“I cherish having an imagination and I really love reality, reality is what we all have to leave someday, so I try to respect it even though it can be very uninteresting and frustrating.”
The above quote is one of the key tenets to the philosophy of “Experimental Folk” artist Dale J. His music, with lyrics rich in the art of creative storytelling and innovative music produced with studio techniques that can create a whole new reality for the listener, is still steeped in the DIY reality of being an independent folk artist.
Whereas many artists seem to lose their grip on reality in general and only make records of sunshine, space butterflies and butterscotch catapults, Dale J keeps one foot on the ground to keep his music authentic and relatable to the public while his other foot is pushing the boundaries of modern day music.
The above video was created for the Dale J song “Welts” and captures another side of Dale, the side that expresses his personal vision visually. Having studied photography in San Francisco, Dale is more than music,
As Dale J put it though, “that’s when potatoes taste best.”
Dale J carries this dedication to his craft over to his latest record “Eye Dropper,” and it shows.
With only seven songs on it, “Eye Dropper” might not seem to be much of an album at first glance, especially since it clocks in at a brief 25 minutes. The short playing time works in favor of the album, as the listener will find themselves keeping it on rotate, soaking in the cornucopia of sounds and emotions fleshed out over these simple and to the point songs.
“Emotion” is one of the keywords here, as you truly have no choice to feel anything but what Dale J wants you to feel as the track plays out its brief life in the spotlight. Guitar sounds bend, distort, clamp, twang, and shoot across the sky of your hearing range while your brain figures out that this isn’t your typical folk album.
Guitar notes explode onto the scene like brand new stars birthed inside of galaxies, then immediately go supernova after burning bright, setting the stage for the next note that Dale’s spirit seems to live and die through on a daily basis of sharing his art with the masses. “Eye Dropper” has this decaying feel to it, like it’s being created to fall apart on purpose. Dale’s spirit soars high then falls down in flames right there, like he just gave it your all and we saw his life to death story on the stage. It just feels raw, urgent, and of the moment.
This assessment seems to line up when I ask why Dale J plays music, to which he replied “to depict the beauty of bad things and situations. To expose the ugliness of seemingly traditional, clean things.” He describes the album as having a “mutated” quality to it at times, or a “mechanism that has come unhinged.”
While listening to the record I am reminded of late nineties Trent Reznor, channeling his struggles through experimental electronic music, the occasional twisted acoustic guitar, anything he can think of to find a truly unique and earnest way to express his feelings, and almost provide us with a blueprint of walking through the darkness, all while high fiving sadness and moving on to the next one.
The only way out is through.
When I asked Dale J about the album title, he said that “the phrase ‘eye dropper’ represents any situation in life that deflate one’s spirit.” He compares it to seeing an old friend who has fallen on hard times, or the stress that comes from watching the news for a paltry “five minutes,” a stigma that we can all relate to these days.
When you break it down, the album is about “depression, anxiety, deterioration of will, renewal of ones vigor. Taking a beating from life and continuing to move forward without any proof that any choice is the ‘right’ choice, just making the best choice that you can at the time.” For Dale, the album represents walking through the darkness, embracing the authenticity of your demons, and emerging from the fire with a renewed vigor to live life to your fullest capabilities.
It is a message that Dale J takes to heart, words that he truly lives by, not just platitudes he writes to sell records. His is a tale that is steeped in childhood struggles and roots never truly planted anywhere except the open road. When asked where he grew up, Dale didn’t tell me where so much as he provided me a list of cities that each seem to tell a brief piece of his childhood narrative.
Before he was performing on stages under a portion of his full government name, Dale J refers to himself as the “Thunder Child.” The tale of the “Thunder Child” can be found at this link (http://http://www.dreampoppress.net/justin-gordon/), and what a tale it is. He chronicles the details of his mysterious “hatching” in the swamps of Marion County, West Virginia, poorly funded educational systems, space age Coca-Cola machines, and so forth.
In a heartbreaking chapter of the “Thunder Child” saga, we see a young Dale J struggle with “The Step Dad Demon,” a dark presence that emerged in his life after his father was “massacred by the Gods of Garbage.” Never giving him the power of name recognition, the “Thunder Child” triumphs above all with the supreme power of imagination and you really just need to click on the link above to read the entire article, my words cannot do this beautiful tale any justice!
Dale J is truly a writer’s writer, as he started with drawing as a kid, only to internalize the pictures in his head and shape them with wonderfully descriptive words that ended up awarding him the prestige of $5 McDonald’s gift cards, a dictionary and a thesaurus.
The words eventually found themselves backed by musical notes, and his talent as a singer/songwriter started to poke its way to the surface. When he was 14 years old, he started borrowing a left handed guitar from his friend, though it was only for a few days at a time. He eventually coaxed his parental figures to buy him one of his own, and the next chapter began.
Learning how to play by ear, he studied the works of Green Day, Sex Pistols, Nirvana and the Melvins. In a few years he was playing guitar in a classic rock cover band, and his fingers were busy evoking the mystical arts of groups like Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, the Stones and Doors, among other bands.
After hearing all of these early influences in Dale J’s life, it’s easy to see the building blocks that led up to “Digital Wiccan (The New World Man’s Disbelief in Magic and Women)”, the album Dale J released before “Eye Dropper” came out.
“Eye Dropper” and “Digital Wiccan” are two different albums. Whereas “Eye Dropper” is a more seasoned and mature look into life and personal growth, “Digital Wiccan” is perhaps one of the most innovative, entertaining, clever, yet slightly twisted breakup albums that I have heard in awhile.
Peppered with interesting critiques on religion, American lifestyle and standards of beauty, “Digital Wiccan” was built on a breakup that Dale J was struggling through at the time. What better way to come to grips with a broken heart than strum a guitar through the hurricane?
And strum he does.
You can see a few examples of Dale’s “experimental folk” peeking out from the layers of Jim Morrison steeped in a steady diet of 90’s rock and Irish punk, tinged with layers of noise to give it more style than your typical woe is me album. You can feel Dale’s pain, especially during tracks like the intro “Virtual Ritual”, which are peppered with dark misogynistic statements running through his head.
The title track feels like a spoken interlude concept skit, giving the listener a feel of being in a men’s locker room, being privy to that “locker room talk” men do, the childish and immature things some people say to themselves, just to get through the day while going through a painful breakup.
It almost feels like a breakup concept album, simultaneously chronicling the mental process of a breakup, while almost serving it up for parody and creative interpretation by the audience. Is he judging the process? Is he lost in the process? The lines blur at times, and it is brilliant and brutally honest at times, juvenile and unquotable at other times.
Love can make you write some crazy things, or shave your head bald.
The brutal honesty of the lyrics and how Dale J conveys his message in this album can be explained when he says that “you do get to a point with writing in general where you just can't hide anything anymore no matter how hard you try it's there staring back at you. And if you do manage to cover something up or kick it under the rug, it will nag at you until you bring it to light.”
Clearly this album did its job in helping him get through the breakup, as the “Eye Dropper” album has a more cohesive message to it, one with stories delivered in more developed format and even dipped in traditional bluegrass storytelling fashion. “Said Ole’ Lynn” and “Wing It” could even sneak their way onto a more traditional Americana album, giving Dale J a future in writing songs for other artists if he so desired.
But what about the other half of Dale J’s career?
You can create albums all you want, but what is the life of a musician without the road, the concrete snake where dreams are sharpened and refined into legends to be told throughout gas station parking lots and creaky wooden clubs where engineers hide the haunted spirits of the rock stars of old through EQing analog consoles of yore?
“Recording Anxiety Song” is one of my favorite tracks on “Eye Dropper,” and it gives you a glimpse of what goes on behind the mind of Dale J and even a small sample of what it is like to catch him live. The song developed from an improvisational recording session at his house one day. He was experiencing some self doubt on some songs he had just recorded, mix that with the pressure to nail said songs, an overload of caffeine from an excessive amount of coffee….
You have Dale J’s recreation of his internal monologue while playing and analyzing four or five different takes of one song, which can be an internal hell for any artist. I still have nightmares from all the times I re recorded each verse for my album, as did the poor sap I recruited to engineer the thing.
Dale successfully captures the angst of the situation and dresses it up with a balanced dose of humor throughout, which is one of the key philosophies behind a typical live Dale J performance.
He is a standup comedian who uses a guitar as a prop to tell his jokes.
He is an experimental folk musician who tells a few jokes to keep the drunks happy while he tunes his guitar.
Which is it?
To quote an old Copyright Law professor of mine, “it depends.”
Before each show, Dale J likes to get to the venue early, soak in the vibe of the four walls and the people who reside in the temporary ecosystem created by booze and live rock music. It is in the middle of the reverie that he creates a basic setlist to go by, while planning how much banter will find its way into the show.
Some shows will just be fingers to the strings ring around the Rosie concerts without a word to be spoken between each composition. Other shows are quip after quip, only to be briefly interrupted by any counter talk from the acoustic guitar counterpart to the show.
No Dale J show is like the other, snowflakes that share their crystalline uniqueness with a different audience each night, only to disappear into liquid drops of oral history shared by local rock historians for years to come until he returns to rock the crowds anew.
There are other surprises in store for you when you see Dale J, but I can’t spoil all the surprises for you. And quite frankly, most people have stopped reading this article already due to the decreasing attention span of most Americans these days so you won’t read it anyways.
Go see him live, you won’t regret it.
When he isn’t playing a solo set, you can see him playing his guitar to accompany other musicians, or shredding tasty licks as the guitarist for up and coming rock group, State Parks. Founded by Spoken Nerd, State Parks also has Nerd providing vocals.
On a side note, you can catch State Parks playing at the Sasquatch ART SHOW this Friday at The Cobra in East Nashville. The show starts at 8pm and cover charge is only $5! You can meet Dale J yourself and ask him why he doesn’t like to go by his last name while playing onstage…
Dale J and State Parks are both artists signed to the ever growing indie Nashville label known as Invisible Library Records. After living in almost every city in West Virginia and a ten year stint in Trenton, New Jersey, Dale’s musical ambitions eventually led him to Music City a few years ago.
His first show in Nashville was in January of 2015, and it was booked by Nathan Conrad, aka Spoken Nerd, founder of Invisible Library Records. Nerd and Dale J clicked immediately, already having similar contacts in the music industry. A friendship developed and Spoken Nerd signed Dale onto the label, releasing “Digital Wiccan” through the label in 2017, and “Eye Dropper” in March of 2018.
As this is Live Laugh Love Nashville, I had to ask Dale J what the “three magic words” meant to him.
Here are his replies:
LIVE- Stretch out, breath deep, be ready to pounce. Time is of the essence.
LAUGH- “Nothing can withstand the assault of laughter.” - Mark Twain
LOVE – Try to do what you love for a living I guess, but understand that love has slow seasons just like any other enterprise.
Dale J is forever an evolving artist, where no two albums ever sound the same. Just like his live shows, they are snowflakes as well, periods in time, genre and style never to be duplicated on wax again. Taking this cue from artists like Beck, Neil Young, Tom Waits and The Kinks, this excites music fans like myself because after the transformation of the “Thunder Child,” then the transformation of the “Digital Wiccan” and the transformation of the “Eye Dropper,” where is Dale J going next?
Stick around for the next transformation, Nashville.
For booking, you can email Dale J at: email@example.com
You can support a hardworking artist by purchasing Dale’s music on CDBaby
Also, you can listen to Dale J on:
And follow Dale J on the one and only Facebook
Social Media, isn’t it great?!
Written by Charles Bridgers IV for Live Laugh Love Nashville
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