Interview with Dolly Varden
Named after an elusive type of American trout rather than the busty Nashville singer, Chicago's Dolly Varden are touring the UK as a stripped-down acoustic two-piece along with Bill Mallonee and Julie Lee. Stephen Dawson and Diane Christiansen took some time at the end of their gig (reviewed here) to talk to us about songwriting, touring and their unique musical style.
CDtimes: How would you best describe your music to someone who's never heard it?
Stephen Dawson: Well, it's all about the songs. Our influences are really varied - they go from the Beatles to folk music to Soul music so wherever the song leads, that'll be the style.
CDtimes: How does the songwriting process work?
Stephen: We don't write together, we work seperately. We've tried to write songs together but generally I write most of the songs by myself and I sometimes help Diane finish off some of hers.
Diane Christiansen: Yeah, he works a lot more than I do [laughs]
CDtimes: Can you sum up your career so far?
Stephen: Sometime in the early 90s we had this other band called Stump the Host and that lasted a few years - that was a real twangy, country-ish band. That broke up but we wanted to keep singing together. We wanted a band that was more stylistically varied that was capable of doing all sort of things so we found musicians based on that idea. So that's how Dolly Varden came about and we've been around in that form for seven years now.
Diane: Yeah, the band's lineup hasn't changed since the start. We're all based around Chicago.
CDtimes: So do you do a lot of work just the two of you?
Diane: Yeah, we do a lot of that since we're the primary songwriters in the band. It's really fun to do these acoustic sets where all you have is the songs.
Stephen: It's also a lot more affordable to bring the two of us over here and easier to tour.
CDtimes: Like Bill Mallonee, you seem to tour a lot here.
Stephen: This is our fifth tour here but this has been the best tour so far.
Diane: The tour has been wonderful: we've all been getting along great and the crowds have been amazing with almost every venue selling out. The audiences are so great here and the distances are so small compared to the States. A long drive over here is like five hours! [laughs]
Stephen: Also people treat us better over here in general - be it the club owners or the people in the clubs.
Diane: Oh yeah. There's also a real attention to live music over here - like Neil Young recently left a gig because people were talking loudly throughout his set, which people don't tend to do here.
CDtimes: Do you feel the UK audience gets your songs?
Diane: I think it helps to do a little explaining.
Stephen: It's not considered cool to explain your songs in the US really - the less you talk on stage the better! [laughs] Over here they seem to enjoy having some more information.
CDtimes: So what are your plans for the future?
Stephen: We're just going to take any opportunity to follow through with what we're doing.
Diane : We're also making a new record with the band.
Stephen: Yeah, there's a new Dolly Varden record in the works and we're also working on solo stuff at home. We're also trying to tour as much as we can.
CDtimes: So we're likely to see you back in the UK in the near future?
Diane: In fact, we all want to buy a house in Berwick-Upon-Tweed. [laughs] We all loved that town - so beautiful.
CDtimes: Finally, could you recommend five CDs you've recently enjoyed?
Stephen: Buddy Miller's Poison Love - everyone should have that.
Diane: I think everyone in the whole world ought to have The Flaming Lips - the Yoshimi CD...
Stephen: All the Beatles records.
Diane: Cat Power - you are free
Stephen: Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
Diane: Yeah everyone should have Astral Weeks - 'cos how can really have sex without it?
Dolly Varden's most recent CD Forgiven Now is available at Amazon.
Their solo record Duets is available from their website: DollyVarden.com