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Interview with Jill Dawson
By Ben Ohmart
(more articles from this author)
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HEADLINE: Small Town Girl Sings To World! That's our Jill Dawson. A big voice trying to be heard over other big voices. What makes her special? Have a peak at the conversation in progress...

Talk To Me (MP3)

[Ben Ohmart] You were born in Wisconsin, but where are you living now? With the internet machine, is it possible to make a living from music from Anywhere, or are the big cities still very necessary?

[Jill Dawson] Yes, I was born and raised in Wisconsin, in a small town of under 1000 people. Though it was a wonderfully innocent experience, I always had an itch for more than miles of cornfields and Saturday night bingo. Since then, I've traveled extensively in the U.S. and in western Europe. Finding a place to settle was a difficult decision, but given my husband is also from the Midwest and we both have many connections in Chicago, it was the logical choice.

Establishing a music career in a larger city is definitely a plus if you are looking to make a living from music. The internet can play a very critical role in the day to day managing of an independent artist's career, but may not necessarily equate to the CD sales required to pay the bills. I love using the internet as a tool to research venues, promote my music, and even network with artists and fans. But, I still find it is the live performance that typically solidifies the sale. This probably varies by genre, but for singer/songwriters such as myself, the delivery at a show is a very big part of the craft. People today are bombarded with so much information online, it is easy for them to get distracted and forget about you if you don't already have a connection with them.

[Ben] Acquiring good reviews for your debut cd, First Time Around, is beginning to become a habit with you. Jill, tell us what it took to get this 1st album accomplished.

[Jill Dawson] I'm very pleased with the warm response First Time Around has received. Originally, I just wanted a decent sounding recording to represent where I am as an artist. The intention was to have something I could give out to friends and family, and have a piece of art I could personally reflect on in order to grow as a songwriter. As time went on, the strong interest from my fans convinced me to take it more seriously. Many requested a copy of my CD before we were even finished with the first few tracks.

The recording experience itself was incredibly positive. I was fortunate in so many ways: a patient co-producer, an experienced and well respected recording engineer, amazingly talented musicians, a loving and supportive family, as well as a part time consulting job to help pay for the recording as it was being created. There was a creative energy at every session, which allowed me to continue to write new songs and rewrite old ones for the album. The most difficult part was knowing when I should stop because I was having so much fun.

[Ben] How'd you get into your particular genre of pop-folk music?

[Jill Dawson] I write what comes naturally, and what appeals to me personally. I like music that has a message, yet is still strong melodicly - and of course, if I get lucky and it has a great hook, I'm in pure bliss. Traditionally, folk music has always been about the story and the message, and pop music is more about a good feel or vibe. Combining both of these elements into one song is very inviting to me. I'm starting to write in different genres, a little more rock, blues, and even a little bit of alt-country. Who knows where the songwriting muse will lead me next??

[Ben] Are you married, serious or single? What are the difficulties for a woman rockin' out there on her own all the time?

[Jill Dawson] I'm lucky to have a very supportive husband. He has 'creative types' in his family, and strongly respects the arts. Still, I do spend a lot of time on my own for shows and networking with other musicians. Honestly, I enjoy meeting new people, and walking into different situations blindly. I also actually like driving by myself. It is a great time for reflection, to clear my head, and generate new song ideas. I've joked that I need a 'songwriter on board' bumper sticker to warn surrounding traffic. I never know when I may have to pull over to write down an inspired thought.

The most difficult aspects of being out there alone - hmmm, on the road, I really despise setting up equipment on my own. Lugging those PA speakers and finding someone competent to help with a sound check can be frustrating. In general, my biggest concern is knowing who to trust out there. When women are approached by someone who wants to help them, sometimes we have to question their motives. With a small Midwestern town background, I'm a pretty trusting gal, which is not always a good thing.

[Ben] Do you have a favorite song from the new cd? What's the story behind it?

[Jill Dawson] Every song I write is like a child - .I love them all the same. Although, I really enjoy playing the more intimate acoustic songs live. Least likely is a fun one to sing to engage the audience of a smaller acoustic venue. The story behind it - .Well, I had a slight crush on a guy I sat next to in geology 101 at UW-Madison. After a semester of batting eyelashes at him, I realized his kind words and smiles were sincere but solely in the most platonic sense.

[Ben] Are you still going to tour in Australia and New Zealand this year? How much trouble was That to set up??

[Jill Dawson] Yes, I'm departing for Australia at the end of February, as a matter of fact. My trip has actually expanded into a temporary relocation, and I'm absolutely thrilled. So, how did this all come to be? Well, don't discount the connections of your day job. Though I resigned from a consulting job to pursue music full time, it appears I left a volume of not only colleagues but also fans behind. The tentacles of the global consulting firm allowed for my music to reach a global fan base not only within the U.S., but also in Europe and Australia. Interest and connections for a tour 'down under' stemmed from there. How did it expand into a temporary relocation? - .My husband works for a global firm as well, allowing him to transfer his work to Australia temporarily.

[Ben] If you could pick your favorite area of what to do in music, what would it be? Writing, recording, performing, etc?

[Jill Dawson] I've always loved to sing, and have performed in musical theatre since I was in elementary school. The opportunity to perform is what keeps me going when things get tough. I have a love/hate relationship with songwriting. I compare it to an obsessive compulsive disorder - .song ideas are constantly looming. I absolutely HAVE to write, but I have a difficult time completing songs. I'm a perfectionist, and mull over the right chord, the right word, the right feel. This part is painful, but I'm the most proud parent when the song is shaped enough to share with the rest of the listening world.

[Ben] Is POP or FOLK too overused a word? Do you have your own genre label for the specialty you do?

[Jill Dawson] I like to define myself as compassionate acoustic pop. It is pop music, with an acoustic foundation that has a message. A mix of pop and folk is also appropriate, but here is the thing: Most often, if the song is performed solo by a female artist with an acoustic guitar, people label it 'folk.' I can relate to that though I don't necessarily agree. The difficulty with the definition of 'pop' is that it has morphed in recent years. It used to be that Sarah Mclachlin and Sheryl Crow were described as pop. Now it is Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera that are being described as pop. The danger is that using 'pop' does not necessarily preface the listener for what they are expected to hear. This will always be confusing for artists that are doing something unique, that also parallels to what is popular at the time.

[Ben] What/who do you cover when you're playing live? Have you ever tried anything strangely daring, like a soft guitar version of We Ain't Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister, or something?

[Jill Dawson] I've done many of the 'bar scene' gigs, playing almost 80% covers. You name it, I've probably tried it - from the Rolling Stones, The Romantics, Tom Petty, the Wallflowers, to U2 and the 4 Non-Blondes. Now that I'm playing mainly original music gigs, I do incorporate past favorites into the show as a change up. I like the 80s stuff from my childhood. Debby Harry with 'The Tide is High,' the Eurhythmics with 'Sweet Dreams.' Not all that strangely daring, but fun.

[Ben] Besides the touring, what's on your plate for the coming year, personal and professional?

[Jill Dawson] I expect 2001 to be a very creative year, enriched by my adventures in Australia. Professionally, I'll be working on material for the next album, and shopping for a more accomplished producer in order to release a new album in early 2002. Personally, I will be traveling immensely, throughout Australia, to New Zealand, and tentatively Asia/Pacific. My plate is plentiful this year.

[Ben] If you had a hammer, you'd __________

[Jill Dawson] I'd hang pictures - of where I've been, who I've met, and what has inspired me along the way with the hopes that my pictures would inspire others to see the world and be inspired themselves. Metaphorically, I guess that is what I hope I'm doing by sharing my music.

Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Jill Dawson - First Time Around - Independent Records (2000-12-19)

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