It takes a fair amount of dedication and passion to step out from behind the shadow of a star and make a name for yourself. Many musicians make incredible livings playing in studio or touring bands, but how many take that risky leap to step back to the beginning as a solo artist?
Only a select brave few, and Javier Dunn is one of them. After years of playing guitar for Sara Bareilles, the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter decided to take his own music to the next level. After perfecting his craft, Dunn self-released a handful of EPs before signing to fellow Angeleno Jim Roach’s Red Parade Music. With Roach’s help, Dunn recorded Trails, his first full-length, which is slated for a June 25 release. I recently had a chance to speak with the charismatic artist about the album, working with Roach, and his relationship with Bareilles.
Katrina Nattress: You’re gearing up to release Trails, your debut album on Red Parade Music. What can we expect from this release?
Javier Dunn: “Expect nothing and you will never be disappointed,” I think that’s some old zen proverb or something, but it’s kinda true. What I hope people will find is vulnerable, honest music that grooves. I’ve put much more of myself and my real sonic ambitions on this record, and I hope that people like that. I love it. It’s me.
KN: How was it to work with Jim Roach?
JD: Working with Jim was amazing and easily the best recording collaboration I’ve ever had. This is going to sound egotistical, but it actually comes from a very humble place: He always deferred to me and I loved him for that. It’s hard enough for me to stay true to the sounds I hear and the inspirations I have on my own – I could only imagine what that would be like to have someone else in the room always second-guessing you. I know sometimes producers take control and tell the artists what kind of music to make, but Jim was not like that AT ALL, and I knew that from the beginning and it’s why I chose to work with him. He got what I was trying to do and enabled me every step of the way. I’ve made a lot of music on my own and worked with others too, so I know the value he added to this project. I think it’s the coolest record I’ve ever made, and Jim was the difference.
KN: You self-released a handful of EPs before signing with Red Parade. What made you decide to sign with this label?
JD: I’ll refer you to my previous answer: It was Jim. I wasn’t really in a position where I had to sign a record deal, but I was obviously interested in growing and expanding and succeeding on the next level. Jim and I were friends for a few years, so when the timing was right it felt more like an opportunity than an obligation, which unfortunately is what happens with a lot of record contracts. And again, Jim was willing to give me total creative freedom to make the record I wanted. I’m thankful for that.
KN: What I love about your sound is the electro element – it makes you stand out from other singer-songwriters. But you started off as an acoustic musician. What made you decide to incorporate electronics into your sound?
JD: My college roommates can attest that I’ve been doing the electronic thing for over ten years now, but I never really made it part of my main sound. In part because the sounds were so rudimentary/bad back then, and in part because I was trying to “fit in” to a scene that was developing around me – the Hotel Cafe singer/songwriter scene in the early 2000s. So many of my friends were in that world and getting big and going on to other things. It was really a sound and a vibe that was happening, and it felt authentic to me. I was the typical acoustic singer/songwriter guy, and I left all the electronic stuff to bedroom experiments. But about three years ago, something happened between the technology (synthetic sounds became AMAZING) and my self-confidence. I started finishing and releasing all these weird new songs that didn’t really fit any sound or genre, and people started liking them. I got better and better at making them because I didn’t judge them so harshly when they came to me. I embraced the sounds in my brain because I could finally make them with my hands, so I don’t really see it as a “change in sound” so much as “closer to my sonic truth” if that makes sense.
KN: You’ve spent many years playing guitar as part of Sara Bareilles’ touring band. Tell me about that experience.
JD: Best experience ever. She changed my life beyond music – she’s become one of the closest people in my life. She’s been teaching me how to be a better person from the moment we met, and she’s a badass musician who has focused and succeeded. Inspiring all around, and getting to literally travel around the world with my best friends doing the thing that makes me the happiest and getting paid for it!? i mean, c’mon, it was the best.
KN: How did you meet Sara?
JD: I met Sara through a mutual friend at a bar. My sister was friends with her roommate. The rest is history.
KN: What made you decide to step up and focus on your solo career?
JD: Timing and the music. Timing because there was an apparent checkered flag on the horizon as far as touring with Sara as her guitar player, and the music because I finally felt like the songs were bigger than me telling someone “Hey check out my new music.” I always thought I had good songs, to be honest, but it was feeling different with this new music – like something was being born – and I wanted to be home for the birth and to be a good dad and to raise it up to be awesome and change the world. You know, stuff like that.
KN: You’re playing a hometown show in L.A. at Hotel Cafe later this month. Are you planning a tour in support of the new record?
JD: Touring might be the most fun I have in life. I’ve done everything from a library in Allentown, PA to Madison Square Garden and everything in between, and while some gigs suck, it’s all part of this amazing thing called live music. I love being a part of that world. It feeds me like no other. So yes, emotionally and spiritually I’m planning a tour, but the reality for an artist on my level is one that’s defined by economics, so we’ll see. if you want me in your town, call your radio station. That shit still works, believe it or not. But you gotta call.
KN: Who are your musical heroes?
JD: Anyone who’s made their art on their time and on their terms, and people who do it for careers. Ten years. Twenty years. Thirty years. More. Those people. Other people might inspire you or motivate you a little, but those are the heroes. Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Sting, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and contemporaries too: Kurt Cobain, Jay-z, Dr. Dre, Beastie Boys, Trent Reznor…this answer could go on for days and my blood sugar is low. My high school jazz band teacher is a hero too. Mark Peabody. Shout out!
KN: We recently premiered Jacob Grant’s “Couple of Drinks” remix. Can you tell me a little more about the remix contest?
JD: The remix contest was awesome. I was a skeptic at first but the label got behind it, and amazingly the producer community did too. The contest has been over for a month, and i’m still getting remixes sent to me. It’s great. Music is such an incredible thing.
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