Q&A: The Dirt Daubers

The Dirt Daubers: Wake Up, Sinners!The Dirt Daubers: Wake Up, Sinners! (Colonial Knowledge / Thirty Tigers, 9/13/11)

The Dirt Daubers: “Wake Up, Sinners!”

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The Dirt Daubers is a slight change of pace for JD Wilkes, the wild front man for the raucous, rockabilly-inspired blues-punk band The Legendary Shack Shakers. Joined by his wife, Jessica Wilkes, and Shack Shakers bassist Mark Robertson, Wilkes has slowed down a bit to help craft ragtime-inspired country blues. The trio’s sophomore album, Wake Up, Sinners!, finds JD’s gritty and rumbling vocals balanced by Jessica’s rich tones and harmonies, floating over finger-picked banjo, bellowing blues harp, and thumpin’ bull fiddle.

The Southern gothic lyrics spin tales of traveling outsiders, a strong-willed woman, and the true tale of a misunderstood boogey man from the deep woods of Kentucky. The trio’s toe-tappin’ rhythms and earnest sincerity are apt ingredients for a slice of Americana. ALARM caught up with JD to ask about the roots of The Dirt Daubers and what’s up next.

What compelled you to start The Dirt Daubers?

I made a documentary called Seven Signs, a movie about Southern culture and music, that was selected by the Raindance Film Festival in London, England. The festival coordinators told me they would pay for my flight over if I came and played some music. My wife and I had been practicing banjo music, somewhat in secret, so I talked her into going. We got flown over, got wined and dined, played the gig, and had a blast. It was my first time playing banjo in public and her first time playing in front of people ever. Why, Les Claypool, of all people, was in attendance and told us it was great. So we decided to press onward and upward…eventually becoming the Dirt Daubers!

Is there a necessary balance between The Legendary Shack Shakers and The Dirt Daubers? What purpose does each band serve for you?

The Shack Shakers is the wholesale flaunting of my unfettered id. The Dirt Daubers puts a completely different demand on my skill set as a musician. In this band, if I stop playing banjo, there’s a huge hole in the song. So, yes, I like this new challenge of being responsible for the bulk of the band’s sonics.

How is the dynamic for you working in a band with your significant other?

We get along great and mostly just joke around and eat candy driving down the road. She does all the behind-the-scenes tour-managing stuff, and I drive the car. If Mark (our bassist) is along for the ride, it’s even more fun.

Tell us more about the song “Can’t Go To Heaven” and how you came to meet John Akin, on whom the song is based.

John Akin was the subject of one of the “chapters” in my film Seven Signs. He was introduced to me by a friend (and fellow filmmaker) who administered home healthcare at Akins’ “haunted house.” John was considered to be a devil worshipper by the folks in his small town. It turned out he was just an eccentric, trickster-type character. I won’t give away the whole story. You have to watch the movie to find out the rest.

What motivated you to pay tribute to the blue-collar working class with the song “Trucks, Tractors, and Trains”? Was that a big part of your upbringing?

My grandpa worked on the L&N. And a few of my extended family are farmers in Kentucky. I figured as long as they’re out busting their hump all day, the least I can do, as a lazy, shiftless musician, is write them an anthem. Maybe they’ll think I’m an okay guy. Naaah, who am I kiddin’?

JD and Jessica, when did you two decide that you wanted to play music together and make an album? Was that something you always wanted to do?

JD: Yes, it just seemed to happen naturally. Originally, we played music around the house for the “right” reason…for fun! Then we recorded an earlier record back in 2009. It’s self-titled and came out on Arkam Records, the label started by fellow ALARM subjects The Pine Hill Haints.

Jessica: I love playing together. Admittedly, I’m fairly new to music. Before we were married, I tried learning different instruments, but I was always too shy to play. JD has been very encouraging of me when it comes to singing and performing. I’ve come out of my shell quite a bit since we started. He’s created a monster!

Will The Dirt Daubers be an ongoing project?

Sure! This is the kind of music you can grow old playing. There’s nothing more disturbing than some paunchy, balding dad trying to rock out on stage.

I can just sit my octogenarian ass in my wheelchair and play banjo ’til I croak. I can hardly wait!

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