POWER OF POP INTERVIEW: STEVE WYNN
I actually managed to get in touch (via e-mail) with the subject of our attention - singer-songwriter extraordinaire Steve Wynn and he graciously agreed to answer certain queries I had to make this edition of POWER OF POP INTERVIEW a special one indeed!
Wynn is perhaps best known for fronting the seminal alternative rock outfit The Dream Syndicate, which have been described as “at the foundation (alongside the Velvet Underground, Stooges and REM.) of contemporary alternative music.” When asked about his feelings about that part of his life, Wynn responded – “It was a very exciting time. If you are lucky enough to have a long music career you gain various skills and perspective and friends and workmates but you never regain that wild thrill of the first time you saw a record you made or the first time you saw your name in a newspaper article or the first time you played to an insanely enthusiastic audience. Those thrills remain in various forms but never as heady as the first time. And we (the Syndicate, REM, Green On Red, Bangles) were all sharing it at the same time.”
The Syndicate’s debut platter, Days of Wine and Roses was critically lauded but their subsequent albums viz. Medicine Show and Out of the Grey were given short shrift as Wynn adopted a rootsier sound, exchanging Lou Reed inflections for Neil Young, prompting the more caustic critics to remark that “Wynn indulged an embarrassing Bruce Springsteen fixation on later releases,” though with hindsight the Syndicate (together with Sid Griffin’s Long Ryders) certainly pre-empted the “No Depression” movement of the 1990s.
Wynn’s own view on this development - “Ah, people always are fearful of change and don't begin to fully accept the change until you change courses once again and build nostalgia for the intermediary change (follow that?) I think anyone who has been around for a long time gets used to the constant evaluation and then reevaluation of the career. I can't say that I had that much of an influence on the “No Depression” movement (though I think the Long Ryders are one of the biggest influences) but I am glad to see that great bands like Luna, Yo La Tengo and others took some of the things we did just as we took various things from bands like the Velvets, Stooges and Modern Lovers.”
But Steve Wynn is now a bona fide solo artist and with the 1999 album My Midnight, he had actually released more albums as a solo artist (six) than with Dream Syndicate. Does it bother him that his name cannot be mentioned without some reference to Dream Syndicate?
“I remember thinking that I would make one, maybe two solo albums and never have to see the words 'Dream Syndicate' attached to any of my shows or records. 10 years later the band is still part of my calling card and I am neither surprised or disheartened as I have come to realize how much that band meant to so many people, me included. In fact whenever I am asked in interviews about the 'record that changed your life' I always say 'The Days of Wine and Roses,' which is the obvious truth."
Having spent a decade as a solo artist, Wynn feels that he is “always trying to get better. I do honestly think that 'My Midnight' was my best album which is very heartening. I am going into the studio in September (2000) to make a new album and will feel the challenge to go one step further once again.”
Indeed, My Midnight is a wonderful album. “Nothing but the shell” is a great opening track with its sheer power – “just the sound of a good band moving together in a very natural way.” Wynn offers and the placing of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and ”Neil Young & Crazy Horse” in the same verse, Wynn attributes to “just some perverse humor and a take on dysfunctional families.”
The main strength of “My Midnight” is its eclecticism ("Cats & Dogs" – a prime example, a great pop moment that changes the mood from the first track. This is important to Wynn – “I'd rather be hated than boring. Not that such a sweet song about such sweet animals could inspire hate. I do see albums as some kind of narrative journey and have always felt that sequencing is as important an ingredient as any part of the record making.”
The title track is slinky and feline like the night - very evocative. Wynn elaborates – “the phrase 'My Midnight' isn't time-specific but rather the moment of the darkest parts of your soul, the time when all foundation shifts and sinks and you are left with doubts and confusion. It can happen at noon, it can last for months.”
As a finale, I asked Wynn to describe his music – “For 'My Midnight' I was very interested in big, symphonic records from the 1960s like Gene Pitney, Richard Harris, Love and even various bubblegum classics. Tried for a soundtrack feeling and I think the next record will be more stripped down and haphazard. Most likely. I always hate to describe my music to other people as I usually get it wrong. Best to leave it to the critics and then the rebuttal from the fans.”
(Originally published in 2000)