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An Interview with Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate

The Dream Syndicate, photo by Edward Colver
16 May 2015

I had the opportunity to ask guitarist/vocalist Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate some questions about the upcoming reissue of the band’s 1982 debut masterpiece, The Days of Wine and Roses. They sounded so far ahead of their time back in those dark musical days when only the punk and new wave scenes offered any hope for listeners turned off by disco, bad metal, and hair bands. The album, which I reviewed recently, sounds as fresh today as it did back then. As a long time fan of the band, I was thrilled for this chance to interview a musical legend.

I think it’s great that Omnivore is reissuing all this great music. When did they approach you about this reissue? Will they be reissuing any other Dream Syndicate albums?

SW: Omnivore is a really fabulous label. They’re truly the heirs apparent to the great archivist labels that I’ve loved and worked with the past, labels like Rhino and Ryko and Edsel and so on. And we’ve already done a couple of projects together, the reissues of The Day Before Wine and Roses, a radio session we did just before making our first album as well as a couple of solo records I made in Spain, which Omnivore released as Sketches In Spain. I think there will be a lot more ahead. I was really excited when I heard they got the rights to reissue The Days of Wine and Roses. Obviously, that’s a record that’s really important to me, and it had been frustrating and even a little mystifying that it had been out of print for so long. The great thing about Omnivore is that they choose the right records and then reissue them properly—great sound, great packaging. Dennis (Duck) and I both feel this could be the final, definitive version of this record and we’re glad it was done so well.

Listening to this record in 2015, it sounds as great as it did in 1982. It is instantly memorable and both forward and backward looking at the same time. Why do you think it has held together so well?

SW: Well, for one I do think that the music we were making was timeless in a way that we were mixing the music we loved from our past—sixties, garage, psychedelia—with what was exciting us at the time in the punk rock and post-punk world. It was already a mix-tape of eras even at that point, which meant it wasn’t fixed to one moment in time. Also—and this was definitely to our advantage—we had almost no budget so we had to record it in one eight hour, midnight to 8am session which meant there was no time get sidetracked by the trappings of anything that felt modern at the time. Being modern and up-to-the-minute at any moment is the surefire way to become dated and obsolete in very short time.

I can’t tell you how awesome it is to hear musicians playing real instruments without a lot of fake crap effects on their vocals. And for me, this album jams home that point. What do you think about the abysmal state of what passes for music these days (editor’s note: I should have specified that I meant popular music, not the alternative scene)?

SW: Ah, I wouldn’t say it’s abysmal. There’s a lot of great music out there. I mean, there’s a lot of music PERIOD. So, odds are that some of it’s going to be good. One thing about the world of music when we made The Days of Wine and Roses is that there weren’t THAT many records, at least compared to today. So, it was easy to know everything that was going on. And that also meant you could know what you loved and what you hated. And we definitely had very clear ideas about those kinds of things. There was the music we loved and the music we hated. And we agreed we wanted to make our own favorite record. And we definitely succeeded.

With the shows you have done with other band members, was the audience a mix of young and middle-aged folks? Because it would be great to drawn in young people to this music.

SW: Yes, that’s something I’ve loved about our reunion shows in the last 3 years. I’m seeing a lot of people in our audience who weren’t even alive when we made our first record. And you know what? They’re getting what we’re doing more than most people did back in 1982. It’s almost like the world caught up with us. We were definitely out of our time back when we started. We would have fit in in 1968. Or in 2015. But in 1982 we were an anomaly. That was frustrating sometimes, but it also served us well. It made our fans feel like they were part of a crusade of sorts. I mean, it certainly made US feel that way. And that’s why it makes me happy to get out there and play those songs now and see so many happy faces. In a way, it makes us feel like we were onto something back then.

Thinking back to The Paisley Underground, does it seem odd that you were lumped in with all those other bands (good as they were)? Because Dream Syndicate sounded so clearly different right out of the gate. You seemed to have elements of Dylan, Velvets, and maybe *Crazy Horse with all that swirling energy. Did that label ever bother you?

SW: Yeah, we felt like we were the dirtball, weirdo stepbrothers in the Paisley family. We felt the greatest kinship with Green On Red, who were mining a similar dark, sinister territory. But we were also huge fans of the other bands, the groups like the Bangs (The Bangles) and Salvation Army (later known as The Three O’Clock) and doing shows with them gave us all some kind of context that made it easier for people to discover all of our bands. And, let’s face it, we had a LOT more in common with those bands than we did with the kind of music that was on the charts or on the radio at that time.

I’ve heard this album described as music for English majors. Was that because you were an English major, or was it one of those things critics liked to throw in?

SW: We WERE all English majors! So funny. And I think some of the knowledge and even pretension that came with that served us well. We managed to mix the things we knew, our awareness of history with an absolute irreverence that kept us from being big bores. We enjoyed building something up and then seeing if it would stand up to very deliberate demolition from within, much like the Velvets had done in their time.

DS was ahead of its time, melding punk roots with the 60s psychedelic flair of the Velvets. With psychedelia having a renaissance of sorts lately, how well do you think the band would do today?

SW: You know what? We’re doing just fine. Our music makes sense now. And when I hear bands like, say, Thee Oh Sees or Tame Impala, I feel very much at home. There are so many great young bands mixing up the best records of the past these days in a way that didn’t happen so often back then. I always say that one of the reasons the Dream Syndicate even existed was because we weren’t hearing the music we liked so we decided to make it ourselves. So maybe we wouldn’t have even followed through if we were starting now. We might have heard a Thee Oh Sees record, for example, and said “yeah, that’ll do.”

Dream Syndicate has played some live shows in the past few years, any chance you’ll record together again?

SW: It’s very, very likely.

 

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