by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist —
After releasing a critically acclaimed debut album From Both Sides in 2007 – an interesting country/rock crossover, which featured a stellar take on Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive” – the Aussie-based American singer Jac Dalton returns, and this time he does it so with Icarus, a solid dose of melodic rock/AOR! His second effort was, however, only one of the topics he covered in his interview for Hardrock Haven, looking back upon his earlier days in the deep South as well as forward, to his exciting plans for the future.
Hardrock Haven: Please give us some details about the musicians who currently form the line-up of Jac Dalton and whose collaborative effort is Icarus CD. How did you guys get together in the first place?
Jac Dalton: Of all the bands/artists I’ve performed with, THIS one – this ‘family’ of brothers and sisters – exceeds anything I ever hoped I’d find. First, I was introduced to the Guitar Shaman from Oz – Graham Greene – through a radio personality who insisted for months that I check out his website. The discovery of Graham’s unique style was the first defining moment for this band and album. The next was when Graham’s wife, Donna G – international rock goddess in her on right – joined; the perfect – and logical – fit for rock combat boots sporting nine-inch stilettos. The rhythm section had to have thunder like they were left over from shifting continents during the Jurassic Age, so drummer/percussionist and righteous dude Troy Brazier along with Bass-Guru extraordinaire Jim Awram were the short list here. Graham’s lead guitar hurricane needed co-guitar talent of someone with equal intensity and meticulousness, so Perth’s Dragon Lady of Rock – Annemieke Heijne – stacked her amps up alongside. Rounding out the lineup, keys needed to be someone with both power and imagination – a digital wiz able to anticipate and deliver across an entire range of synthesizers. Jason Dohrmann, – ‘Fireman’ (literally) – tempers the heat and flames the band creates with his cool key manner. In addition, every band member sings. Borrowing a quote from Vin Diesel in his movie XXX: ‘We live for this sh*t!’
Hardrock Haven: Icarus portrays you heading towards different genre than before – now it’s one hundred per cent melodic rock/AOR. What has prompted such a change in your music from the previous rock/country crossover album From Both Sides to this?
Jac Dalton: At any point in the career or journey, one has to start with what you’ve got – what has inspired and colored your soul – what provides the spark – what you know. I was raised in North Carolina, right next door to the country music capital of the world (Nashville) and proximity to that hoofing storyteller style was what I heard most often when I first began to play. My roots were in country and southern rock and that was the style the first demos took-on. From Both Sides was my first real attempt – and any attempt for a long time – at writing and performing. Plus, it put us into the public eye, and raised furrowed brows on many shores. Feedback was positive and inspired us to follow-up with a second album. Darren Mullan (producer) and I were experimenting with ways to ‘harden’ – carve more of an edge – out of our sound as we demoed new songs for ICARUS. A mate who had been trying for awhile to introduce me to Graham Greene finally succeeded in getting us together, and with the first track of his I heard, there was no doubt that this was the direction we, I, the sound, the band, the journey was supposed to go. Wings had arrived to carry us onward and upwards.
Hardrock Haven: What’s the idea behind the new album’s title?
Jac Dalton: ICARUS. The very nature of the legend is an allegory for freedom; humble beginnings; faith/hope/belief/determination enabling us to proceed ever forward one-step-in-the-journey surely to the next; rising from the earth and ascending skyward; throwing off our earthly restraints and touching the clouds; soaring; reaching ever higher via the help of that which inspires and protects us and is vaster than ourselves. Herein there is a certain acknowledgement of my southern roots ending, and the unfolding of melodic rock wings to carry the band forward to where we’re destined to go. Aim for the stars, and even if y’fall short, y’make it to the moon. But the legend has its cautions and warnings as well. ‘Don’t fly so close to the sun that your wings melt, as it’s a long hard fall back to Earth.’ It seems Homer, even in his time, understood our nature better than we do now.
Hardrock Haven: Lyric-wise, Icarus is pretty diverse. What has inspired the lyrics on the album?
Jac Dalton: I’ve always loved observing, describing as best I can, things I wish to remember about life – things I’ve found to be worthwhile. It’s easy to forget in times as crazy and challenging as these that along with the uncertainty of the journey – wouldn’t it be great if each of us could find our own special way to leave this place just a little bit better than we found it? I write and compose – describe – the murmurings happening in my life at the time. Collecting pages of observations until exhausted, I cut away all the ‘fat,’ keeping only that which strikes a definite chord. I then try to convey what’s left in a way that no one else would think to do, hopefully getting the words in the right order resonating with listeners the same way they do with me. You are right in your observation that the lyrics are diverse. There was a lot going on at both ends of the spectrum as we created the album.
Hardrock Haven: Kip Winger once said his songs are like his own children and he can’t pick a favorite. Do you have any personal favorites on Icarus?
Jac Dalton: Composition-wise, they are all equally unique, as each is about something poignant and important I wish to remember. That said, there are certain ones that are just way too much fun performed ‘live’… especially with a band this big, phat and accomplished! “Locked Cocked Ready To Rock” is always a crowd pleaser as it truly does rattle the rafters – and anyone who’s ever been in a band can relate to the storyline of getting the call to do a big gig that ends up being the catapult to stardom! “Armed and Dangerous” was originally the instrumental title track from Graham’s Leap Of Face album. No matter where we play, the dance floor always fills with this song. “For Your Love” captures everyone’s emotion, as couples embrace or pause doe-eyed – absorbing the lyrics. By the time this interview is released, a video of this track will have just been released throughout UK/EU/USA. State Of Rock” is the ultimate end-of-set track as that’s pretty much the frame of mind folks are in by the end of the show.
Hardrock Haven: You have a tradition of including one cover version of a rock classic per album continues – why AC/DC’s “Back In Black” this time?
Jac Dalton: One thing we decided we’d do early on in the history of the band is make sure we pay due homage and respect to the trailblazing artists whose shoulders we’ve stood upon to arrive at this point in the journey. Everyone inspires, and is inspired by, everyone else – whether we realize it’s happening at the time or not. That was the point when we decided to do ‘Back In Black’. AC/DC is the most successful rock act ever to originate on Aussie shores. They will always be awesome, massive, popular, irreverent – classic – definitely an influence. And the genius of their songs is their simplicity, leaving them wide open for amazing possibilities – provided that what is attempted is absolutely ‘nailed’. It was our producer, Darren, who came up with the idea of doing a double-time version adding banjo as a bit of tongue-in-cheek. So, we double-timed the beds of the track, added the banjo, had a ball with the vocals, laughed a lot imagining what Angus and Malcolm might say should they hear it, and bounced it down as a novelty. Seems everyone who’s heard and commented upon it shares our sense of humor… performed with due respect, to the best of our abilities.
Hardrock Haven: Another track off the album, “Suck, Bang, Blow,” was co-written with Rose Tattoo’s guitarist Rob Riley and one of the most renowned musicians of South Australia named Doobie Whitehorn (ex-Counterfeit). Please tell us more about this songwriting collaboration.
Jac Dalton: My family still resides in the US – in South Carolina – where one of the biggest Harley rallies in the world occurs each year. One of the main gathering places for the brethren during these rallies is a watering hole called “Suck, Bang, Blow”. While at home visiting, I happened to pass this landmark late one night, and the flickering logo jumped out slapping me between the eyes with the perfect song title demanding to be written – and suggestively enough – to pique curiosities with a big ‘fatty’ of an innuendo. Naughty-but-nice ideas for the point of the song buzzed about my head for the rest of the trip bringing me to one undeniable conclusion: if this was gonna kick the right amount of ass, I was gonna need help from some bigger rock guns than I had stuffed down my own boots.
Rockin’ Rob is one of those rare righteous individuals who is absolutely unique and can be as irreverent, crass and unmade as a week-old bed – but you never doubt for a instant his abilities, genuineness or sincerity of heart. I love the guy. He is truly a righteous Dude in the full sense of the word. The first time I met him, the greeting wasn’t a typical handshake, but rather his demanding that I ‘pull his finger’ – and the trumpeting that rumbled the room set the unpretentious stage for a wonderful friendship. Rob is a Harley aficionado himself (you’d be lost for a week if you ventured into his garage alone) with a massive history of the kind of music that gets brethren motors running. Aussie rock sensation ‘Rose Tattoo’ was fired in the kilns of such audiences… and with Rob as the head-shredder of that iconic band of outlaws, he was an obvious choice.
My good mate Doobie Whitehorn is another equally gravelly, mud-and-guts guitarist – and equally righteous Dude – nothing Counterfeit about him! He too is a motorcycle aficionado – his brand of smokes: Norton. So I called these two heavyweights, shared my ‘lightbulb moment’ about the bar I’d seen, and asked if they were interested in putting our calluses together to write something truly wicked. It took us all of ten minutes to come up with the groove, and about an hour to finish this ballbuster. A bit of advice: if you’re working on something that absolutely has to ring true, recruit mates that are experts. Originally, we were gonna use the throbbing idle of an actual Harley as the kick drum track… perhaps we’ll do that the next time we three rebels conspire.
Hardrock Haven: The eponymous track “Icarus” is probably the most sublime and poetic (and also, one of the best!) of the entire album. Am I right in thinking it’s kind of throwback to your Southern heritage and such genres as blues, southern rock etc., music-wise?
Jac Dalton: Short answer is ‘yes’ – there are indeed elements of my Southern roots and early rock influences herein – even a bit of Carlos from the Abraxas days. After all, we’re the sum total of all we experience, and per the old adage: ‘y’ can take the boy out of the country, but…’ That said, such familiarity is unintentional as Darren and I went through the possibility of several styles and genres before knowing this version was exactly what the song had to be.
Hardrock Haven: Please tell us about the charity song “Can Almost Taste The Rain” you co-wrote with Darren Mullan and your active involvement in supporting Australian rural communities.
Jac Dalton: The best way we’ve found to utilize the Jac Dalton band’s visibility is through a national charity we’ve established called LandAid (www.landaid.org). We first established LandAid when drought was the biggest challenge to our country. However, it is one of the most difficult exercises imaginable to establish a charity in this country – it took us four years to finally be recognized. During that time, the drought took care of itself, and LandAid’s purpose has been redefined. But everything the band does is with the goal of support and perpetuation of LandAid and its mission to do what we can to aid struggling communities.
Darren Mullan and I wrote ‘Can Almost Taste the Rain’ as a rallying song for LandAid and in effect, all rural charities in Australia – to generate funds directly by its use, sale and downloads. That goal is presently in the process of coming to fruition, as it’s taken us just a little longer than anticipated to get things to a point that we can attract and generate funding of the size necessary to make a lasting difference.
Hardrock Haven: You were raised in the US South, which in terms of music and culture is probably the richest and most diverse region of the country. What influence this musical richness had on you, when you were a kid?
Jac Dalton: I was born in New York City – but raised in the South – and can think of no better place I’d rather be from. My musical roots are undeniably country in flavor, yet solid ROCK in attitude and performance. The first singing I ever did was gospel, so the thick rich nature of these sorts of harmonies has been a major love and ingredient with current songs. Phat, melodic lead guitar solos and tasty riffs are another characteristic Southern Rock factor. Add to this the underlying identifiable throbbing presence of killer rhythm sections (bass, drums, keys, rhythm guitars) and you’ve got the makings of force-5 hurricanes to be reckoned with. It ain’t just the weather that wreaks havoc across shores at certain times of the year! The music, the bands, the influence of all this is still alive and thriving throughout the Southern US. So it’s no doubt that overflowing and intermarrying of styles is so common down there. Local inspirations I couldn’t get enough of during the infancy of my becoming include: Molly Hatchett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Jeff Beck, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Dixie Dregs, Canned Heat, 38 Special, Eagles, Crosby/Stills/Nash&Young, Dickey Betts, Mountain. And well, it’s definitely safe to say that the roots of my beginnings are as diverse and colorful as the region they come from.
Hardrock Haven: Now let’s look forward – what are your future plans? Is there any tour in the pipeline?
Jac Dalton: With the recent completion of our newest album, Can’t UnRock Me, focus of our management and PR is on building and expanding our profile to the point that we’re invited to some of the big UK/EU/US Festivals next year. Towards this goal, our manager Judith Fisher (BJF Media/Management) and home promotional firm (SkyFire Interactive) have been successful in piquing the attentions of some industry PR giants both in Australia and overseas. We as well are scheduled to record a third album later this year. Most of the songs for this have already been demoed and are too, as is our nature, serious butt bruisers! A domestic tour of Australia will pre-empt our long-anticipated arrival and debut upon European stages and festivals in early 2015.
Hardrock Haven: Thank you for an interview! Any last words?
Jac Dalton: Thanks heaps Alexandra and HRH for noticing us amidst all the terrific artists and bands out there. Thanks sincerely for the opportunity to share a bit of ourselves with your audience. We look forward to rocking-out for you live one day very soon, and a long and notable relationship with Hard Rock Haven.