Fishman Artists

Will Dailey

Fishman Artist // Will Dailey

At their best, singer/songwriters provide a link to the past while embodying their own times – and there is no better example of this continuum than Will Dailey, the award-winning Boston singer/songwriter who returns in 2009 with Torrent 1-2. Dailey’s music may be rooted in classic rock – as he says, “It’s part of your vernacular growing up” – but his songs aren’t stuck in the past, they’re vital, beautiful tunes about the here and now. And there’s no better illustration of how Dailey is all about the present than Torrent, which is not an album in the conventional sense: it’s an ongoing project. Call Torrent a conversation between artist and audience, as it invites listeners to follow Dailey on his journey as an artist, to witness how he writes and records songs, to be part of his creative process.

Throughout 2009, Dailey will be digitally releasing EPs every three months, all collecting songs he’s recently written. “After you’re done, you realize, ‘Oh! That’s what it’s about,” explains Dailey, so each installment of Torrent reflects a certain theme or mood. The first, Fashion Of Distraction, was largely written under the influence of the sounds of the '60s and early '70s, particularly the Byrds, so it's fitting that Roger McGuinn guests as a guitarist/vocalist on "Peace of Mind," a song whose lyrics are very much rooted in 21st century topical concerns and timeless emotional introspection. Another EP, By the Blue Hills, will follow in the spring and is a collection of songs saluting Boston and Will’s musical family there, featuring cameos from Boston luminaries and Dailey friends Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo), Tanya Donelly (Belly, Throwing Muses), Elliott Easton (The Cars), Tim Brennan (Dropkick Murphys) and local fixtures Duke Levine and Sean Staples. These two EPs will then be paired as physical copies, complete with extras and presented in CODE, a high-resolution audio standard pioneered by T Bone Burnett.

No other artist – not Radiohead, not Nine Inch Nails, not Prince – has taken such full advantage of all the possibilities for releasing music in this rapidly-shifting music business as Will Dailey does with Torrent. “We’re told that it’s a new day and that the restraints are off and the music business paradigm is changing,” says Will, “and if you’re Trent Reznor or Radiohead, that might very well be true. But most of us are still grappling with the machine and searching for ways to make it work for us.” These thoughts led Dailey to the constantly evolving Torrent, which isn’t merely an innovative project – one that redefines and reconfigures what an album is in the 21st century – but an artistically fulfilling endeavor, too. “I’m happiest when I’m writing songs, recording them and performing them,” says Dailey, and Torrent grants listeners a window into this private world. Unlike a typical album – which can take upwards of two years to record and release – Torrent allows him to get his music out to listeners with an immediacy unheard of even in independent rock, something that Dailey, as a veteran of Boston’s vibrant rock scene, is intimately familiar with. Indeed, Torrent reconnects with his beginnings as a musician, when he had to get his music out anyway he could.

Back in those early days, Dailey was playing on his own in coffeehouses and in bars with “bands you’re in for too long because they’re your best friends, not because you have musical goals together.” Dailey broke from this routine in 2003 when went out on his own to make GoodByeRedBullet. “I was adamant about having no computer involvement, keeping it really raw,” explains Dailey, who sold the album in a similar stripped-down fashion, touring across the US on his own, selling enough copies at gigs to travel to the next town. “The CD physically fed me, got me across the country, got me to Los Angeles and I started to advance to the next level.” The album received attention from Billy Zero on XM Radio and soon record labels were courting Will, and he spent the next year figuring out his next move. Just as he was getting his plan sorted out, he was struck with appendicitis. “Like a lot of musicians, I didn’t have health insurance and I got hit with an astronomical bill for a common procedure. I hadn’t seen that much money in my life!” He headed back to Boston, where he quickly got word that he had been offered a deal with an indie label, who asked him to fly back out to LA to record a second album. Instead, he hunkered down in Boston with his backing band the Rivals and recorded Back Flipping Forward in a speedy nine days.

“It was an album of survival,” says Dailey of the album that brought him to the major leagues. “I was kind of a mess, kind of leaning on my producer, Tom Polce. Right before he pressed record on the first track, he said they’re thinking of starting up CBS Records again and they’d love to hear what we’re doing. At that point in my life, I heard it all before: ‘somebody’s uncle’s dog knows somebody at a label.’ By then, I was just making music, I figured out ways to not need a label. Lo and behold, I put the record out and five months later I’m the first one signed to CBS Records.”

That signing was just one highlight in the acclaim that followed Back Flipping Forward. On its strength, Dailey won the Boston Music Award for Best Male Singer/Songwriter in 2006, CBS re-issued the album and Dailey’s music started popping up in hit TV shows like The Hills, CSI: Miami, Eli Stone and CSI: New York, where Will himself performed on camera. All this activity laid the groundwork for Torrent.

There’s no denying this ongoing project is a new way of getting his music out there, something that’s necessary in this day and age – “I don’t want to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic,” jokes Dailey, “I want to make a really strong raft, get people on it and start paddling” – but what really matters are the songs themselves, how Dailey speaks to our troubled times on “Peace of Mind,” how he revives the jangle of the Byrds with layers of 12- and six-strings on “So Many Wrong Ways,” how “Keep You a Mystery” shuffles along on a loping country-beat, how “Never Be Your Baby” surges on its soaring chorus, how “Allston” ends it all on a beautifully moody note. This is timeless music that speaks to the soul, just like the best singer/songwriters always do.