One of the great things about the now disbanded .357 String Band from Milwaukee, WI was that it really didn’t have a frontman. Each member brought such a high caliber skill set to the table that it never seemed fair to call one member the focus. However guitar player and songwriter Derek Dunn did feel like the primary spokesman throughout its 7 years, and the fulcrum that the rest of the band rotated around.
Derek is now working on a couple of EP’s of new material and booking solo tours, and ahead of a Midwest/Florida tour starting January 8th (see dates below), I discussed with him the situations surrounding the .357 breakup, and his plans for his solo stuff.
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The Triggerman – Why do you think the .357 String Band never took off?
Derek Dunn – We marketed ourselves for shit. That’s the number one reason. We were really bad at it, and all of us hated it. I didn’t even have a facebook page until I had to make one when .357 split up.
The Triggerman – What is going to happen with the original .357 songs that never found their way onto an album?
Derek Dunn – The songs that I had prepared for the next .357 album are going to make up the crux of the e.p. I’m working on right now, which should be finished early next year, I hope. I’m actually working on two separate e.p.s. The second one which I’m working on sort of secondarily will be released later, that being a collection of songs I’d had written while in .357, but didn’t think was appropriate for .357, for whatever reason.
The Triggerman – Are you worried the high energy show and top-notch instrumentation at times overshadowed the focus on songwriting in the band?
Derek Dunn – I think it definitely did, but I wouldn’t say I worried about it – shows are separate things from the songs themselves, which are also their own things. I don’t think the aim of a live show should be to reproduce the written songs as precisely as possible, in an effort to showcase how well written they are. Shows are about people coming together in a shared space and creating shared experience, both audience with performer and performer with audience, as well as audience with each other. I mean, when I write songs, I can spend a week trying to decide whether it sounds better to start a line with “And” or “But”, or days trying out different versions of a line to determine the perfect number of syllables – 29 dates deep on a 32 day tour, there’s a damn good chance I’ll just forget the whole verse altogether and sing the first one again – so far no one’s complained.
The Triggerman – One of the reasons given for the breakup of the .357 String Band was that banjo player Joe Huber felt like the aesthetic of the band no longer represented him, that it was too harsh or aggressive, and that can be seen in his more singer/songwriter approach to his album Bury Me Where I Fall. Do you share share Joe’s assessment that .357 was too aggressive?
Derek Dunn – First of all, I suppose I should mention that to say Joe quit for any one particular reason is probably an oversimplification, but either way, you’d have to ask him about that. To answer your question at face value, though, no, I absolutely don’t think that The .357 String Band’s music was too anything, I’m proud of the music we made and the direction, or directions, we were heading in. To my mind, it worked as a juxtaposition, as a collaboration. But because it was a collaboration, I always knew that it was a fragile thing, something depending on the whims of 4 very different people. In many ways, .357 String Band was like herding cats, and that’s a big part of what I’m trying to avoid doing the solo thing.
As far as making music that is or is not aggressive – I am interested in making music that reflects a range of human emotion and experience; and that includes acknowledging the negative and the positive, the light and the dark. I don’t think anyone would call “Oh, Adilene” overtly “aggressive”. I think a lot of it is that the whole lip curling punk rock thing has been taken to such a ludicrous level that there can be a tendency to avoid handling darker topics, or to express anger, frustration, etcetera, even in a legitimate or artistic way, so as not to appear juvenile, or like a stereotype. I feel like I have enough faith in my audience, though, to make songs that explore the darker side of life without being taken as an endorsement of certain behaviors or thoughts. I’ve always tended to use music as a way to channel and process my more negative and painful emotions – that’s why writing a song for me, in general, is a very painful and frustrating thing. As a result, I’ve often produced music that I feel very happy with on an artistic level, but really doesn’t represent “me” very well – and I believe that’s fine, that’s ok.
Every piece of art that is produced does not have to be autobiographical, it doesn’t have to express “me” as a whole person. It may have a piece of me in there, in fact it must, but no song I’ve ever written can be taken as a face value expression of “myself”, whatever that is – the closest I’ve come in that regard is the love songs. All the other songs to a greater or lesser extent represent a small slice of that, “me”.
One of my favorite songs ever is called “In Flames” by Dragstrip Riot, out of the Northwest. In it the singer, Knuck, basically says what I feel on my most hopeless of days – “I’m probably all I’m ever going to be.” Now, on a fundamental level, I DON’T BELIEVE THAT! I believe in change, I believe that human beings are absolutely breath-taking in their capacity for change, growth, understanding, etcetera. But man, there have been so many times when I’ve felt like the opposite, and that song exists to say, “hey, I been there, too.” I have faith in my audience that the darkest of my songs will be taken in that spirit, as well.
The Triggerman - Can people expect your solo stuff to be in the same vein, or different?
Derek Dunn – It’s hard for me to say, I was never able to sit down and say, “Ok, I’m going to write a song about this, and it’s going to sound like this”; the song I’ve written has always been the song that I felt compelled to finish at that point, usually an expression of my feelings and what’s going on around me in my life. It’ll certainly be in the same vein, I suppose, but I think it will sound fairly distinctly different. When people come out to see me live, it’ll certainly be different – just me and a guitar.
The Triggerman – I hear you are starting to book some tours.
Derek Dunn – Yeah, I don’t really know what else to do with my time other than tour, it was absolutely one of my main compulsions for playing music in the first place, being able to travel, so this January I’m heading down through the Midwest to Florida and back, and then from there I’m going to start filling up my calendar – I have to leave a little time to get these damn recordings done, but I hope to be on the road a fair amount, for sure.
The Triggerman – I once called Rick Ness the best bass player in underground country. You have a whole solo career ahead of you, I have a feeling we’ve not heard the last from Joe Huber, but what will become of the Rickness?
Derek Dunn – I hope I’ve got a whole solo career ahead of me, that remains to be seen. As far as Rick goes, last I heard he was busting his ass working 10 or 12 hours a day, which is what he was doing before we met…He has developed such a unique style of playing upright, though, it really would be a shame if he didn’t start slapping that thing with somebody.
The Triggerman – Do you ever see any future collaborations with former .357 String Band members? I know it may be too early to say, but are y’all open to reunion shows/tours when the time is right, or is this truly the end?
Derek Dunn – I know people are interested in .357, the break-up and it’s future, but I’m actually trying not to think about it. .357 is painful for me to think about, and I definitely feel it’s basically a necessity for me to concentrate on my own music and my own career. I suppose I’m not opposed to playing with those guys in theory, but if I’m being honest, I certainly have no desire to do so right now. I think it’s important that all of us concentrate on our own lives right now. For some of us, we spent 7 years sort of living crammed together into a van. .357 was an amazing, wonderful opportunity for me, one that I am so thankful for, and one that allowed me to travel literally around the world and see things most people never get to see.
I’ve been searched by the cops in Hungary. I saw Dublin covered in snow. I’ve walked next to the Mississippi and the Rhine, hiked through the Rockies and drove through tunnels in the Alps, climbed towers thousands of years old, and bought hash in a squat in Copenhagen. I’ve played shows in front of thousands of people, which was awesome, and shows in front of 5 people singing every word to every one of our songs, which was even more awesome. I learned to love my country by traveling around it in a van, and I learned to love my home by traveling around the country. People around the world are listening to our creative output. In many ways, I am absolutely the luckiest person on Earth.
All that being said, .357 also caused me an insane amount of blood, sweat, and grief. It kept me separate from my family when my mom was ill, it put a strain on my relationship with my beautiful and long-suffering girlfriend, and hindered me from working and creating in any one of my many other hobbies or areas of interest. I know it may be hard for people to understand, but right now I’m missing the things that .357 String Band got in the way of more than I’m missing The .357 String Band. That may change, who knows?
Derek Dunn Tour Dates:
Fort Wayne, IN — Sunday, January 8 – The Brass Rail
Chillicothe, OH — Monday, January 9 – Two Dollar Pistol Tattoo Shop
Cincinnati, OH — Tuesday, January 10 – The Crow’s Nest
Atlantic Beach, FL – Friday, January 13 - The Fly’s Tie
Flagler Beach, FL — Saturday, January 14 – The Dog Pound Saloon
Lake Worth, FL — Thursday, January 19 – The Speakeasy Lounge
Gainesville, FL — Wednesday, January 25 – Loosey’s – Downtown Gainesville.