ASM Interview: Singer James Dunn - page 2

By Rich King on January 31, 2008

James Dunn, pictures, picture, photos, photo, pics, pic, images, image, country, music, singer, albums, lyrics, interviewsASM: Were you interested in music at all growing up?

Dunn: I remember riding around in my dad's car back when I was a kid listening to his Buddy Holly and the Crickets tape. The front cover of the album was a white brick wall with "Buddy Holly and The Crickets" spray painted in black on the white brick wall. For whatever reason, the simple nature of the cover, and the classic, youthful energetic 1950's sound of Holly's voice and guitar has always stayed with me. I can always remember my dad singing along with the songs, and even at a young age, it was easy to see how music put people in a certain place and time and brought back life memories. It has always fascinated me how a simple song with simple words can re-awaken or inspire feelings or action in people. When my little brother was just a baby, my dad use to hold him and bop around the house rocking to a Bruce Springsteen 45 — 'Dancing in the Dark' — the record spun on our house stereo that was in the dining room. It was a massive piece of wood furniture that housed the record player, and when I look back on it now — made playing the radio or a record more of an 'event'. Neil Diamond's live album, "Hot August Night," used to play all the time too. I remember the epic nature of his vocals on that particular live record — you couldn't help but pay attention to it. It's funny, the way you experience or hear songs is as much a part of the music 'experience' as anything. A lot of the music I can remember distinctly... songs I heard in my dad's car on my way to the baseball field or to the gym... stuff like the Drifters, Buddy Holly, Gene Pitney, Neil Diamond, Meatloaf, Styx, Journey, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Tom Petty... whatever my dad was playing or listening to, I was listening too. My dad sort of liked a lot of different stuff, so I just sort of liked a little bit of everything.

When I got my license at the mature age of 16, I went through a heavy rotation of '80s hair metal. I liked pretty much all of those bands — and I can remember catching heat from my other friends who liked the 'alternative music' of the time, like The Cure, Midnight Oil, Depeche Mode... I just didn't connect with that stuff in high school, but the metal stuff was my thing. I think my dad was pretty perplexed at my being a fan of bands with dudes who had longer hair than most girls, but I guess that is the nature of the younger generations likes and dislikes of what is 'new and hip'. Def Leppard was my favorite band and it was the first concert I ever saw in Chapel Hill, N.C. I can recall sitting in the top row of the Dean E. Smith Center with my buddy and my cousin. I remember looking over about 3 seats and there was a guy who was lighting his lighter into the ceiling and I was thinking he was going to burn the whole place down in honor of "Pyromania" by Def Leppard. My dad waited to pick us up outside the building and I remember his comment when we walked out: "jeez, I could feel the building vibrating, it was so loud." It was awesome, and I just remember feeling like I thought the roof was going to blow off the top of the Dean Dome when they dropped the curtain for the first song, which was called, "Rock Rock Till You Drop." The energy and guitars in all that music seemed to fit right into my life at the time, just being young, immature, playing sports in high school and attempting to figure out how to be cool while riding in my Isuzu Impulse car, cranking up the tunes. Along with my appreciation for the metal stuff, I liked rap. There were some fellas on my high school baseball team who told me to listen and I loved the epic heavy beats and straight forward lyrics of that music, and still like it today. It was just really pure stuff — Run DMC.

I was born in New Jersey and lived there for awhile and then moved to North Carolina, where I spent most of my childhood. We use to go to Long Beach Island, N.J. for a few weeks every summer, even when we moved to North Carolina — those were really fond memories of riding waves, playing endless games of wiffle ball with my cousin and more than anything else, I can remember just throwing the baseball on the beach with my dad. It's funny, I can remember three songs that really stamped a few years in Beach Haven — "Jesse's Girl" by Rick Springfield, "If You Leave Me Now" by Chicago, and "Abracadabra" by the Steve Miller Band. Why I remember those, I have no clue, but those were some hits alrighty. When I was a senior in high school, I got a letter and a high school senior picture from a girl who lived a few houses away from my family in Wayne, N.J. In her letter, she told me to get a copy of "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen. And because her picture was quite pretty after having not seen her since I was 7, I went and got the album. From that moment on, I was 'hooked' on music — Springsteen's unreal cinematic writing and voice was captivating, not just musically, but captivating as in 'LIFE'... it is happening now and it is all about feeling/heart/connection with people. I collected all of his records and basically any live bootlegs I could find. All the while, I never had played music myself, as I was all about athletics as I grew up. But the spirit of all that music stayed with me.

ASM: Your grandfather was a musician. Tell us a little about him.

Dunn: My grandfather worked for coal company in Northeastern Pennsylvania and always played music for enjoyment. He played in some 'big bands' in the 1930's and 1940's and played a little bit of everything, from guitar to violin, to piano, flute, piccolo — really anything. Something I always remember about him was him watching the 'Lawrence Welk' show on public television every night when I would visit him. I never really 'got it' when I was younger, but when I see the show now, I can appreciate why he enjoyed the show so much — it was just good music and entertainment. He also painted and had a an artistic side to his life, which I think brought him a lot of relaxation and enjoyment.

ASM: Your grandfather gave you a steel guitar in college and you eventually decided to focus on music some time later. How old were you when you finally started and what led you to finally pursue a career in music?

Dunn: I didn't pick up a guitar until my mid-20's. For whatever reason, I just never thought I would be able to learn how to do it. I had gotten a business degree and figured I would probably just work for a corporation for a career and climb the corporate ladder. I just never thought it was a possibility. I took a few lessons when I was 25, learned a few chords and taught myself how to play "The River" and "Atlantic City" by Bruce Springsteen, and I was hooked. I continued to learn songs by other artists and then began writing lyrics, and eventually some original songs began to take shape. Things really began to take off in 2003 when I moved back to Raleigh, N.C. I had rented this old apartment over an antique store and I had a lot of time to play while living there, and a lot of things to write about. I found that writing was really enjoyable and a good way to express certain thoughts and feelings I had. I would play some of my original songs for a buddy, who also played guitar, thus I respected his opinion a lot. He said, "Man, that stuff is really good." So, with that encouragement, I hit some open mics in town and just kept writing and made an 8-song EP, which was received really well by my hometown, and it just inspired me to keep moving forward and to do this new record.

ASM: Who are some of the artists that have influenced you over the years?

Dunn: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, John Mellencamp, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Bob Seger, Johnny Cash, Chris Isaak, David Childers, Ryan Adams, Jackson Browne, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Run DMC, Pearl Jam... to name a few.