Hours before he performed as part of Tom Petty's two benefit concerts for the Los Angeles-based college radio station KCSN-FM on Saturday night, Jakob Dylan was about to begin a soundcheck of his smoky folk and blues when someone noticed an intruder by the microphone. A crewmember walked over and picked something up off the floor and carried it out: a full-grown Praying Mantis, lounging on a piece of paper, its long legs slowly kicking through the air.
"Did you see it? I thought we were going to step on it," Dylan said later, backstage at the Plaza del Sol Performance Hall on the campus of Cal State Northridge. He wore a yellow Sun Records button on his jacket. "It must have come from the science room. That was incredible. It was gnarly." He smiles. "It could be a sign. I probably shouldn't look at it lightly."
The shows with Petty were also Dylan's first playing with the L.A.-based folk rockers Everest, helping recreate the dusty sounds of Dylan's well-received 2010 album Women and Country and other songs with a light touch and some fiery soloing, while warming up for several upcoming Midwest dates this month. But Dylan also has plans to reconvene the Wallflowers in January to begin work on their first new album since 2005's Rebel, Sweetheart. "I've got new songs and we've all been talking," Dylan said. "We've been trying to carve that time out for a while."
When did you decide reunite with the Wallflowers?
I always wanted to. I never suggested we were breaking up. We all felt we were losing the plot a little bit and we needed a break. And that year break becomes two years, then becomes three years, and before you know it five or six years go by pretty quickly. I can't do what I do in the Wallflowers without them. I miss it. I'm happy to put the acoustic guitar down. That was something I wanted to do, but I never planned on hitting the road and just being the guy with a guitar out there. That never has been exciting to me. I came up loving bands and I want to be in one.
Will you pick up where the Wallflowers left off, or will it become something else?
I'm real excited about what we can do, knowing what we all know now. The stuff I've been writing is not in a dissimilar vein to what the last two records have been, which structurally and lyrically are very different from Wallflowers records. But I will make my best attempt to meld the two. On Women and Country, I couldn't figure out how they would sound with a big drum-kit behind them. My plan is to figure out how to do that. I've got the songs. We're going to re-address what we like about this group.
Has the way you think of the Wallflowers changed much in the years since your debut in 1992?
The mentality you have when you're young and you start bands is everybody feels like this is all you're ever going to do, and then things change. Having gone away from it for a while, I've got a greater appreciation for how great it is to be in a band – how hard it is to get a sound and an established name. It's not a trick easily done. I don't know how bands do it today. It seems to be a lot harder. We have a great history, and we've done some great things, and there's tremendous things we can still do.
The Wallflowers opened for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles back in 1997, and the Stones may be back on the road next year. Are you up for a repeat?
[Grins] I'm available for all the veterans. I do a lot of that. The Stones know how to find me. I'm not hard to find.
How was the experience of playing two nights with them at the gigantic Dodger Stadium?
It's actually such a disorienting process. They do it regularly. It's like you're playing an airstrip. You can hardly see people. And it's only half full – although it's 30,000 people at half-full – but it's no different from playing a half-empty club. That's how it feels: "Well, no one's in their seats." It's a trip. It was totally a great milestone for the band to do that.
So is playing with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
They're a blueprint for what a rock band's potential can be – and how to keep it alive and fresh and exciting year after year. That becomes the trick and the puzzle: How can you do that? They pretty much schooled everybody in how to stay together.
You did the song "Gonna Be Darkness" this year for the True Blood soundtrack with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks.
Gary is a longtime friend. We've written a handful of songs together. Recording that, one of the engineers said, "You and Gary just sound real good together." Yeah, Gary sang on [Wallflowers hit] "One Headlight." He's the high harmony on that song, along with Sam Phillips.
How did you find Everest?
We have a lot of mutual friends. They're a great band. My last couple of times out were for acoustic records. I kind of had enough of that for the time being, and wanted to hear some more noise. It's nice to do both.
Jakob Dylan (with Everest) Tour Dates:
11/9 Columbia, Mo The Blue Note
11/10 Newkirk, OK First Council
11/11 Thackerville, OK Winstar Casino (w/Willie Nelson)
11/12 Concho, OK Lucky Star Casino
11/13 Kansas City, OK The Indie Bar at the Midland Theater
11/14 Bloomington, IL The Castle Theater