The Me You Know Is A Reactionary Me
Being A Burnout in the Face Of Consumerism

Caleb Dawson, Corey Baum, & Jimmy Wildcat interviewed by Jay Armstrong

Corey Baum

 

Our first interview of this three part series with Caleb Dawson can be found here.

Part 2 – Corey Baum

I hadn’t initially planned on interviewing Corey Baum but he happens to be in the yard playing what must be the worst pickup game in the history of basketball with Jeff from Banditos so I figured he wouldn’t mind sitting down over a few beers to discuss music instead. We go back and forth with the normal bs for a second before Jimmy Wildcat comes over and starts talking about whatever with Caleb Dawson at the end of the table, Jimmy remains oblivious to our recording, it makes things feel a lot less sterile.

 

You’re originally from Ohio, how’d you end up in Austin?

Caleb chimes in, “Cause Ohio sucks!

I was playing country music up there, started off playing folk and bluegrass, not bluegrass really but folk/Appalachian music and I started getting more and more into country and decided I wanted to go to a part of the country where there’s a scene for it, I didn’t really know anything about Austin it just seemed like the country musicians who smoked weed were around here.

So how long were you down here before, I mean you’re a staple of the town now, at what point did you feel the transition from that to—

Probably the last couple of years, I’ve been here for going on six years so probably maybe the first two years — I didn’t know a single person down here, I had no friends, I didn’t have any music connections, I really hadn’t ever been to Texas before so it took me a while to get established. Yeah, honestly I just focused on it, trying, I thought the music here was great, I wanted to be a part of it so I really made it a point to know about all of the local musicians I could, to go to as many shows as ….

Were you a big Doug Sahms fan before you got here or did you become a lov—

After I said I was moving here a friend of mine who’s a big music head gave me a Sir Douglas Quintet cd and that was the first I’d ever heard of his.

Did you love it at first?

I LOVED it at first…..right away

What song do you remember jus—

The first track was “She’s About A Mover” and I loved that but also that song “In the Jailhouse Now,” I remember that sticking out to me. But yeah, ya know, I used to only love the Sir Douglas stuff and the longer I’ve been down here… the Texas Tornado stuff I love.

You play with them now right (jokingly)?

No (laughs), the bass player for Croy and the Boys, Amy, she plays bass with Speedy Sparks who was the bass player for the Tornados, like still does when they play, yeah he played with Freddie Thunder and …. I wouldn’t say I’m in the band.

What bands are you in right now?

Croy and the Boys and Dumb, are my two bands and I play bass for Leo Rondeau and I play guitar and sing with Jazz Mills, kind of like a duet project.

How long’s that been going on?

Couple uh years now (Guy comes up asking who’s van is parked in the driveway, it’s Banditos’, he’s worried about being able to park some food trailer here sometime tomorrow, there seems to be a whole lot more going on here other than a studio, at least it’s not that lady again about the birds)

Okay, so think of how you were when you moved to this town, the person you were, the way you played,  style, whatever, if you walked into a bar now and saw the old you playing, would you talk to yourself and give yourself advice, and if so what advice would you give? And how have you changed?

That’s crazy, oh um, interesting, you know where I’m at now musically is uh kind of where I hoped I would have ended up, I think I’ve progressed into the musician I wanted to be when I first moved here so I think I’d probably just tell myself to keep at it because I think that the track I was on has delivered me to where I wanted to be… I think.

What was the toughest part on the path between then and now? What part, if ever, did you think about moving back to Ohio?

The first couple of years; the money and friends was the hardest part. I had no money and no friends down here. I spent too much time on Facebook you know looking at all of my friends back home and missing everybody and wh- I moved so far away you know, I was like two days drive away and had no way to get- anyway.

Talking about no money and no friends. You’re at a point now where there’s no way you can’t be conscious about the financial costs of what it takes to sustain yourself, you did a tour last year solo on your motorcycle, like what are your thoughts going into those tours? What are your thoughts about just trying to sustain yourself? What are your thoughts about that and how you tour and how do you get to the point five years from now where you think you should be?

Touring aside there’s just a general difference in like learning to understand, I think it’s important that we start off with some solid ideals about how money is going to affect our art and the presence of money, how the potential for money is going to affect our art as artists, it’s important to start off with some solid base of ideals for that kind of stuff, I think in the modern age, at some point you have to acknowledge its importance and I think as long as you have a base, as long as you’re still driven by the ethics that you started with, I think you can think about money more and care about money more.

Can money affect the type of songs that you write?  In a positive way?

I’m sure it can, I mean money gets you a broader audience and I think to be successful is to have a broader audience, and acknowledging your audience when you… I definitely acknowledge my audience when I write, so I think there’s definitely a correlation between success, which is money, and the way you write, you definitely think about who-

So in a financial way as long as it’s in a positive relationship with your fans that’s what you’re saying is justified…. You’re being honest towards their expectations and you’re being honest with the songs you’re writing, that’s fine if it’s pandering in a righteous way?

I don’t even think it has to be described as pandering. You know if you take a creative writing class or anything you talk about the audience, you want to use language that your audience can connect with, if you’re driven by something to say you should be as conscious about the people you want to hear it for it to be the most effective way for them to understand. It’s been a long process for me as a musician trying to think more as a business and use terms like “my brand” and like use business terms to apply to the art and the music that I make but-

Does that make you frustrated at times?

It did at first but nowadays it doesn’t, like I said, I think I’m…. I know what I want to do and I’m rooted in something that has nothing to do with money, so I’m opposed to changing what I do to try and make money, I’m just understanding how to make what I do make money. Does that make sense?

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Yeah, no that makes total sense, that’s spot on.

I was always riding the motorcycle and I was always making music like this so it was like always, “oh, people think stuff like that’s cool, how do I make sure all of that comes together in the forefront. I didn’t have to change anything. I don’t know, people complain about the modern music industry, I think there’s a lot to complain about, but one of the nice things is that anything, any kind of music, any band we loved, there’s been some marketing behind that and I think in the past it had to be a pretty external thing and because of the internet, because of Instagram and Facebook and stuff, I feel very in-control of my marketing and my branding and use those business terms when truthfully I’m not doing anything different than I was already doing, it’s very personal, it’s like just me understanding just exactly what I’m doing and making it exactly representative of who I am.

Is there any artist that comes to mind for you, now that you’re looking at it from that angle, is there anyone  you see the path they went on- are there any artist that you think kind of fooled people, that they were like a marketing “thing?”

Yeah, one of my favorite stories, I usually think about it, it gets harder and harder to fool people in the marketing cause we have full access to everyone’s lives, you know, public figures have very little, if any, private time anymore but I found out that Roy Orbison, basically his public persona was this all in black, shades all the time, like too cool, didn’t talk much, he just really….

Like a cooler Buddy Holly

Yeah, like a cooler, darker, Buddy Holly, and the truth is he had really terrible eyesight and he had to wear really really thick glasses that made his eyes look big and crazy and he could not see, so he just like wore the shades so people wouldn’t be able to notice, so he wouldn’t look like a nerd basically and he had a lisp so he didn’t do interviews, he didn’t talk a whole bunch because, I mean we think he’s like this really cool person and really he’s like a dude that was kind of the quintessential nerd with thick glasses and a lisp.

But that makes it like cool too.

I think it makes it awesome, I love that, But I think that would be hard to do today cause there’s-

It would be impossible, there’s no way you could, I mean you could argue about Lana Del Ray I guess but when I’m flipping through bargain bins and shit and I’ll see a country record I’ve never heard of before, you know what I’m talking about, it’ll be like a dude in a Jeep with a Budweiser on the dash and the dog riding shotgun or whatever and you’ll flip it over and you read the back and it’s like- I’m thinking of a specific album but I can’t remember who it was exactly- and it’s like “Johnny Miller spends his days in the Rocky’s you know blah blah blah and in his time off he writes these records and shit and it’s like you couldn’t do that now, there’s no way. Do you think that ruins the mystique of it? Because there’s a presence of Roy Orbison.

Totally, totally, I think, well it’s like that classic “video killed the radio star” thing; Artists that deserve to have their songs heard, and the world would be better if we all heard their songs, it might be harder for them to do it because they just don’t have the look or whatever.

Anyone come to mind when you’re saying that?

Well I don’t know, I mean I can think of guys around town, just bands, I don’t want to say names, there’s bands around town I think are great, you just can look at them and it’s like man, you have to be the complete package, there’s definitely guys who are talented enough but like just don’t look cool enough, just don’t have any idea of like-

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So, okay, being at the point you are, and as long as you’ve been grinding it out, what are your feelings when you see someone who has that, I mean Dylan was young when they realized he had that, so imagine, so I would think of you leaning closer on the spectrum to Van Ronk around town, so let’s say you are Van Ronk, how do you feel about the Dylan’s around town? Some guy that just wows people as a package, you can tell they haven’t put in the work bu-

I try not to get caught up on that, I hear people similar to my age, who have done similar to how I’ve done, who always talk about that and bitch about dudes who don’t tour enough and are getting certain things…. Dude, I would never go there man, I’m happy for anyone, if I think the people are making real, good, music then I want that to happen as quick and as possible.

You could’ve been that lucky so why should-
Exactly, I think it’s great…. And you know, I’m lucky that I don’t have any complaints about where I am but I do think there are people who totally get beat down by the business side and they don’t know how to navigate calling themselves an artist, and manage, and book, and try to form a career and they lose their way by having to confront the business stuff, there’s some people I see ( ambulance flies down the street, the siren wail drowns us out for ten seconds) if anything I wish the opposite, I wish they could have fell into some good management and gotten somewhere with their career, cause they’d be making better music than they are now. It’s a struggle, struggle’s life. It’s super lame to have to struggle, I wouldn’t want that for anyone.

But the struggle is life; you have to struggle at anything if you’re a carpet layer, if you’re a fuckin drywall guy.

Yeah, it’s all lame. It’s all lame. If you’re doing— I think for us in this business, the longer you have to struggle the less it is doing what you love. Cause a lot of us are laying carpet and doing that.

Can you still make shit you love and are absolutely proud of as an expression, can you make better art out of that?

It’s just so personal, I think what drives people to make music is so personal, there’s some people, I know Bruce Springsteen after, what is it, Born in the USA came out, no no what was it that came before that

Caleb now standing over the grill a few feet away, “Was it The River or was it…”

(We get into a discussion about three albums for thirty seconds, apparently none of us are sure about shit)

We’ll pretend my narrative holds true, so when Born To Run came out that was like the first major success he had and so that album came out and it elevated him into rockstar status and they made a ton of money, he got really concerned because he was like the working class guy, he was like the voice of the working class guy for people, and he felt he could not credibly write those songs if it was publically known he was wealthy and he went into some writers block and was really concerned with it and then came out with Born in the USA, which is an even bigger hit and full of great working class songs. So I think it’s totally personal, there are people who can make money and it allows them to continue making great music and there’s people who make a ton of money and it totally ruins their writing, there are people that make no money for a long time and as a result they really incubate as an artist, who eventually make great music, there are people making fucking great art and they go nowhere and it takes too long and they give up and they quit playing music, I think it’s so personal, we should all just be trying to make the best art possible, I’m thirty so pretty much anyone I know that’s in their late twenties early thirties that’s when they’ve started going “okay, fuck man, I don’t wanna have to work at the pizza place all the time just to do this in my free time,” eventually you just want to take it seriously enough that— maybe that’s a good way to put it, a good motivation to make money isn’t to have more money but to have more time to make more music. The more money I make on music the more time I can spend making music

Do you think it’s a universal feeling to say, “man if I could just spend all day writing songs I could write the greatest record ever?” If you didn’t have to deal with the bullshit and just do that thing, is that a universal feeling?

Um, I don’t know

Do you feel that?

I feel that for sure, but then a lot of my favorite songs I’ve written while landscaping in my head while I’m doing other shit.

Caleb, “It’s great pondering time” (they slave together during the day).
It’s great pondering time, yeah, most of my time in the last handful of years has been landscaping or working the door at bars so both of those require small amounts of mental energy and allow lots of time to just sit and think, so yeah part of me thinks if I could just wake up every morning, drink a pot of coffee, and write all day, that would be the thing but again part of growing as an artist is trusting your instincts and getting to know what works for you. I’ve been happy with myself as someone who works full time sometimes, part-time always, and I’ve definitely taken time off from work, months at a time and written great stuff then too so….

With that in mind, what is success to you? On a personal level, what is being successful and loving music, and doing all that, what is th—

To me success is not ever having to think about money again and I make fifteen –– I’m under twenty grand a year so far as an adult, I’ve never made more than twenty grand a year, and I feel pretty close to being there, it doesn’t take a whole lot of money for me with the type of life I live to not have to sweat money too much. You know what I mean? So to me success is when I have an idea for a record I get to go to a studio and I get to make that record, when I’m ready to tour I can take the band on tour and go on tour, and I don’t have to figure on how much all that costs but it wouldn’t cost much more than what I’m making so I feel like I’m almost successful. Really it’s just creative freedom, that’s why I’d want money, for creative freedom.

Last question I always ask is, outside of the bands you’re in, what are three bands that you feel are doing their all, they sound the way you respect, what are three bands that just haven’t gotten there yet who you feel are worth people paying attention to and aren’t yet?

Oh man, that’s awesome, um, well I’ll give you three others but the one I think about all the time is Leo Rondeau, who— I play bass in that band, but I’m not really creatively involved other than being the bass player but he’s the greatest songwriter I’ve ever known, the greatest I’ve ever heard maybe, seriously one of my top five favorite songwriters of all time and he is criminally under-known. Outside of the band I play in with him, just him as a songwriter I think should be a household name.

Caleb – Shouting from twenty feet away, “SECOND household name!”(they laugh )
– let’s see…… that’s hard (long pause) I think Cristy Hays should be a lot better known, that’s one of my favorite songwriters and singers in town, I think she’s the real deal, hmmmmm, that’s a hard one, I’m gonna have to think about it dude, that’s a really good question, for a while (ten second pause)

Caleb,I know, took me awhile, you don’t just want to name your homies, I don’t want to just be like Hector’s Pets, Guantanamo Baywatch”

But then it’s like….

Natural Child

Caleb,they have too much recognition for that question though.”

But those are the guys that pop in my head first but realistically all of those guys are doing well to me, they’re all on the track going somewhere, so I wouldn’t even mention em, I’m trying to think of bands you see on like a Tuesday night at Hotel Vegas and you’re like….

Caleb,I said Lochness Mobsters, I get that philanthropy vote.”

Man, there’s this dude named Seth Sherman who is one of my favorite songwriters and I don’t even know if he’s doing it anymore and that’s a drag cause he is awesome. He’s a local dude…. I’m mostly into songwriting and vocal performances

Alright, so rather than have you trying to dig, who is your favorite Austin artist of the last ten years, Who is your personal favorite?
Leo Rondeau. He’s the reason I stayed here, when I first moved down here I was expecting to find, like I didn’t even know UT was in Austin when I moved here, I was expecting to come here and it was gonna feel more like Lubbock, not culturally but I thought it was going to be like in a desert and it was going to be like a bunch of country dudes and like the first week this dude hit me up that I kind of knew from college and he was like “Hey man I just heard you moved down here” and so we met up for a drink and we went to spider house and he text me and he’s like where are you sitting at Spider House, and I’m like “I’m sitting outside (pauses finishing the sentence sounding resigned and comically disappointed) and I’m the only one wearing a cowboy hat” (The Banditos and Sweetheart Babes have walked up behind me without my noticing and everyone breaks out laughing at this) and I was the only one in Ohio wearing a cowboy hat and I was so ready to come down to Texas and finally “Find.My.People.” (everyone laughs even harder at this), but anyway, so one of the first shows I went to, some indie band at beauty bar, and I was like crushed, like I was seriously so naïve that I thought there was no way there’d be any synth-pop, no indie-rock, it was going to be a country scene and I COULD.NOT.WAIT. and somebody took me to beauty bar right away and I was like ahhhh (crying noise). But Leo Rondeau use to do these residencies at Hole In The Wall and I found out about him and that’s how I found out about a lot of the country scene and that’s really what kept me around, so I know I’m in the band and it sounds biased but that’s seriously my favorite.