Guest Blog: Will Dailey, “Portrait of an Artist Wearing Multiple Hats”


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Will Dailey is a pop-folk artist and three-time winner of the Boston Music Award for Best Singer/Songwriter. His songs have been featured in over 50 films and shows and  his new album, National Throat, comes out August 26. Dailey is also an avid blogger and some of his work was recently featured on the Huffington Post

I’ve had to wear a lot of hats to survive in the business of music. This has been my experience. Obvious hat titles: “songwriter,” “singer,” “guitarist,”  and “performer” have been bolstered by the more inconspicuous roles: “self-promoter,” “booker,” “marketer” and “producer.” While it has taken wearing  a mountain of hats for me to survive in the music business, it has informed me as an artist and fueled what I’ve created.

The first public music performance as a kid that goes well often ends with friends and family dropping the now standard and delusional compliment that you’re a “rock star.” More common than yelling “free bird,” it’s a way to relate to the excitement of the live music experience. Nobody tells you that you have talent, that it should be cherished and that you should always strive to be better at it so to you may indulge in that talent for a lifetime. You are left to figure that out on your own or toil in the delusion. While it’s true that you don’t notice the work if you love what you are doing, I have seen the corpses of many broken dreams because peers have believed the fantasy instead of cherishing the fortune of a passion.

My main concern since I first picked up a guitar was making sure I’m not the artist I am today when tomorrow comes. How do you do that? Sure, practice, playing, and writing all will develop your artistry, but the surprise I found is how much the path of being an artist, no matter what, has developed my music. Navigating the business, booking shows, writing a blog, getting up day after day and doing it! It has informed more than I know and it’s National Throat that has shown me that. When I get back to my guitar after writing this I will have the buzz of the reconnection and the skills I’ve honed since expressing and expelling this very point.

My ride as an artist in the songwriter/music business world has been dramatic. I couldn’t have dreamed or planned what has happened while all the plans I had when I began are absurd at best in hindsight.

One hat that surprisingly propelled me forward as a songwriter has been producing. A surprise because I bought a 4 track when I was fourteen only to return it a week later because learning how to use it interfered too much with my songwriting. Now producing is a covert way to grow as an artist and become a better musician.  I’m not going to write an album every four months, but I can work on one!  It’s regarded as the drivers seat in the studio but producing for me allows for a connection and emersion in person-to-person music creation when it can so often be done alone in a room. Simply put, it’s a way to make more music with more people. At that same age of 14, I heard “When The Levee Breaks” for the first time and thought I was hearing magic. When not touring or making my own records, producing keeps me in that magical place all the time!  I’m around musical challenges that don’t carry the weight of being the career artist navigating the wild west. It provides me with clarity on the artists’ path when I am in that temple I love so much. In another artist I see in them the same excitement, doubt, fear, love and pride that I’ve had; that is community. I’m learning from engineers, players and every artist/band. It’s a connection that augments the connection I have with my fans and audience. It’s a true social network in the studio.

It is easy to get lost in your own artist mind. I don’t want to close myself off to my own flattery. If the songwriter is a reflection of themselves, and also of the world around them, then I’m not interested in a world locked in alone thinking about and working only on my music.

I spent two years spinning my wheels on a label going nowhere. I had to fight to get myself free so that I could make National Throat! I had been producing a lot while in major label purgatory. When that moment of freedom arrived to finally record an independent album I was in shape and I had a plan! First rule I’ve utilized ever since I recorded Goodbye Red Bullet is to set my intentions.

For National Throat:

1. Go into the studio with the best musicians possible and be the worst guy in the room. A standard rule that I keep at this point.

2. Let it fail, let it breath and let it be it’s own thing.

3. Lock out the world and lock in the people that make you better.

Being the worst means getting players (Dave Brophy, Kimon Kirk) who have a large music vocabulary and profoundly unique skills so that I am pushed and elevated to their level! This means my songs grow. Let it be its own thing by allowing the songs to stand on their own merits, abandon the computer grid and even click tracks so that you get real performances that can’t be altered by a computer. Capture the space, moment in time and accidents that make us all real. My goal is to not be able to recreate what I just recorded. Chase after that magic and mystery. Finally, lock out the outside world. Don’t go home. Don’t go to my distractions. Stay in that creative space physically. We set out to work  on these 11 songs on National Throat until we dropped. We took to Applehead Studios in upstate New York. I slept on an air mattress in the vocal booth for eight nights.

Everyone else was in a different room of the studio and that’s how we created this album: have a great dinner, couple bottles of wine, throw on the room mics in the live room after getting sounds and show the band a song while freely tracking that initial exploration of the song. A document with all our first reactions. In the morning, right when we rolled out of bed, we would listen back to what happened in the late hours of the night before. Inevitably something would jump out at us and we would find our direction for “Sunken Ship,” “Once In A Century Storm,” or whatever song we stirred up the night before. It was better than coffee! The day immediately starts and we have our direction.

Produce each record based on the artist and the song. It’s that easy. Making decisions is the hard part. It’s easy to put off making a decision musically with computers. We should all be better musicians by the end of it. I’ve gotten to work with Tom Polce, T Bone Burnett, Ted Hutt and many others and each time I was a better musician at the end of the session. Of course I think this is my best album and these are my best songs. Right now anyway, that’s how it’s supposed to feel. We can love our songs, but not everyone else will (it would be really weird if everyone in the world loved your song). We can make sure that every time we’re in the studio we grow as musicians and songwriters. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t feel that way at the end of a session.

It was a direction I wanted to take as an artist, producer, and person because it’s the opposite of how we do everything. We are so connected all the time that extended physical connection is unique.  Physical connection cannot be replicated, while our digital connections thrive off replication. You can hear the same plug ins, drum sounds and performances that are created by the press of button. The world I want to be in, the world where I thought magic was being done when I first hear “When the levee” is what I’m after.

At the end of those 8 days in update NY it sunk in that National Throat was about making music for a living no matter what. With the label bullshit, survival, success and failure songs like “Higher Education,” “We Will Always Be A Band,” and “Castle of Pretending” came into being.  Had I not been developing as a producer alongside my singer/songwriter/performer career, the album would not have these intentions, these songs, or this sound.

Watch the trailer for Will Dailey’s new album National Throat.

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