I had the opportunity to sit in a home recording studio in the basement of Ben Ryan and Kyle Grim of Dogwood Tales, while sipping on some piping hot echinacea tea to talk about their new album Too Hard to Tell. Their single “Too Hard To Tell” is available today. Get ready to fall into a nostalgia that you may not have lived yourself.
Chez Goodspeed of GrizzlyGround: Introduce yourselves.
Ben: My name is Ben Ryan, I play in Dogwood Tales. I write some music with Kyle, I write some music on my own. Kyle does the majority of the songwriting... I put some into that. I normally play electric guitar and I sing harmony. That’s about it.
Kyle: And I’m Kyle Grim and I sing as well. I sing melody primarily, but it’s fluid as to whether or not I sing or Ben sings. I write songs and play acoustic guitar. That’s my contribution. We’re Dogwood Tales.
If your album was a meal, what are you eating and where are you eating it?
Kyle: This is a better question for you [Ben].
Ben: Ummm, definitely something pretty hearty. It’s definitely like a living room meal, but the T.V. isn’t on. Just eating in the living room as opposed to eating in the kitchen. Something with potatoes and I would have to say sauerkraut somewhere in there. Some sort of meat…
Ben: Healthy, hearty. It’s definitely a healthy album.
Kyle: It’s lean, it’s only nine songs.
Ben: Oh! And a very tall beer. And a cig to wash it down too.
Where were you when you wrote the single “Too Hard To Tell”?
Kyle: I remember. I wrote the majority of the song, but Ben wrote the guitar lead that is a big character of it that really tied the song together. I found the demo for it on my phone the other day, it was in October of 2016. We were doing a Neil Young cover band for a Halloween MACROCK fundraiser show. So we were practicing music a bunch in our basement and it was the first time we were incorporating full band sounds into our Dogwood Tales songs. It was what our songs always needed, but we just never did it because we couldn’t get people to commit. But Sam and Jake were coming over pretty frequently and we were practicing.
I just had an idea. I was listening to a lot of Mojave 3 and I was working on this farm pulling tomato sticks out of the ground and I was just thinking about the lyrics a lot. I was at Lon Lon Ranch when I wrote it. It is reminiscent of a heartbreak song. I was thinking about this person a lot that I missed.
I remember showing Ben and we were both really into it. We played it in the basement and it very quickly just became a song we all enjoyed a lot. It was really easy to play. It clicked well. It became such a staple of our set and we always ended the sets with it.
So when we were thinking about album names, Danny Gibney actually brought it up, “Why don’t you call it ‘Too Hard To Tell’?” And it just made sense. It was always a song that pushed the entire project.
Ben: I think the song definitely captures the feel of the album too. Whether it’s the title or just the song in general. I think it’s the pinnacle of us.
What was the recording process like for Too Hard To Tell and where were you? Who recorded you? Details please.
Kyle: We recorded seven songs in a studio called the Fidelitorium in Kernersville, North Carolina. Owned by a guy named Mitch Easter of the band Let’s Active. Our dear friend Erik Romero that used to be a member of Dollys was the engineer on that session. That was seven of the nine songs. Danny Gibney, our roommate, played wurlitzer and piano on it. Sam Riser, our other roommate, played bass on it. Jake Golibart played drums on the recording. And Jason Sommer played pedal steel on it. Then we also had our friend Justin Black there with us.
We recorded it live to tape. It was the first time we ever did something like that in our lives. It was really cool to record to 2-inch tape. In this experience, we had to be much more decisive. We weren’t trying to edit things as much. It was all about trying to be as straightforward as possible. There’s transparency in recording live. Even more so it was for the workflow to be consistent and trying everything rather than thinking we could change it later. Everytime we played, we played as if we had to keep the track. It was really fun.
The studio we recorded in was like unbelievable. It was insanely nice and we got a really sweet deal to record there. It was awesome and I loved the way it sounded and I was just very satisfied with that element of it.
Then we recorded one song at our friend’s basement in New Jersey, Erik. It’s the last track on the album, called “Spiritless Machine". Erik is the guy who engineered the rest of the album. And we recorded one song Fluvanna in our living room here. Danny Gibney engineered that.
It was pieced together in a way that we had never done before, but it made a lot of sense. It was over the time frame of like a month and a half or so. I think it was good to go for one big session that was the bulk of it and then piece together a couple other finer moments.
Describe your songwriting process and has it changed since you first released music?
Kyle: I think it’s pretty simple. I’ve tried to be very methodical writing music and Ben has too. Trying to sit down and force yourself to write music. I do that everyday.
I think the best moments are when the smallest pieces of an idea come out and I’ll show Ben or Ben will show me and we’ll end up just like playing it in an hour in our room, or at the next time we are trying to practice, or if we have a show coming up we will try to play it there and just grind it out and craft something together. Usually the person who brought the idea will write the lyrics, but there have been tons of moments where we throw them out to each other.
Ben: Kyle will write music and he puts more effort into sitting down and forcing himself to write music than I do. We go out and do our separate things throughout the day and then we will come home and say, “Oh man, this [melody, lyric, etc.] came to me today.” And then we will try to figure it out together or not together. It’s never a clear process.
Kyle: I think it is pretty intuitive for us since we’ve been playing together for a while and we live together. I don’t think something is done until the other person hears it or plays it and figures it out. Even when I think I have something fleshed out really well, it still just doesn’t feel right. Which maybe sounds corny, but that’s just the way it is. That is the way I think about music now.
Ben: That’s very corny
What is in the near future for Dogwood Tales?
Ben: February 15th we are leaving for a good bit of a tour. We start in Philly and going up north and down south until mid-March. It’s been a long process of booking. Our album will release on a label called Crystal Pistol Records, which is a tape label out of Richmond, Virginia. They do a lot of really cool stuff.
Kyle: Tons of awesome music on their label. We are really happy to be releasing it with them. We will be having a release show at the Golden Pony in Harrisonburg (our hometown). Then Richmond, which is somewhere we have been affiliating more with. We are going to Washington D.C. which is somewhere where we don’t play a lot. We are playing at the Rock and Roll Hotel. It was kind of hard to pin down but I am excited for it. Then we are going to Winchester which is where Ben and I are from. That weekend will be fun. We are also going to Nashville.
But after the tour, we are going to have to work because Ben and I put a lot of funds into the album. We self-financed everything. It has been a lot of money very quickly exiting our bank accounts. When we get back we will probably just be working.
Then we are leaving again in June for a release tour for our friend Justin of the band Saw Black. This tour in February and then the tour in June will be the two big ones of the year.
We are trying to set the goal of playing out of town 2-3 times a month. At least plan a weekend of out of town gigs a month. Weekend shows are easy because of our jobs. We are trying to be faster about recording this time around. We are trying to plan some time to record in May. When you give yourself deadlines, it will make you think about things more concretely.
Ben: We definitely are very focused on another album. It is something we always want to do. We always want to have enough material to keep making albums. Make an album whenever. One a year more or less. It’s like the deadline thing Kyle said. Once we finish an album, we’re not gonna chill out. It’s like, “When is the next one coming?” You gotta keep making content. Life is, like, kinda short.
Kyle: There has been a pretty big realization for me and for Ben, I think, that were just gonna be playing music. It took a really long time to get one album done. I am 23 and Ben is 21. I think relatively we’re young, but we’ve been writing music for a really long time. It took us a pretty long time to get to a point where we are comfortable with the content we are creating and the direction we are going in. I feel like there was a pretty serious moment once we got done with this album that was like regardless of what happens with this album, regardless if no one listens to it, whether or not people enjoy it, we are still going to make albums for the foreseeable future, probably for a pretty long time.
We don’t have any other plans aside from making music. We are both strongly committed to that. It is exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. Being on the cusp of releasing something, you can imagine it to be something that it might not end up being. For instance, you might imagine that it will be this really grandiose thing, it is very well that it could not be that. Regardless, it won’t change anything about what we are doing now. I think it used to affect us a lot when things weren’t received well. I think it slowed us down, but I don’t think that will happen this time around. I think our pace is very self-motivated now, it isn’t dependent on outside variables. I’m glad that realization was made.
Sum up the sound of Dogwood Tales in three words.
Ben: You do one, I’ll do one. You first.
Kyle: Okay. I’ll say sensitive. I think it is intentionally sensitive.
Ben: Alone or lonely. I mean they are very different things. I think people can be inclined to feel lonely when listening to our lyrics.
Kyle: I have another one: people always say our music is sad, but I have listened to a fair amount of sad music and I don’t think our music is that sad in comparison. It’s more of a melancholy look at things. I feel like there is no point in trying to write something with the mood of happiness or sadness, it should just be an understanding of the way you are looking at something. So melancholy.
Melancholy, alone, and sensitive? Woahhh.
Kyle: Well that sounds a little try hard.
Ben: Ah, come on. It’s a little fun.
Kyle: Wait, those are the three words: “a little fun.”
You can listen to Dogwood Tales’ new single “Too Hard To Tell” today. Their full length album releases on February 22nd.