knew I had to be more prepared and have my songs together. I’m someone who believes T Bone Burnett is one of those few people where anything you’re doing in life is going to be better if that kind of energy is in the room. The job is a producer is — there’s no one way to describe it. Sometimes it’s just having somebody in the room who’s changing the chemistry, sometimes it’s someone who’s twirling knobs.
T Bone is somebody who’s doing what I think a producer should be doing at the core, which is creating a situation where the artist or band or whoever they’re working with is empowered to do the best they can do and and is inspired to be as confident and powerful as they can. Not all producers have their eye on that. You can make records and feel like the least important person in the room. That’s a drag. I’ve experienced things like that. T Bone doesn’t have any time to waste. I think he chooses artists he believes are special, that he can get something great out of. I still think of him often. He’s given me great space to create great music.
You went to T Bone with “Nothing But The Whole Wide World,” which you had written for Glen Campbell on what was supposed to be his goodbye album. Were you in a space where you were trying to write songs for other people more or was that a one-off?
DYLAN: That was specifically that someone had asked me. The producer he was working with, Julian Raymond, was putting that record together. He asked if I had anything available or if I’d want to write something. I like that challenge. Songwriters need to step out of their own heads for a little while. You get sick of living in there sometimes. Someone tells you, “I need a song about this or that,” sometimes that’s just a relief. I worked hard. I didn’t want to write something that was going to be just OK for Glen Campbell. He was a giant. He deserved great songs, and I was flattered I was asked. I didn’t have that song at the time. I wrote that for him.
When you start writing a bulk of songs, there’s always one song you realize is the tipping point and you’re writing a record. Stepping outside my own shoes and writing that song for Glen Campbell, I found myself suddenly writing a record. Women + Country was as close to a thematic record as anything I’d ever written. Having stepped out of my shoes to write that for him, I stayed on that trail. I liked where that was going. Of course I didn’t write the whole record for Glen Campbell, but he kind of put me in a frame of mind. Writing that one song for him, I liked where I was and I wanted to stay there. I continued to write a whole record thematically around what that song was.
Had you been planning on doing a second solo album with that general aesthetic before writing that song for Glen Campbell?
DYLAN: If you listen to the songs on Women + Country, they lend themselves to those sounds — very organic, mid-tempo, swampy. By the time the songs for Glad All Over started coming around, they felt like they wanted to be a rock band and they wanted those sounds and tones; thematically, they were maybe back toward what I usually do. The songs tell you that. I’ve never been one to sit down and say I’m going to write this record or that record. You can’t look at it too closely. You have to look for something that inspires you. Often when you’re looking for it, it’s not coming. As they say, frustration is the beginning of a great idea. So you wait, and when that one song shows up it’ll tell you what you’re doing.
Sort Of Forming A Band With Dave Matthews And Charlie Sexton (2013)
Writing a song for Glen Campbell kind of kicks off a decade where there’s some interesting collaborations happening. One of which is you supposedly created a supergroup called the Nauts with Dave Matthews, and none of us have heard it. What’s the story behind this? Is this really a lost album?
DYLAN: Sorta, but it was never really a group. I’m not sure where that came out. We were never a group, we never talked about making a record, we were just recording down in Louisiana. I don’t know who suggested that. It was somebody around us. We were just friends with free time. We were writing and we were having a good time, and the songs are around. We never started that with the idea that it was going to be — I mean, first of all, “supergroup.” There’s been a couple supergroups. I don’t think every group of friends who gets together should be calling themselves a supergroup. If you’re asking me, I think Asia was a supergroup. I certainly never called us that. We never recorded with the intention of making a record, we recorded with the intention of having a good time and putting songs together. Those songs are around, but they are not sitting somewhere they would be released.
You and Dave Matthews are contemporaries, but you two didn’t necessarily make the same kind of music in the ‘90s. What does it sound like when you two get together?
DYLAN: Dave is a powerhouse, he is a force. He knocked my socks off, to be honest. I know his music that you know as well, but I was pretty stunned at the range of stuff he can do and I wish people heard more of that. I was pretty surprised. That’s where the good stuff exists — in what realm is anybody thinking that Dave Matthews and Charlie Sexton are playing together? But why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t it be great? It’s not going to blow your mind, it’s just going to be like-minded musicians making songs and it’s probably going to sound really good.
“Gonna Be A Darkness” With Gary Louris For True Blood (2011)
This is not the only True Blood song you had.
DYLAN: That was a time where you had a popular show that was putting out soundtracks. I was asked to do it and I was given a Blood, Sweat, And Tears song as a reference point, and I wrote something completely not even close to that. I couldn’t help myself. I wouldn’t say I did what I wasn’t asked to, but I did not do what I was asked to do. I really liked what I was writing. I was aware when writing and recording it, this is not what they asked for, but this is what’s on my mind. I don’t think they used it for the scene that was intended but they included it in the soundtrack and I think it was on the show. I’m always game for those kinds of things. In between records, you should always be doing those kinds of things.
Yeah there was also a show called Six Degrees you had written the theme song for.
DYLAN: Yeah, you’re right, “Here Comes Now.” I don’t think that show did very well, did it?
I don’t think it made it to a full season. But like you were saying when you stepped out of your shoes to write for Glen Campbell, when someone comes to you asking for a theme is there a prompt for it or do you have something that might work already?
DYLAN: I rarely have a song available when someone’s asked. I like that opportunity. If they ask me, and you got the time, it’s an opportunity to not be concerned about what it’s saying, where does it stand in my body of work, how is it representing me. You don’t have to worry about those things. You get some kind of a rundown for what the show’s going to be. I’d be hard-pressed to find any opportunity like that that I couldn’t wiggle into. It’s a project to get involved with, which allows you to take a break from living with yourself so much.
Echo In The Canyon (2015-2019)
You brought this up earlier, and this is the big collaboration. It started as these duet covers and then it turned into this documentary. What was the initial germ of an idea for you, that you wanted to spend all this time with this particular strain of Southern California music?
DYLAN: It started out as a record. We were trying to make a covers record in between my own records. I wouldn’t want to just do a covers record, like, “Here’s my 12 favorite songs from the last 50 years of rock ’n’ roll.” I think it’s good to narrow that down to something thematically. Those California groups from ’66 or so, Springfield and the Byrds, it’s wild territory to get into. I think once we started recording was when we realized we should get a camera out and make a movie out of this. Then that becomes a bigger project. It changed, it morphed pretty quickly from a covers record to we’re making a movie that has a soundtrack.
That’s some of my favorite music. I grew up liking bands, and I still do. I still think being in a rock ’n’ roll band is maybe the coolest thing you can expect from your life. I’m not talking about the personal things you might do. But look, we all work, we all gotta be creative. Bands are funny. That was the very beginning of that music, when those bands were getting together, everybody had tremendous egos in one band, sometimes two or three or four songwriters in one band. It was before they all realized that one rock ’n’ roll band is probably not going to be enough for all of us. That’s when those bands start to fall apart, all the talent and egos in one space. You can see it in that movie if you watch it — all those bands split up pretty quickly. I came up a long time later, so I could see what the natural progression of a rock group is going to be. There are very few that are worthwhile to stay together for a long time. They usually implode pretty quickly.
Earlier you were talking about the Clash and Elvis Costello, people have compared some of your songwriting to Petty and Springsteen. I don’t know that I would’ve ever really thought of the Laurel Canyon scene being foundational stuff for you, to the point that you’d want to make a covers record and a movie.
DYLAN: I don’t know that it’s any more important to me than any other era of music. It’s probably not, actually. But in trying to find a backdrop of a story that’s interesting, that movie is more about the dynamics of bands coming together and all that talent converging. It’s really not so much sonically. But I have always liked great songs, and all those bands had great songs. At the same time, I do spend a lot of time talking about the music I grew up with, which was in the ’80s. It’s never meant to have been that’s the most important music to me, it’s just the first music that had a large impact — that music when you are 13 or 14 years old, that’s the one that really kicks you in the ass and gets you on your path. From then on out you’re a student, you’re reaching out and learning things.
But that first reaction, everybody has it at some point — whether it was watching the Beatles or Elvis on TV. There’s a moment where it all makes sense. For me, that was those groups. But if you ask me to go back and listen to those records I was listening to in 1983, I can’t tell you many of them really hold up. I can put on some of those records and be stunned I was really into this at that age. But that’s how it goes. It was the first visceral moment. The music I talk about, the Clash and all that, I don’t think it’s any more important to me than other music — it was just at a time when I needed it. You can talk to Paul McCartney. He’ll still talk about the Everly Brothers. With all respect to the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, he lapped those people a long time ago. But when he speaks about them he’s still speaking like a teenager, because you can’t replace that with anything else.
Speaking of generational experience, you interviewed a lot of legends for this documentary, and then the people you duetted with are often your peers, from different corners of the ’90s musical landscape. Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Beck. Are these people you knew from back then? Or did you wind up connecting with other artists your age through this music?
DYLAN: There was a point to that. If we’re going to speak to the older generation about that music, I believe a good song is timeless and it should be contemporary as well. Those people you just mentioned, those are friends of mine. There was nobody that was called out of the blue. It was all organic. That being said, your favorite artist or favorite singer sitting next to you, that doesn’t mean you can do something that sounds worthwhile together. You’d be surprised. You still have to have some chemistry. I’ve known Beck for a long time. I knew we’d sound good together. I haven’t really done much of a make a wish list, or reach out to people you don’t know.
That documentary also ended up including Tom Petty’s last on-camera interview. Do you have memories of that specific day?
DYLAN: He was one of the last scenes we did for that film. I’d been around Tom when I was younger, but that wasn’t like calling a family friend in to come and do something. I actually got to know him more through the later years when my group opened for him various times. I knew him much more as an adult than I did as a kid. He was very good to me, very kind and encouraging. If anybody got to spend time with Tom, I don’t think anyone would say anything different. He was a true rock ’n’ roll kid, even at the age when we did the film. He was enthusiastic. He never lost that. It was inspiring.
I remember that day pretty well. Before filming, I played him some of the music. He grew up with that music. The reason he was brought in kind of late was, as the movie unfolded and we did our interviews — we had people who were there, who had written and performed those songs, but we hadn’t talked to someone who was a teenager really lit up by hearing that music for the first time in the mid-‘60s. Tom was obviously that. Look what he did with those 12-strings. Look at those guitars he was playing on his early records. No one was playing those guitars. He was collecting vintage gear when he was starting out. He and Mike Campbell were always playing great guitars, no matter the era. They were true rock ’n’ roll kids with great taste. If you were around him, you felt that. He never lost that wide-eyed rush of being a teenager and really loving music.
A Baby Cameo In The Rugrats Movie (1998)
There’s a scene with all these singing babies — you, Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson. A crazy array of people were involved in this soundtrack.
DYLAN: I love that you said a bunch of “singing babies,” that about summarizes what we’re all doing since and before. [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t have a great recollection of this happening. I think I sang one line in a studio. I hate to say, I was a little too old to be watching cartoons at that point. I’m certainly not going to tell you that we were all together, that I got to sit next to Iggy Pop and pretend to be a baby together. We didn’t do that. They compiled all our stuff and put it together. I remember at the time thinking it was well done.
Are you mostly game for these more uncustomary requests, or are there some you’ve turned down?
DYLAN: It’s a bit of both, really. You can’t be that precious about it. Your own records, yeah. You need to think about those differently. But those opportunities that come around — there’s room for everything, there’s time for everything. There’s a lot of time for all of these things. I don’t overthink them. If it’s with people I like and the vibe is something I can relate to, tomorrow’s gonna be another day. None of these things will define anything. In the moment you do it, and then later you might change your mind, but that moment came and went. If it sounded like a good idea, that’s all you can do. Do your very best at the time. It’s nice to be asked to do different things. I’d like to have a long and varied career that has some turns and mistakes here and there. At the end of the day it’s all just going to add up to a long career hopefully.
Showing Up In Pras’ “Ghetto Supastar” Video (1998)
You have a little cameo here — do you remember being on set that day?
DYLAN: Kind of. It was a little different than the videos and things I did. It was a different team of people. I remember it was very chaotic and not being exactly sure what they wanted me to do. If I recall, you’d have to have a good finger on the pause button if you want to see me there, am I right?
It’s quick, but you look right at the camera.
DYLAN: I like that song a lot. I thought it was cool. But yeah the video was chaotic and I remember leaving wondering what that was all about. But I liked everybody involved and I liked the movie it was for, Bulworth.
Did you get to hang out with Warren Beatty at all?
DYLAN: Well, not that day. But I have.
“Days Of Wonder” And Rebel, Sweetheart (2005)
I suppose this might be a deep cut–
DYLAN: That whole record is a deep cut.
The Wallflowers did tour in the second half of the ‘00s, but Rebel Sweetheart turned out to be a conclusion to an era, before the long gap to Glad All Over.
DYLAN: Every record has been a different era. If you look at the Wallflowers’ history, there has not been one lineup that made a second record. It’s always evolved. There’s good things about that, and there’s things… that’s always how it worked for me. I started the band and it was always going to be my group and fulfill me more than anyone else. That record, I guess you’re right — whatever steam or momentum was carrying us to that point, I would say subsided after Rebel, Sweetheart. Being in a band with four or five other people, it takes a lot of energy. It’s not just about music. It’s a lot of personality and a lot of juggling. You gotta be a mediator half the time. I think after that record I needed to not do that for a minute. You’re right. That’s what turned me towards making solo records for a couple years.
“I’ve Been Delivered” And Elvis Costello Singing On “Murder 101” On Breach (2000)
This was following up the big breakthrough record four years later. Did you feel a new sense of pressure?
DYLAN: There’s a moment that happens when you or your band breaks and you have people’s attention or ears. You are suddenly aware that people will hear these things. There’s a certain freedom that comes with trying to get in the game and trying to get noticed. Afterwards, whether you want it to or not, your writing is altered a little bit because you are aware that these things are going to be heard one way or another. I don’t think that record Breach was an expected followup to Bringing Down The Horse, but that wasn’t really intentional, to be something different. It was just a different kind of record, because that was the songs I was writing. But I also don’t remember anybody expecting another “One Headlight” or something. The record company was just cool with whatever we were doing.
In a lot of ways, I think it’s a much better record than the one before. I think it’s a much better written record. I think I had dug in a little more, and I understood a bit better of what I was capable of doing. It was an earlier time where I hadn’t written a ton of songs. I mean, I had, but I hadn’t been making a ton of records. So there’s a lot you want to get to, you haven’t done it very long. Your appetite is a lot bigger than your stomach at that point. You’re imagining down the road, “I’ll get to everything I want to do.” And later, like now, 30 years after that first record, it does feel a little harder to be inspired all the time. You want to do things you haven’t done, and you’ve had a lot of time to do a lot of things. Doing Breach, I liked the idea that people would hear these songs. I never felt any pressure. Everybody has pressure, I don’t know why I would have more than anyone else. And it can be a good thing — kick your ass and get you motivated. I’ve never seen pressure as something to potentially fail at, you know?
Breach has one of my favorite Wallflowers songs, “I’ve Been Delivered.”
DYLAN: I don’t know where the hell I was when I wrote that song. I sing that song pretty often. I’ll always like singing that song. It has its own life. I’d like to live in that space more often. I can’t explain where that song came from, and I can’t even really tell you what it’s about. I’m not supposed to, you know? It’s one of those songs if you look at it too closely it’ll disappear like smoke. It has its own thing, its own legs, and I like going along for the ride with it when I sing it. It doesn’t have a chorus, it doesn’t have a bridge, it doesn’t have any proper or technical song structure, but somehow it just works. I wish there were more of those around, but they’re hard to find.
You also had Elvis Costello on “Murder 101.”
DYLAN: He might’ve been in Japan when he did that. I think we sent it to him. Without him on that song, it sounded like somebody trying to do their take on Elvis Costello. Rather than avoid that, I thought great, just go get the guy. Don’t run from it, go right at it. I do remember “This song will be better if Elvis sings on it.” It’s a pretty good song, I don’t think it’s one of my strongest songs. But Elvis elevated it. He’s a force. He’s one of those people you can say can sing the phone book and he’ll elevate whatever he’s doing from OK or mundane to good material. I don’t think we ever even played that song. I think it was my own personal enjoyment of being able to sing with Elvis Costello.
Singing “One Headlight” With Bruce Springsteen (1997)
I know you’ve talked about this song ad nauseam. But I love this video where you got to play it with Springsteen at the VMAs.
DYLAN: I was definitely self-conscious when we were sitting down to rehearse it. I think I sang the first verse and he did the second and we were going to trade lines on the last verse. I saw it coming up: He’s going to end up with the line that I basically took from him. “I turn the engine but the engine doesn’t turn.” His song “One Step Up,” “Hit the engine but she ain’t turnin.’” I just saw it on the page below me and said “Goddamn it, it’s going to fall in his lap.” Before he got to it I pointed at it and I was like, “You know, I took that line from you.” He laughed and said “Yeah I know.” Which is the nicest thing he could say at the time. It’s also just fair game. He’s understanding. That’s what rock ’n’ roll is. I didn’t take a song, I took a bit from one of his songs, and we all do that.
I never understood why the line “She said it’s cold/ It feels like Independence Day” was so confusing to people. People wondered whether I maybe lived in Alaska. It never had anything to do with the Fourth Of July. It came from Bruce’s song, “Independence Day.” His song, I don’t think he talks about the Fourth Of July at all. It’s a metaphor for your own independence. That’s one of my favorite songs of his. For some reason that baffled people, that I could be so off-mark to think you’d have the Fourth and it’d be cold. I don’t hear music like that. I don’t hear it and think it’s exactly what I’m hearing. I always think it means something else. So I never knew why people couldn’t get their head around that. I also kind of enjoyed it. I enjoyed that some people might think that I was that out of touch that I didn’t know what seasons were. I’m OK with that. Why not? What’s the difference to me?
Bruce has been a huge inspiration for me for so long, but to have him sing one of my songs, and to sing the song that has two lines that come directly from him… I don’t know what the word is for it. It could’ve been any song, we could’ve sang other songs that wouldn’t have references to him. It was funny the song he sang with me has two. But he was very generous about it. He’s something. I got to stand right next to the powerhouse that is, I think, if not the greatest one of the few greatest rock ’n’ roll performers that have ever been on the stage. If you ever get a chance to do that you might wanna wear a hard hat and a seatbelt. You get it, when you’re in that close proximity to it. You understand why he gets up in front of 80,000 people and is commanding. You realize, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t think you can do that. It’s a very special thing. I sat right next to it. Hang on tight if you ever get there.
This is now one of those special songs that has lived and breathed in culture for 25 years and keeps coming back around. What is your relationship to songs like that, when it becomes part of the atmosphere?
DYLAN: I don’t know if it changes. Bands have those moments. There’s a natural amount of — I don’t want to say resentment, but you are aware that you are showing up places and doing things and it’s about one song. You have a moment where you want to take pressure off that song and say, “I’ve got other songs too.” You’ve got too many stories about artists ignoring those songs they have in their career because they want to be known for other things, and eventually you grow out of that. I came up at a time when bands were on the radio, and everybody could know the songs whether they were fans of yours or not. We have to do things differently now. We have to seek out our music.
That song, most people know it. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for it. If you’re a band coming up, I don’t think you have much opportunity for that. This was a different time. We can do different things now. But I have a great amount of appreciation for any material that anybody knows anywhere. I don’t want to be a cult artist, I don’t want to be a niche artist. I want to be the best I can, and I want to reach as many ears as possible. The further down the road you get, you realize that’s not that common. I’m very pleased to have that song follow me around. It’s given me huge opportunities. I often sing it and I don’t feel connected to it personally. I feel like I’m getting to sing a song that a lot of people in the room will know. That’s why bands do cover songs. At some point in the set you’ve gotta put something in that everybody knows. If you’re going to fill an hour and a half, you’re expressing yourself or whatever, but part of it is entertainment. I get to do one that at times feels like a cover song, but it’s also mine.
Exit Wounds is out 7/9 via New West.