THIS IS DOLPH CHANEY will be released on February 20 (Big Stir Records).
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Dolph Chaney about the clear production and arrangements Nick Bertling brought to the songs, trying to communicate emotionally and about being more of a sumo wrestler.
The cover of your previous record was a picture of a dilapidated house, the cover of your new record is a picture of you, proud as a peacock, it seems. A change happened? Or am I looking for meanings that are not there?
Well, it’s a coincidence, but it certainly reflects all that happened in the past year to build my confidence and resilience. Both pictures were taken in my backyard: REBUILDING PERMIT’s cover shows my small studio shed (Studio Dolphty), and my wife took my portrait on THIS IS DOLPH CHANEY less than 100 feet from it. We wanted to match the directness of the title and of the clear production and arrangements Nick Bertling brought to the songs.
You sound very vulnerable at times. That seems to me to be a conscious choice. Isn’t that very difficult? I can also imagine that it will be a challenge when you need multiple vocal takes?
The #1 most important thing for me in a vocal (mine or anyone else’s) is whether the singer is committed enough that I believe what they’re trying to communicate emotionally. So if it’s a choice between a take that is mistake-free or one with flaws that gets closer to the meaning between the lines, I’ll take the flawed one every time. Several times for the album I would tell Nick I needed to do a vocal over because “it’s fine… but I just don’t buy the vocal, let me try again.”
How did that big guitar sound happen?
I need to give credit here to Nick — both as a producer and as my fellow guitarist on the album. From an engineering & mixing standpoint, he layers a lot of guitar tracks (usually around 8) to make that big sound. For my contribution, a lot of it comes from me having a very heavy-handed attack and from using medium/heavy strings and heavy picks. Some players are like gymnasts; I’m more of a sumo wrestler!
How did this record come together?
This is the second time (after LOUDNESS 2 11) that I’ve released an album of new and improved versions of my old songs. This time, it came from Nick & I enjoying each other’s 2020 albums (REBUILDING PERMIT and GREEN MEADOWS SKETCHBOOK). Then, he saw me play a live stream show (at the Woody Radio Facebook page) and said to me that he loved my songs but felt that my previous albums hadn’t done them justice and that he had ideas of how to fix that! Hearing his work, I knew Nick had all of the skills as a player and producer to get the job done. We did two songs first as a trial – the single “Now I Am A Man,” and the epic middle of the album “Meaningless” – and it went so well that we went on to make the full album.
How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?
I wish I were more prolific than I am. In the ’90s, when I was in my 20s, I used to write around 30 songs a year, half of which would be worthy of release. Now, I go months with no new songs, and then I’ll get 3-5 in a burst of a couple of weeks. I only wrote 2 in all of 2020, plus a bridge for the new album’s version of “Cuddle Party.” But immediately as soon as I sent Nick my approval of final mixes for THIS IS DOLPH CHANEY, a new song came right to me — and more ideas are starting to bubble to the surface gradually. Staying musically active is crucial to my mental health, so I try to play every day and coax the ideas to come. I would say that my very happiest and most fulfilled feeling in life is whenever I’ve just written a song that I’m certain is good. And all the support I’ve gotten from Big Stir, fans, radio, and writers like you has (as my song puts it) “helped me believe that I can.”