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Jano Rix, Gabe Dixon, & Winston Harrison

A Conversation with Gabe Dixon

Puremusic: Man, I'm so pumped on your record. I really think it's amazing.

Gabe Dixon: Thank you. Are you calling from Miami, by the way?

PM: I am indeed.

GD: Oh, cool.

PM: I had been living in Nashville for years, but I just kind of packed up there and went on the road with my brother Jon.

GD: Oh, okay. I just recognized the 305 number because me and the band met there in Miami.

PM: You were at University of Miami, right?

GD: Yeah, definitely.

PM: So I know you're all virtuoso jazzers and have made the very curious leap to a fantastic pop record. I mean, many have tried but few actually get there, crossing successfully from one genre to another. And I know there was kind of a jam band aspect, or alleged, to the band as well. But this is just an unbelievably solid pop record.

GD: Oh, thank you very much. I don't know that I would ever consider myself a jazzer at any point. Being at school with some of the great jazz musicians, I never really felt like I was up to that caliber. But I did pick up a lot of that kind of vocabulary. And I think that maybe comes out a little bit, still. But for me, my roots have always been in kind of song craft and really pop and rock sensibilities.

PM: I see.

GD: And having Jano and Winston in the band, they brought some of that as well, but they were both jazz majors at school, so they were even more deeply in that world than I was.

PM: Yeah, they're a frighteningly tight rhythm section as a unit. I mean, there are so many years together there...

What kind of a home did you grow up in, Gabe, and when did music first take hold of you in that irreversible way?

GD: Well, I grew up in Nashville, in Sylvan Park.

PM: Really? That's where I just moved from! Whereabouts?

GD: Elkins Avenue.

PM: I was living on 46th and Idaho, two streets over.

GD: Oh, really. We were about 44th and Elkins.

PM: That's funny, we were four blocks from each other. Small world, brother.

GD: Yeah, that's pretty cool. My parents, they always had a piano in the house. My mom played some, just a little bit. My dad wasn't really a musician. But my brother and sister were kind of musical. My parents encouraged music a lot. They were music appreciators. They listened to a lot of music all the time. I think one of the first experiences I ever had that made me realize the power of music was when I was about five years old. My mom was listening to Luciano Pavarotti, the opera singer, and she was crying, and I didn't understand why. I said, "What's the matter? What's wrong?" And she said, "Oh, it's just so beautiful!" I think that had a pretty powerful effect on me.

PM: Wow, that's an amazing memory.

GD: But from there I just picked through their record collection as a kid, like Beatles stuff, and a lot of the stuff from the late '60s, early '70s, and a little bit beyond that. But that's where it all started for me.

PM: Although I certainly hear the Elton John influence that's often alluded to, what I hear equally is Leon Russell.

GD: Cool.

PM: Was he a favorite of yours?

GD: Well, I don't know if I'd say he was a favorite. He definitely influenced me. I listened to one of his records a bit. I really liked the track he did with B. B. King called "Ain't Nobody Home." I was a big B. B. King fan, and I guess he wrote that song. There was a little while when I was probably 19 years old, and I was playing in the back lounge of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge one summer, and I would play "Delta Lady" which is a Leon Russell song.

PM: What a great song.

GD: It is a great one, yeah. But I'm glad to hear that. He's really good.

PM: Yeah, an astonishing left hand.

GD: Yeah. Are you a piano player as well?

PM: No, alas, a guitar player. In fact, as a guitar player, I found it a real relief to my ears to hear a great pop record with no guitar.

GD: [laughs] Well, good. That was our--I mean, I won't say that there's no guitar, because Winston does jump on the mandoguitar sometimes. When we're in the studio we try to make it as full as we can. But we really wanted to stick to the trio as much as possible. So songs like "Till You're Gone" and--I guess most of the record is pretty well guitar free. It's never super prominent if it's on there. When I was growing up, I always thought that was something that would help me stand out. Part of me always wished I could play the guitar and wanted to play the guitar, but then there was another voice that said, "How many piano player singers are there out there? I want to keep doing this, and I think I can make an art form out of this and do my own thing more easily."

PM: You must be familiar with the place where I first got familiar with this record, a spot that's become a focal point for me at the moment, the seven mile bridge going from Miami to the Keys.

GD: Absolutely.

PM: I'm sure. And I had an occasion over the last week to drive that bridge about, oh, I don't know, at least a dozen times going back and forth between the two towns I was shuttling between. And whenever I hit that bridge I would put the record on.

GD: Oh, wow.

PM: And so my whole orientation of jumping into this record is the seven mile bridge back and forth.

GD: Man, that's really something. That’s a beautiful bridge.

PM: And to hear your music in the expanse of all that air and ocean, it really allows the greatness to be present, instead of looking at all the usual stuff all the while. But my favorite at the moment is the song "Far From Home." There was something about that groove that really made it obvious to me what a fantastic trio it is. Because you hear where the song is coming from at the top before the band comes in, and the way the groove gets interpreted and just kind of laid out, it's amazing.

GD: Oh, thank you. We did spend a long time trying to fine tune that groove, actually. But the song itself came out of the experience I had of somehow ending up in Las Vegas for eight days. I was out touring with somebody else. And just--the day turned into night, and night turned into day. And I was in the casino, and I forgot what was up and what was down, and it just became in my head this sort of--turned into this sort of fantasy world. And so my buddy Jon McLaughlin and I were talking about that experience and kind of the experience of addiction and wanting to escape something that you can't. And that song came as a result of that.

PM: Wow. And he co-wrote that with you, right?

GD: Yeah. He drove from Indianapolis to write that song with me.

PM: Wow.

GD: It was actually intended for his album, and we ended up putting it on ours.

PM: Wow. You certainly did assemble some monster co-writers on the record--I mean, two Grammy winners, Tia Sillers--and who was the other Grammy winner--oh, yeah, Dan Wilson. Being now a former Nashvillian, I know about Tia. But I don't know about Dan Wilson. Could you tell us about him?

GD: Dan Wilson is from Minneapolis. He's probably most well-known--he's well-known for a lot of things, but first he was the lead singer and songwriter for a band called Semisonic. They had a big hit with the song "Closing Time."

PM: Right. That was a beautiful song.

GD: Yeah. And he also has co-written several songs with--I mean, just tons of people--but he won the Grammy for the Dixie Chicks "Not Ready To Make Nice" song, which he co-wrote with them. But he is just a great guy. I went up to his place in Minneapolis maybe three years ago. He's got a nice house. I just stayed there for the weekend. We wrote every day, and came up with a couple songs. And then I came back a few months later, and we did the same thing. And gosh, I guess at least three songs we wrote ended up on this record.

PM: And three of my favorites. The guy is a monster talent. What he's like personally?

GD: Oh, he's just tremendously generous and thoughtful. He's a freaking intellectual genius.

PM: Oh, really?

GD: I mean, he's just really astute and smart. He got a degree from Harvard. I don't know what he studied there. But he's obviously someone who has a real command of English and of song craft in general. He's a great artist on his own, but he's also really good at working with other artists to bring out what it is that they're the best at. So who knows, maybe one day he'll end up producing a record for us or something. He certainly is capable.


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