There’s been an uprising of sorts in the last several years for country music. Perhaps a better way to put that would be that there has been a resurgence, or a return to the renaissance era of traditional country music.
Most modern country stations tend to play a regurgitated, derivative brand of country music that some have given the moniker of” bro-country.” You know the kind we’re talking about — the Luke Bryan, Florida-Georgia Line pretty boy types that rehash the same song structures and lyrical formats of pickup trucks, consuming alcohol and partying with pretty women. But if that isn’t your thing (it’s not ours), and you’re a fan of real country (we are), don’t fret. There is something out there for you.
Enter Dylan Earl. If you’re not familiar with Earl’s work, we’ll break it down for you: he’s a road-worn, take-no-shit, as-is type of man who plays pure country. And it’s really refreshing.
The last we heard from him was in 2017, when he released the LP “New Country to Be.” It was a no-fuss, no-bro country bullshit kind of record that we at Shindigmusic have grown quite fond of. But he hasn’t been laying low. The man is a workhorse and a globe trotter, who tours pretty much year-round. But he does take occasional breaks to write and record new material. He’s done just that, and in August he’s releasing the “New Country to Be” follow-up titled “Squirrel in the Garden.”
“Squirrel in the Garden” is a back-to-basics country record that sees Earl exploring with his style and expanding his palate to bring in new textures and flavors to his already classic recipe. The record features everything from barn-burning bangers and tender, heart-on-your sleeve ballads. He’ll be releasing “Squirrel in the Garden” August 19 and has a trio of local shows coming up. We talked to him about all that and a little more in our latest Shindigmusic Interview, which you can read below.
Shindigmusic: “Squirrel in the Garden” is a fantastic record. Like your previous work, you play a refreshing brand of country music and your storytelling and level of emotions you put into your work is always top notch. Where do you draw inspiration for your sound and style?
Dylan Earl: Inspiration for me comes from several places, really. As always, and as for most folks, a basis for my inspiration comes from influences I had as a young person. I always usually credit my mom for this. The tape deck in our ’89 Ford van was always moving some sort of country tape, whether it be Willie, Merle, Randy Travis or something a bit more contemporary like Dwight, Travis Tritt, Billy Ray or whatever. I grew up on that stuff, so naturally it is a base that my taste is derived from.
These days, I listen to so many different things. I really went full-circle from listening to so much country as a kid, to rebelling against it with emo, rock and punk to getting into alt. Country acts like Drive-By Truckers, Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, etc., to eventually realizing that I loved country all along and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
I’m really inspired by the classic stuff; however, all too often, in this niche of underground country, I feel like my peers are focused so much on creating a direct representation of that classic feel. I certainly got pretty close to that with my last record. This time around, I was focused on seeing how many avenues of the country thing could be explored, emulated and brought into the same place. For me, it is important imagine this genre as if the suits never got involved. This album is an attempt at reinterpreting modern country music. What if capitalism and music weren’t so intermingled, what would the American musical landscape sound like?
Shindigmusic: The album’s two lead singles, “Morning Star” and “Just Because” cover a lot of ground lyrically, and they both seem to mirror the theme with the other songs on “Squirrel in the Garden.” At times, it sounds like this could be a break up record and at other times it seems like it could just be your perception on life, family and friendships. Where does your lyrical inspiration come from?
Dylan Earl: It’s certainly a personal record. It’s not so much a break up record as it is more so a deeper look into person, place and experience. It’s a recollection on growing into life and/or attitudes that surround it, their impact on the person and identity, and general socialization, as influenced by the outcome of significant life events. I didn’t want to pigeon-hole this thing to be strictly a crooner album. While romantic relationships are typically the center of most musical expression, this was a deliberate attempt to stray from that a bit. I feel like writing about sad break ups is overdone and easy. “Squirrel” is an attempt to express a recollection of the whole person rather than one trope, like romance. Not to say I won’t ever write a sad bastard break up song again, because they are all too tempting to write and pretty fun.
Shindigmusic: This one is a multi-part question, so bear with us: How was the European tour? We heard about the incident you guys had with work visas in an airport over there. What was that like? What are your road plans this year?
Dylan Earl: Europe was outstanding, just like postcards. The folks we encountered in Scandinavia have an eagerness to explore the American thing through music and art. They also seem to have a better understanding of commodity driven music (i.e. the suits) and how to identify it. They move away from the main stream that’s fed to Americans and really know how to dig deep for authenticity. It’s pleasing to see so many peers I respect getting the same incredible experience we were somehow able to get for ourselves.
The deportation thing is a long story and better told over a beer. Long story really short: we didn’t have all our ducks in a row for our second trip through the UK that summer as we slowly made our way back to America. They threw the book at us, searched and interrogated us individually, held us over night in an on-site detention center and escorted us onto a plane headed for Stockholm the next morning. So many other details, but that’s basically the gist. Chris Wood and I ended up backstage at a Roger Waters concert that night we got back to Sweden. Then we stayed up all night to catch another flight to London to plea our case to border control to let us on our American flight. After review of our testimony and stacks of paperwork we had from the previous couple of days’ events, they let us through on a temp pass and we eventually got home. About a 70-hour process and something like seven flights. It was hell. Never thought I’d be so happy to be in the north when we landed in Boston.
Road plans for the remainder of the year are reasonably relaxed. We did a coast-to-coast banger earlier this year and some other runs that have us fairly beat. The focus now is on smaller regional runs from now until the winter, mostly staying between North Carolina and New Mexico, but staying pretty busy.
Shindigmusic: Speaking of touring, we look forward to your trio of upcoming shows. You’ve got the album release party today (Friday, July 19) at Smoke & Barrel and a gig in Little Rock this weekend (Saturday, July 20) at the venerable White Water Tavern. You’ll also play the Peacemaker Festival in Fort Smith next weekend (Friday, July 26). For those that haven’t seen you perform, what can you tell us about your live shows?
Dylan Earl: We are so damn excited to release this album early with some shows here at home in Arkansas. We are, at times, probably too proud of being from Arkansas, but I’ll leave that to the critics. I’m honored to be a part of the incredible music community across this state, both in the club/bar scene and the underappreciated DIY network. We try not to suck at our shows. For these few upcoming, we are pleased to have our steel-man extraordinaire, USA McKay, with us all the way from Denver. And, of course, I’ll have Dick Darden, Lee Zodrow and Chris Wood (All Arkansas datties) out there as well. These boys are the tightest band I could dream up, it’s a damn pleasure to play with them. I hope y’all come to hear them, I’ll be there too.
Cover Photo by Robbie Brindley