Q&A With Steve Wynn


On Sept. 5, 1982, Paisley Underground legends (well, not at the time but certainly soon after) the Dream Syndicate played a 2 a.m. gig at the studios of L.A.’s KPFK-FM. Broadcast live, the raw, ragged set documented on The Day Before Wine And Roses (Omnivore) found the quartet—singer/guitarist Steve Wynn, guitarist Karl Precoda, bassist Kendra Smith and drummer Dennis Duck—blazing and brooding its way through songs from its self-titled debut EP, released earlier in ‘82, covers (such as a smoking rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues”) and tracks that would end up on the seminal The Days Of Wine And Roses LP, released about a month and a half later. A reconvened version of the Dream Syndicate with Duck onboard, but minus Smith and Precoda, has been playing shows since 2012. (Another member at one point, bassist Mark Walton, and Miracle 3 guitarist Jason Victor have been filling out the lineup.) Wynn is also busy with his national pastime-themed band, the Baseball Project, whose third record, the aptly titled 3rd (Yep Roc), is due later this month. We talked to Wynn about the Day Before show, the future famous person and bandmate in attendance and a couple of Eric Clapton songs. Wynn is also guest editing all week.

MAGNET: Did you know the show documented on The Day Before was in the vaults? If not, how did you end up finding out?
Wynn:  Well, I knew it was taped, and I figured that KPFK kept a pretty good library and didn’t toss stuff out. Dennis and I both had the show on cassette and often talked about how much we liked it over the years. There’s really almost no documentation of that first lineup outside of audience tapes, the first EP and The Days Of Wine And Roses, so it made sense to put out the only other good recording that was out there.

If you hadn’t listened to it while prepping for the record’s release, what, if anything, would you have been able to recall from that night?
We were very aware that this would be the biggest audience that we would have ever played to up to that point. It was going to be on a very cool radio program, one that we all really enjoyed, and it would be live, no going back. Now, some bands would have taken that as an excuse to play a super-tight, super-professional set, but we looked at it from a different angle. We thought, “Why not get as outside as we possibly can?” It was a comfortable studio and performance space, all of our friends were there, we were pretty confident at that point—so we were ready for anything.

Why did the set start at 2 a.m.?
That was just the time of the show each week. But it was the latest we’d ever played, which I think we all thought was pretty cool as well. It felt like the Who at Woodstock or something. A few months later, we played our first New York City show at the Mudd Club at 3 a.m., so that personal record for a late start didn’t stand for long.

I mean this is the best possible way, but you sound possessed on “The Days Of Wine And Roses” at the end of the set.
Well, a few bottles of Mickey’s Big Mouth probably didn’t hurt. I used to scream a lot in those days. I didn’t consider myself a singer—I was a ranter. I just enjoyed letting loose and seeing how far I could push myself and the band and the situation in general. Oh, and also I had just had my very recently ex-girlfriend removed from the studio after she had been heckling me all night. Maybe that fired me up as well.

Did she say anything that pissed you off, or was she just being disruptive?
No, we were still pals, and it was just good-natured ribbing. But it was relentless, like some kind of Chinese water torture. Maybe it wasn’t entirely good-natured. Anyway, it was all going out live on the air, and I finally couldn’t take it anymore. Looking back, I do see that it fired me up to a manic point for the last song, so I guess I should thank her now.  

Was Peter Buck really in the audience?
Yes. He tells me about it all the time. He says he came up and said hi to me, but I don’t remember that part. Peter and I have three different versions of how we met. I think it was when he brought the first R.E.M. single to the Rhino Record store in Westwood where I was working. I’m sure I would have been the one to have taken it in on consignment. But really the first time we hung out was about a year later when we were making Medicine Show in San Francisco. R.E.M. had just played a gig, and he and I went out and drank and talked on the beach until the sun came up.

I recently rediscovered the Dream Syndicate’s version of Eric Clapton’s “Let It Rain,” which I’d first heard on The Bigtime Syndrome compilation in college. How did you end up covering that song?
We used to enjoy choosing unlikely covers—always songs we liked but songs that wouldn’t have been considered hip by our peers. So we would do things like “Let It Rain” or “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” I mean, even covering Bob Dylan or Neil Young or Donovan back then was not considered cool by any means. We would just strip the songs down to the basic, most primal elements and then kick them around for a while.  Kind of like we did with our own songs, I guess.

Do you think you’ll ever cover “Tears In Heaven”?
Oh, man. I wouldn’t bet on it. Too many chords.

How has it been playing shows with the reconvened Dream Syndicate?
It’s been great—in some ways, the best of every lineup we ever had. Everyone in the band plays really well, and we all play really well together, very intuitively, but we’re also not afraid to throw that out the window and let things get cathartic and freaky, just like we did back in 1982. It was great from the first reunion show and keeps getting better. I think we can take it in from very interesting directions from here, but for now, we’re just taking it show to show.

Inevitably, these reunions lead to new material. What are the odds of this happening with you guys?
As a fan of the band, I would like to hear that. I’d like that to happen.

What can we expect from the Baseball Project this season?
We’re all really excited about the new record, and we’re looking forward to hitting the road. It’s fun for me to be in a band where I can honestly say that we’re hoping to play as many stadiums as possible.

—Matt Hickey