By Emily J Weitz
Jakob Dylan was born to write songs, and he has just whipped up his first new batch in seven years. The Wallflowers are on their way to Westhampton Beach fresh out of the studio, having just completed their new album. After the independent journeys each of them has taken since their last collaboration, Dylan says coming back together feels a lot like coming home.
“We needed time off,” says Dylan, “and everyone picked up a lot of knowledge along the way. It [playing together] gets better and better.”
When the Wallflowers first got together, they were in their early 20s. They were ambitious, and they saw their high aspirations come to fruition in the mid-90s with some hit songs like “One Headlight” and “6th Avenue Heartache”.
“But ambition can’t do it alone,” says Dylan. “When you’re new to it, things are simpler. Things get complicated along the way and that’s important and you pick up information; but then you realize things were right at the beginning. We had it right the first time around.”
The fluctuation between the members’ solo careers and their collaborations is essential to their success, Dylan says.
“I have these two roles,” he says, “and I’m lucky to do both. I always hoped I could do both. There’s something I can do with the Wallflowers that I can’t do on my own.”
Whether he’s on his own, or frontman for the Wallflowers, Dylan is writing songs. Sometimes it’s a lyric that starts the process, and other times it’s the melody.
“You find a hook,” says Dylan, “and then, it’s a free-for-all. You don’t always know. I suppose a lot of ideas get right past you. But sometimes something hits you on the head. There’s an undefined quality that songwriters are always looking for. When something is rich and special, it’ll knock you on the head, and you’ll know.”
Dylan says that his songwriting is not a kind of catharsis, nor is his playing. But his music does come from a place that’s genuine.
“I take real life situations and turn them into straight fiction,” he says. “I don’t think cathartic materials make great songs, but you can’t write songs from a meaningless place. I don’t tend to work my issues out through music… I am a fan of completely nonsensical songwriting and stuff that’s poignant. I think there’s room for all of it.”
Whether he’s writing for his solo career or for his group collaborations helps to define the sound of the song.
“There are personalities in a group,” he says, “and you work within the parameters of what you do best. It’s different doing a solo record than doing a band record. I’m glad to be back with the band because everyone is able to contribute so much. It’s teamwork, where solo records bring a lot of solitude.”
As the Wallflowers emerge from the studio, don’t expect their sound to be packaged or tidy. According to Dylan, live performance is completely unrelated to the kind of music that comes out of the studio.
“Going to the studio is what gives you the material to go out to do what musicians are really meant to do. Live shows are where you live and breathe. That’s why, with the availability of music today, live shows are not in trouble. You can’t reproduce a show. And in this business, it’s not about producing records. It’s about playing shows.”
At his concerts, Dylan has seen the spectrum of fans, from those sitting quietly, intently listening to the lyrics, to those up and dancing their faces off.
“Any which way they come is good for me,” he says. “There isn’t a fan that’s more important than the other.”
Their upcoming performance at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (whbpac.org) is towards the beginning of the Wallflowers’ first tour in years, and they’ll be playing brand new songs off their upcoming album (which will be released in the fall).
“The band is feeling stronger than it ever has,” says Dylan, “and we’re anxious. It’s been a while since we’ve had a new record and we’re excited to get out there and start playing… I’m grateful we can come back together and do this thing only we can do.”