to Dust sets
By Dave Schwartz firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy www.dusttodustmusic.com and www.dusttodustmusic.net
Rob Traynor is no babe in the woods. He has kicked around the music business for a bunch of years doing exactly what so many others are still doing. He was searching for an angle, a voice, and a reason why people should stand up and take notice. Along the way, he made a startling discovery, that what he was searching so diligently for was inside of him all along. His new band, Dust to Dust, has just released its self-titled debut CD July 24th and its first single, "New Low," is beginning to get attention. A few weeks back I sat down with Rob Traynor to get his perspective on life and the music business.
First of all congratulations on the new record, I'm sure it has been a long hard process.
"Yeah actually, it definitely has been... Life!" Traynor rather poignantly states.
Reading through your bio, it's clear that this record was born not only out of the frustration of recent musical trends, but also from a longing to tell a story. Are you reflecting back to a time when records did tell a story and there was a reason to sit down and listen all the way to the end?
"I come from the older school," Traynor begins. "As a baby my father was listening to Black Sabbath and that's what I grew up around. You know Pink Floyd and stuff like that. I loved it growing up and I think a lot of music these days, with the exception of a few bands, is a lot of filler and no killer. It's not that I'm claiming so much that I've done that with this album, but that is what I set out to do. When I went in to record this album, I had twenty songs to choose from. Of course there were a few songs that the label thought could've been the singles, the ones they thought were the stronger songs. Naturally those were some of the songs that I recorded, but when I put the whole album together I wanted to make sure that there was a flow. There are a lot of different textures on this album from slower grungy types of tunes to the more cerebral and ambient songs with keyboards all the way to the heavy stuff. I just tried to get a feel so the whole album flows. The bottom line is to just sit back and smoke a fat joint and listen to the album from beginning to end and enjoy! It's so hard to find albums like that these days. Most CDs are just so filled with angst and every song is just clobbering you over the head. It's one song after another, so by the time you are up to the forth song it's like, 'All right enough already.' I remember growing up and listening to a lot of bands you know, like Van Halen, and although the album from beginning to end was a party, every song had a different texture to it. And it always made the album enjoyable to listen to. It wasn't like there was one song on the album, but more like all these songs that created one giant song and that is the formula that I tried to follow. And whether or not I have achieved that is yet to be seen."
This lack of depth in many of the albums today reflects the evolution of the music business. Ten or twenty years ago, record companies believed in nurturing an artist. They understood that it might take an album or two for a band to find its audience. These days, bands are so often signed very young and on the strength of a song or two. In the end, the record company could care less what happens to the artist if that first record fails to meet its sales projections.
Laughing Traynor agrees, "That may be my case as well. I just don't realize it yet!"
Out of this frustration you decided to take a break from performance and "wood shed." How long did it take for you to find your voice, to begin writing the songs that became Dust to Dust?
"Three or four years," Traynor explains. "It was toward the end of the whole grunge thing. I loved a lot of those bands. Many of them were very inspirational to me. Bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, those bands were a big inspiration. So I don't have anything against grunge, but it definitely snuffed out a lot of bands in the mid-90s that were starting to do their thing. But at the same time there were a lot of bands, including myself, that were bandwaggoning it in a big way. So we kind of got washed up in it too."
"I wasn't happy with the music I was writing at the time and I didn't like the direction that things were going personally, so I just backed out of it. We had major management; we had a lot of label interest but... It's just a fucked up industry! You know it as well as I do. It can really turn you off very easily. I was in my twenties at the time and I was like 'Listen, I need to get serious with my life here.' So I took a step back and I got involved with other things and I put music in the back seat for a while. But at the same time I was still writing, I just wanted to write music. The good thing about it was, that when I sat down to write this time, I wasn't catering to anyone. I wasn't writing to try and land a record deal or impress anyone. I was writing what I liked. So I just mixed a whole bunch of shit up. I took a step back and turned myself off to the whole music thing and I just locked myself away."
Eventually you began handing out demos of these songs and somewhere along the way Sanctuary Records showed some interest. Was this a long drawn out process or did it happen relatively quickly?
Traynor answers, "When I had finished six or seven tunes, I played them for good friends of mine. People really seemed to dig it. They said it was really good and that I was coming up with some unique stuff. I gave a CD of it to James Craig, he's the keyboard player in my band right now, and he was playing bass in a band called Boiler Room, they were signed to Tommy Boy records. Well, James handed my demo off to the guy who manages me now, Larry Mazer. Larry called me the following day and expressed interest. I was working as a mailman in Harlem and didn't have a band or anything, I mean all it was was a demo. Some of the songs were recorded with a drum machine and I played guitar, bass and sang on it and I just threw it out there. Larry really dug it. He said that he thought he could get me a record deal and he asked when I would be ready to showcase. I told him that I didn't have a band and he said that labels were already expressing interest in it. So I called up my old guitar player, Stu Berenson, and we found our drummer, Steve Tobin, and, before you knew it, we started showcasing. We had some major labels come down to see us. We hadn't played one show and we were showcasing for Dreamworks. It was funny, we were showcasing to these major labels and had never played live. We went straight from my bedroom, formed a band and began showcasing. It was ridiculous!"
"To make a long story even longer," Traynor continues. "Some offers were being made and then Sanctuary Records came to the table. When I heard who else Sanctuary had signed to the label, I was flattered that they were even interested. I was going to be their first new act, which meant that this wasn't going to be one of those sign twelve new bands, throw them against the wall and see who sticks kind of thing. This was a label that was going to get behind us and really make this happen. I was flattered because this is a label that has every band that I idolized signed to them right now. When I met with them, I like their philosophy and they signed us without ever seeing a showcase. They signed us based completely on my demo."
I see that you also took over production duties on your record as well. You weren't interested in an outsider's perspective?
With a smile Traynor replies, "They told me that they loved the songs the way they were; they asked if I would be interested in producing. They did have a couple of producers lined up that they had worked with in the past. So they sent the CD out and everybody was interested in getting behind it. I was very flattered by that, but the main thing was that I didn't feel like any of them could add anything to the recording, they all felt like the songs were already there, so I was offered a chance to produce the album. I wrote the songs and I got to produce it, so you're hearing the music total from the artist's perception. Hey but don't get me wrong, if Bob Rock were to have come knocking on my door or some other major big time producer would've expressed an interest, I'm sure that would've been the chain of events!"
Your music is angry, but then many of the new bands being released are angry. Do you think this is a reflection of our current musical trend or is more of a reflection of you?
"So basically you're asking if Van Halen was the biggest thing happening now and we were back in the 80s, would I be writing party tunes? Probably!" We both laugh as Traynor explains, "I'm not going to lie, I'm up front about it, but when the whole anger and angst this started kicking in, I identified with that better then anything I ever identified with before. The new school of hard rock or metal definitely touched base with me. I was into a lot of the 80s' hair bands and was in a couple. I'll tell you something. It was great! There was nothing better than walking into a club and 75 percent of the people there were women. That was great, no man is going to deny that. But the bottom line is this, I was always into bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and I always identified with that best. I consider myself a lower middle class American male living in today's world. I write about what I see going on around me, what I experienced growing up and I don't think I'm touching on anything that others haven't experienced."
Being a mailman in Harlem is enough to piss off most people!
"Yeah, that will piss you off!" Hinting at an inside story or two, Traynor laughs, "I worked there four years. I definitely saw lots of shit! But at that time in my life I was happy to have had a job. That's the school I come from and the train of thought that I come from. Am I an angry person? Yeah. And when I do write these lyrics, this is me being honest. I'm writing from the heart and from the soul and it's therapy for me. If this still were 1985 and the whole hair thing was happening and it was party central, I would probably be writing party rock songs, but it wouldn't be me."
It looks like this record is beginning to take off. You're receiving early airplay on a couple of dozen radio stations nation wide; one of your songs is being used on an upcoming episode of HBO's "Six Feet Under." What is your next step?
"Hopefully, we will keep the numbers going on the radio. We are heading the right direction with college radio, we're in the top ten now in CMJ and we're moving up on FMQD. Everything is going the right direction and I'm very happy with that. It's just the whole commercial radio thing, it's hard to break through to a lot of stations. It's a slow uphill battle, but we are doing it little by little" Traynor explains.
Are you targeting key radio stations?
"Yeah, you know, some stations will add you and some stations will make you wait around a couple of weeks," Traynor continues. "It's a whole process that we're going to have to wait through just like everyone else. I'm not expecting to be Linkin Park and explode overnight. Right now we're moving at a good pace, things are positive and my main concern is to get out onto the road."
Speaking of which, what are the plans for an upcoming tour?
"We were up for a bunch of different tours. But everybody in this business knows what that means, up for tour is nothing. It means that your hat is in the ring with about a hundred other hats. Hopefully my hat will look nicer then some of the others! It all comes down to the headline band, plus there's this buy on thing going on. It's kind of fucked up. A lot of the major label acts out there will charge an opening act band maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars if they want to go on the road with them. These people are forgetting where they came from. It's pay to play on a corporate level. For most bands to spend $300,000 on a tour, well you're shooting your load if you know what I mean. We just want to make sure that we get the right tour. Hopefully we will be out by mid August."
As Traynor will tell you, "there's no rock star mentality here!" He's a working class guy that is willing to do a day's work in the music business for a day's pay. There have been many players before him and already many since that have had their hopes dashed by a business that can be cruel and unforgiving, but in Traynor's eyes, that's no reason to give up. Sure, it took him a bunch of years to find his voice, but so many musicians never do. And what does he have to show for it? A hell of a lot more than his "New Low"!
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