Jakob Dylan: Evolution of a Songwriter Jakob Dylan discusses the new Wallflowers CD, Rebel, Sweetheart, and tells Melissa Block about the ways his songwriting has changed over the course of five albums.

Jakob Dylan: Evolution of a Songwriter

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/4766510/4766935" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Melissa Block.

And this is new music from The Wallflowers, the song "Days of Wonder."

(Soundbite of "Days of Wonder")

Mr. JAKOB DYLAN (The Wallflowers): (Singing) Days of wonder spent out there killing time. Now this may not leave a mark on me, but I sure as hell was there.

BLOCK: The Wallflowers have been around since 1990. They had big hits early on with their singles "6th Avenue Heartache" and "One Headlight." Jakob Dylan writes all the songs. He started the band with a pretty hefty musical pedigree. His father is Bob Dylan. We talked with Jakob Dylan about songwriting and about how what he's reading filters into his songs.

Mr. DYLAN: With this record, I was doing a lot of reading. And from what I do from the songwriting is it kind of ignites whatever part of your brain it is that is looking for lyrics and is looking for what themes you want to be writing about.

BLOCK: What were you reading when you wrote these songs? Do you remember?

Mr. DYLAN: Just different writers. I mean, I read--W.H. Auden is a writer that I like a lot, and his stuff was around. And what I got really interested in was realizing that a really good writer like that, there's a language, and, you know, their poems have an identity to them. And certainly they're not working within music and melody, they've just got the written page. But what was really intriguing to me was that, you know, if you put a few different poems in front of you, if you've read the writers before, without, you know, seeing the cover of a book, you kind of know what the language is of each writer. And I wanted something like that with this record. I wanted these songs to kind of--if they were to be read, that there was some kind of a language and there was a palette of words kind of--it was all unto its own and had its own identity.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the song "God Says Nothing Back..."

Mr. DYLAN: It's true.

BLOCK: ...especially in light of what we were just talking about maybe in terms of language.

Mr. DYLAN: It's true. He just doesn't say anything.

BLOCK: He's very quiet.

Mr. DYLAN: He's very quiet.

(Soundbite of "God Says Nothing Back")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Seems like the world's gone underground. No gods or heroes dare to go down. Teardrops from a hole in heaven come overhead like ravens, dropping down like bombs. Through the morning's silver frosted glow, God says nothing back but `I told you so.' `I told you so.'

Mr. DYLAN: You know, most of the bigger questions or concerns, at least that I have, seem to be encompassed by those four words--God, time, love and death--one way or another. Every question seems to go back to one of those topics.

BLOCK: I read one thing you said once about your earlier songs from when you first started out, that lyrically, you found yourself censoring yourself a lot, I guess, because of who you are, because of the fact that you're Bob Dylan's son, that you didn't want people to read too much into the lyrics.

Mr. DYLAN: Yeah. You know--I mean, it wasn't even something I knew I was doing at the time. It was just something I realized once I stopped doing it. The process had changed, and I began to realize in retrospect the way I used to do it and some of the habits I had been shedding or so. But, yeah, I mean, that was just--you know, I think if--when I hear some of the earlier material when we get ready to tour, and one of the guys brings up one of the old songs from the first or second record to do, you know, I find myself very easily detached at times from singing some of those songs, and it's because I don't really recognize the writer sometimes in those songs. But then my process was very different, and I was very concerned with, you know, finding a way to be honest and learn how to explore songwriting, but I also didn't want anybody to get--I just didn't want anybody getting off on the idea that they were being voyeuristic into something that they'd already been really interested in for a long time, which was getting details about somebody else's life. You know, I was aware of the freak show aspect of it. So I just--you know, to some degree, I walked a fine line of trying to make these songs interesting, at least to myself, but at the same time not interesting to others, which is completely incomprehensible. But there was an attempt there to some degree.

BLOCK: To protect that in a way.

Mr. DYLAN: Yeah.

BLOCK: I was wondering about that because you had such huge hits with your early songs. That was now almost 10 years ago. You would have been, I guess, 25 years old or something when you wrote those songs. Is there one in particular that you find it harder now as a 35-year-old as opposed to a 25-year-old to get up on stage and pour yourself into?

Mr. DYLAN: Maybe "6th Avenue Heartache" is one that sometimes, more often than others, I need to give a break to because I did write that one very early on. I had that song around for the first record, so that song is probably from 1990 or so.

(Soundbite of "6th Avenue Heartache")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) The same black line that was drawn on you was drawn on me and now it's drawn me in, the 6th Avenue heartache.

But, you know, for that reason also, that's a song, you know, we have somewhat of a spot for. It's a song that broke the group, and it's the song that I think I figured out how to write songs on that song.

BLOCK: How so?

Mr. DYLAN: Because, you know, I knew when I started writing songs that, you know, it was something I really wanted to do and I had an instinct for it, but I didn't really--I put it off for a long time because I was horrified of being terrible. And then I kind of realized there's just no way to be--there's no way to get anywhere, have any voice if you don't just start. And I thought that a lot of the early songs were just going to be unacceptable to me. But that was necessary to plow through them in order to start getting somewhere interesting. And "6th Avenue Heartache" was the first song, I think, I wrote that, you know, it was coherent, and it had a through line, and it was arranged properly, and it wasn't overly complicated, it wasn't trying to be impressive with chord structure, anything like that. It was kind of more about an emotion and more about simplicity. And the song stuck around for a long time before we even got a chance to record it properly.

BLOCK: You have three children, I think. Is that right?

Mr. DYLAN: Mm-hmm.

BLOCK: How old are they?

Mr. DYLAN: They're from four to 11.

BLOCK: Four to 11. I'm asking 'cause I've been listening to one of the songs here, "How Far You've Come," and I'm imagining it almost as a lullaby that you might sing to them, a pretty dark lullaby, but that's how I hear it. I don't know whether that's at all right.

(Soundbite of "How Far You've Come")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Well, you'd have a wonderful day if you could see how lucky you are.

Yeah. It's not specifically to them, but it's somewhat of a pep talk to somebody who needs the encouragement to keep their head on straight and reconnect with what their purpose was.

(Soundbite of "How Far You've Come")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) You're not the only one who's failed to hang on to a moving star. Now don't be sorry. What's done now is done. And this is who you are.

BLOCK: It's really tender.

Mr. DYLAN: If you didn't know better, you might think I were sensitive.

BLOCK: But we know better.

Mr. DYLAN: You guys know better.

BLOCK: Jakob Dylan, thanks very much.

Mr. DYLAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: The Wallflowers are Jakob Dylan on guitars and vocals, Rami Jaffee on keyboards, Greg Richling on bass, and Fred Eltringham on drums. Their new CD is titled "Rebel, Sweetheart."

(Soundbite of "How Far You've Come")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) The truth will not set you free. It's OK to believe that you're not good enough. God is not angry, not blind, deaf or dumb. He knows how far you've come. He knows how far you've come. He knows how far you've come.

BLOCK: More music from The Wallflowers is at our Web site, npr.org.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.