By way of San Diego’s Secret Decoder Records comes a retrospective of the work of New Jersey-based artist Dw. Dunphy. Titled Reliquary, the collection was the brainchild of label owner Justin Vellucci, who has been a fan of Dw.’s since his early cassette only releases in the ‘90s. Justin picked the tracks he liked the best from Dw.’s work, and threw in some unreleased demo recordings for good measure.
Dw. is based in Red Bank, but he spends time in different areas of New Jersey. His recorded output is extensive, but his live appearances are few and far between. “I’m a one-man band with my guitars, keyboard, etc., and I have yet to really overcome the stigma that my live performance will sound anything like my recordings, especially because of my process,” he explains. “For example, my song ‘The Icy Frozen Ocean’ is a Brian Wilson tribute pastiche and so my vocals are overdubbed at least 20 or so times for the harmonies. If someone heard the song, then heard me play it live, I’m not sure what kind of impact that would have.”
The idea of being a totally self-contained artist has always appealed to Dw. and it’s helpful to him when he is putting together his projects. “Short answer is I woke up, got a nice big cup of coffee and got down to it,” he says. “Long answer is that I have always admired those musicians who could put an album together on their own and make it sound like a full ensemble. Paul McCartney, Adrian Belew, heck even the first Foo Fighters album was essentially Dave Grohl’s solo album. It all depends on your degree of discipline, and you have to be in the proper frame of mind, otherwise you simply won’t appreciate anything you record that day.”
The music seems to span a number of genres and isn’t easily classified. Dw. calls it lo-fi, but it has gotten a lot more polished over the years. He cites artists such as Guided By Voices and The Grifters, but also is influenced by the progressive, elaborate productions of ELO and King Crimson. “I suppose I’m influenced by everyone to some degree, provided the music grabs me in some meaningful way,” he relates. “It frustrates my friends who wonder how I can listen to, for example, a very aggressive group like Katatonia, then listen to a polished power pop album like Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk, chase that with something from the band Daniel Amos, then finish with one of Johnny Cash’s American recordings. For me, if the song gets to me on the level where you get slightly momentarily obsessed by it, where it comes from and the outward trappings are all incidental.
“I’ve lived in Central Jersey all my life and should probably be more influenced by Springsteen than I am. I have great admiration and respect for him, and I think Nebraska is some sort of masterpiece, but in keeping with what I said before, everything is on the table for me musically. I will say that Jersey makes you stand a little straighter though. We have a doggedness about us because we are constantly told by ‘big brother’ New York that we’re somehow inferior. That does set your determination a great deal.”
The song “Cannot Hear You” is a very emotional one for Dw., having been the result of watching what his father went through when his mother was dying in 2000. Rather than having her in hospice at the hospital, his father got the bed delivered to the house and took care of her until the end. A month before her passing, she lost her ability to speak, so the song is essentially what he was seeing his father go through when he was taking care of her. The song hits people in a very emotional, visceral place.
“It is a tired cliché, but it is true; songwriting comes from every angle,” Dw. states. “Sometimes a thought or melody just overtakes you, and it is all you can do just to take notes to remember it. Other times, you sit in front of your instrument and attempt to will it into existence. Songwriting resides somewhere between your muse and being a high-functioning Asperger’s patient, and I mean that sincerely.”
Dw.’s goals don’t involve dreams of massive commercial success or the usual trappings of rock stardom that artists often strive for. “I’m writing some new music right now, and the goal is to simply do good work that, I hope, people will appreciate,” he says. “That’s always the goal. I’m a writer by profession and the same mindset applies. Whatever you set to doing, you should do to the best of your ability even if it is the smallest and least significant task on your list. I suppose it is too late for me to get into astrophysics or study super-string theory, but if I did, I’d totally unify the fields. Even Albert Einstein admitted that gravity is repulsive.”
And as far as the prospect of live shows in the future? “If I can get over my ‘isms,’ then I would like to do some performances, but I think I would have to get a real band together,” he laughs. “I’m not at all comfortable with the prospect of having people come out to see me do a karaoke version of myself.”
You can find Reliquary on CD Baby, Amazon, and iTunes, and find out more about Dw. and his work at dwdunphy.com, popdose.com, and patch.com.