Photo by Ryan Salm

Dead Winter Carpenters show persistence and touring pays off

With any musician’s path, the road is always subjective. These days, more and more musicians holding down day jobs or stretched too thin with the multi-tasking whirlwind of DIY music are turning to the Internet and its boundless connections to gain their audience and expose their songs. That’s one path. But another is the old fashioned way: the wanderlust, rambling, troubadour adventure. The tour-til-you-drop. Sure it’s exhausting and labor-intensive and involves a lot of sleeping on floors and foreign beds, but rather than hoping the Internet will carry your message to unknown listeners, you go straight to the source.

“I think there are a couple ways to go about it,” said Jesse Dunn, vocalist and guitarist of Dead Winter Carpenters, the Tahoe-based Americana outfit that’s been picking up attention through touring. “Get your music out there in recorded format and spread it through social media—or there’s the touring route, and we tried to start it off touring hard… We’re going for the more grassroots approach; just get out there and play and get in front of as many people as possible. Gotta get the word of mouth going beside the social media.”

It’s always a gamble, but in the case of Dead Winter Carpenters, touring consistently seems to be working. When I was asked by my editor to interview DWC, I was already familiar with them, having seen their performance while covering last year’s High Sierra Music Festival. Later that evening I asked my boyfriend if he remembered the show, and he held up his water bottle, which had a big DWC sticker, red and blue with antlers.

“Our style of music plays well to the outdoor festival crowd. It’s a pretty upbeat, high energy atmosphere,” Dunn said. “Kind of what we thrive in, especially in the mountain communities where we really feel at home. We’re really looking forward to this festival this weekend out here in Missoula.”

While we talked, DWC was up in Missoula, Mont., sitting in the smoky haze flooding the downtown [Missoula] from nearby forest fires. The band was gearing up for the outdoor River City Roots Festival that weekend. The group is on the road for the next few weeks, bouncing back and forth between the Northwest and California, including dates at the American River Festival in Coloma, Calif.

“The whole downtown—it’s crazy—a cloud of smoke has settled over. It’s pretty wild looking,” Dunn said.

From the start, DWC has been consistently on the road. The group officially formed in March 2010 in the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. The name Dead Winter Carpenters comes from Tahoe folklore involving a story of a few carpenters working on the railroad by Donner Lake and running into some trouble with a party of travelers, which turned into a bit of a gruesome end. The project started as a casual few shows around the Tahoe area (specifically at their home base, the Crystal Bay Club), and quickly picked up steam, becoming the main focus for each member.

“[It was] a project to pick up some gigs and have some fun, and it evolved from there into our main concentration, and we’ve been going strong ever since,” Dunn said.

Each of the five members (Dunn, Jenni Charles, Dave Lockhart, Bryan Daines and Brian Huston) brought their own influences to the table, such as New Grass Revival, Old Crow Medicine Show and the almighty Neil Young, and from that formed their own Americana style. They blend elements of blue grass fiddle shredding with country vocal inflections, bright guitar chords and chugging snare, held together with the communal feel of alternating male and female vocals and sing-along harmonies. They have that special quality of creating an atmosphere, a fun one. They’ve had success at festivals like High Sierra Music Festival, Strawberry Music Festival, Joshua Tree Roots Festival and Yarmony Grass, to name a few. They also put a bit of energy into their message as well. DWC describes their sound as reflecting the American West.

“To me I think it relies strongly on songwriting and storytelling, that kind of troubadour aspect of the whole thing, relaying stories from generation to generation,” Dunn said.

DWC recently finished recording a new EP. The three-song EP (yet to be titled) spans old rowdy country to male/female duets to a pirate-ship shanty tune. It’s still in its raw, recently recorded form, but they’ll be mixing and mastering it over the last months of summer, and DWC is aiming to release it by mid-October. This release will be the first installment of a string of EPs. DWC is hoping to put out a new EP every few months.

“We’re excited about getting these EPs out, and want to see where that leads us,” Dunn said. “We went with something that’s a little more creative and a way to get the music out more often than just doing a straight up album, and see how that goes. I think it’s gonna be a good thing.”

There will be a cohesive nature to the project, but DWC is brainstorming on the trajectory.

“We’re trying to shoot around ideas for that whole release program,” Dunn said. “We’re working on an overall picture and scheme for names of all of them. We haven’t settled on anything yet, but we’re going to try to put some sort of common thread between.”

While they’re figuring out their process, DWC will still be playing live. As for their next run through Sacramento, they’re hoping to return in November. If not then, they’ll surely be through again soon,; there are no plans to slow down their touring speed. Although each musician has their own method, be it endless touring or endless press, there are a few objective and important tips to go by.

“Stay creative, keep putting out new music and don’t get stagnant,” Dunn said. “Try not to get frustrated, because it can be fairly frustrating; the whole process, really.”

Shortly after Dunn offered that honest token of advice, we thanked one another for the time and both hung up; Dunn disappeared into the tour ether, the smoky Missoula streets, and DWC’s own special road.