Interview by Scott Preston
Based in Brooklyn, but raised in Louisville, singer-songwriter Dawn Landes has been writing songs for most of her life, and already has more than a decade of experience as a professional producer and engineer. After leaving NYU where she studied psychology and literature, Landes began honing her production and engineering skills, working at Stratosphere Sound (owned by James Iha, Adam Schlesinger, and Andy Chase), and at Philip Glass’ personal recording studio, before launching Saltlands Studio in Brooklyn with partners Steve Salett and Gary Maurer.
Her new album Bluebird was produced in collaboration with good friend Thomas Bartlett (known for his work with The National, Sharon Van Etten, Rufus Wainwright, Antony and the Johnsons, and many others), and features contributions from Tony Scherr, Rob Moose, and Norah Jones.
Cincy Groove: Tell me about your new album Bluebird, did you take a different approach to this release compared to previous ones?
Dawn Landes: Yes I did, I usually am the producer. But this time I co-produced with Thomas Bartlett. All my other albums I have been the one to see it from the beginning to the end. This time I handed everything over to Thomas, who is a great producer and piano player. He took me out of my own studio and into someone elses studio. He also had me use different musicians. He really shook things up which I thought was a great thing for my music.
Cincy Groove: Was it difficult to let go of that control?
Dawn Landes: It really was difficult. When I’m not traveling or performing I am working in the studio. I started working in studios in New York about 10 years ago. I started assisting, engineering then 6 years ago I built my own studio. I am really a control freak about my sound. We recorded live in the studio, so I didn’t really have much of a chance to worry about every little detail. It was nice to sit in the artists chair and not have to worry about the technical things.
Cincy Groove: Tell me about your PledgeMusic campaign you have up and running.
Dawn Landes: Part of the campaign is to help fund the touring to support the record and the other part is to pay for a covers EP that I going to do. I often do cover songs live and people ask me where they can get a recording of the covers.
Cincy Groove: I see you just returned from a Europe tour, do you get a different reaction to your music than you do here in the U.S.?
Dawn Landes: There is always a different vibe from the audience over there. I actually have toured more over in Europe than I have here in the United States, so I have little more of a fan base there. People in Europe love folk music in a different way partly because they aren’t exposed to it as much as people here are.
Cincy Groove: What type of environment do you like to be in when you are writing a song?
Dawn Landes: I really like to be alone. Last week I did an artist residency. The space they put me in to work was an old bookstore, which was great because I love books and I used to work in a bookstore. But it was suite level and there were windows. So people would walk by and see me work, which drove me nuts. I know they weren’t really looking over my shoulder or anything. It almost felt like one of those live in art projects.
Cincy Groove: When did you think music was going to be what you wanted to do with your life?
Dawn Landes: I think I always loved music. I remember when I was in kindergarten I wanted to be a singing, dancing, veterinarian. Aside from my brother who is a band director, everyone else in the family plays music for fun. So I didn’t realize it was an actual option. I knew I wanted to be a musician, I just didn’t know how to do it.
Cincy Groove: Tell me about the making of your Bluebird video.
Dawn Landes: We shot the video in Cortlandt Park in The Bronx. Before we shot the video I was playing this random art party, where there were all kinds of art performances happening. There was also supposed to be a hip hop dancer performing. I thought we could collaborate but he didn’t show up in time. So literally as I was playing my song Bluebird he walked in and just started dancing right there on the spot. It was so incredible that I almost stopped singing. I decided right there that this guy was going to be in my video. It tooked several months of stalking, but eventually it happened.
Cincy Groove: Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
Dawn Landes: I am writing a musical that was commissioned by The Public Theatre in New York. I have to finish it by the end of the year. I working with another person and so far we have 5 songs and 4 scenes so far completed. Its based on a true story of a woman who went across the Atlantic ocean in a row boat, she kept a memoir of the trip. She was the first woman to do it. It’s really beautiful.