Steve Dawson is a simple man, with two distinct musical passions – multi–instrumentalism and seeking out amazing playing partners. Whether it is as a solo artist, a band mate in Zubot and Dawson, or a producer/engineer for a variety of artists like Jenny Whiteley and Kelly Joe Phelps, Dawson has found a way to make a living through using these aforementioned passions for the greater good of his albums, and those by others. His credits alone speak for themselves.
Dawson’s discography ranges for 14 years and two complete MS Word document pages, and definitely sheds a light on just how much this B.C. native loves his work – but it goes beyond that. Throughout the 75 plus projects he has partaken in, eight of them have been nominated for Juno Awards, and four of those eight have been victories for Dawson. The rest of the award list is too detailed to fully get into, but let’s just say that Dawson has serious credibility amongst his peers. So, when he decided that 2008 would be his year to shine on a solo level, Dawson zoned in on tracking down some musical friends and strangers to help him put the finishing touches on not one, but two brand new albums. “A lot of it is personality. As weird as it sounds, probably 60 per cent of making a record to me is the hang [outs that are] involved – like making everyone comfortable and relaxed so that they’re being at their best,” explains Dawson from New Brunswick. “If there’s someone involved who is not really buying into it or being a nuisance, it totally ruins the vibe of the recording. Since a lot of the stuff I do has a lot of live elements to it, everyone has to get along and personally be on a good level. “Pretty much every time I make a record, there’s five people playing music in a room together. Whether that is what ends up on the record or not, it depends on a lot of factors. But, that is always the situation that I put those people in,” he continues. “It’s just one of those things where it has to be that way, or else it’s going to be tense and weird and you’re not going to get the best performance and music out of people.”
Fortunately for Dawson, his mix of musicians for his 2008 efforts Waiting for the Lights to Come Up and the all- instrumental album Telescopes led to a pair of quickly produced (five days of recording combined), yet significantly different projects. On Waiting, Dawson takes on a diversified rock/roots flavour throughout, while Telescopes essentially came to life once the musician received a government grant that afforded him the opportunity to learn the pedal steel guitar. Figuring that this would be the only time he could afford to make such a bold splash, Dawson went for it – instead of pushing away any of the ideas he had, Dawson wanted to use them all right away so that nothing would be lost over time. As for why Dawson has so much fascination in taking on as many projects and instruments as he does, it has more to do with being able to capture, and fully bring alive any musical idea that may cross his mind without any roadblocks. “It was sort of out of necessity and partly out of curiosity and partly that I really admire people that can do a lot of different instruments and have that as an arsenal,” says Dawson of his multiple–instrument prowess. “The guitar for me is always going to be my primary [instrument] that I’m the most interested in, and I feel naturally more inclined to play that. But at the same time, there are a lot of other interesting sounds out there, and I want to be able to do as many as I can. “I don’t necessarily want to be a great player on an organ or a piano or anything – although that would be fun, I know that’s realistically never going to happen because I can’t devote my life to that,” he adds. “So, if I can get good enough to hear parts in my head on something, then I’ll try and do that and that’s where I’m at. I don’t intend to be a concert pianist, but I want to be able to play enough piano, so that I can play a part that I hear in a song [idea] – and the same goes for other instruments.”
- Adam Grant