Boston-based singer-songwriters Will Dailey and Audrey Ryan are wholes unto themselves when they perform as solo artists. When they perform together, as they have twice this year at Club Passim and will again this coming Thursday at Precinct in Union Square, the results are all the more stunning.
I recently spoke with Audrey and Will at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Newton Centre about their past, present, and future together.
How did the two of you meet?
Audrey Ryan (hereafter, AR): We met two winters ago on a tour with a band called The Brew, from northern Mass.
Will Dailey (hereafter, WD): It was actually their tour, and we got a call from them to be on it with them, not knowing each other.
AR: I was like the token female.
WD: It was a forced friendship.
Have you ever played on each other’s recordings?
AR: I sang on a recording that Chris … sorry I just called you Chris! That’s my husband’s name. [Audrey is a newlywed] Will did a recording recently, but we don’t know if he’s gonna release it.
WD: Yeah, I probably won’t release it, but that’s not Audrey’s fault … And we did the Peter Gabriel cover. We were rehearsing for the show and we thought, “we should just record this,” and it got a little carried away.
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, “Islands In the Stream”?
WD: Exactly. I wanted to do “Islands In the Stream,” and just pull out a different essence of the song …
AR: Or “I’ve Had the Time of My Life.”
WD: … but just pull out a different vibe from the song.
AR: I was just kidding.
WD: We looked at a list of like the top 25 covers trying to find that song that you might think is horrible, but we could just find a different essence. “Don’t Give Up,” which we didn’t think about without the list, was on there, and we thought, “Well, this is just awesome the way it is, and this would be fun to do, and challenging.”
AR: We pretty much nailed it the way it is. It’s not a song that you can do much better.
WD: You don’t reinvent it, but then you break it down. It’s a song about losing your job, and trying to hang or, or not hang on …
AR: Or being depressed, it’s a pretty sad song.
WD: So it’s about being a musician.
Will, what is the best thing about working with Audrey?
WD: Audrey is, well, without saying she’s a multi-instrumentalist, she’s extremely versatile. Whether it be vocally, or her appreciation of music …
I think the fact that she can play the violin, or play percussion, or play the accordion, or play guitar, that’s not just indicative of multi-instrumentalism, it’s indicative of someone who has a deeper understanding of music, and all its possibilities.
So you know my question for you, Audrey: What’s the worst thing about working with Will?
AR: [laughs, as does WD] That he’s taller than me and it makes me feel short … How tall are you?
WD: 6’2” or 3”.
AR: I like to think that I’m 5’4,” so you’re almost a foot taller than me.
When I reviewed your March show at Club Passim, Will, I commented that your electric guitar sounded great but looked really old. Is it really old?
WD: No. My guitar was made for me by Dennis Fano. He built it by hand himself … It’s a one-of-a-kind guitar, and I love it … The past two months all of my shows have been me and my Fano and my drummer. Just drums and electric guitar … I don’t really like playing solo acoustic at all … I don’t think the world needs another white guy with an acoustic guitar.
Audrey, explain looping to me.
AR: It’s sort of like live recording … I try to use it to make a band. I used to tour with a band, it was a pain in the ass, it was expensive. Most of the time I lost money on it … So I was like, “well, how about I make a band sound without a band,” and that’s where I came up with it. I played the drums with my feet, and then I used the looper just to record my guitar parts … It’s about as close to a band as one person can get.
What projects are each of you currently working on?
WD: I’m kinda just starting to prep up to record another album in January or February. I just did a bunch of dates this month, I’ve got about four more dates this month … Then till the end of the year I’ll just be doing residencies around Boston … I’m producing other acts … Audrey and I have recorded a bunch of kind of electronic tunes that we’ll try to put out next year.
AR: It’s our secret pop band …
I just put out a record in June, so I feel like I need a little bit of a breather … In the foreseeable, coming-up future, I play a couple a couple of things this fall. I have a couple of cool festivals that I play in the fall … I’ve been on hiatus since June. I got married, so I took off the summer.
Will, which TV shows and movies can you name off the top of you head that featured your songs?
WD: Aw, man. There were some HBO ones, there were some Showtime ones. There was, uh, a lot of shows on CBS, like CSI and CIS. Um, and, a lot of MTV shows that have people on it … Something about hills.
AR: “The Hills”
WD: I had a song called “Hollywood Hills,” so that got on that show. A show on ABC, I did late night, I did some early morning live stuff. A couple movies, one with Susan Sarandon that I didn’t see … It’s been over, about 50 [shows and movies].
Audrey, I haven’t read you book The Need To Be Heard, although it is about the price of this cup of coffee on Amazon Kindle. What is it about and what inspired it?
AR: Luckily it’s not 100 percent one thing. It’s not just my own story about the music business. A lot of it is, I’d say 40 percent at least, maybe closer to 50, is my experience, and a lot of my rants, in a way. When I wrote it, I was doing music full time. It was all I was doing. I even gave up my apartment and lived out of my rehearsal space for about a year … When you tour, you usually have several hours during the day unless you’re driving. So when I didn’t drive I would just write …
I wanted to get a sense of how other people feel about the music business, if they had a philosophy, if they knew what the fuck was going on, or if I was the only one who felt so lost in a sea of shit, so to speak.
And so I interviewed 10 or 20 other independent artists, and about 10 or 20 industry people, and I got some good interviews … One of the last ones was with Ian MacKaye, of Fugazi and Minor Threat. His interview blew my mind … He’s just so smart, and he’s been in the business so much longer than I have … At some points in my interviews I was almost trying to get people to prove to me that the music business sucked, because I’d already made up my mind that it did … He kinda just said to me, “What the hell’s your problem? You’re playing music and traveling around the world. What the fuck are you complaining about?”
I feel that all the success that I have had, whatever it is, I feel lucky. My real success is my body of work, because I have four albums, I’m proud of all of them, I set my intent for each one, and I’ve reached that goal …
I think the only important thing to do as an artist is not set out to make a record to do anything else than be the record that you want to make.
WILL DAILEY & AUDREY RYAN