On March 13, 2020, Steve Wynn conducted an exclusive interview with Cleveland-based, POW Magazine contributor, John J. Callahan. Steve Wynn, founding member of Dream Syndicate, called to discuss their new release, The Universe Inside. Steve was a guest of 89.3, WCSB, during Friday Night Rock Rotation. Steve announced his commitment to perform a solo show at the Blue Arrow Records in Cleveland to celebrate its April 10 release
The COVID-19 pandemic had other plans.
Here is a portion of their conversation:
JC: Steve Wynn, can you here me?
Steve Wynn: I do! Success! All it took was for you to hang up on me!
JC: Ha! This is college radio at its most amateur-ish!
Steve Wynn: My last gig before my current one was a college radio DJ, so I get it. I know what’s goin’ on!
JC: I remember that from our last conversation! Remind me again of what college station you were on…
Steve Wynn: I was at KDVS in Davis, California. I was the program director and had my own show. I loved it and I miss it all the time.
JC: Oh, my goodness… Well, first of all, let me thank you for being patient with me as I blindly press the buttons to try to bring you in…And I want to remind our listeners, that we have a legend of rock ‘n’ roll here. We have Mr. Steve Wynn from the Dream Syndicate, The Baseball Project… from the Miracle 3, and variety of other acts that you were an adjunct member or full member of… live on our WCSB phoneline here in the studio. So, Steve, let me thank you…
Steve Wynn: All of those things…and they are all still active things! It’s great!
JC: So, how are you?
Steve Wynn: Doing well, but crazy times, of course, we are finding our way, but as I keep saying to people I know, that we have the macro and micro going on. It’s the macro that we are all connected on, but it’s the micro, for me, and all other musicians scrambling to cancel gigs, and figure out what you are going to do. So that aside, great!
JC: You don’t have a dry cough or a fever right now?
Steve Wynn: At this moment, no. And I hope you are doing fine. Are you alright?
JC: I am, but I am concerned. I am not losing my mind here, just trying to be sensible.
Steve Wynn: Right now, that’s all you can do, just be sensible. The macro, we see on the news all the time, so I will stick with the micro, looking at three days ago, I was scheduled to go down to Austin with the Dream Syndicate for six shows next week for the South by Southwest Fest, and then fly to the Arctic Circle to a city called Vadso in the North of Norway to play a festival with members of the Baseball Project, then come back and immediately go on a tour that would bring me to Cleveland. As of right now, South by Southwest is cancelled, and the Vadso Festival is cancelled. But as of this minute, I am still coming to Cleveland!
JC: Well that’s the idea! The show here that we are going to talk about is that you are going to be playing at probably one of the greatest record stores I have ever been to, and that’s the Blue Arrow here in Cleveland…
Steve Wynn: Run by the greatest people, Pete [Gulyas] and Debbie [Gulyas]!
JC: Could you ask for better people?
Steve Wynn: No!
JC: They are so kind. I just got a communique from them They were on tour with Jonathan Richman…
Steve Wynn: Whoa.
JC: …And that who thing has been cancelled. They are headed home, if not home right now. So, let’s just cross our fingers, and hope that things even out… and that you are able to keep your date, April 10th, at the Blue Arrow… to do a live show at Blue Arrow Records. The idea was that I was going to produce the show and play it over the air for everyone to hear.
Steve Wynn: John, don’t speak in the past tense.
JC: Right. That’s the plan!
Steve Wynn: When I had to cancel the Dream Syndicate shows in down in Austin and this Norwegian festival, because there were plenty of flights involved a lot of other people, but for Cleveland, I am going to show up by myself in a rental car and pull out the guitar and walk right in and play some music and I hope that can still work, so we’ll see.
JC: Alright! Cool.
Steve Wynn: The show is almost sold out, too, which is great. So anyone who has faith in this whole thing, and wants to go, had better get tickets now, because they are almost gone.
JC: Cool. Congratulations! I am hoping to see you on April 10th…So I have to put us in the time machine and take us back a few years. You and I, we spent some tie together in the studio a few years ago. And… I am shaking my finger at you…because, I don’t remember if you remember the story here. We sat down. We talked about rock ‘n’ roll. We talked about your history in rock, and we played records.
Steve Wynn: I do remember that. My memory is not all gone.
JC: That’s cool. Do you remember when we played The Fall? [laughing]… We played a track by The Fall, and you got me suspended for a few weeks, because I didn’t preview it… and…
Steve Wynn: I do remember that! What track was it?
JC: Any song with Mark E. Smith can be laced [with foul language] and get you in trouble. At any moment, he can go off at any moment. I think that’s hilarious when I think back about it! It was so much fun. You were so generous with you and your time. I was at the show the night before, you were playing with the Miracle 3 at the Beachland, and it was a late night, for you and me… I can imagine your evening was much later than me… We were at WCSB pretty early in the morning. That was really cool. But time has passed since then, so I want to know what you have been up to. I understand that this tour is going to be a retrospective of a lot of your work over the years. So what’s going on?
Steve Wynn: A lot is going on! One of the main things going on…I really extremely excited about…There is a new Dream Syndicate Album coming out on April 10th! That’s the day of the show! Isn’t it? Holy cow!
JC: Yes! It is! Holy smokes!
Steve Wynn: The amazing part is that there is a new record coming out. The single out on all of the various sites, anything streamed out there, it’s called “The Regulator”. I try to avoid hyperbole and hype, after the years of doing this, because it’s silly. Things come and go, but this is my favorite record that we [The Dream Syndicate] have ever done. Its everything the band has ever been about. It’s a double album called “The Universe Inside”, a double album with only five songs! The first single, “The Regulator” is 20 minutes long. It’s the kind of thing that we really enjoy. It’s a sprawling thing. In some ways, its kind of a problem thing. But I will have advance copies to sell and sign that night. But you can buy it wherever you buy records.
But the other the thing is this tour. I have done a lot of solo touring… all over Europe, I have played everything from clubs to halls to house concerts, and churches. You name it! It is mostly what I do these days… But, I have never done a solo acoustic tour of the US. So, for the first time, just head out on there with my guitar, my back catalog, some stories, and show up in different places. So, it’s a really cool tour put together, 12 cities in 14 days. Cleveland is right in the middle of it.
JC: Well, that sounds awesome! My mouth is hanging there. The record comes out on the day that you are at the Blue Arrow! That is really cool! So, if you have these five songs and a double album, these are sprawling songs that you just work out, are you going to doing some new arrangements? Will you be playing any of the new material?
Steve Wynn: Naaah! I call tell you right now, No!
Steve Wynn: I will be talking about it a lot, but after the show, maybe we can throw the record [The Universe Inside] on! It’s a really wild record.
The story with the record: We – The Dream Syndicate – were in the studio in Virginia working on some things. It was the end of the night. It got to be pretty late at night, around midnight. We were kinda done for the day. We were having a few beers. Steve McCarthy of the Long Riders stopped by, are old friend, he lives in Richmond, where we record. He is an old pal, and he came by, and I played heard some ideas we were working on. I said the studio is still open, and the engineer is still here, let’s go ahead a jam for awhile and have some fun. So, we went out in the studio and we played for 80 minutes straight. We just improvised the whole time. That’s how we talk. That’s how we hang out. We could sit and tell stories, or we can pick up our instruments and communicate that way. So, over the year that followed, I listened to the tapes all the time and just fell in love with it. I thought, “There is something cool here.” So, I went back last fall, and I wrote words to all of it. I did a lot of editing, and mixing and matching, almost like those Miles Davis records that Teo Macero would do with the same thing with the raw sessions and we added more things, added horns and various instruments to it. To be honest, it is a 60-minute record, and it does not feel like a jam. There is nothing wrong with jamming. It feels very composed and constructed. And it became this thing that we got excited about, and we approached our label, ANTI Records, and they said, “We love this.” So, there you go.
Steve Wynn: Not only will I not being playing live; I don’t think the band could play it live if we walked into the record store! We would have to learn how to play it! It is bigger that we were originally did. We will do it. We eventually get out there and play it live.
JC: I can just imagine how that unfolded. I have see you play before, and I seeing you in my mind’s eye, I am seeing this event. It just sounds wonderful. Oh my goodness.
Steve Wynn: So, go ahead, John. It’s up there. Its on YouTube or Spotify or Apple. The 20-minute track is out there. There is a wild, full length video that goes along with the song. The first video is up there, the 20-minute video is available on YouTube. So, you can do that.
JC: We are listening to Steve Wynn, the guitar and voice behind the Dream Syndicate, and we are talking and catching up. We are talking about rock ‘n’roll. So, when did you record that? This is about a year ago?
Steve Wynn: It was a year and half ago.
JC: But there was a lot of editing
Steve Wynn: The 80-minute free form jam thing got shaved down to 60-minutes, some things got moved around, honed, we took liberties with it, just had fun with it. The best comparison I think of is, for Jazz fans out there, is, when you hear records like “Bitch’s Brew” – Can I say that? Did I get you in trouble again?
JC: You’re good!
Steve Wynn: [Laughing] “Bitch’s Brew” or “Jack Johnson” or “On the Corner” – some of my favorite jazz records of all time, then you hear the box sets that come out and you hear the raw material, you are like “Oh my God! They were just goofing around!” Whether it was the producer, Teo Macero, or Miles, or whoever, said, “Let’s just take these ingredients, and make a whole new stew out of the whole thing.” Which is what we did as well.
JC: So, you are mentioning all of these jazz artists, and I love these jazz artists, too, so… Is that what you have been listening to? What were you listening to that spawned this 80-minute jam?
Steve Wynn: From day one, I have been a jazz fan forever, since my early teens. And when we began the Dream Syndicate, we honestly, and without any intention of sounding pretentious, we saw ourselves as much as jazz band as anything. We were listening to things like Albert Ayler or Ornette Coleman. We wrote a song called “John Coltrane Stereo Blues”. Even though we were rock musicians, and at the time of “Days of Wine and Roses” amateur rock musicians, in our own way, we just said, let’s take a basic theme, a basic riff, a basic idea, and we would just play it until we drop, and then see where it goes. And it goes somewhere different every night! I would never presume to say that we musicians like Kamasi Washington live at the Apollo… Now they guys can play! In my whole life I will never be able to play that well. But we had our own way of communicating together. The thing we do is…We listening to each other, and we follow the moment! Which IS the same thing that Kamasi does, and the same thing Miles did, and same thing they all did…You are just there and present in the moment. And that is what I have done with the Dream Syndicate and Miracle 3. The excitement is when you’re playing in a band to each other, and letting the audience witness what is going down. Now when I play at Blue Arrow, it is going to be an entirely different story. I am going to be jamming with the audience. I will be taking in the people in the store and what’s happening that night and how we are all feeling, moment by moment, as I feel excitement, or apprehension, I am sure that I will be responding to that. That is the difference between playing solo or playing with a band. When I am solo, I am jamming with the crowd.
JC: As a consumer of music, not a maker of music, as a consumer of music, that is what I chase… That moment, when, like William Butler Yeats, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” That communication between the art and artist and the brothers and sisters all around me… That sounds amazing. Its cool to hear from you. You are on that side of the mic. You’re vibing off the crowd… that is exactly what I seek out. So thank you for that.I hear what you are saying, but when I listen to those early Dream Syndicate records, I hear post punk. I hear the Velvet Underground. Preparing for this evening, I grabbed Television, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, because that is what I hear. It is so interesting that you were vibing off of this jazz thing, and that’s what created those early Dream Syndicate records
Steve Wynn: And everything you just named! In the year before forming the Dream Syndicate, I was living in a basement in LA, and I spent most of my days and nights practicing guitar. I went through a phase where that was all I did. I always felt like I was a rhythm guitarist. In many ways still fell like I am, but I worked on my lead playing that year. The two records that I practiced to – all the time – were “Love cry” by Albert Ayler – which is a great record, and I practiced to that because you could do anything and be right – you just have to find a way to work into the record… and the other was “Marquee Moon”. I played along to that record endlessly. Television was a part of it. And of course, the Velvets were. I wouldn’t say Sonic Youth or Husker Du because they were our contemporaries. Some of the post punk things were happening, like The Feelies, even Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen were happening then. We were just one year behind them, but it felt like that they were the elder statesmen.
JC: And you played with the Rain Parade, too. Correct? Those are your pals?
Steve Wynn: Yeah, we did shows with them, played with them, back then, yeah.
JC: And we lost one, a great member of the Rain Parade. I am sorry for your loss, and for all of us….
Steve Wynn: The week before Dave Roback died, the Dream Syndicate played a show with the Rain Parade out in Oakland. We had a night together. We had a really fun night. I actually sat in with them on a song called, “You are my friend” which Matt Piucci wrote about David leaving the band. David was kinda in the air that night. You know his brother Steven is still in the Rain Parade. I can’t honestly say if Matt knew how sick he was. None of us knew he was that sick. I heard that he died at 61. While there is no good way to lose a friend, you hope that it wasn’t something horrible. But it is awful. Cancer is terrible. He was always a very private person. My big connection to David was that be played in bands together, but the other was that he left the Rain Parade and took our bass player, Kendra Smith to make music together.
JC: And they formed Opal.
Steve Wynn: I was heart broken when she left, When Kendra said she was leaving, it just like crushed me beyond belief. But, knew what she was doing and why, and she made some great music with David.
JC: Which became Mazzy Star.
Steve Wynn: That was after she (Kendra Smith) left.
JC: That’s amazing.
Steve Wynn: You think about our little Paisley Underground scene, we have been relatively unhit by that kind of thing. If you think about the Ramones, they are all gone! That’s shocking! All of the Ramones are gone! How is that possible? Knock on wood, but in our crazy little LA scene, we lost a few – the drummer from Green on Red, Alex MacNicol, and Gil Ray from the Rain Parade, are gone. But most of them are still alive and most are still making great music. Of all of the people from that scene, He was the most successful. I know that the Bangles had some hit records that were extremely successful, but he made some music with Mazzy Star that is still a touchstone for all kinds of music fans and different generations and reached so many people. If you would have put us all paisley people in a line up and said who was going to be the monster hitmaker, I don’t know if you would have said, David, but there he was!
JC: I was thinking about this before the show, I was listening to Marquee Moon and I had to end it early so I could fumble around with the instruments and bring you in…So I was thinking of what would be Steve Wynn’s “Walk up” song? What would be mine? You are a baseball fan, what would be your “walk up” song, Steve?
Steve Wynn: You think I would have an automatic answer for this one! Being a baseball fan and in a band that sings about baseball, I would have one. I guess that opening riff from Marquee Moon would be great! [Imitates the riff]
JC: I would have to swing for the fences. Mine would be “Unchained” by Van Halen.
Steve Wynn: Wow. Okay.