INTERVIEW: JAVIER DUNN TALKS HIS DEBUT ALBUM, TRAILS

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For over 8 years, he played guitar in front of sold out crowds all over the world. As an official member of Sara Bareilles’ touring band, Javier Dunn was able to achieve the dreams of most musicians. But this week, Dunn is emerging from the shadows and heading centerstage with the release of his superb debut solo album, Trails (available today on iTunes).

I caught up with Dunn about the evolution of his sound, his future tour plans, his influences, the Fresh Prince, and more.

For a while, your music had a primarily acoustic singer/songwriter feel to it. What made you decide to want to experiment with the more electronic-influenced sound of Trails?

I’ve actually been programming and making hip hop beats and electronic stuff for about 10 years, but it was music I never really shared with people other than close friends. I was trained in guitar playing, and obviously loved it, and felt like the guitar-based singer songwriter sound was what i was supposed to go for, and i guess i thought it was the most plausible genre for me to fit in to. So for the most part, I honed my public sound to just be that one thing: the acoustic guitar singer songwriter type. But all the while, I made beats and experimented with stuff on my own. It was the advent of better sounds and better technology, as well as me finally starting to share my “other” songs, that led me to this album. I finally felt like the sounds I could achieve on computers were close enough to the sounds I could hear in my brain. The quality of digital sounds got way better, and I got better at making them. And as you get older, you get to be less self-conscious, and hopefully closer to your true self. That’s what this music is. It’s always been in me, but people are just now starting to hear it. And they dig it so that’s been incredibly affirming. It’s amazing what happens when you stop censoring your creativity. Everything grows.

Where does the album’s title, Trails, come from?

It’s a very long, meandering, random train of thought that got me there, but it all made sense in the present tense. And I try not to “explain” things like album titles and song titles too much because it demystifies things a little. But basically, I like to use the Google definition, “a mark or a series of signs or objects left behind by the passage of someone or something.” I think that’s a cool way of thinking about an album. It’s my sonic trail of what I’ve been through the last few years. That’s the simplest, broadest way of putting it.

Will you be hitting the road in support of Trails?

I hope so. I’m in a tough little donut hole of my artist career where I’m lucky enough to have fans spread out all over the country (and the world for that matter), but getting to all of them can sometimes be financially un-doable. I’ve spent most of the last 8 years touring around the world with Sara Bareilles, and I absolutely love it on all levels. So yeah – emotionally and mentally and spiritually, I DEFINITELY want to tour to support this album. But i’m still trying to put together some pieces to make all that happen. So fans: call your radio station! Tell your friends! And bring me to your town! Please and thank you.

How has your evolution of sound impacted your live show? Is it more challenging to perform these songs as their multi-layered final products than it was when it was just you and your guitar?

The new sound has definitely been a trick to realize live. At first, I was reluctant to make this record because i thought about that hurdle. But then I thought, “screw that – make the best album you can. Cross the live bridge when you come to it.” And now i’m at the bridge. I’ve been doing the album solo lately, using a laptop and some foot pedals to trigger tracks, while playing electric guitar and singing. That’s actually worked out really well. And of course I can do the acoustic thing too. I think any good song needs to stand on its own as an acoustic song, so I’m lucky I have that discipline down as well. In a perfect world, I would have a full band playing everything live. The laptop works for now but nothing can match human connectivity through music. So when this album blows up, I’ll have a full band and we will melt your face.

You’ve been Sara Bareilles’ touring guitarist for quite some time now. What inspired you to want to branch out and put out music as a solo musician?

I was a solo musician before meeting Sara, during my time with Sara, and I will continue to be for the rest of my life after Sara. I made a conscious decision to back-burner my solo career for the opportunity of being Sara’s guitar player. Sara always knew I had made that sacrifice, and always fostered my solo career the best she could. But my job was to be the best guitar player for her that I could possibly be. So that was my identity. I kept all the solo stuff to myself. Except of course when Sara would have me as an opener. But yeah – I’ve always been a solo musician. Sara blessed me with a chance to live the dream, and I took it. I’m forever thankful for that.

Sara is also featured as a guest vocalist on a couple of the tracks on your album. What’s the best piece of advice she gave you as a seasoned performer when you were putting your record together?

She actually didn’t give me any advice whilst making the record. We usually leave each others’ creative processes alone. Obviously if i go to her with questions, she’ll oblige. But we kinda stay out of the actual creating. I guess she gave me encouragement more than anything, once she heard it. She knows me closer than most and knew I had those sounds in my brain and the capacity to make that music, but she was still really enthusiastic and complimentary when she heard it and I knew that meant I was doing something right.

Tell me a little bit about your creative process. Do you tend to write music and/or lyrics first?

I’m a musician first. Music always seems to come first. It’s funny – I feel like I’m a decent prose writer, and I was an English major in college, but sometimes lyrics are really, really hard for me. Music pours out of me and the song ideas come for days. But then I have to really sit down and focus when it comes to lyrics. Occasionally lyrics will come easily, or even first without any music (just as poetry sort of), but almost always it’s music first, then words. And the music could come from a drum beat, a synth sound, a guitar chord, a bass tone … anything sonic.

Did you write lead single “Couple of Drinks” out of experience or out of observation?

Well everyone has had that experience at some point, including me, but the experience that led to writing the song was observational. But again, it was from a personal place. The lyrics are so specific and locational because basically the whole song came to my brain while I was at a party (that was an example of lyrics and melody coming to me first – very quickly too). I was floating on a pool floatie watching the party around me and the whole chorus came to my brain. I just repeated it a bunch of times to myself to memorize it, and then wrote the music around it the next day. It’s a pretty simple song. Poor guy …

There have been a quite few remixes of that song popping up online lately. Are there any in particular that you’re a big fan of?

There are a TON of cool remixes out there. The Jacob Grant remix is tight. I think one guy named Zeier? Dubstep version. Super dope. A japanese producer named Charlot did probably the most beautiful elegant remix I’ve heard. Just insanely cool stuff out there. I was humbled, to say the least.

On Trails, you reinterpreted some of your previous acoustic recordings by adding some of those new production elements we discussed earlier. What made you decide to revisit these songs and inject them with this new flavor?

I was kind of looking at this album as a debut of sorts, given that it’s my first with a label and a “new sound” and whatnot. I felt like I had some really strong songs on my last EP that just never saw the ears they deserved because I didn’t have the marketing/label support/whatever. So when Jim Roach (the head of Red Parade Music) and I talked about making the record, we both agreed that bringing back 3 or 4 of my best songs from the earlier catalog might be a good idea. It would be a “first listen” for a lot of fans, so I thought it was a good idea. And the songs are all re-recorded, re-performed, re-produced, and honestly better. The best they could be. So I’m glad i did it.

One of the aspects of Trails that I really love is how richly diverse the songs sound. When listening to them, I hear traces of everyone from Death Cab for Cutie to The Weeknd to Damien Rice to Robin Thicke. Who were some of your biggest musical influences when recording the album?

Um, you kinda just nailed it with those, actually. And thank you. I’m flattered at those comparisons. But yeah, influencing this record were the recent records by Gotye, Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, The Shins, Mumford and Sons, Death Cab, Miike Snow, Bon Iver … tons of stuff. That’s me, ya know? I like a lot of different kinds of music. I always have. And they get filtered out into my own records.

When putting out a debut album, the pressure must be really high to make sure the songs you’ve selected and the order you’re presenting them in are the truest representations of your artistry. Does Trails satisfy the musical introduction you always envisioned for yourself?

Beyond my expectations. I was unsure about signing with a label because I didn’t know if my musical visions would be compromised or skewed or whatever. But honestly, I believe in every second of every note on this album. Hell, just about every second of every note came out of my brain and these two hands. And no one compromised that. Instead, the label and Jim specifically helped me REALIZE that. So yeah, I think this is the best album I’ve ever made, and the music of which I am currently most proud and feel most identified with.

What’s on your fast track to become your favorite song of the summer?

“Summertime” by Fresh Prince. I’m bringin’ that one back. OH WAIT IT NEVER WENT AWAY. “Here it is – a groove slightly transformed…”

javier-2Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE TICKET GIVEAWAY: ZZ WARD IN NYC THIS WEEKEND!

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Readers of Headphone Infatuation will remember reading about ZZ Ward last fall when we reviewed her album showcase and interviewed the singer/songwriter about the release of her debut record, Til The Casket Drops — one of the most unique and exciting records of 2012.

This Friday at 7 PM (EST), ZZ will be supported by opening act Swear And Shake to headline a show at Warsaw, the Brooklyn venue where we recently saw Andrew McMahon play. The combination of ZZ’s signature dirty blues sound and Warsaw’s kitschy ambiance is sure to make for an unforgettable evening. And just for readers of Headphone Infatuation, we’re giving away a pair of tickets to the show! If you’d like to enter for a chance to see this rising star, simply tweet the following:

“I want to win tickets to see @ZZWard at @WarsawConcerts this weekend courtesy of @AlexNagorski! http://bit.ly/yv3Pvu

A winner will be chosen at random on Thursday, June 20. And be sure to spread the word and get your friends to retweet you to increase your chances of winning! Good luck!

CHATTING WITH REAL HOUSEWIFE CAROLE RADZIWILL ABOUT HER NEW BOOK!

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Years before she became the “voice of reason” on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City, Carole Radziwill was already a New York Times bestselling writer.

Her first book, What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love, spent over twelve weeks on the prestigious bestseller list. The incredibly moving memoir chronicled Radziwill’s impressive career at ABC News, her marriage to Anthony Radziwill (the only son of Polish prince Stanislas Radziwill and Jackie’s younger sister, Lee Bouvier), and her close friendship with her husband’s cousin John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. Tragically, in 1999, John and Carolyn were killed in an airplane crash, and three weeks later, Anthony lost his battle with cancer.

As a journalist, Radziwill has received three Emmy Awards for the work she’s produced all over the world – including places like Cambodia, Israel, and Khandahar. Her latest endeavor, however, finds Radziwill exploring an entirely new form of artistic expression: fiction writing.

Radziwill’s debut novel, The Widow’s Guide To Sex And Dating, hits shelves this fall. The book follows the charming self-rediscovery of Claire Byrne, a young woman who unexpectadly becomes a widow when her famous sexologist husband dies in a freak accident. The book’s witty humor and Didion-esque raw language provide for a gripping read that triumphantly announces a profound new voice in literary fiction.

Currently in the midst of filming a new season of The Real Housewives of New York City, Radziwill chatted with me about The Widow’s Guide To Sex And Dating, how she’s grown as a writer, teased what Bravo-holics have to look forward to, and more.

NAGORSKI: Claire’s late husband, Charlie, was notorious for stating that sex and love can’t co-exist. It wasn’t until after his death, however, that Claire was able to explore this theory and draw her own conclusions about it. Why do you think it took so long for her to step out of his shadow?

RADZIWILL: Well, she married him very young. She was just out of college and he was almost 20 years older than her so his shadow was all that she knew. It was big, and she was safe there, and it was only shortly before his death that she’d begun to feel dissatisfied in it. Claire is a woman bound to loyalty — to friends, lovers, psychiatrists. She tried to loosen her own inhibitions at one point while Charlie was alive, and explore her own boundaries around love and desire but she found she wasn’t capable of it.

When looking back on her and Charlie’s sex life, Claire noted that she “felt like a control subject in his research” and that she “was more lab assistant than intimate.” Do you believe that Claire would have been less lost following Charlie’s death had they kept a passionate and genuine sex life? Or was their relationship just too toxic for that to have made a difference?

It may have been much more devastating for her had they shared a passionate physical relationship. As it happened, Claire understood that she had this chance to start over, but Charlie had been the only serious man in her life. It’s difficult to uncouple, regardless of the circumstance or the nature of the relationship.

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the book was its commentary on gender. “A husband dies and the world gets another widow. A wife dies, and a star is born,” Claire proclaims to her gay best friend. Why do you think our society is more apt to embrace a widower getting back into the dating game than it is a widow who does the same?

I think there’s a different expectation of loyalty for women than for men, and it’s very primal. Deep down, we still want someone to be in charge of the home fires, and that’s still a role we often associate with women.  I don’t think men have the same expectation of loyalty, so it’s not surprising or upsetting when they are out dating the month after they lose a spouse, or remarried within the year. I see it all the time.

It doesn’t strike me as a coincidence that two of Claire’s main romantic interests, Charlie and Jack, are also international celebrities. What do you think it says about our fame-obsessed culture that we idealize these types of self-involved misogynists?

I think people are just drawn to a good narcissist. I mean, a really good one, not your average cocktail party hack. There’s an art to it. A good narcissist can make you believe you’re the two most interesting people in the world. They’re shiny, and the little magpie in each of us finds that hard to resist.

The book also presents the idea that women often feel threatened around their widowed friends because a widow can be desired for being someone’s lost treasure, as opposed to a divorcee, who can be viewed as another man’s unwanted baggage. Do you think this stigma can be deconstructed on an impactful scale? Or are humans too naturally territorial?

I think of it more in the sense of challenge. Men like a challenge, they like to win, they tend to — stereotypically — be more competitive in romantic pursuits than women. So I think of them as intrigued by the idea that another man left something behind that, theoretically, he still wanted. It seems more like a prize. Charlie had no intention of giving up Claire, but now he’s gone, so pursuing her is sort of a karmic win for his rivals.

Another facet of the book that I was very drawn to was its exploration of what happens when you’re given the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Claire thought she had already chosen her life’s path, but the death of her husband forced her to re-examine her choices and truly question whether or not she was ever sincerely happy. Do you think it’s possible to achieve this honest degree of self-evaluation without the catalyst of tragedy?

Certainly, it’s possible, but it takes a lot of courage. People maintain unhappy lives all the time, because they’re familiar and therefore safe. Routine often trumps happiness.

Tell me a little bit about the book’s title. The Widow’s Guide To Sex And Dating sounds more like a self-help book than a novel. Did you write Claire’s story as a way of helping others navigate their way through the various stages of this kind of loss?

The title is tongue-in-cheek. It came out of a conversation I was having with my longtime friend Christiane Amanpour. We were talking about dating and I was telling her some of my stories. She suggested I keep a journal and call it “The Widows Guide.” I kept the title, but not the journal.

Some of the scenes and situations I wrote in the book are over-the-top, for comedy. (In real life I didn’t fantasize about my funeral director in bed!) So I certainly don’t want women who are struggling through the very emotional process of widowhood to take anything at face value. It’s been 15 years for me, and it’s much easier to laugh now at some of the absurdities.

I found your 2005 memoir, What Remains, to be such a beautifully written and poignant story. With The Widow’s Guide To Sex and Dating, you’re publishing your first work of fiction. How were your creative processes different while tackling these two genres, and how do you feel you’ve evolved as a writer since your first book?

Thank you, that’s such a nice compliment.

It’s funny, I expected the fiction to be a nice break from the heavy emotional work of writing memoir. But writing fiction was a lot harder, from a technical standpoint. The creative process was fun — dreaming up scenarios and characters and giving them whatever little habits or quirks I liked. But once I put it all down in a first draft, I just had a lot of creativity. I still needed pacing, plot, structure, character development. While those things are important in memoir, too, the canvas didn’t feel quite so blank. One of the words my fiction editor wrote frequently in the margins was “unpack.” She’d write, “unpack this,” in places where I had a scene or a detail that wasn’t developed. My memoir editor, on the other hand, marked up my manuscript with the word “coy,” in places where I was guarded around a detail or scene because I was hesitant about how much to reveal. I’ve had to learn how to “unpack,” just like I had to train myself not to be “coy.”

I enjoyed the brief wink to Real Housewives of New York City in the scene where Claire’s friend Sasha confesses that she has a habit of drinking alone in her bedroom while she watches the show. What can your fans and viewers expect from the series’ upcoming sixth season?

Ladies who lunch, brunch and walk and talk. Drama.

Has becoming a reality TV personality impacted your writing in any way? If so, how?

Yes, mostly in terms of time. The show is very consuming during the months of filming and also during the months that it airs. And writing has to be consuming, too, if you’re going to be any good at it. I need to write every day even if I’m not working on a specific project, or the quality suffers and then it takes time to bring it back up again. Also, the show is very structured with strict time commitments and I like a long lazy flow of time to write in. I’m working on a book of essays right now, while filming the show, and it’s very challenging to find the creative, unstructured space that I need.

Last season on the show, you mentioned that The Widow’s Guide To Sex And Dating was being considered for a television pilot. Have there been any developments on that front that you can share? And is the idea of seeing your work being translated to another medium something that excites you?

Television is still an option, I’ve had a lot of interest but haven’t found the right fit yet. Scripted television is so dynamic and creative right now that, of course, yes, I’d be thrilled to see Claire Byrne’s adventures come to life on a screen. I have so many great ideas for her.

Anything else you’d like to add about the book that we didn’t discuss?

These were great questions, thank you! I just want people to have fun with it.

carole-2Originally published on PopBytes

And thanks to Carole for sharing the interview via Twitter!

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