Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sharing A Six Pack With Nick Dittmeier And The Sawdusters

About a a year and a half ago, Louisville-based songwriter Nick Dittmeier (web | Twitter) hit my radar with his EP, Light of Day. He and his now-named band, The Sawdusters, are back with a full-length album to be released on January 15, 2016: Midwest Heart Southern Blues. And from what I can tell, there is no "and" or comma between the two phrases. So remember that as you rave about this 'un going forward.

Tee the thing up and hold on for a fast country-influenced but rockin' ride. Dittmeier and company don't give you much time to catch your breath as the album starts with a quick-paced opening pair of My True Love...

... and Centralia.

I had the opportunity recently to share a six pack (of questions) with Dittmeier and Sawdusters' guitarist Zane Hilton.

TMC: The band has played a bunch of gigs over the last year and a half or so since the EP was released. What kinds of big lessons did y'all learn about songwriting for the full album after playing in support of it? Or maybe just lessons about road life in general? Ha.
ND: It just allowed us a lot of time to be together and have opportunities to work on new music, have it in the front of our mind so much, maybe talk about it too. Through touring, outside of having opportunities to work things into the sets, we did things like video blogs that served as pre-production opportunities too. Lessons about the road - pack more socks than you think you're gonna need.
ZH: I think one big thing we learned was how to connect to each other personally on the road. You spend days on end with these guys and learn how to adapt to everyone's distinct personalities. You don't want to piss anyone off or go crazy yourself having very little privacy, so you learn how to act as a team. And I think that's a direct reflection of the construction for the record. We all have our own individualistic styles of playing. We each put our own individual pieces in to create this sound, our sound, and not step on each others toes. In the end you have this cohesive raw sound.  
TMC: How would you describe your approach to songwriting? Are you one to carry around random couplets, hooks and refrains for a while? Or perhaps prefer dedicated songwriting sessions?
ND: I'm always writing songs and trying to develop new ideas. It's always best to stay a few steps ahead of what you're going to be doing next. When I feel I have a solid outline of a song, then the whole band will start working on it. I write constantly when things come to me so I always have a few things going.
TMC: Were the songs for Midwest Blues Southern Blues written specifically for the album? Or did you have some of them on the shelf for a while as you looked for the right time to put them on an album?
ND: No, we knew we were going to have to put a full-length out so we just introduced new songs piece by piece. I just kept introducing what I felt was my best material to the band. There were songs I liked but didn't make the cut. One song in particular Rhythm of the Train was a complete rewrite as far as the melody went. The original was a New Orleans, second-line type song, but we just didn't feel like it meshed. 
TMC: One thing that caught my ear going back to the EP and continuing with the new release is the guitar work by you and Zane. Kind of a "deliberate picking" style that reminds me a bit of old school country and Southern rock feel - but with a contemporary quick pace. Tell me a bit about pickers or bands that have influenced y'all and what kind of experimenting you've done with string gauges and picks to nail your sound.
ND: Guitar players that influenced me would be Pete Anderson on all the Dwight Yoakam albums up until the early 2000s, Lowell George of Little Feat, and Willie Nelson. Just the way Willie adds a lot of chromatic notes and plays behind the beat. Also Vince Gill and Eric Clapton. As far as equipment goes, I keep the most basic set-up you can have - an American Telecaster and a Fender DeVille tube amp. After we got off stage in Cincinnati one time, a guy asked what kind of pedals I use and I just said "a tuner". 
ZH: For me,  Don Rich and Waylon Jennings. Sturgill Simpson on those early Sunday Valley records were monstrous. Nick and I really dug the Turnpike Troubadours also. The fiddle and guitar both play lead, but they do a fantastic job of playing off each other. For us, it just goes back to playing together so much and being individuals working as a team to build a cohesive song. Basic Stuff - Fender Teles through Fender tube amps. Gold. 
Pills, Jesus And War (TMC fave track)

TMC: Among my faves from the album is Stabbed To Death in Ohio. But where in the hell did THAT title and song come from?
ND: I wrote that song two winters ago back when we had a really cold one. We just dealt with a lot of snow and ice. I had a gig to play about an hour north in Central Indiana, and I knew it was going to snow pretty much about the time I would be finishing and driving back. I kinda fibbed to her and said that it's just supposed to rain because I needed money. So the song is really about lying to the wife to go play a gig and then getting killed. The word "Indiana" just had one too many syllables in it so I changed it to Ohio.
TMC: (I'm about to render a generalization that's likely way off base but here goes anyway.) With technology, it's about as easy as ever to lay down demos, record songs, design artwork, etc. But doing the promotion, booking gigs, getting the attention of those who can make a difference, riding the road, etc. is as tough as ever. The challenge has to be even greater for a band than one individual looking to eke out an living as an artist. How have y'all managed to keep moving forward with your art and still keep food on the table, gas in the tank, and booze in your belly?
ND: We've just tried to keep an open mind about everything and keep our nose to the grindstone. Things we've done well and places we've done well in we've tried to build on that, and places we haven't we've tried to learn about what we can do to improve things.
ZH: The music business is wild. There's no set guideline saying "This is how you do it".  It's all about hard work, trial and error. Putting in the countless man hours and believing in your product as a band. We are all making personal sacrifices to make the wheels bellies included. But at the end of the day, it's all about doing what you love.   
Dittmeier's album is solid from top to bottom. It includes plenty of twang, railroad brushes on the snare, the aforementioned fancy guitar picking, and more. In addition to the songs referenced here, other winners include Ever Since You Left Town and The Poet, The Priest & Me (a true guitar showcase for Hilton).

I appreciate Nick and Zane sharing a six pack of Q&A, and I look forward to sharing a sixer of another variety at their record release show at Nashville's The Basement on January 15th.


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