With one listen to Dead Winter Carpenters’ “Easy Sleep,” you’ll get a strong sense of where this California band is coming from. With influences ranging from 1960s country to Del McCoury to Ryan Adams, the roots-oriented ensemble is about to hit the road to promote its newest EP, Dirt Nap. First up is a Friday night (Jan. 10) show at San Francisco club the Independent to celebrate the new release.
Band members Bryan Daines and Jesse Dunn, who share duties on guitar and vocals, fielded a few questions by email.
CMT Edge: How would you describe your frame of mind when you wrote “Easy Sleep”?
Daines: “Easy Sleep” was written as a lighthearted, almost mocking take on a lonely and mildly apathetic time in my life a few years ago. I was living alone after a breakup, in a city I hardly knew anyone in and was feeling a little emotionally detached from just about everything. Despite all that, I was having a pretty good time, which is why I tried to keep the song sort of light and up-tempo.
When I wrote this, I was playing in a five-piece bluegrass band and listening to a lot of Del McCoury, which was probably the motivation for writing about a more lonesome time. While the breakup was, in a way, a source for the theme of rejection in the chorus, I think it is more referring to the everyday rejection by people, other musicians and progress — the feeling of not being able to get traction with the people, things and opportunities I was trying to attract at the time.
Do you consider your music and songwriting to have a classic country influence?
Daines: The songs I write, and those written by the other Dead Winter Carpenters, are influenced by a pretty wide spectrum of Americana. Traditional bluegrass, Bakersfield country and the more rock-oriented side of Americana are some of the biggest. My dad listened to a lot of bluegrass, newgrass and the more jazz-influenced acoustic music by people like Béla Fleck and David Grisman, so I grew up listening to a lot of that.
When I started playing guitar, I gravitated to more traditional bluegrass and flatpickers like Doc Watson, Clarence White and Tony Rice. From there, I discovered artists like Del McCoury, who became a huge songwriting influence and bridge into the country world for me.
With “Easy Sleep,” classic country was definitely the mark I was shooting for. When I wrote it, I wanted it to sound like an early ‘60s duet. As we started working on it as a band, the duets of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were definitely kicking around our heads, which Jenni Charles really made come through with the harmony she came up with.
Dunn: Classic country, bluegrass and folk are probably my biggest influences when it comes to songwriting. I really enjoy the storytelling element in song. These genres all provide a great palette for which to tell a story over. On our new EP, Dirt Nap, the songs range from hard-driving bluegrass-country to classic country to a sea-shanty folk-rocker called “West Shore Town” to close the record.
What sort of emotion do you think the steel guitar brings out in the song?
Daines: The steel guitar definitely brings out the lonesome qualities. It highlights the more melancholy elements and makes it a little more serious. It also makes it sound a bit like the Flying Burrito Brothers, which we were all hoping for.
Dunn: For me, the pedal steel conjures up memories of some of my favorite country records — from Hank Williams all the way up through Ryan Adams & the Cardinals and artists such as Son Volt. The steel really adds an almost chilling shimmer when it is present. It provides a layer that is almost subconscious unless you really key in on it. The pedal steel is able to evoke emotion within a song unlike any other instrument in country music.
“Easy Sleep” really lent itself to include the pedal steel. As Bryan stated, we wanted that classic country duet feel, and the steel was an imperative ingredient. Our friend Pete Grant was the man for the job. He has played pedal with everyone from the Grateful Dead to Willie Nelson and Guy Clark. His undeniable feel really ties the track together.