For this "5 and Dime" interview, I shared a few e-mails in January 2008 with one of my favorite musicians, drummer Dony Wynn. Back in 2005, I did a feature interview with Dony that covered his musical career, including the years he spent drumming for singer Robert Palmer. With this new interview, Dony answers my questions as he introduces his new musical project, a band called Knuckle Yummy.
Introduce yourself and your bandmates, including your musical backgrounds, and tell me how Knuckle Yummy originated.
First off, thanks for having us, Dave.
Knuckle Yummy is just myself - Dony Wynn on drums, Pehr Smith on guitar, and Lizzie Lee on vocals.
Pehr is an artist/painter as well as an art professor at a local university. As a guitarist, he is a complete unknown to the outside world. Will Sexton, brother of Charlie, introduced me to Pehr one night at a little gig they were playing on the Southside, here in Austin, Texas. There wasn't anyone in the audience, and as I walked in the door, Will immediately asked me to sit in. I wasn't even introduced to anyone onstage, and when we took off on that first song, the hair raised up on the back of my neck due to this very unusual guitarist. Our chemistry was beyond anything I'd ever felt with any other musician: off the charts, totally wild and free, and seriously dangerous. I told Pehr, after we were officially introduced, that I would eventually find the right project for he and I. I meant it.
I would go see him every now and then at this little out-of-the-way funky club with his band, "The Washingtons." I never saw more than a coupla people in the place at a time. And that wasn't any fault of his... he was killin'. Trust me, this guy is a complete unknown, but not for long. In my mind, Pehr is a cross between a deranged 90-year-old black blues master (the real deal neal) meets Captain Beefheart. Way gone...
Lizzie Lee is an ex-New York City model and a very gifted artist/painter, introduced to me by a Portuguese friend of mine whom I met in Milan, Italy. He called me and enlisted my help when she was looking to come to Nashville, where I was living at the time, to pursue a singing career. She came. Whilst living at my condo I introduced her to Larry Chaney, a guitarist (badass in his own right!) in a salsa band I was working with. They got married, had a son - Angel, moved to Wimberley, Texas, Larry joining the Edwin McCain band and Lizzie performing half the year in Europe fronting a blues group.
Lizzie was also partially responsible for my move to Texas when I was producing an act in Houston, wherein she entered me and a story I'd written in a writing contest at the school she was involved with. (I won the Grand Prize in that Katherine Anne Porter competition, by the way.) That paved the way for my eventual move, feeling as I did that Texas was welcoming me with open arms, where I was DONE with Nashville and it with me.
Anyway... several years later, one night in Austin, onstage with Lizzie and a guitarist, we were doing a real Appalachian stomp type piece when it hit me that she and Pehr would make for a really unusual chemistry doing this scary, backwoods be-bop. I told her as much. Told Pehr, too.
Two years go by.
I'd been working during my protracted self-exile in Texas (recovering from my Brooks and Dunn experience), developing with others a radical new type of entertainment company for the 'Net. One day we inadvertently discovered one of our partners was trying to steal our application for a patent on our business model.
I channeled my anger by contacting both Lizzie and Pehr, and we booked time at a good friend of mine's brand new home studio, where we proceeded to throw down with a vengeance. Voila! There we was!
Incidentally, my background is I've been a drummer since the age of 3. While in high school hooked up with Dr. John and Edgar Winter, then when I graduated Robert Palmer plucked me from virtual obscurity and I remained with him for the better part of 25 years, both onstage and in the studio, until his untimely passing in '03. During my tenure with him, I also performed and recorded with Steve Winwood, Blondie, Patti Labelle, Paul Rodgers, Talking Heads, Wang Chung, Brooks and Dunn, and many many others. I've drummed on hundreds of albums and am now producing a much as I drum these days. You can see and hear some of what I've been up to on my website, www.donywynn.com.
Websites and MySpace pages give your band an avenue to upload song clips so that music fans visiting your pages can hear your music. Since my website is text-only, here's a chance for you to verbally describe Knuckle Yummy's sound and musical direction. Hopefully, you'll entice a few music fans visiting my website to link to Knuckle Yummy's sites and give your music a listen.
One thing I learned when working with Robert Palmer all those years was to always try and find how to make each recording special, have its own voice, its own niche, be true to itself and yourself.
I am completely sick and tired of several decades worth of hearing the blues used and abused beyond belief, as in BORING (exception -Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Fabulous T-Birds), so I did my homework and decided if we did this project, I wanted to put a twist on it; in Pehr and Lizzie I knew I'd found the right partners to accomplish this. I wanted to do a really old style blues project given their backgrounds and abilities, but I wanted to bring in the raw ferocity of Nine Inch Nails meets the hipness of Tom Waits, a surrealistic element injected, if you will.
We literally worked for days on our sounds alone. When the time to record came, we didn't rehearse at all, just leaping into the middle of each piece (decided on the spot), total improvisation, not unlike jazz, in a way. I wanted to bring the unpredictability, the danger back into music, which I feel is largely missing from much recorded music today. And as I mentioned, it didn't hurt we threw down with a vengeance! And we did it old school, all live, recording each track multiple times until we found the right communication, the right space, the magic. The only overdubs were percussion bits here and there. What you hear is how this band actually sounds.
We didn't do this project with any set agenda at all, just wanting to make music together for all the right reasons. Only when listening back did we discover the raw power and glory of what we'd created. Knuckle Yummy was born.
On our MySpace page, I describe our music thus... "sounds like blood, red mud, sweat, switchblades, cobalt smoke, whiskey-soaked dance floors, righteous indignation, abandon, freedom..."
Yeah, like that...
So many musicians, when questioned about their influences, mention bands and other musicians. I'd like you to comment on the influence that the culturally diverse city of Austin, Texas, had on Knuckle Yummy's music and personality.
Even though the blues music in general is real prevalent here in Austin -- always has been, and great musicians litter the landscape -- we didn't draw a damn thing from any of that. Nothing. As I've mentioned prior, we came at this old, old, venerable art form wanting to infuse some new life, some fresh blood and energy. Again, I list these influences on our MySpace page (www.myspace.com/knuckleyummy) and to me accurately sums up our influences for this music, and those are "originality, Charles Bukowski, limitations, transcendent desires, New Orleans, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, full lips, wild flowers, discordant behavior, William Burroughs, silence, noise, rhythm, Henry Miller, weed, wine, snappin' architecture, thunderstorms, snoring dogs, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Fellini, laughter, shadows, curves, Bela Bartok, Captain Beefheart, Wendy Carlos, controlled rage, and dreams."
However, I will say this about Austin and its influence, which isn't tangible, more visceral than anything, and that is FREEDOM and CHALLENGE is in the air. This city is filled, by and large, with forward-thinking people. And unlike what I see poisoning much of America, people here champion the uniqueness and individuality of its residents. This lends itself to freedom of expression, which also indirectly challenges you to be you! A concept eh? It's why I love it here, and yes, those influences have directly affected Knuckle Yummy. Indubitably.
And Dave, if you or any of your readers are heading down to Austin in March 2008 for the South By Southwest musical extravaganza, we'd love for them to come by and get them some Yummy at one of our SXSW showcases.
In today's music industry, writing and recording music presents one set of challenges. Please talk about Knuckle Yummy's next big challenge in the crazy music industry of the 21st century: getting the music heard.
Well, during my stint in trying to help create a new entertainment company for the 'Net, I discovered there were, and are, a myriad of solutions to this new problem of imminent industry collapse and reshaping. I'm hopefully utilizing this experience, this time spent to our ultimate advantage.
In as much attention has been paid to our sound and recording process, an equal amount of careful thought and planning have gone into unveiling this band to the world at large.
One, I feel the U.S. is really fragmented right now. Appreciation of the arts is at a low ebb, and trying to make your voice heard in this veritable sea of mundanity is pretty daunting, and in our case, not practical in the least. So, I'm targeting both Japan and Europe at this point in time, utilizing my connections from working with Robert to open up communication with various agencies in both places to make this happen.
I don't need or want a record company at this point. Their infrastructure is going the way of the dinosaur, and that's not even mentioning their business practices (a huge party at our expense, folks). I don't need their money to make a recording, nor do I need their direction via production. Artwork or manufacturing, either. We cover all that. I do need awareness and tour support. So, we're targeting some smaller, on the edge of the curve companies, on both continents, to establish an entirely new way to break a band as well as dealing with their problems of their advertising dollars falling flat. Once we get that up and running, it is a no-brainer for these same companies to underwrite our tour in each country.
This is a brand new age in discovering what will work for each new act, sussing out what they want out of their career, how they want to be perceived and noticed, how they want to grow and to what degree? A very exciting time to be sure. I don't foresee any ONE way that business will be conducted; there will be multiple options, as it should be. Musicians finally have a chance to totally take their career into their own hands for the first time in memory. This presents liberation and control for many, and for others, a scratching of head wondering where in the fuck to get started.
All in all, it is a damn good day to be making music. Possibilities are being invented even as I type. Out of chaos comes new order. I'll have me some of that...
I mentioned previously that websites, MySpace pages, e-mail, and YouTube videos are great marketing tools for musical artists. Is it a double-edged sword where they are also detrimental? Does the amount of time being spent using those tools take away from the creative process of making music?
No. At the heart of it, real musicians are creative beings, which translates to there are now many, many ways for them to express themselves in their careers.
All these new tools just add to the musician being able to fully express himself, and have a direct connection to the fans. At some point when it gets too big and unwieldy then, of course, you have to hire a team to deal with these elements so you can fully concentrate on what you do best. Still, I see it as yet another outlet for creative freedom. Look at Prince or Trent Reznor; all under their aegis has the unmistakable stamp of their creativity and persona. Completely, and they do it with a team they've assembled. But you see and smell them in everything they do.
For a very long time record companies told the musician, "Don't worry, we'll take care of all this for you," and they did, at a VERY HIGH price. They virtually enslaved the musician over time, conditioning him to ultimately be nothing short of lazy. Insidious at its core. You remember when Prince had 'Slave' written on his cheek in the early 90's? Well, he knew more than a little about what he was speaking. He understood all too clearly. He woke up and has consistently led the way, demonstrating new modes of business in this new century.
The curtain of Oz has been pulled back to reveal exactly what the industry of old truly represents. And now, through these tools you mentioned, musicians have the chance to fully express themselves and connect directly with the fans, as it should be. They now can exercise their creativity to its full intent and extent. And this, too, is good. Lazy pretenders? Get out of the way, go work a soup line or something, be of benefit to humanity in any way you can find...
As scary and unpredictable as this time has been and continues to be, the industry reinventing itself right before our very eyes, it's still exciting to watch new talent emerge from their tireless efforts in solitude, finally being able to speak and make themselves heard with "their voice." I feel like it's the freedom of the 60s all over again, with musicians being able to express themselves exactly as they hear it and see it and feel it, and have the tools and know how at their very fingertips to do it! Music, on the whole, has never been better, or more exciting!
I do predict, however, that there will be a huge culling of the musician herd, something long overdue, making room for the true talents and the truly compelled, the rank amateurs and opportunists finding other ways and means to satisfy their primal, hedonistic needs. The big pie in the sky gravy train promised by the companies that kept many cross-eyed and drooling? Those days of instant riches and more wine and women than the eye could fathom are gone. Only those in whose blood music boils will continue. Natural selection will soon be on prominent display. Hallelujah!
The spot at my website where I run this interview is called "5 and Dime." It's a bit of a play on words since I use the first five questions to let musicians introduce and chat about their bands. With the sixth and final question, I hope to keep the legacy of Dimebag Darrell alive. Dony, please share with my readers a personal story or memory about the late, great Dimebag.
I never met Dimebag, but I'm sure you can tell by how much I champion uniqueness and integrity in the making of music and how much I dug and appreciated his commitment to the craft. That Boy constantly leapt from the cliff without a net and never took any prisoners. Good man.
I saw Pantera perform several times during their heyday, and let me say here, I consider them the VERY BEST metal band that's ever been. In their prime, those guys were fucking Vikings. Theirs was a power unmatched in the musical pantheon. Anyway... pardon the digression... this show I saw, one more interesting than any other for reasons only mine...
The gig was in Nashville at some downtown upturned soup bowl. The entire floor was a mosh pit. The sound was killin'! The band, as usual, crushing and relentless. Not feeling in the mosh mood, we managed to walk behind the stage and sit in the seats, all by ourselves, above and behind the stage. What I witnessed from that vantage point is a memory I will never, ever forget.
Here was these four guys giving it all they had; this massive sound pummeling the air, and before them, the entire floor is heaving, writhing, and flailing like one living, breathing organism in response, like a huge sea anemone in total orgiastic ecstasy, an animalistic frenzy driven by this thunderous wall of music! I've NEVER seen a spectacle that rivaled this! There were 17 security personnel along the security fence in front of the stage, and these guys didn't have a second to breathe, hauling people over the wall, as they were, in a constant, fluid motion. And there was this bone-rattling controlled mania coming off stage... Like I said, I will never, ever, ever forget that sight, that sound.
Delivering music on that level takes a certain type of individual. The high you receive performing in that environment isn't easily compared, and I also know this about that, it isn't easy to come down after such an event. At all. And to the level and intensity those guys gave, I don't see how they EVER came down! And that in itself is a testament to their tenacity and willingness to give it all, not leaving anything on the floor, night after night after night.
So, on that note, here's to you, motherfucker!