411mania Interviews: Will Dailey
Will Dailey may not be a household name but if your house has a TV then chances are you’ve heard or seen him over the last 5+ years, with his songs being played on NCIS, Gossip Girl, 90210, Army Wives, The Hills, Jericho, What About Brian, The Cleaner, Eli Stone, Ghost Whisperer, Numb3rs, and more, plus he played himself on episodes of CSI: NY and As The World Turns as well as doing live performances on CBS This Morning and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. After two well received albums – Torrent & Will Daily and the Rivals – with major labels (CBS Records and Universal), Dailey, a three time Boston Music Award winner, is making his new music in a different way.
Al Norton: Signing with a major label, or any label, really, is seemingly every recording artist’s dream come true; at what point did you start to realize that it wasn’t going the way you had envisioned it?
Will Dailey: It all started with never trying to get on one. When I was making Back Flipping Forward, the guy I was working with was my dear friend Tom Polce, and while we were recording he said “my buddy is starting this thing with CBS Records and wants to hear what we’re working on.” I had had some moderate indie success with my album GoodbyeRedBullet – it got on college radio and I got around the country – but by 2006 it was clear to me that trying to be in the business was like trying to bail out a bucket sized hole with a thimble. One thing led to another and CBS came with a deal and it worked out great. It was a family-run kind of vibe with a giant name. I didn’t try to get on there but I got on.
With the last record that got made – Will Dailey and the Rivals – the head of CBS was like, “I’ve got to find a home for you that can do more for you because we don’t have a staff here or anything.” He told me his friend heard my record at Universal and they wanted to sign me. It’s funny, I never tried to get on a major label or a bigger label, it just sort of happened. I just trust my music and let it do its thing. I went down an organic path, the organic path just didn’t work out. It’s not surprising, it’s not a unique story, but I don’t last long in a situation that isn’t working out so I started to plan my exit well before it happened.
Al Norton: So how does that conversation go? They liked you enough to sign you so they were probably not in a rush to let you go.
Will Dailey: I got signed in 2011 and during the signing there was a layoff, the week my album came out there was a round of layoffs…it was just like being on a ship that was in shallow water and thought it was still sailing. They kept saying, “hey, we’re gonna get it together, we’re gonna get it together” and I’m sitting there trying to do things where I felt like they were almost in the way of my having a moderately successful indie career. They weren’t malicious; they were all people who worry about their jobs, their families, and make good music, too. They weren’t trying to hurt me or anything, it was just the wrong place for me to be, and certainly at the wrong time.
I learned a lot of lessons, about myself and about the business, and it was fortifying to who I am and it adds to the music I am making now. As a songwriter you have to take every experience you can. I hear some songwriters say, “I don’t do this, I don’t do that, I have rules against this” but you need all the experience you can. I won’t sign with a major label again but I did it once and I have the experience, and I need the experience as a songwriter. I thrive on experience. I thrive on fun and danger and love and all that stuff. I don’t deny myself an experience.
Al Norton: I’m going to go out of order with my questions because you just touched on something I was going to bring up later; do you see songwriting as an evolutionary skill in that the songs you’re writing now are not songs you would have been able to write 3, 4, 5 years ago?
Will Dailey: 100%. I00% evolutionary. I would not be able to write the songs I’m writing now without the experience I had on a major label, without the experiences I’ve had as a musician and as a person. You need all that stuff. And if you’re really pushing yourself you should push all your limits as a songwriter. You should never put rules on yourself as a songwriter or the songs are going to get dried up or redundant.
I don’t read a lot of books on craft or writing but I did read Stephen King’s book “On Writing” and it was probably the most informative book I’ve ever read on the subject; he talked about how you’ve got your talent but you always need to work on your tool box, that you should always be sharpening your tools and adding to them, learning new things that you can reference.
You’ve always got to grow. My experience in particular with CBS Records, they always pushed me to try different things and I really enjoyed it, really grew from it. No one ever told me what to write and how to do it – I hate when people assume that’s what it was that made me want to leave – but the one thing they did say at CBS was, “you can go record what you want, we just want to hear an acoustic version of the song done, we want to hear how it’s going to be.” That was different from my style because I used to go into the studio with half finished songs, maybe 75% of the way done, and let the studio dictate the rest. The studio can still dictate all sorts of things but actually finishing the lyrics and all that stuff ahead of time really annoyed the hell out of me at the time but really opened my eyes up to the question of “why wasn’t I doing these things ahead of time?” Because of all of that I developed a whole new set of tools.
So I really appreciate all those experiences. All the intersections you have in life should add to a songwriters repertoire. With the new music I am doing really all of the above; I have a bunch done but didn’t really show anyone the songs before hand, didn’t let them ruminate on them too long. We had rehearsals at night, had a couple of drinks and then when our bellies were full we recorded the rehearsals. When we woke up the next morning we listened and then recorded what we’d learned from the rehearsals.
Al Norton: So then how did you and Pledge Music come to be?
Will Dailey: I had been stalking them since thing started to go south with the major label. I did a show here in Boston, the Rock and Soul Cruise, and Pledge sponsored that, and I’ve been working with some bands here in town and got them to go with Pledge…And I knew that after two years of purgatory with the label situation, I needed to re-galvanize my fans not just by putting out new music but by bringing them in on how serious I am about this. Anyone can make music but if it meant selling my limbs to be able to make music, I’d do it and just play with my toes (laughing). And all my friends are like that, that level of commitment. Everyone has a song in them but I’m interested in a life in music, the total song, and those are the artists that I love, the Neil Youngs, the Bruce Springsteens, the Jay-Zs…the life in music. That’s the total song for me.
Pledge Music was a great way to bring the fans into who I am, reawaken why they were attracted to my music in the first place, and make them a part of the process.
Al Norton: How did you choose the various things people could pledge for?
Will Dailey: I had seen so many artists do them and I said to my management that I didn’t want to do any of the things like, “I Will Cook You Dinner.” I’ve seen people do things where they give away the shirt they wore on stage that night. I wanted all of mine to be music-centric, all around the album. My manager said I should add one outside the box thing so we added the getting hot chocolate with me at L.A. Burdick in Harvard Square, but I’d likely be there anyway because I Iove their hot chocolate.
I really liked the option where I’d do an acoustic cover of any song someone picks and those sold out really quick. Someone asked me, “what if you get a song you don’t like?” and I think that will actually be the ones that are the best to do, to find a way to rework the song to enjoy it and where they still enjoy it, too.
Al Norton: Are you surprised by how well the process is going in general and are you at all shocked by how fast certain options have sold?
Will Dailey: I was surprised the “name on the album credit” option sold so well. I love that the vinyl options is going so fast; that’s really all I like to listen to music on right now. I guess the most fulfilling thing has been the emails that come in telling me each time there is a new pledge. Every time we go into the studio we feel we are really doing something great – we feel like we are making a really primal, off the cuff, folk-rock record – and now we check the email when we are taking a break and we see how 10 or fifteen people pledged today, we know where the music is going, which is a tremendous emotional boost. The names and the pledges start going into the music in this beautiful way; it’s hard to imagine us not doing it this way again.
Al Norton: So this does seem to be going well but when you’re done and the music is out there and you start to think about recording the next time, is the goal to find some sort of hybrid of your experiences, maybe a smaller label or start your own label?
Will Dailey: If I could find a small, family label that would let me do my own thing and just help me with distribution and marketing that would be great. Something small, where you could sit down and have coffee with the whole staff because it’s only 3 or 4 people. That’s where I’ve succeeded, that’s where I’ve done well. It’s like sitting down with friends to talk about ideas on how to get your music out into the world. I can’t imagine not using Pledge again or something similar to it to bring people into the fold. Anytime I’ve pledged on someone’s stuff it just sounds better when you listen.
Al Norton: Who are you listening to know and when is the last time you heard a song and thought, “damn, I wish I’d written that!”?
Will Dailey: I’d have to say Father John Misty in terms of who I’ve been listening to a lot lately, and in particular the song of his I wished I’d written would be Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings. I also got a great compilation called Turkish Freak Out, which are just Turkish funk songs and it’s a blast. Harry Belafonte Live at Carnagie Hall, too – someone gave me it on double vinyl and its amazing.
Al Norton: When this interview runs there will be 24 days left in the Pledge Music campaign…
Will Dailey:…We’re already spending the money (laughing). The truth is you don’t get any of it until the full goal is reached, but I’m pretty confident we will.
Al Norton:…And when would you expect the music be available for public consumption?
Will Dailey: The pledgers will get it before anyone and I’m hoping that will be in June. The cool thing is that if you get in now, you get some bonus stuff emailed to you along the way. We’ve recorded some covers; I’ll tell you we did a Prince cover and an Arcade Fire cover, both deconstructed and re-imagined. The great thing about it is that it’s a process that keeps going; it’s not like we are going to disappear when we get to 100%. We’ve been sending out samples every 5%.
Al Norton: And will you be hitting the road in a big way this summer?
Will Dailey: I think so, that’s the plan. We’ll certainly keep pounding the East Coast as much as possible. We’ve got the two shows at Club Passim in Cambridge coming up soon. (Note – the shows are this Saturday; the first is sold out and the second has just a few tickets left so act now!!!)
Al Norton: And the best way to keep up with you is…
Will Dailey: If they pledge they’ll get updates emailed regularly and I’ve also got WillDailey.com and you can find me on Facebook, too.
Photo at top of article courtesy of Paul Janovitz