David Dyas is a nice southern boy who ended up in Portland, Oregon by way of New Orleans and Los Angeles. Despite a lack of riches, he’s living the dream most aspiring musicians conjure up as they load their gear into the back of vans and dank bars throughout their youth: he’s a professional.
February 23 marks the release of Dyas’ 4-song EP, Stag, which was recorded with the help of friends who run the gamut of his musical career. What he calls “a cavalcade of rogues” that he’s collected as a session player, hired band mate, copywriter and philosophy teacher. It’s a lilting acoustic folk-pop record with surprising arrangements that belie the seemingly simple structure and approach to the songs.
We caught up with Dyas in the GLONO West headquarters to talk about life as a hired gun, Rod Stewart, the city we all love to hate, and Scientology.
With recording of the EP and touring going on are you going to do any session work?
You know, I will do gigs that come my way that I’m interested in. I know it’s hard living by this but I’ve kind of set myself up in that I don’t have to take gigs I don’t want to. But I’ve never wanted to just be side man for hire guy. I either want to be doing my own music or be part of the band It’s a big part of why I moved up here [from Los Angeles].
So, is it more competitive down there, from a music standpoint?
I don’t know if it’s more competitive or if it’s more—and I got caught up in this too—this looking out onto the horizon for what’s next. Something better coming along. I grew up in this ethos that you grow up and start a band and that’s what you do and I guess I am stuck in this naïve paradigm.
It seems popular for people to say they hate LA. That’s the first thing anyone ever says, even people who have never been there.
That’s right, and that’s the genesis to one of my incredibly witty sayings, “You have to earn the right to hate LA.”
So, what are your feelings on LA? Clearly you don’t live there…
I don’t live there, there are a lot of things I still love about it and miss about it.
Restaurants…? [Laughs] Like any place where you live a part of your life you have your little things. There is a frenetic energy there that’s enticing. There’s a pace. It can definitely burn you out—and it did me—but…I miss less and less.
What about professionally? It’s probably easier to work down there.
It was for me. I moved to LA broke, and I was lucky that when I moved there was still a good bit of work for like copywriting and stuff. I did a lot of gig s like that, just freelancing.
I met a lot of knuckle heads and that’s one thing that’s hilarious about Los Angeles. What was it David Cross said, “Just sit back and watch the parade of delusion.” But within a few months of moving there and we had weaseled out way into recording at A&M studios…
Well, let’s talk about what that means.
What it really means is that a friend of a band and a former band member wanted to move more into recording and producing and so he’d gotten an internship at A&M and as part of that deal he got to use the studio in down time, which meant we’d go in at like midnight and track until 6:00am. But for me I was like “I’m tracking in Studio A where they recorded ‘We Are the World’…that’s the console that Sting danced on!”
How did you end up teaching college philosophy?
After a handful of lousy situations I just laid back and started working on my own songs. And then somewhere around 2005 I started getting really twitchy and wondering what am I doing? And I felt like I had to get out and start hustling gigs. And it’s weird too because the minute I said I was really ready to start playing, my phone started ringing again. I started playing with my friend Gina Villalobos and I started touring and ever since then I’ve been playing pretty regularly with different people. I guess I just needed those touring experiences to prove to myself that I could do it. To feel like I could make a career out of it if I wanted to.
Does it feel like a fall back option?
Oh yeah, I always have music to fall back on. [Laughs] That’s what I tell my parents.
How’d you end up touring with Josh Kelly?
I’d been playing in a band in LA with a dude named Patrick Park but the bass player in that band was Erik Kertes and he got a gig playing bass for Josh Kelly. I was keeping in touch with Erik and I saw they were coming to Portland to open up for Collective Soul and so I called Kertes to hang out and he said “Yeah, you should come sit in, we might need a guitar player on this tour and I’ve really been chatting you up.”
So I went down at 4:00pm to hang out with them at the Roseland as they were loading in and Kelly was like “Oh yeah, you should sit in on ‘Amazing'” and then it was this other song and so basically in two hours I learned the entire set and then “sat in” for the actual show.
Did you even know the material before that? Had you even heard it?
Never. So I got up and played in front of 1500 people cold.
So, in the span of two hours you learned his set, which was like a 90 minute set?
It was about 45. And then the next night they were playing in Seattle so I drove up and did that show with them and they were like, “We’re leaving for tour in a week, you want to go?” And I was like, “Shit yeah.” So…
And if it doesn’t work out you go home…
Go home and do my usual: cry, write in my journal, and take a hot bath…eat some popcorn and go to sleep.
So, you end up touring with Josh Kelly when he opened for Rod Stewart?
Yeah, right. He had 30 dates with Rod Stewart and so I went along. We played 20,000 seat places–not all of them were capacity, but my first show I think was in front of 12,500 people. And that’s an awesome feeling going out in front of a crowd that size.
What’s a day in the life on a tour like that?
Wake up on the bus at the venue. Go over to wherever Craft Services is set up. Get some coffee, check your email, tell bad jokes. Maybe tool around town for a while if it’s a cool place. Come back for load in and sound check, which is usually in the late afternoon. Take off for dinner. Come back to play the set. Have fun after the show. Go back to the bus and have more fun until you roll out around 2:00am. Do it again the next day.
Any opportunities to hang out with Rod the Mod?
So…toward the end of the tour–at the Borgata in Atlantic City, as I recall–Rod came out of his dressing room to meet us. It was a brief yet courteous introduction. He pretty much showed up an hour or so before each gig, then, straight from the stage, jumped into a waiting limo backstage that took him away. There weren’t many opportunities to hang. The band, on the other hand, we did hang out with quite a lot and they were super nice to us. Each of us kinda/sorta knew different guys in the band from LA anyway, so they looked out for us pretty awesomely.
Is it surreal to go from a 20,000 seat venue and all the things that come with a tour like that to…?
To playing The White Eagle?
Yeah. It is definitely different but I love both. I played in a little coffee shop last night to twenty people. But to be able to walk off-mic and play completely unplugged and get a response from people for me is as cool as playing for 20,000 people.
The Motels. How did that come about?
I’ve known Martha Davis for a few years now. My buddy Eric Gardner was playing with her and she’s kind of built up a nice stable of players around her that if someone isn’t available she has some other guys to call on. But she’s not doing enough right now to keep guys working full time, so…long story short, she just got to the point where her regular guitarist wasn’t available so she just said, “Dyas, you want play guitar for a while?”
Even before I played a show with her I’d hung out with her and we’ve become friends. I don’t know, maybe it’s a southern thing but “I just want to be with all my rowdy friends.”
You and Bocephus.
Let’s hear some LA stories.
Probably the weirdest gig I ever played was at the Scientology Celebrity Center. And because I don’t want to get weird phone calls at three in the morning I’m not going to say anything disparaging about Scientology…
Even though I think they’re insane. Crazy, but not scary. I didn’t feel like there was this big conspiracy or anything, just that there was this big group of people desperately needing to feel empowered.
But are they actually empowered? Because I hear mixed stories from friends in LA all the time. Things like if you get on the shitlist with these guys you’re not going to work in that town…or you’re not going to get good work.
I mean if you talk shit about Scientology, then yeah…if you speak ill of Scientology to a Scientologist who might be able to help you, they will not only not help you but they will actively try to hinder you.
But back to the gig itself, it was…odd. It’s kind of like…I swear that light looked different in there. The air seemed different. There’s this weird collective energy of just…weirdness.
They call it the “Celebrity Center,” but are there ever any celebrities there?
Sure…I mean I didn’t see any, but that’s the thing about Scientology. The celebrities get far different treatment from the guys who clean the toilets.
What’s the joint like?
I remember thinking it was really…tacky.
What, like what a 13 year old might think “celebrities” want to be surrounded by?
Yeah, yeah, yeah that’s getting close. Another weird part was—I am always reluctant to talk shit about music, but the music was just not good—and I also came to realize that all the band’s songs were Scientology themed. So, I did that one gig and that was it.
So, I am picturing a tacky looking convention hall.
It’s a fairly posh place. When I say tacky, I mean tacky like a country club; aspiring to an old fashioned idea of what “fancy” is. But maybe my memory is being clouded by Thetans…
I’m glad you brought that up because I have test I’d like to run…
Do you have an E Meter?
Do you sometimes feel unhappy? I DO sometimes feel unhappy. Do you sometimes feel the world is too much? YES!
David Dyas celebrates the release of Stag on Tuesday, February 23 at Valentines in Portland, Oregon. Rod Stewart and Tom Cruise are not expected to be in attendance. Name your own price and get Stag now on Band Camp.