Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Dynamites' Bill Elder interview (2010)

With Nashville Tennessee’s ‘only two kinds of music - Country and Western’ identity firmly in place, it’s easy to forget the cities rich soul and R&B history. Tennessee’s synonymous with The Grand Ole Opry and Hank Williams, yet its black soul music movement in the 1960s was rivaled only by that of Detroit’s. So when writer/guitarist and proud Nashvillian, Bill Elder formed The Dynamites in 2005, he came with an eight piece band in full position of that rare, authentic spirit, befitting the local soul tradition. Their mission: To demonstrate precisely how you can’t beat the real thing.

“I don’t have many contemporary influences to speak of at all.” The straight-talking ex-producer Elder, begins. “There are a handful artists out there still making soul music and obeying the traditional sound of it, but most are just using it as a reference or to embellish their stuff.” Elder’s band are remarkable for the sheer authenticity of their sound. Take the music of civil rights-era America and the scene’s brightest star Marvin Gaye and you can draw a very short line, sound wise to The Dynamites. Bill explains; “As soon as the bug bit me to put together a raw soul band I pretty much dug myself into a hole that begins in 1963 and comes out in 1971.” Bill laughs, continuing. “I guess that was the time when soul music was both important and popular music – it was all over the charts - so all the labels put out a huge amount of real, authentic material to get behind the movement, but sadly it’s not like that anymore.”
The lyrics on The Dynamites current album Burn It Down – their second -demonstrates a casual political edge to the band. The title alone has a strong resonance for Bill; ”Actually the original title for the album was Black President and we had written most of the songs before Obama had even declared his candidacy like a weird sort of premonition.” He explains, “The idea of regeneration was there early on in our minds, especially when we were confronted with this crazy woman who couldn’t even name a single national newspaper and was running for vice presidency (Sarah Palin), we definitely felt something drastic had to happen.” Settling on Burn It Down, Bill felt there was an even greater impact to this title. He explains; “What that meant was burning down the old dogmatic ways of thinking and rebuilding a whole new way. The album is about regeneration which is perhaps not obvious by the title - a lot of people see that as a kind of aggressive statement - but really what it’s talking about is destroying old ways of thinking and letting the new come through. That really is the whole message of this album in a nutshell.”
The Dynamites come armed with a vocalist who has been compared to the likes of Marvin Gaye and James Brown. Elder talks of how vintage soul giant Charlie Walker came to his attention; “Charles was a part of an exhibit at the Country Music Hall Of Fame. There was a very brilliant curator at the museum in Nashville who wanted to exhibit the soul and R&B history of the local area. They released a record to coincide with that called Night Train To Nashville, as well as staging a concert which Charles - who was one of the original artists from the scene still around and performing - played at.” Bill enthuses, “At the same time I was looking at putting on a couple nights’ soul review and back then, it was never going to be a serious ongoing thing. I was working as a producer full-time and basically was done with playing on the road, so this showcase was just going to be my way of paying tribute to the artists who I loved and who represented Nashville. Charles however was such an incredible performer and he blew everyone else off stage, I just thought ‘well he’s the real thing’. Someone who’s not just cashing-in on the sound or riding their name out, you know. He’s going out there on stage every night like he’s born to do it and I have never seen anyone so on top of his game as this man.”

The Dynamites have recently gained wild appraisal in Europe and are set to play their first ever Australian shows. I ask Bill what it means for his band to be embarking on ‘virgin territory’ after the tried and tested success of Europe; “It’s a place I’ve always wanted to go, nobody in the band has been there before and it’s nice to know we speak the same language” He laughs, “But you know sometimes I think how will music so specific to a place and time go down in another culture, but then I remember that some of the great American jazz artists from back in the day only found success in places like Paris, so you never can tell where people are going to be at digging your music.” In closing Bill ads; “We’re just so lucky that despite the current climate, it’s possible for a nine-piece retro soul band to go out and make a living from doing what they do just because they love it."


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