"It's been a relief not to worry if 20 people are coming or not." How does it feel to be a complete unknown and then find yourself selling 4 million albums, opening for a band like the Rolling Stones and being elected Sexiest Male in the Readers Poll? Ask Jakob Dylan, the singer, songwriter and much-remarked-upon face of the Wallflowers, a group that seemed to own the airwaves in 1997. When Rolling Stone first spoke with Dylan, in 1992, shortly before the release of the Wallflowers' debut effort, he was jamming at the tiny Kibitz Room at Canter's Deli, in Los Angeles. That record fizzled, but after considerable band rebuilding, Dylan and Company are now playing considerably bigger venues where one can't get a decent pastrami sandwich. As the band prepares to start recording its next album this year, Dylan took a little time to stare once again into the media headlight.
Played any good delis lately?
You know, the whole deli thing is just not what it used to be. The circuit's dying.
Now that you're experiencing fame firsthand rather than secondhand, have you learned anything new?
I certainly have issues with the fame thing that I wrestle with, but I think that anybody who gets into this these days, who's making records for a major record company and making videos and then acts like it's such an awful thing, is lying. It's like John Lydon said: "The great thing about fame is you can stop any time you want."
And what was the high point of 1997 for you?
Having a job. I don't mean to make it sound like that's all that it is, but it's been a relief not to worry if 20 people are coming or not. Certainly we've done our time playing to the bartender and the roadies.
Even though this is already your second record, it's the first that most people have heard. Do you fear the dreaded sophomore slump?
Well, we've got them on a technicality there. We'll be juniors, so we don't have to deal with the sophomore-slump is sue. I will not let it be enforced upon us. I've been writing a lot with Michael Ward, the guitar player. Hopefully I can actually go home, and we can start recording in February or March and get a record out sometime in 1998.
How do you view the first album now?
It did what it was supposed to do. I just wanted to make a record, be in a group, go on tour. We sold 40,000 records – I don't know that many people, so I thought that was pretty cool. It was other people who were let down. They had a completely absurd idea that because of me being in the group, it was going to sell no matter what. They thought it could be a blank CD and sell a million copies. But I wasn't disappointed. I'm proud of that record.
What music were you listening to in the past year?
As far as what came out last year, I thought the Radiohead record was great. But I still listen to a lot of the same Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Tom Waits and X records.
Did you happen to hear this excellent album Time Out of Mind by this very talented kid named Bob Dylan?
Think he has promise?
He's got a great future ahead of him. His future looks bright.
Ever consider changing your name to something more inconspicuous – like, say, Lennon, or Christ?
That last one is a good one. We played around with "Jakob Seger" for a while. But, no, I never really thought about it. I did for maybe half a split second, but it was clear to me that if anything good happened to the group it would be obvious anyway and I'd be stuck with a pain-in-the-ass name. The truth is, I've never run from anything. I'm proud of all of it. Dylan was my original name, so I just left it exactly as it is.
Forgetting about your music for just a moment, I've personally had Fiona Apple tell me that you're "fine" and a lady friend call you "yummy." As one of the sexiest men in rock, did you revel in your yumminess?
Well, you know, to be called yummy is a fantastic honor, and I appreciate it being given to me. I'm going to do everything I can to continue to face up to that and not let anyone down in the future.
How daunting was it to open for the Stones?
Well, you see, there was a very blurry line there as to who was opening for who [laughs]. We didn't mind that we went on first or that we had to play a shorter set and that we didn't get any backstage passes.
So you agreed to not play "Satisfaction"?
We agreed we wouldn't do "Satisfaction" if they didn't do "One Headlight."