Years before recording her latest album Meet Me at the River with countrypolitan monolith Fred Foster, Dawn Landes cut her teeth in Louisville, New York City and Branson, Missouri. It was an unusual country-music education, shaped by the towns she called home and the local music that filled her stereo. Now based in Nashville, Landes puts an indie spin on the classic country tradition, reimagining a retro sound for the modern age.
We’ve rounded up our favorite segments of Dawn Landes’ new appearance on Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor, followed by a premiere of the podcast’s episode.
Eager to record her newest album with Fred Foster, Landes cold-called the country legend to plead her case.
“He was like, ‘Who are you and how did you get my phone number?'” remembers Landes, who was drawn to Foster’s catalog and lushly produced albums. The two wound up shaping Meet Me at the River‘s vintage sound together, looking to some of Foster’s past work — including his Monument Records hits — for cues.
Her childhood ballet lessons helped prepare her for an adulthood spent onstage and in the recording studio.
“Early on, I danced,” she says. “I was a ballet dancer when I was a kid, so I was exposed to all this classical music. I remember loving Switched-On Bach, ’cause we did a dance piece to that, and I was around that music all the time. When you’re performing a dance piece, you listen to something over and over and over again. I think later on in life, that’s how I was able to mix a song for three days and not get bored by it, because I was used to that repetition.”
She was a teenage garage-rocker.
“I had a girl rock band called Cookie Cutter Wet Dream Fantasy, after something Courtney Love said in an interview,” she remembers. “We played one show and the drummer scooted all over the stage because we didn’t realize you had to have a rug.”
While living in Branson as a child, she was exposed to the Missouri town’s long, weird history of novelty country music.
“They call it ‘Nash Vegas,'” she says of the tourist-geared town. “It was a crazy place to live. It was a tourist destination, and they would bus in loads of mostly 60 and older folks, and they’d have shows that started at 8 in the morning. And there were a bunch of novelty acts like the Baldknobbers, and they’d paint their teeth black and have hay in their teeth and perform without shoes.”
The countrified history of her hometowns wound up seeping its way into her own home. . .but not until she’d moved away.
“I think that stuff always pops up much later, because when you’re in that [current] part of life, you’re resisting it,” she says. “You’re like, ‘I don’t listen to that! I listen to the Gin Blossoms!’… I felt like that about bluegrass, too. When I lived in Louisville, it was all around. It was on the radio. They had a bluegrass convention every year. But I was listening to Slint and Will Oldham. I was listening to the punk/indie stuff that was going on. . .and then I moved to New York, and my roommate, Molly, was this punk girl from the Northeast and she loved bluegrass! So I started listening to it there, and suddenly it took on this whole new meaning.”
Her career as a studio engineer and acclaimed producer began at an early age, as a means of recording some of her first songs.
“My friend had a 4-track that I’d mess around with in Louisville,” remembers Landes, who later went on to produce albums for dozens of artists. “I made a tape when I was in high school, and thank god it isn’t available and doesn’t exist on the internet. [The experience] was great; I had a great time. My mom helped me fold the inserts. I’d play open mics and sell them at those.”
Now based in Tennessee, she loves East Nashville’s left-field musical spirit, even if she doesn’t consider herself part of that group.
“I’m attracted to the East Nashville vibe,” she explains. “I don’t live there. I live north of town, and I think that’s how I feel about the whole scene in general. I’m a little north out of it. I’m a little out of it. But I like to go there to see music. . .It’s a cool community of people. There are so many great musicians living there.”