Today’s Feature – September 30-October 1: Steve Wynn

October 5, 2008 at 11:58 pm (Today's Feature)

Picture this:

You want to record a new album. You’re searching for a new creative motivation. You jet off to Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia in central Europe, taking in the people, the landscape, the culture. After all of this, you work with an amazing producer to accurately put it down on tape, and release an album that truly stands out.

Sounds kinda like a dream, eh? This is Steve Wynn’s reality, and if you know about Steve Wynn – this shouldn’t surprise you. A former member of ground breaking indie rock band The Dream Syndicate as well as side project Gutterball, Wynn has been doing as he pleases within the industry for over 25 years. Having released dozens of albums, played over 2000 shows in more than 25 countries, Steve Wynn has also had his tunes recorded and performed by acts such as REM, Luna, Concrete Blonde and The Black Crowes. Hell, he’s even played in front of 50,000 people at Rosskilde in Denmark.

Now, you gotta be wondering about that album influenced by the city of Ljubljana – a collection called “Crossing Dragon Bridge.” The bridge is an actual structure that Wynn paced over every day during his time in Slovenia, and the record itself “has the sound and the mood and the sights and the overall vibe of Ljubljana.”  Wynn says “I swallowed the city whole and then waited for the meal to work itself into a digestive hallucination before spitting it out again each day at Chris’ (Eckman) place.”  The collection is simply a beautifully captured moment in time. Go pick it up. And look up a live show – Wynn is currently playing with a great live band, The Miracle 3. Dive into the XXQ’s for a whole lot more.

XXQs: Steve Wynn

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Going back, tell us about your first time performing live on stage. What was going through your head?

SW:   I was 13 years old and playing rhythm guitar for a band called Sudden Death Overtime.   We were playing “Jumping Jack Flash” at a junior high school assembly and I had my first taste of how live music can connect to a room full of strangers.   Needless to say, I was hooked.

PEV: Growing up, what kind of music were you listening to? Do you remember your first live concert?

SW:   I was a big music fan ever since I could walk and talk.   Growing up in the 60s, the Beatles were obviously all around and a big influence. But my curiosity quickly took me to bands like The Who, CCR, The Rolling Stones and other bands.   Free-form FM radio had just begun and it was exciting to hear things like Santana, Miles Davis, The Persuasions, Muddy Waters and David Bowie all side by side.   It was a good education for a pre-teen music freak.   My first show?   That would be Delaney & Bonnie at
Royce Hall in LA.   I was 9 and already knew enough to be disappointed that Eric Clapton didn’t show up.

PEV: What was it like for you to break into the music business? What are the “trials and tribulations” of pursuing a music career?

SW:   I was working at Rhino Records in LA, deejaying at a few clubs and had my own label when I put out the first Dream Syndicate LP.   So I did have some knowledge of the music business.   But, to be honest, I never cared that much about the business.   From day one I’ve been more concerned with making music that excites me even if it takes me down some weird paths and dark alleys.   I still feel that way.   And if your only standard of success is your own feelings about any given record then you don’t worry too much about those trials and tribulations.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Steve Wynn show?

SW:   I hope that every night is different, new, untested, emotional, intense, fun and freaky.  I still love playing live and I think that is enough to make every show exciting and interesting for me and hopefully for the audience as well.

PEV: How have your shows evolved from when you first started out?

SW: Well, hopefully I’ve gotten better at what I do.   That’s kind of the idea, isn’t it?   I’m also blessed these days to have my best live band ever, the Miracle 3.

PEV: Any embarrassing or crazy live show stories? There has to be tons, I’m sure…

SW:  Of course. And, naturally, whenever you’re asked a question like that it’s hard to think of one.   I always enjoy playing in front of a large audience that is there to see someone else-it’s an exciting challenge and even more gratifying when it connects.   So, I’d have to say that opening tours for REM, U2, the Psychedelic Furs, the Black Crowes and Ryan Adams would rank right up there.   And festivals are always an adventure.
Playing to 50,000 people at Rosskilde in Denmark is something I’ll never forget.

PEV: If you could collaborate with one artist out today, who would it be and why?

SW:   I’d like to work with Ornette Coleman.  His music transcends categories and I think his records “rock” more than many rock artists.   He is the master of improvisation and I think that would make for an exciting collaboration.

PEV: As well, is there an up and coming artist right now that you think we should all be looking out for?

SW:   I’m a big fan of the Teenage Prayers from New York City.   I produced their latest album and think that they’re playing some of the most interesting, genre-bending, fun music around today.

PEV: Tell us, what can fans expect from “Crossing Dragon Bridge”?

SW: I’m really proud of the record.   I think that the best records are a snapshot of a particular moment and this record is a really focused, compact document of the sights and sounds and tastes of Slovenia mixed with my own style and sound, of course.

PEV: How is “Crossing Dragon Bridge”, different from your past work with
“Dream Syndicate”?

SW:   It’s funny. On the one hand it’s very different.   String sections, choirs, upright bass, mellotrons are all things you would never hear on a Dream Syndicate record.   But I think that sometimes the list of credits, the recording technique, the instrument list are all less important than the mood and intent.   And in that way, I’ve been mining some of the same territory for my entire life.   You just wouldn’t know it from a cursory listen to any given record.

PEV: What is the story behind the album name, “Crossing Dragon Bridge”?

SW:   It’s an actual bridge in Ljubljana.   I crossed it about 10 times every day while I was making the record.   You can see it right there on the cover of the CD.

PEV: When you sit down to write what kind of environment do you surround yourself in? Is there a certain “zone” or “atmosphere” you have to be in?

SW:   Well, moving to New York City 15 years ago has been really good for my style of writing.   I find that most of my writing stems from melodic and lyrical ideas I have while walking around.   And then I hurry home to finish the idea.   When I lived in LA, I got a lot of my ideas while driving.   Now it happens while I walk around.   That seems to work better for me.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about you?

SW:   That I’m typing these answers from a bagel shop on Broadway while the Monkees play on the radio.  Or maybe that’s not surprising.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to all your success?

SW:  Funny thing.  When I dropped out of college at age 21 to pursue what was happening with the Dream Syndicate my father said “Well, I can’t tell you what to do but I do think you’re throwing your life away.”   Now he listens to all my records and tells me I should record more ballads!

PEV: In making “Crossing Dragon Bridge” you said while sipping coffee outside and watching vendors you would, “think about which song I would drag into the daily laboratory that was Chris Eckman’s home studio.” With that, what would we expect to find if we were to walk into Chris’ studio when you were recording?

SW:   You’d find that he has a really impressive DVD collection and we would likely move you to the living room and set you up with a good movie while we got back to work.   I really enjoyed working at Chris’ place because it was indeed his home and it felt more intimate and less sterile than the usual studio experience.

PEV: How is life on the road for you? Good parts? Bad parts?

SW:   I love touring.  Always have. Still do. And it helps that I tour with my wife who is also my drummer.   Look, touring isn’t easy. You are constantly exhausted-never get enough sleep, never enough time to see the amazing cities that you visit, can’t control the clock our your surroundings.   And yet there’s nothing like it.   It’s the greatest life in the world IF you like that kind of life.   Me, I do.

PEV:   In your opinion, is there a certain city (US or International) that you find to be the best city for music?

SW:   It’s different night to night.   After all these years I’ve had incredibly memorable experiences in most major cities in the US and Europe.

PEV: As well, where’s one place you haven’t played, you would like to? Why?

SW:  Ah, that list is still pretty long.   I’d love to play China and South America.   Any place new is always interesting.   I had the chance to play in Moscow a couple of years ago and it blew me away.

PEV: Where do you expect your career to be ten years from now?

SW: 10? 20? 30?   I think I’ll still be making records and touring. And hopefully getting better and learning new things

PEV: So, what’s next for Steve Wynn?

SW: I gotta pay for my coffee.

For more information on Steve Wynn, check out: www.stevewynn.net/music.php

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