A Dylan in full bloom: Rocker flourishes with Wallflowers

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
November 10, 1996

“I’d hate for you to write this story and have everyone think I’m a happy, cheerful person,” Jakob Dylan said. “It’s not good for the image of the group.”

He’s joking.

The Wallflowers’ lead singer-songwriter-guitarist proved to be anything but a wallflower during a recent telephone interview from his Los Angeles home. His pensive songs may exude bittersweet longing, but in real life he is chatty and quick-witted and the first one to poke fun at himself.

The band’s 1992 self-titled debut album was a critically acclaimed stunner. If the lyrics were a little weak, Dylan more than made up for it with his impassioned delivery. Four years and a few lineup changes later, the Wallflowers are back with the superior “Bringing Down the Horse.”  Dylan has matured into a strong songwriter and confident singer, painting vibrant vignettes with his words. The band’s music is a hybrid of rock with a bit of folk and country thrown in.

Currently on the road with Blues Traveler, the Wallflowers – which also include pianist Rami Jaffee, bassist Greg Richling, guitarist Michael Ward and drummer Mario Calire – will perform Thursday at UIC Pavilion.  In between rehearsals and shooting the band’s next video (for “One Headlight”), Dylan, 26, took some time to fill in his Chicago area fans on what the band’s been up to.

But first a few facts: He’s married and the father of a baby boy. And yes, Dylan is Bob’s son . . .  but he doesn’t particularly like talking about that.

Q. You could have billed yourself as a solo artist and toured with a backup band. What made you decide on forming the Wallflowers instead?

A. I’ve always liked listening to groups growing up, and I still do.  I really enjoy playing with the same people all the time because I know what to expect and that I can depend on them. Otherwise you get into this whole area where you make a record where your sound is different each time and you’ve got to hire and fire people with each new project. I just don’t want to be part of that. I like being with these four.

Q. You once said that the band is as much responsible as you for the Wallflowers’ sound.  How has that dynamic changed as the lineup revolved over the years?

A. The lineup has changed, but I do think this is the lineup and the caliber of players I’ve always wanted.  Even though it’s all different now, it all happened over five years or so.  There was always four guys in the group and one guy on the way out, but the core was always there.  It wasn’t like I stopped the group and looked for three or four new players each time.  We’d get somebody new in the group and they’d adapt over time and things would improve, but the sound would stay similar at the same time.

Q. “6th Avenue Heartache” has really caught on with radio and MTV.  Are you surprised at how the public has taken to it?

A. Now it’s become, “That damn song!”  (Laughs.)  The video is kind of funny because the frames move so fast.  We all kind of realized that none of us can actually look at anyone but ourselves. The other day I finally looked at other members.  I said to Michael, “You know what?  I watched you the other day.”

Q. How apprehensive were you of doing a video where the band members are just basically being band members?

A. Not at all.  The group was looking for an idea like that where we didn’t really have to do anything but be ourselves.  I like those videos more where the band kind of just does what it does.  The problem is usually those  videos are really boring.  But our director had an angle and made something interesting out of it.

Q. Yeah, I don’t think the public can handle the sight of you guys flying around in Spandex yet . . .

A. Well, wait till the next one (for “One Headlight”)!  You’ve got to take care of business.  You’ve got to reach all areas of the fan base out there.

Q. You weren’t much more than a child when you made your debut album.  When you hear when you wrote back then, do you cringe?

A. I recorded that album when I was 21, and it came out in 1992. I wrote about things that mattered to me then, but I think I have a more concise way of doing it now. I do like that first record, but I think it was long-winded and a lot of things needed to be narrowed down a little more. You do change. I get asked a lot, “This record is so different. Did you try to do that?” And you know, the answer is, not really. I just grew up.

Q. You grew up as the son of one of rock’s most revered artists. Which of his albums is your favorite?

A. Um, “Moondance.”  I would have to say that one.

Q. How many times have you seen your name misspelled with a “c”?

A. Quite a few. I’ve actually even seen it spelled, believe it or not, when I was young as “Ja-Cub.”  But misspelling a name isn’t an opinion, it’s a mistake, so it doesn’t bother me.

Q. How many different variations have you heard of your album title?

A. I know.  A lot of people think our album is called “Bringing Down the House” or “Burning Down the Horse.”    It’s kind of funny ’cause a good friend of mine thought that in one of my songs, I was singing, “God don’t make homely girls,” but it’s, “God don’t make lonely girls.”   I suppose it’s all perception.

Q. As the opening act, what do you expect from this tour?

A. As the opener, I expect to not be allowed to eat.  (Laughs.) We opened up for a long time, and people either treat you really bad or very good, depending on how they were treated when they were the opener.  So I’m prepared to get absolutely nothing from the headliner except stage time.

Q. You have a bittersweet quality to your music. Would it be inappropriate to describe your songs as melancholy?

A. There are certainly a lot meaner things you could say.  I wouldn’t object to it.  It’s a pretty common emotion.  Everybody probably gets that way at some point.  It just comes out in all my songwriters’ babble.  I don’t know.  You do what you do and I do what I do.  I don’t have to call myself anything. I’m just here.

Q. Well, your songs do have a haunting quality.

A.   I’m trying to scare people out of rock ‘n’ roll so we’ll be the last ones standing. I see some pretty terrified people at our shows. I guess the record is a little more dark than me.  When you write music you write with a certain personality each time. It’s up to everybody how honest and clear they want to be. And as far as the material being somber and dark, I don’t think “Wooly Bully” is going to work for me.

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