One of the unsung heroes of progressive bluegrass music, Dan Tyminski has spent several decades on the sidelines. As a member of Union Station, he’s one of Alison Krauss’ right-hand men, handling guitar and mandolin duties while largely leaving the spotlight to the band’s matriarch. As the singer of “Man of Constant Sorrow” – the centerpiece song of O Brother, Where Art Thou? – he helped renewed interest in American roots music … even if some viewers still believe George Clooney provided the song’s vocals.
With Southern Gothic, though, Tyminski is officially stepping up to the plate, delivering a solo album that stretches the boundaries of his bluegrass roots. Talking with Chris Shiflett during this week’s episode of Walking the Floor, Tyminski – as he’s known for this release – covers everything from his foosball-playing adolescence to the experimental co-writing sessions that spawned his first solo record in nearly a decade. Here’s six things we learned from this week’s episode, streaming below. (Also of note: This is the final Walking the Floor for 2017; the podcast will return in January.)
Tyminski is a champion foosball player.
Every musician has his hobbies. For Tyminski, one hobby rules them all: foosball. “For a period of a few years, I spent 50 hours a week playing foosball,” he admits, adding that he played on the competitive circuit. Before meeting his Union Station bandmate Alison Krauss in 1984, Tyminski even considered going pro. “There are people, believe it or not,” he explains, “who make their living playing foosball.”
“Southern Gothic,” the title track from his newest solo album, was entirely created within the span of a single afternoon.
“Everything you hear on that title track was written, recorded, sang, produced, all of it – done! – in three hours,” explains Tyminski, who created the song alongside his producer, Jesse Frasure. At the time, Tyminski was busy writing songs as part of a newly inked publishing deal, and wasn’t planning on releasing anything under his own name. “Southern Gothic” became the turning point, pushing him toward his first solo album in nearly a decade.
That said, he doesn’t consider himself a songwriter.
“I’m not one of those guys who wakes up in the morning and has to get his thoughts down on paper,” he tells Shiflett. “There are people who are songwriters, and there are people who write songs. I find that I’m in the latter category.”
Southern Gothic isn’t your grandfather’s bluegrass music.
“I’ve spent a lifetime doing [traditional bluegrass],” he says, acknowledging the wide divide between the genre’s old-school wing and progressive offshoots. “It doesn’t distract me from the awareness that there are other styles and other music that deserve attention. Music has always evolved. It’s always been ever-changing. I think Southern Gothic has found itself in a place where it’s bringing together styles of music that weren’t necessarily together before … It has bluegrass influence. It has pop influence. It has swampy, churchy, gospel-y [influence].” That said, Tyminski isn’t turning his back altogether on the music that launched his career. “I’ve made a lifetime of playing that kind of music, and I still have more to play,” he says. “But I’m not gonna let it draw me away from where my heart is right now. I’m in this little weird world of self-discovery, realizing there’s more music out for me.”
After singing “Man of Constant Sorrow” on the multi-platinum soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Tyminski saw concert attendance triple at his band’s shows.
“It was a really surreal point in my life,” he says. “I grew up playing a style of music that you never expect to blow up. It’s never going to hit the entire world the way that record did.” That changed when the Coen Brothers’ movie premiered in 2000, bringing with it a renewed interest in old-time acoustic music. Although Tyminski didn’t physically appear in the movie, he did provide the vocals for the soundtrack’s most popular song, “Man of Constant Sorrow,” which allowed him to enjoy the benefits of fame while sidestepping its negative aspects. “There was a new surge of energy for that acoustic music,” he remembers. “A lot of things changed. I simultaneously got super-famous, and maintained a very high degree of anonymity at the same time. For me, it was the best of worlds. I got to enjoy so much attention, but I could still go shopping, you know? I could still sit in a restaurant and eat.”
There’s more music on tap from Alison Krauss and Union Station, even as its members pursue solo projects.
“There’s more music to come,” says Tyminski, who handles the band’s guitar and mandolin duties. “But right now, all my eggs are in this basket.”