WHO THE F#$@!?
AND WHY 'FÜRST IN THE DIRT'...
"It was an exercise in letting go and being spontaneous," says PATRICK DENNIS of all that went into making his solo debut, FÜRST IN THE DIRT, a steady yet refreshingly unstudied collection of gleaming true-life rock songs, produced by Cosmic Thug (Adam Landry and Justin Collins) at Playground Sound in Nashville, Tennessee.
Teetering on the brink of surreal to surprising, from the frenetic burst of "Kissing the Beast", through the final, dream-saturated "Because of You", the Los Angeles-based indie rock singer, songwriter and guitarist never once suspected a Nashville album project was on the cards for him: at the time it came down, he was still recovering from a period he characterizes as "the roughest tumble in my life." And yet, a series of synchronistic meetings, loose studio sessions, and collaborations between friends old and new conspired into the unstoppable force that became FÜRST (it's German for prince), and there was no one more surprised than DENNIS. “The record just seemed to will itself into existence. I accidentally step on a dude’s feet coming out of the toilet at The Basement in Nashville, and the next thing you know I’m in the studio making a record with him. Let me warn you, club toilets are dangerous places.”
There's an undeniable, free-spirit and reckless energy unleashed over the course of the album's 12 songs devoted to love and life rediscovered, all in one breath, following the breakup of his bands--Southern California's beloved Truckee Brothers and his punk-roots band Wirepony--a divorce, and the financial complications that come from such events. In the midst of it all, DENNIS was falling in love on the West Coast while Nashville beckoned with an opportunity for work---an affirmation of sorts that sometimes life's misfortunes beget gifts and choices, even without any maps or guarantees along the road to blissfulness.
"I was working on a couple of visual projects that had nothing to do with music and wasn't ready to make a record, but in the first week I was out there I met a badass musician every night, including country singer T.G. Sheppard," explains Dennis. "He told me in a voice that carried the weight of Elvis that ‘God wanted me in Nashville.’ How do you say no to that?" Among the other Nashville players were Landry and Collins, who he quickly came to learn had produced records by Deer Tick and Diamond Rugs, bands in his own record collection.
When an invitation was issued to check out their studio, Dennis booked a day with the producers (on bass, drums, keyboards and guitars) plus singer Cindy Wasserman (Dead Rock West, John Doe) on vocals, "Just to see what would happen." The result was “Hit Of You”, written the night before on a long drive from New York City.
“As soon as Adam’s guitar went down and we heard the playback with Cindy and I singing that chorus together, that clinched it. Magic had bled onto the track, so I immediately made plans to bring in Truckee’s drummer Matt Lynott and expand the circle," says Dennis, still not thinking there was a record in the works.
"Love Is A Bomb", a-piano-based song featuring a dual vocal with Wasserman (Dennis's real life romantic partner), is a testimony to hanging tough together, its story an echo of the song's making: Dennis broke his hand and was unable to play guitar for six months, stalling the recording process.
"There was a point while my hand was healing when I wondered what we really had, if the recordings were an EP, if there was a full album there, or what these songs even were, but I was convinced by friends to finish it," he explains. Five more days were booked at Playground Sound, with the addition of drummer and multi-instrumentalist Rob Crowell (Deer Tick) and a string section. "That week turned out to be incredibly inspiring,” says Dennis. “Every night I was running home to the house in East Nashville where I was living to write another song to bring in the next day."
For the album's contemplative, penultimate number, "Life or Luck", "Matt actually played the piano while Adam played drums and Rob played sax. Complete switch up," recalls Dennis. Crowell's dexterity on various instruments was one of the project's hidden assets: "He is truly the da Vinci of the studio," says Dennis.
Though otherwise largely conceived in Nashville, the lonesome, solo acoustic "Josephine Baker" was a song Dennis had in his back pocket. Inspired by a photograph of the 20th Century artist and played on Nashville-style high strung guitar, Dennis and Wasserman's own professional challenges as working musicians set the stage for the song's mood of longing. "When we first got together, I had been accustomed to being the person on the road and now I was the one at home, waiting on a phone call."
Call them true tales of a life on the road, or simply of a life lived with passion and guts, the songs on FÜRST IN THE DIRT are a few parts swagger and flash with a taste of twang added---just enough to give them root---though Dennis' key influences are firmly planted in real, big glam (Bowie, Mott the Hoople and latter-day descendants, like the Replacements), as well as by unlikely inspirer, the Soft Machine's underground psychedelicist, Kevin Ayers.
"'Burn and Shine' was inspired by something he said," says Dennis. "If you don't actually live your passion, if you're not willing to burn yourself up, you won't have taken a chance to exude the magic and majesty of being human: If we don’t burn then we won’t shine." The idea of a fully realized humanity, warts and all, was in the back of Dennis' mind as he embarked, was delayed, and ultimately completed his sonic adventure.
"Often, all l had was a riff, but I didn't tell anyone that's all I had. For 'Burn and Shine', I was literally calling out the chords, singing a melody, vamping the words. We cut it twenty minutes after it was conceived on the studio floor, as we did much of the album. Everything was mixed as we went along. At some point, I recognized there was actually a record here---and one I hope captures the spark of going for it, laying out the cards, seeing what the hand is…"
Call it a royal flush or a full house, nothing ever beats a heart filled with love and rock n' roll, things PATRICK DENNIS delivers in spades on FÜRST IN THE DIRT.