"It"s not a risk you take, it"s just an instinct you have," Jakob Dylan says. Dylan, 32, has been making records for 12 years. The Wallflowers, first signed to Virgin Records, encountered extreme posturing when they signed that deal. They made the record, then were promptly dropped after a lackluster response to the release. But in spite of the record"s lack of commercial success, Dylan is still proud of their first effort and reflects warmly on the ambition and arrogance of that self-titled release: "We made that record like you should make your first record. We were 21 years old and we thought we were the Rolling Stones." Jakob Dylan sums up the experience: "For your first record it"s good to be that arrogant and think you know everything."
Courtney Kaiser sings on the new Wallflowers" album: "an amazing talent," according to Dylan.
Dylan thought the record was successful, but the record company didn"t - only 40,000 copies were sold. "You have to sell a certain amount of records to keep record deals now. It used to be that selling 200,000 records was a great selling record. Today that"s unemployment." The Wallflowers went on to sign with Interscope Records and released the multi-platinum Bringing Down the Horse in 1996 to both critical acclaim and commercial success. "I won"t complain about selling that amount of records, but at a certain point it took on a life of its own," Dylan says about the mass success of the second album. Breach, the band"s third release, went widely unnoticed, much like their first effort. "People can"t buy records if they don"t know they"re out. It"s hard to buy a record if it"s a secret," Dylan answers when asked about why the record stayed off the commercial grid. Dylan believes there are a lot of reasons why Breach did not enjoy the success of Bringing Down the Horse. "I won"t deny that one of them was the material." Dylan knew when writing the material for the record that it was probably not going to be what people saw as a proper follow up to the last album. "It wasn"t a question of wanting to repeat Bringing Down the Horse. I wouldn"t have known how to do that anyway, but the songs I was writing I knew would not appeal to as many people and I was okay with that. Those were the songs that were on my mind and that was the record we wanted to make Ö With the records it"s not a question of how they do, it"s: Are they getting to a new place?" With the freshly-released fourth Wallflowers album, Red Letter Days, Dylan along with Rami Jaffee, Greg Richling and Mario Calire are marking their return to the realm of commercial success while putting out a record they wanted to make. "We had nothing but time on this one. We got way ahead of ourselves. We worked out the songs while we were on tour. It was my intention to get in the studio before anyone started snooping around for a new record." An indie pop rock siren While in the studio, Dylan called upon the talents of a familiar Indiana musician, Courtney Kaiser. Kaiser is known in Bloomington as well Indianapolis as an indie pop rock siren. In addition to playing in some legitimately great bands such as the Prom and The Academy, Kaiser also is currently working on her own recording project, Eeqwa, as well as being a back up singer with John Mellencamp for the past 2 years. The Dylan and Kaiser collaboration was spawned during a small tour the Wallflowers did with Mellencamp. "We were doing some recordings on the road," recalls Dylan. "She sang on some of our demos out there and her voice happened to work really well with mine. So when we were making the record we flew her out." According to Dylan, Kaiser"s "Öan amazing talent." According to Kaiser, Dylan"s, "Öa genius songwriter." Kaiser"s gorgeously lush voice can be heard harmonizing with Dylan on "See When You Get There," one of the strongest songs on the record. When asked about the future and his outlook on where this record will stop on the success rollercoaster, Dylan speaks with candor: "This record is still really fresh to us. I"m still really ecstatic about the whole thing. If it"s a question of how good over how many, I prefer that argument. Generally, I believe in that. As far as sustaining certain numbers, I"m more concerned that the records are getting better every time they come out." Dylan believes that at some point you have to ask yourself what kind of success is important. "Is it just strictly numbers? If it"s strictly numbers then we know there are some boy bands that should be real proud of themselves." The homogenizing trends of pop music only yield feelings of futility. "There just aren"t a lot of choices out there," observes Dylan. "Every thing is so narrow whether it be radio or television. People are being force-fed only a few different things and to some degree brainwashed to think they might actually like it. That"s always been there, but what"s not there as much are the avenues for people who A: don"t look good on TV or B: don"t know how to fake it in front of a camera to be noticed." The reality of the music business empire is that: "Music and image go hand in hand now, entirely, strictly. There absolutely is no imagination left. If you can"t do both to some degree you"re going to have a problem." With all the pressure that is associated with the corporate level and its success standards, many artists look to current trends on the music scene to try and create their records. Jakob Dylan prefers to stay the course: "You have to put your head down and barrel through these times. There"s a lot of crap out there. But it"s always been that way. I"m never discouraged by that. It"s never like there"s a great time to put out a rock and roll record. It just never changes. Every record I"ve put out they said it was a bad time for rock and roll. It"s not a fashion. It"s not really a trend. It"s always going to have an opportunity because people are always going to want to hear songs." Red Letter Days is a promising rock album that has the potential to buck the current trend in popular music and radio rock. For that reason this album could be a rebound from the disappointment of the last record and further validation that Jakob Dylan is a defining songwriter at this point of the music history time line. The Wallflowers are currently on tour with Ours and will be at the Murat Egyptian Room on Nov. 26.