Award winning author, actor and songwriter, Joel Thomas Hynes opens up about his new record Dead Man’s Melody in part one of our in-depth Q&A.
First of all, congratulations are in order. I understand Little Dog is renewed for season two. What’s your thoughts on the tremendous fan response for season one, and what it means for you – and the rest of the cast and crew – to be coming back for a sophomore season?
I’m very happy the show’s been so well received. You know, a second season of Little Dog is a welcomed development, but actually wasn’t something I had anticipated or was even considering, much less hoping for. Not to say I don’t appreciate the work, but I conceived of it as a one-of – a large story packed into a small format. But in creating a second season, the plan is to still keep it nice and contained. I certainly don’t see it as this eventual institution like some shows become. I hope it stays nice and small and tight and leaves audiences wanting more.
With your new album Dead Man’s Melody, I felt while listening to it, while each song certainly can operate as its own strong single, it is best examined front to back. It almost had a theatrical element to it and felt like a fairly cohesive story, which I’ve always enjoyed. Did you make a conscious effort to create almost a concept album? Or did it just so happen to coincidentally play out with a common theme or narrative?
I went into the studio with a very loose plan. Certainly there were songs that I thought were really going to rise to the top that I either didn’t end up recording or recorded and then cut from the final arrangement.
I recorded about 15 songs, but only nine ended up on the album. What I really liked were songs that didn’t sound like me, but were more or less delivered in a more theatrical manner. The songs that didn’t make the cut were a bit too intimate. I wanted an album that I was a few steps removed from, and then I noticed a common theme and storyline that was running through the songs. And that really influenced how everything came together too.
So I ended up writing a new song specifically for the album, and revisiting a song that I’d written years ago and had never performed. But it was a really organic, liberating process. Feels like it just happened. It was actually one of the most creatively free projects I’ve ever been involved with.
I think many would have a difficult time pegging down a genre or style to describe your music. It’s dark and gritty but at the same time soulful, if that makes sense. I had flashes of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and even Kris Kristofferson or Leonard Cohen, but I’m sure others may draw something else from it. How would you tend to describe your sound? And were there any particular influences for you that stood out in the making of this record?
Dead Man’s Melody is, at a glance, a very straight forward rock album, but if you lean in and pay attention there’s a lot more going on. I’m working with a lot of literary allusions and biblical undertones. I’m spinning one overall story from a bunch of different angles, revisiting the same character in different frames of mind. I definitely took the storyteller’s approach and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. This is the album I’ve been wanting to make since I was 16.
When I think about another couple of albums I’d like to make, I don’t feel like I have to hang around this sound or this delivery because I don’t have an established musical audience with any expectations of me. So I have a lot of more personal, poetic folk songs that sound more like me and I’ll be making an album with those types of songs soon. A sort of rocked up folk album with a lot more acoustic guitar and interpretive, specific lyrics. I wasn’t really trying to say anything with Dead Man’s Melody, just wanted to perform some solid rock songs.
Being a prolific writer of fiction, did you find that your work in literature and even television has transferred over to songwriting?
Stories will find their vehicle. If a story is worth telling, it’ll find a way to get told. I’ve tried writing movies that just won’t work but then lend themselves readily to the stage. Tried writing poems that turn into short stories. Have an idea for a novel that I just can’t seem to crack and then a few weeks later I end up cracking the story in a song. I don’t know if fiction and screenwriting offers me much advantage when it comes to songwriting because I don’t see much difference in any of it. It’s just communicating stories and choosing the right vehicle. It certainly helps that I love to sing and that I hear music in my head, but there’s an element of performance to all my work. I write a novel and I constantly have an eye on the rhythm of the language, the timing of the distribution of information and ultimately how it will sound out loud. And obviously somewhere in the back of my head I’m thinking about how it might lend itself to other platforms. And coming off the post production of Little Dog now I’ve gotten more and more interested in writing songs that will lend themselves to the screen as well.
Maybe I just like to get everything all snarled up until I have no idea what I’m doing.
Next Week/Part 2: Joel Thomas Hynes tackles success, celebrity and navigating the future.