On the eve of the legendary Dream Syndicate’s first ever UK tour, Steve Wynn talks to AUK about the reincarnation of the band and is happy to embrace the Paisley Underground tag.
Given that it’s taken 40-plus years for The Dream Syndicate to tour the UK, it’s not surprising that news of their forthcoming dates has created quite a buzz. A cornerstone of the Paisley Underground, the band is chiefly remembered for their first album, ‘Days Of Wine And Roses’, which has achieved cult status these days despite it being somewhat of an outlier in their catalogue. In his article on the top 10 Paisley Underground albums, AUK writer Guy Lincoln placed it at number three saying that it was “The first great P.U. album. Teetering on the edge of breakdown throughout, Wynn & co. reimagine the Velvets in the East Coast sunshine and set the grunge template while they’re at it.” There followed three albums which, while more conventional guitar based rock in form, cemented their reputation, in particular, 1984’s ‘Medicine Show’ with its fiery delivery and the nine-minute epic ‘John Coltrane Stereo Blues’.
Band leader Steve Wynn called it a day in 1989, going on to forge a solo career but in 2012 The Dream Syndicate re-emerged after Wynn was invited to play a festival in Barcelona (Wynn and The Dream Syndicate have gained a dedicated following on the continent). Having reconnected, the band continued to play selected live dates and then in 2017 ventured back into the studio to record ‘How Did I Find Myself Here?’. With Wynn accompanied by veteran band members Dennis Duck on drums and bassist Mark Walton, the lineup also featured guitarist Jason Victor from Wynn’s Miracle 3 band and ex-Green On Red keyboard player Chris Cacavas. This lineup has now released four albums, all highly praised with the band refusing to rest on their laurels as they expanded their sound to take in psychedelia, jazz and the experimentalism of German bands such as Can and Neu.
On record certainly, this second coming has been a success and here in the UK we’ll soon have a chance to judge for ourselves how well this translates into the live setting. Guitarist Jason Victor is unable to join the tour but his replacement is another Paisley Underground legend, Vicki Peterson from The Bangles, while the support act are also veterans of the Paisley Underground, Matt Piucci and Stephen Roback from the Rain Parade.
AUK reached out to Steve Wynn on the eve of the tour and he was kind enough to answer a few questions via an email exchange.
Hi Steve, First thing to say is that there has been an incredible buzz over here since we first heard that The Dream Syndicate are touring the UK. As far as I know, this will be the first time that the band has played outside of London so can I ask why you’ve decided it’s time to take to the provinces?
The bigger question is why we waited so long! But this just seemed like a good time, not the least because we’re on a UK label, Fire Records and we knew they could spread the word.
You’re in the odd situation of being a “current” band who are also imbued with a “classic” label, the original Dream Syndicate being quite legendary but with the new band having delivered four widely acclaimed albums over the past six years. First off, what inspired you to revive the band back in 2012 and, secondly, do you feel that there has been a continuum of sorts and if so, in what sense?
Less of a continuum and more a chance to rewrite and tidy up the story and trajectory of the band. We’re very proud of the albums we’ve made in the last five years and they more fully represent the band we had intended to be from the start in that some of the music we made at the end of the 80’s when we were young and just trying to see how and if we could fit into that particular music scene at the time. Now we’re just focused on being who we are and letting the chips fall where they may.
Would you say that the current Dream Syndicate is more eclectic than its predecessor? I’m asking because, over the four albums there’s been deep delves into psychedelia, jazz and Kraut rock (apologies here but I blame Julian Cope for popularising this term) and I doubt that anyone hearing ‘The Universe Inside’, sight unseen, would be able to join the dots to connect it to albums such as ‘Days Of Wine And Roses’ or ‘Out Of The Grey’.
Yes, but ‘The Universe Inside’ is probably the closest to the band we would have imagined and dreamt of being when we were starting out. We saw ourselves as much a jazz band or a noise band or outsider art kind of band as anything back in those earliest days. The record I most listened to and practiced to in 1981 was probably ‘Ascension’ by John Coltrane. 21 year old me would have been thrilled to know that he’d be making a record like ‘The Universe Inside’ 40 years later.
The latest album, ‘Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions’ was a much more straightforward song based album after the free-form style of ‘The Universe Inside’ while retaining some of its more avante garde influences. How do you and the band approach a new album, is there a sense of progression or is it more of meeting up and capturing a current mood?
The Dream Syndicate works differently than other bands I play with—even differently than the way we worked back in the 80’s. I try to keep the songs I bring to the recording sessions as loose and unstructured as possible so that the band can take them wherever they’re meant to go once we’re together. I usually don’t write the lyrics until we have a final take so that they can reflect the sound we made together. Having said that, I’ve always been big on doing home-recorded demos to map out ideas and do get pretty fixed on certain riffs and grooves so my bandmates may not agree with my claims of being laissez-faire about the approach. All that being said, this latest album is the sound of a band playing together for the first time after 18 months of the pandemic and just happy to be in the same room.
Going back to the question of The Dream Syndicate version one or version two, the spectre of the Paisley Underground raises its head here as you’ll have an acoustic lineup of The Rain Parade supporting you while Bangles’ guitarist Vicki Peterson is replacing Jason Victor for the tour. Do you worry that the gigs might be tagged as a Paisley Underground type of nostalgia tour?
Oh, I fully embrace it! As much as we’ll proudly be playing songs from our recent records, we also recognize that this is a beautiful reunion of a group of six musicians who go back to the earliest days of our bands and we’ll have a lot to remember and reflect upon on and off stage. We’ll be flying the paisley flag for sure.
And having asked that, and without spoilers, I presume there will be songs from the first incarnation of The Dream Syndicate on the tour?
You can bet there will be songs from our earliest records and those of Rain Parade as well. We’ll cram a lot of history into one evening.
And finally, I saw that you had posted on Facebook, mentioning National Guitar Day, that you are bringing a specific guitar on the tour, a birthday present from Linda Pitmon, a Squire Telecaster which you’ve modified in tribute to Wilko Johnson. Do you tour with a variety of guitars or prefer to stick with one trusty favourite?
It’s a beauty! And she got it for me not long after Wilko passed away so I added that nifty red pickguard as a tribute. I do tend to play different guitars but almost always Fenders and especially Telecasters. New guitars, new band members, new travelling companions, new cities, new clubs—they all feed into the music and make their mark on what goes down. I like being surprised.
And so we eagerly await the opportunity to see The Dream Syndicate and associated Paisley Underground legends when they hit our shores in March. All dates below.
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