by Peter Lindblad
Will Dailey would be the first to admit he hasn’t got it all figured out, but the Boston-bred singer/songwriter’s Torrent project might just be the thing that changes the music industry for the better.
An attempt to break down that wall that’s always separated artist from audience, Torrent is an ongoing project for Dailey, who is aiming, in 2009, to digitally release an EP every three months of songs he’s written and recorded in that time. So, what exactly does this do for the audience? Well, the concept is this: By following Dailey’s Torrent releases, those who choose to keep up will be able to track and study — with an immediacy that has, hitherto, been out of reach for fans — the artistic growth of this rising talent. Dailey’s hopes are that it will provide them a way to watch as he writes and records songs, and even involve them somehow in the actual creative process.
The first couple of installments have already been dispatched. Influenced heavily by a combination of lush folk and pop jangle of The Byrds and the timeless music of the 1960s and ’70s, Dailey’s Fashion Of Distraction was his initial foray into this unchartered territory. The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn even guests as guitarist/vocalist on “Peace Of Mind.” For the followup, By The Blue Hills, Dailey dug into the roots of Boston’s vibrant, and always fertile, music scene to come up with songs that embody the quirky, intelligent pop/rock that has been a hallmark of that city’s indie scene. In doing so, Dailey enlisted help from such local heroes as The Cars’ Elliott Easton, Tanya Donelly of Belly and Throwing Muses, Tim Brennan of the Dropkick Murphys, Duke Levine and Sean Staples, and Kay Hanley of Letters To Cleo.
Early on in his career, Dailey would venture out on his own to play coffeehouses or play in bands with friends in area bars. Having grown tired of that, Dailey, in 2003, recorded a stripped-down set of originals for the album GoodByeRedBullet. He moved to Los Angeles, where his work caught the ear of XM Radio’s Billy Zero. Next thing he knew, record labels came calling, hoping to sign the pop-minded Dailey. Then Dailey, who was without health insurance, was struck with appendicitis. The exorbitant hospital bills forced him back to his Boston home, where he got with backing band The Rivals and put out Back Flipping Forward in just nine days.
Five months after releasing the record, Dailey was signed by a revived CBS Records. Back Flipping Forward was the shot in the arm Dailey needed, and it generated loads of acclaim. It won Dailey the Boston Music Award for Best Male Singer/Songwriter in 2006, and, after CBS reissued the record, Dailey’s music began appearing on TV shows like “CSI: Miami,” “Eli Stone,” “The Hills” and “CSI: New York.” Dailey even got some face time on “CSI: New York.”
Torrent is the next step in Dailey’s evolution, and with each release carrying with it a certain thematic quality, there should be something to please everyone. From the down-home country shuffle of “Keep You A Mystery” to heavenly “Never Be Your Baby,” Dailey’s keen pop sensibilities shine through on both Torrent 1 and 2. And eventually, physical copies of Dailey’s EP will also be available complete with extras and presented in CODE, a high-resolution audio standard pioneered by T-Bone Burnett.
Interviewed together, Dailey and Hanley highjacked our recent conversation and debated the merits of Twitter, while also touching on the possibilities that Dailey’s Torrent project offers to those who consume music.
Will, how did you got started with the Torrent project and what was the intention?
Will Dailey: The intention for me was to trick my record label into letting me record as many songs as I could, because I found that …
Kay Hanley: Everybody needs a hook.
WD: I found that, you know, you make a record, and you record 10 or 12 songs, and then you are stuck, especially when you’re on a label and you’re not doing it yourself. You’re stuck kind of pushing that for two years, which is not, necessarily … I don’t write 12 songs at the end of two years, record them and then wait two years to write another 12. So, I kind of figured since everyone is purchasing and digesting music in different ways now, at a faster clip — you know, it’s in one ear and out the other, no pun intended, but — why not put out and record music that way, and it’s more conducive to how I write it.
And have you always thought that this would be a good way to do it, and you just couldn’t because of how the record-industry operates?
WD: I didn’t know that I did always write this way, but I never … this wasn’t a goal of mine as a kid growing up with rock and roll dreams. The goals were pretty basic, you know. You record records and you play live, and then in just the past 10, maybe 8 or 9 years, it’s changed dramatically. So I started getting ideas, and I realized this might work for me better.
But you’ll be releasing physical copies of these two records, too?
WD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, the way of just putting out five songs at a time is, A) I wanted to get something out quick because I hadn’t put something out in a long time, and I was getting kind of restless, and so then it kind of went into this idea of, “What if I just did five songs every three or four months?” And then, you know, there’s always these things on a label where retail chimes in, “Well, we can’t afford to put out a record in stores every three or four months,” so we keep it digital and then add them together every batch of five that you do, and all this mass started to happen. I said, “Okay, sure, whatever you guys want to do.”
KH: That’s such a smart idea because this really is the way people consume music now, too. I mean, I’ve never listened to so much music in my life as I do now, and it’s because … after being kind of hoodwinked by labels and bands for so long into buying the record for the single and then, you know, getting this great single and then the other 11 songs are shit, it’s like after a while you’re just like, “You know, I don’t feel like it.” And I remember when I was a kid, I bought tons of 45s … I just want to hear the song I want to hear, and if the B-side is good, then awesome. But so what’s happened now is, I actually listen to more music than ever, because I just don’t have to deal with the songs I don’t want to hear. And I don’t know. I think probably as a musician it’s not very typical to say, “I just want to hear the single,” but honestly, as a consumer, I kind of do. And EPs are a great way for Will to reach his audience, I think. I think it’s really smart.
WD: You’re right. The consumer is winning, and after the past 15 to 20 years, they should be. I’ve been saying a lot in interviews, what’s happened to the record industry in the past 10 years is exactly what’s happening to our banking and mortgage industries right now. Everyone screwed around for too long and didn’t really think practically. They didn’t spend practically. So now we have to think outside the box and be more practical, and let the consumer lead the way and give them quality the best we can, not try to shove it down their throats, like Kay was saying — 12 songs, two of them were good. And the rest is just fluff …
KH: … filler
WD: … taking up plastic, you know.
KH: Yeah, and an EP is the best of both worlds, you know. You get more than just the two songs I guess you’d get on a 45, but it’s not, like you said, full of filler.
WD: And it’s what we have time for, too. It’s what we have time for as a society because as with art, it’s the way we’re digesting news headlines, it’s the way we’re texting, Twittering, doing all these gross things to each other (laughs) …
KH: (Laughing) You make it sound so dirty, Will.
WD: It is dirty. Someone was like, “I Twittered you,” and I was like, “That’s gross. Don’t ever do that to me again.” I was like, that’s going to upset my girlfriend (everyone laughs).
KH: The verb for that is “Tweet’ by the way.
WD: I don’t want anybody “Tweeting” me … I don’t know if that’s any better …
KH: Well, if you say that, that means I’m going to be “Tweeting” you because I like to be contrary.
I don’t even know how Twitter works … Does it work through your phone?
KH: Dude, you’re like … you poke fun, but Twitter rules.
WD: Give me a one minute … give an elevator pitch on why it rules right now, because I have one and every day somebody’s following me on it, and I don’t know how they’re doing that, and I’m always looking over my shoulder.
WD: Give me the elevator pitch.
KH: They’re not physically following you, Will. They’re virtually following you …
WD: I yelled at an old lady on the sidewalk because I told her to stop Twittering me (everyone laughs).
KH: Tweeting …
WD: Tweeting. Well, now I’ll yell that.
KH: Stop Tweeting me, you old battle axe. (everyone laughs) OK, so why does Twitter rule? It’s just another way for a person to be even more up their own ass (everyone laughs), and that’s why it rules. And I’m all for that. I constantly need more ways to be more self-absorbed (everyone laughs).
WD: I think I saw that on your Facebook (laughs). I think I saw that on your Facebook that you wrote that quote. I loved it. I read it. It was right on.
KH: That was … I did, on my blog. I had a blog post called “I am, therefore I Twitter.” (everyone laughs).
But it’s amazing how fast this has sprung up. It just seems overnight that all of a sudden you hear Twitter, and it’s just taken over.
KH: Don’t you think it’s kind of like the new “Where’s the Beef?” though? (Everyone laughs) Like it’s gotten so popular it can only be a fad. Everybody’s saying this is like the new communications tool of the future. No it’s f**king not.
WD: So was MySpace and Facebook now seems to have taken over power from that, and Twitter is eventually going to be more powerful than Facebook in a year, and then, you know, “Dude, where’s my car?.com” is going to be the new thing. You know what I’m saying.
It’s like how fast do we need to communicate?
WD: So, I’ve just got to put out EPs constantly to just kind of keep Tweet going. That’s my whole thing (everyone laughs).
You’ll be Tweeting EPs like every 5 minutes.
KH: I’m going to invent a brain chip that will like … it will just like every hour just randomly Tweet your thoughts to an ever-growing group of followers.
WD: That guy, Ray Kurzweil, the guy who invented the keyboard, said by 2045, that’s the way it’s going to be, and you’ll be able to download your brain.
KH: That’s so weird, dude.
WD: I know.
KH: Oh my God. So, what’s our favorite song on Will’s new record?
Yeah, I was actually going to … let’s take By The Blue Hills first. That was the one you guys both worked on.
Kind of a bright, bouncy brand of pop music. Very in keeping with the Boston aesthetic, but maybe updating it a little bit.
WD: Yeah, definitely. I mean, in reaching out to Kay and some other people, just kind of going for the sound of the place that I’m from and the place where I kind of have my anchor as I travel around the country and get my ass kicked in various ways. You know, it’s a place I can come home to and mend my wounds, but also, the songs I kind of collect for By The Blue Hills were definitely songs attributed to most of my friends when I came home, because I came home from L.A. after about a year out there, desperately broke, and you know, you come home after being gone for a long time and you realize everyone’s little dramas. I kind of put that into song form. Yeah …
So, it’s not just in keeping with the musical idea of Boston but also the people there?
WD: Yep, yep, and even to the fact like the last song on By The Blue Hills is the first song I ever really recorded in Boston. In my friend’s apartment, he just got a Pro Tools rig that he could afford, so I kind of re-recorded that better. And just kind of rounding out my experiences here, like that, with my friends.
KH: You know, when (producer) Tom (Polce) came over to record my vocals for that, he told me the title and I was like, “Oh my God. Is Will from Middleton?” And he’s like, “I think he is.” Are you from Middleton?
WD: No, no, no. I’m from … I’m a Mass-hole actually. I was born in Malden [and] moved around a lot.
KH: ‘Cause Blue Hills are in Middleton.
WD: Yeah, they are, but it’s also the Native American translation of Massachusetts.
KH: Ohhhhhhh …
WD: You didn’t know I could do Native American, did you?
KH: I didn’t know that.
WD: I’m fluent in Native American. So …
KH: You’re a renaissance man.
WD: Yeah, yeah.
KH: The title was very meaningful to me, because I grew up there.
WD: That’s where you grew up?
KH: Well, I grew up in Dorchester … that’s where all the poor people used to go ski, on Blue Hills, on old wooden rented skis. That’s where my sister learned how to ski.
Kay, how did you get involved in this record?
KH: Um, through Tom Polce. He signed Will … that’s true, right?
WD: Yeah …
KH: I’m not talking out of my ass there, am I?
WD: Pretty much Tom is like my producer. We made that first record together. He got hired, and I got signed.
KH: That’s awesome. So, Tom was the last drummer for Letters To Cleo, and we became friends through that. And so, you know, we’ve been friends for a long time. So when he and Will were working on this project, Tom just kind of pulled me into it. And I’m very happy that he did because I think the songs are great. And so now I’m a fan.
WD: We also … I think we also played one show together back at the Lizard Lounge one night. I opened up and then there was a middle band, and I think you headlined. And then you did that single with my friends in Scamper …
KH: Riiight … yes, that’s right. I forgot you were friends with those dudes.
WD: Yep, and so, Kay’s always been on my radar, and then it’s, “Who do you need if you’re having Boston friends on this?” And also, Letters To Cleo and Kay’s solo stuff always had that fun element in the music, that pop element. But the difference I think between other pop music and a lot of Boston pop rock is stuff like that has more depth and there’s more intrigue in the lyrics and the storytelling and the melodies, I think. That’s what Kay has, what Letters To Cleo had, and what I think a lot of Boston pop-rock bands have.
KH: There’s something in the water.
WD: Yeah …
KH: Most of my favorite bands are bands that I loved growing up in Boston.
Yeah, I guess in the Midwest an equivalent might be Minneapolis …
KH: Sure, sure.
Listening to it, I guess the song that kind of strikes me from it is “Tomorrow Still Comes.” Could you talk a little bit about that song?
WD: Uh, sure. When I got home I had a friend who was on his way to rehab. So I kind of always had this song in my head. And I got home and I was in L.A. and I didn’t have health insurance and I got appendicitis, and the hospital bill was enormous. And it was just kind of a ridiculous time in my life, as you can imagine. How the hell do you do anything? How do you do music and all this stuff? And [I was] just kind of self-repairing, and I got home and one of my best friends was doing that. He was kind of like an older brother to me, and he’s married and the newborn baby he had and he’s struggling with addiction. So, that’s kind of where that one came from for me.
I love how the music kind of rushes … I’ve always like that kind of thing and it just kind of floods all over you.
KH: That’s a good way to put it.
Kay, what songs strike you from the record?
KH: Well, I heard the early version of “The Right One” and that one for me, I just think it gets so … it’s really great. That is the standout … I mean, the first time, it was just so immediate for me. So, I would say that’s my favorite. And I was joking with Will earlier about, “Why are you always writing songs about girls and love all the time?” But I think that the way you phrase things is really … they’re not typical girls and love songs. They’re very … there’s a narrative element to your lyrics. That’s what I really enjoy overall, but I think “The Right One” does that very well. And it’s got a hook that just jams into your brain and won’t leave — in a good way.
Did you sing on all the songs?
KH: No, just “The Right One” and …
WD: “Love Is On The Way”
KH: “Love Is On The Way,” which is also awesome.
WD: But it’s funny because on “The Right One,” we employed a kind of … I played this song for Tom Polce, and I was like, I’m playing this song and there was just kind of this imbalance vibe-wise between the chorus and the verse, and he’s like, “Well, here’s something like I learned a lot in Letters To Cleo, where we just take the verse and drop it down so every time; it’s a key change between the verse and the chorus each time.” And so there’s even more Kay Hanley influence. It’s like …
WD: You know, she sang on it, but also, that old technique that he learned in Letters To Cleo kind of solved the problem for the song.
I was kind of interested to find out what did your label think of the Torrent project?
WD: I marched in there, thinking you know, this really sucks. They’re going to ask me to keep promoting Back Flipping Forward for another year, or do I just go into this 12-song cycle? And I really started thinking of going through an album cycle and what that means and what that means for my life, and happiness and all that. And I did what I thought was a PowerPoint presentation, but it was really me just memorizing some things I wanted to say (laughs). [I] walked into an office and said, “OK, hey. Everyone listen to this idea.” You know, and I was ready for all the things they’d say “no” about and a couple sentences in the president was like, “Absolutely love it. Great idea.” And then, you know, [he] kind of said, “What else can we do besides just put out, you know, five songs continuously every three to four months?”
And you know, [he] had me think about some things that I wanted to do, [things he] kind of challenged me on. “Well, instead of just throwing five songs at the wall, can they going to have a theme?” And I said, “That’s no problem at all. I can do that easily.” ‘Cause often I think — I don’t know if Kay agrees with this or what — but when you’re writing songs, however you may do it, sometimes you’ll sit back and go, “Oh, that’s why I wrote that song.” Or, “That’s why those three songs came out together.” So I kind of just sat back and looked at the stuff I had and the first batch, and I then walked back in and I said, “Well, I’ve got these, and these kind of make me feel like I was influenced by Roger McGuinn,” and the next thing I know I’m writing a letter to Roger McGuinn getting him on the first batch … you know, I had like a Byrds theme. I’m just kind of exploring songs I had then, and this other song that reminded me of, “Oh, I wish I could play this for Tom Petty, and he was influenced by Roger McGuinn,” so I threw that one on there. And ended that one with a song called “Allston” because I knew I was going to go to this Boston-themed one, and Allston is a town in Boston …
WD: So that’s the bridge of the two records.
Talk about Fashion of Distraction. Definitely a Byrds kind of sound. You were listening to a lot of Byrds at the time. How did that play into the record?
WD: Well, because the Byrds are great (laughs). And just kind of, you know … and Kay can attest to the fact that the way Kay recorded on Blue Hills is, you know, we reached out to her and then my producers in L.A. can take the hard drive over to her house and record her vocals. You know, it’s a completely different era, and it’s fully informed now, of just how people record and you can do things at home. A lot of these recordings I did at home. But with The Byrds and stuff, I just can still listen to Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, and it’s just a perfect recording. And I feel like if they went and recorded it now, it just wouldn’t be as sweet in certain ways and so I just kind of wanted to pay my respects and where I got influences from those kind of sounds and a lot of things, just the sound and the songs and the vibe of that whole time.
And how did you get Roger McGuinn to help out with “Peace of Mind”?
WD: I wrote him a letter.
WD: I know, Kay. I’m sorry. I didn’t write Kay a letter. I wrote him a letter.
KH: No, I’m just saying that’s so analog of you.
WD: I know.
KH: In keeping with the … I’m trying to keep the thread. No, I’m not upset that you didn’t write me a letter.
WD: Oh, okay.
KH: I’m impressed that you wrote a letter to him. That’s kind of f**king nuts.
WD: Yeah, I wrote him a letter just saying, “I’ve written this song,” and I told him I was 15 years old, and there’s this place in Boston called the Hatch Shell. Kay, you played the Hatch Shell before?
KH: Many times.
WD: Yes, and it’s beautiful. It’s right on the [Charles] river. And I got a job doing sound, and he was one of the main performers. And I sat on the stage the whole day. [I] sat onstage the whole day, basically I just had a lackey job. [I] watched his whole set, not knowing who this guy was but, you know, recognizing all those classic hits. And you know, afterwards he just kind of nodded and tipped his hat to me as he walked offstage and for me, who had just started writing songs then, I was just so psyched that I became an immediate fan. And you know, [I] went back to high school and [told everyone] “Roger McGuinn tipped his hat to me,” and everyone said, “Who the hell is that?” (laughs) But it always kind of stuck with me ’cause I got to sit on the side of the stage [and] watch him perform. So I told him that story in the letter and sent him the song, an acoustic version of “Peace Of Mind,” and the next thing I know I’m driving up to Vermont to meet him. The power of asking is really good.
KH: Holy crap!
That’s all you gotta do, I guess.
WD: So I’m going to write to Barack Obama asking him for $10 million.
KH: The worst he could say is, “No.”
WD: I know. Exactly. And it seems like everyone is getting it.
Then you could do some double albums and some triple albums.
WD: Yeah, I know it.
Rock operas and stuff. Well, Kay, I wanted to ask you what you’re up to these days?
KH: Oh, I don’t know. What am I up to? Well, I spent a dizzying year and a half on the road with Miley Cyrus and her band, playing in her band, which was crazy. I made a solo record, which I did absolutely nothing to promote. I just kind of threw it up on the Web site. But it’s actually, I feel, the defining work of my career. And I recorded it to tape. Half of it I recorded to tape with Adam Lassis, who is a producer I wanted to work with my whole life. You know, he produced the Gigolo Aunts and Helium records, and he’s just got this really great indie, tape-y aesthetic and I’d always wanted to … so I wrote him a letter and he said, “Yes.” (laughs)
KH: I sent him an e-mail.
WD: That’s so lazy.
KH: I know.
WD: Why didn’t you just Twitter him?
KH: (laughs) This is a guy who … like his board does not have automation. He’s literally like taping his Echoplex together during recording.
WD: I love that.
KH: He edits by splicing tape.
WD: I love that.
KH: I mean, it’s amazing.
WD: So, you’re talking about Weaponized?
KH: Yep, I’m talking about Weaponized. And I thought, “Well, I thought it’s my record, the title at least.”
KH: But anyway, it was a really, really fantastic experience. And going back to what you were saying, Will, about The Byrds’ records couldn’t be made with the same, you know, charm anymore. When I wanted to record my record to tape, and that was my goal, I was really determined to do that. And I thought it was about the warmth of the sound, like how sonically pleasing tape is. But the thing I forgot is that it’s not just the tape, it’s that you actually have to go into pre-production and rehearse the songs and really nail everything, because you’re not going in [and] doing the songs four times and oh, we’ll just edit it together later to get everything we need. It’s like you have to play the songs through from beginning to end, because you have to get your drum and your bass tracks, and that’s the thing that creates like this immediacy and that’s kind of what creates the vibe that we kind of miss now. Like everything is so cut and pasted together that you lose a little bit of charm.
We also didn’t use a click track either, so it’s like all the choruses are sped up, and it’s like it starts at, you know, a hundred beats per minute and ends up at a hundred and eight beats per minute by the end of the song. But it feels the way it’s supposed to feel. I’m sorry. I’m going on and on and on …
WD: No, it’s perfect. I love that.
KH: (laughs) But it’s … anyway, it was a great experience. The next time out I hope to do that again.
Will, does that give you any ideas for the next EP of how to record it?
WD: No, but I thought about that record, though, because I was listening to it the other day. That album, from the sound, it makes sense how they got some of the warmth of the thing I think. It did sound like a more … it sounded more lived-in right away, and I think that’s some of the problem with music that comes out now. Not that it doesn’t have life, it just doesn’t sound lived-in. It’s going to be hard for me to explain the difference, but it’s a good quality to have when you immediately hear a song and know that’s it’s been like a shirt that’s already been worn, and it kept someone warm while they were walking around in it.
What do you think, Kay, of … appreciating all these things, these new media things, but also kind of the difference of how you say you recorded that record? I always found growing up that my favorite artists were the ones that had the little bit of mystery left in them.
WD: So that’s kind of disappearing completely as certain artists are just blogging everything … have to blog things all the time, and it’s like, “I’m having green tea by the beach before my show and I’m so psyched to play for you guys tonight.” And I don’t care about that.
KH: And it’s like what you really want is what you’re fantasizing, that they’re snorting blow off a hooker’s ass drinking Jack Daniels. It’s like that’s what you want that they’re doing and now they’re blowing it for you.
WD: I know. I think I should just start blogging that.
Yeah, I think you should.
KH: (laughs) Just create a persona.
The adventures of Will Dailey.
KH: I forget who said this, but somebody said, whether it was on a blog or a Tweet, or whatever, wasn’t Courtney Love just a little more interesting before MySpace? ‘Cause it’s like as soon as she started rambling and ranting, it was so much better when you didn’t perceive like how insecure and what a bad speller she was. Like all these things that are just like … oh God, your grammar is atrocious.
You just kind of enjoy watching the train wreck without …
KH: But it affects the music. It makes the music, the experience of listening to the music just like … ugh, she’s just not … she’s not such a badass anymore. She’s not a good mess, she’s a bad mess. And it’s just not as entertaining anymore because the mystery is gone.
Well, I guess that’s the next thing everybody’s going to have to figure out is how to bring the mystery back into rock.
WD: Just that moment, that every show a band does is [where] someone [with a] camera phone is in the audience and you check them out on YouTube. You’re not getting the experience of a show. So you’re kind of selling that band’s experience out before you ever get a chance to walk into that room and see these lights hit a stage and the sound just kind of hit your bones, you know.
by Peter Lindblad