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TYMINSKI: SOUTHERN EXPOSURE

by Simon Glickman

You may know Mercury Nashville's Tyminski as Dan Tyminski, the respected musician/vocalist hailed for his work in Alison Krauss & Union Station and as the singer of hit "Man of Constant Sorrow" in O Brother, Where Art Thou? A turning point for his career came when he collaborated with Avicii on the roots-EDM hybrid "Hey Brother," which helped sow the seeds for his evocative new project, Southern Gothic. On the set, Tyminski explores compelling themes of sin and salvation and crafts a fascinating amalgam of styles—swamptronica? Call it what you will, but it gets under your skin.

You came from roots music and you’d been in the world for quite a long time but then took this detour.
It was all quite accidental. I’ve always loved all types of music-- rock and roll and country and jazz—I just happen to have grown up playing bluegrass music. But there was always a reward at the end of the journey whenever I did something different—I found myself really loving it. First O Brother made a big splash, and then I did “Hey Brother” with Avicii, which was as much an experiment as anything. I just wanted to give it a try because I liked the song. When I heard the song played back I didn’t expect it to sound like I was meant to be there. It turns out that when I take some left turns and try new things it seems to work. That’s what led to this new project, Southern Gothic.

How did the Avicii project come to you?
Someone from Avicii’s camp contacted us. My first response was that I didn’t really understand what EDM was. I turned it down on the spot at first, but I agreed to listen to the song, and I texted my daughter who was very excited. She said, “You have to do it or I’m not your daughter anymore.” When I finally listened to the song, it just made so much sense for me. I sang that song with one guitar it was literally just two strings of a guitar and a click track. I just sang the vocal and sent him the vocal parts. He then put those vocal parts to the music.

Not only was “Hey Brother” a big commercial success, but it influenced your new creative direction.
It gave me the courage to step outside of the box and see if we could actually do something unique and different. I was able to use that courage to go places with this new music.

When and how did what became Southern Gothic first materialize?
It started with me taking a publishing deal so I could use my time effectively here in Nashville. I had enough time off but I thought a few days a week I could write songs and write some music and see if I couldn’t have some success on the other side of this stuff. I had always performed but never really written. Barry Coburn with Ten Ten Publishing signed me. That led to me meeting and sitting in rooms with people I would never have found myself with any other way. I ultimately met Jesse Frasure, who ended up producing this record. I wrote with Jesse and Sarah Buxton; that was the first write.

 And we did something so completely different and new and fresh. I mean it didn’t sound like anything, it just got me so excited. I went home thinking that I hadn’t even realized it was possible to go that far outside of my bluegrass and country stuff. Every time we got together after that, we just tried to go to unoccupied real estate. I have to give Jesse a huge amount of credit for this; his vision for different musical parts that can work together. He just has a fantastic mind and we hit it off really quickly.

 But you were still thinking of these as songs for other artists.
We’d written a few songs that I really wished I could have done myself but had to accept that I was giving them to other people. The publishers pitched them to different people and they ended up going across the desk of Mike Dungan at Universal Nashville. He told Barry, “I love this music, but it kinda sounds like Dan. Would he be interested in doing it himself?” It was just like this backdoor fantasy. But the thought of getting to do a project really made me sit back and take stock. As I collected the music, as the songs gathered, I felt like I had to honor that group of songs—it was an enormous opportunity. I felt like I would’ve really been sorry later in my life if I had passed on the chance to do this material. 

Can you give us a peek into how the different musical elements worked together as you were creating the songs?
I think that comes from taking people who have different experiences. Jesse has a lot of Blues background and listens to a lot of doo-wop music, stuff that’s very far outside of what I listen to. The first single on this record is “Bloodline,” and if you listen to this song it has a very Asian-sounding part, and you’d wonder why this would possibly be in there. But Jesse hears different things and lets our ears decide if it’s right or not. It doesn’t have to work on paper. If you listen to it and it makes you feel that emotion, he says, “Let’s do it.” To have someone like that in my corner to make music with just opens doors for me that make it amazing.

I take it that “Bloodline” is going to radio?
We’re pushing it as our first single and I’m just so excited about it. I don’t pretend to really understand Country radio or what my place in it is, if I have one, but I feel like “Bloodline” is the best song to allow a listen to some of the other harder material.

I would imagine people who love Chris Stapleton and Eric Church are going to respond.

I can only hope. At the end of the day I took the same approach with this record as I do with everything I’ve ever done: I made sure that when I listened to it, I believed it myself. I’ve had an entire career without worrying about radio or other mainstream issues. I played niche music. When she saw some initial reviews, my girlfriend said, “Wow can you handle that criticism?” I said “Baby, I grew up playing banjo in Vermont. Criticism? It’s gotta hit pretty hard before I can feel it.”

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