Q&A: Colonel JD Wilkes of The Dirt Daubers

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August 20, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe

After reviewing The Dirt Daubers’ second album, Wake Up Sinners last year (around September), I decided to approach the band about an interview to coincide with their first ever UK tour. Their manager agreed but said not to publish until the album was out in the UK, to which I agreed, thinking I could write up the responses and sit on it for a few months. After I sent the questions via email, I didn’t receive a response until months later, which kind of killed my enthusiasm for the whole piece. But I’ve decided it’s worth putting up in it’s unedited form for your pleasure. 

The Dirt Daubers are the newest project from The Legendary Shack Shakers frontman, Colonel JD Wilkes. Featuring his wife Jessica, the Daubers take on a far more traditional American roots sound than the Shack Shakers, but is well worth your time if you enjoy hoe-downs, blowing into jugs marked ‘xxx’ and barn dancing.

DRS: This is the first Dauber tour isn’t it? How’s it going?

JD Wilkes: This is our first proper European tour. But we’ve been tearing up the road in the states for two years now. We have done a few European dates though. Our first show ever was at London’s Raindance film festival. We also played a few shows in Belgium and Denmark while the Shack Shakers were over there. Mark, my wife and I slipped away to play the occasion Dirt Daubers show when the Shack Shakers were off the clock.

How is a Dirt Daubers show different from a Shack Shakers? Is there a different approach or mindset between the two bands?

The Dirt Daubers are an acoustic, more-nuanced take on American roots music. It’s basically old-time Appalachian music, with some hot jazz and cowboy songs thrown in. I play banjo mostly, but I will break out the harmonica from time to time. There are some similarities to the Shack Shakers, personnel-wise, of course. But for the most part, I keep my clothes on and stay put.

The album seems to have been received well by critics and fans, and ‘Sinners’ managed to break into the Americana Top 40 radio chart. Do you feel good about how the album’s been received? 

We were tickled pink. Jessica especially appreciated how her newly-found talent for songwriting was legitimised. She only been at this for two years, by the way.

What was it like recording the new album, how did you approach the song writing process?

Jessica writes from a more personal place than I do. I tend to write stories about local, Kentucky folklore. But the instrumentation and the live recording process help put us in a sonic head-space that’s completely musically compatible .

Did you set out with any ideas about what ‘Wake Up, Sinners’ should sound like or just do whatever came naturally? How does it compare to the first record?

Rather than doing everything completely live and “first take”, we decided to split the difference. For “Sinners” we performed the tunes live as much as we could (in a rustic, wooden-walled den), then went back later for the keeper vocals and solo work.

What’s it like recording as/with a husband and wife?

We get along pretty great compared to the horror stories you hear from other folks who’ve tried it. Mark is a good guy to have around for that kind of thing too. His sense of humor diffuses any tension that might manifest itself on a long tour. Basically, we just roll down the road cracking stupid jokes.

Was adding Mrs. Wilkes to the shack shakers ever talked about before the Dirt Daubers? Could it happen in the future?

I don’t think so. The Shakers are too loud and violent for a lady. Plus she herself would never want to be considered a Yoko Ono. She’s more my Kathleen Brennan (Tom Waits wife)…an equally-creative partner with great taste and common sense. (She’s standing right behind me, so I have to say these things…)

Is the Daubers just a side project or just as important as the Shack Shakers?

It is equal-to, in my mind. But right now we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to make the Daubers as commercially viable as the Shakers. Come on all you folks out there! Come on out and help us get this god-dam thing off the ground!

Triggerman of Saving country music.com said “I think that JD Wilkes truly is one of the most underrated performers in all of American music right now, and that he is one of the best frontmen in American music of all time.” Do you agree?

I don’t think about it. If its not obvious that you’re having a ball onstage, you’re in the wrong business.

What’s the plan once the tour is finished?

Back to more touring and pre-production for the next record. No rest for the weary!

Photo courtesy of ambergris


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