The less I write here, the more Dolorean's Al James gets to eloquently make his case, so I will keep it short. The new Dolorean album, You Can't Win, is not only hands-down James' best album to date, it's my favorite local release of this young year.
The new album seems to be pretty open about the struggles of existing as a touring artist. Why do you think so few artists talk about these hardships in song?
I think even more than just the toll of touring and travel, the new album was an attempt to peel back various narrative conventions that were preventing me from placing myself in the middle of the songs. I've always been suspect of confessional-type songwriting, but the timing seemed right to speak more directly about my own headspace. I wouldn't have done it if others in the band hadn't encouraged me to. And yes, touring on a semi-regular basis can be extremely damaging to relationships, finances, and peace of mind. I've experienced that firsthand. I've also found this year that staying in town for an extended period of time doesn't agree with me either. There's a lot of ego in music, and all other creative endeavors for that matter. I think most people want to give the impression that they're successful at what they do. Speaking frankly about it demystifies it.
Compared to your previous records this album is a lot heavier (in lyrical content, not sound), but it also seems to have a real sense of clarity and acceptance to it.
Yes, the themes in You Can't Win are quite heavy. They came from a place I'd never been before. That said, I relied a great deal on the rest of the band to help soften the blow for the listener. We chose tempos and arrangements that attempted to counterbalance the lyrical weight. Only a few tracks like "You Don't Want to Know" and "Buffalo Gal" were allowed to turn out the lights completely.
Do you think that as a indie musician, you really can't "win"? Is the whole structure flawed to the point that so few people can actually make a living wage from it?
I suppose it comes down to my definition of "winning." Asking to succeed financially by creating music is too much to ask of the process. Once you start having financial expectations of creating music or feel a sense of entitlement you're walking a very slippery slope. The collaboration with other musicians, the ability to perform at a high level in other cities and countries, the chance to see my ideas come to fruition—yes, on my best day I can see this as "winning." On my worst, my stomach is in knots trying to keep it all together. I've been lucky enough to have some of the greatest musical mentors [Damien Jurado, Eric Bachmann, Richard Buckner] who've never pulled any punches and never told me that things will get better. They've all just taught by example, by putting their heads down, their egos aside and creating.
Dolorean performs at the Someday Lounge on Saturday, March 17.