Gimme a Break: Dick Prall
Dick Prall knows his way around a song. His are always infectious and hooky, but he has a secret. He’s a storyteller, and his tales are filled with unsavory characters, undesirable behavior, frustrating ambivalence, and a decent dose of thoughtfulness. Prall leaves you happily singing along to tales of serial murder and roadside sex long after you’ve tucked away your ear buds. He’s filled this last year in the company of Wilco, on tour, learning about the biz and perhaps more importantly, his place in it. Moving from tiny Sheffield, Iowa to Chicago, Prall feels the big city’s energy but holds onto his midwesterner’s heart. “Iowa wiped my nose and sent me out into the music world. Chicago gave me a hard-hat and pushed me onto the factory floor,” he says.
Look for a new single every month from Dick Prall. Enjoy the syncopated, groovy “Wanted Blue” now! (Link after the interview)
Tell me a little about yourself
After reading a bit of my bio, I can’t decide if I’m supposed to come off as interesting or creepy. As for a little personal info, I grew up in the tiny town of Sheffield, IA. I started playing guitar at 25 because my entrepreneurial endeavors of not doing much of anything weren’t really panning out. I did always fantasize about being a musician, but I thought that was only for the androgynous, the anti-social, and heroin addicts. None fit my profile, so that may explain my success rate.
What have you been up to in the last six months? What are your plans for the next year?
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work for a band that I have a ton a respect for and, yes, that can consider me a fan. Wilco brought me into their camp last January and I’ve spent most of 2012 on tour with them. It’s been an amazing experience, and I mean that with all sincerity. The band, the crew, management and all involved are generous, kind, good-hearted people and the amount of intelligence and talent within the entire group is astounding. I gush because it’s earned.
I’ve learned so much about this business and what I want out of it, along with what I want out of my own musical experience, so my plan for the next year is to continue to glean as much knowledge and guidance from these people as I can. I’ve spent a lot of years languishing in the music world, so I’m grateful every day for the unique position I’ve been given.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve actually followed?
Wow – you like to make people think, eh? I don’t know if it’s the best advice, but it’s my favorite. When my daughter was about 10, she, my wife Angella, and I were out on a walk. I was having a conversation with Angella about my doubt about my musical career. I was thinking it may be time to hang it up and figure out something else to do. I assumed my daughter wasn’t listening and was just concentrating on the world around her, not the boring chat “the adults” were having. Well, she was listening and she frantically interjected “You can’t quit music, daddy! That’s who you are!” I was obviously proud that she would say such a thing and I let her know that I certainly appreciated her thoughts, but that daddy was getting older and needed to look at other options. “Daddy,” she said, “look at Jon Bon Jovi.” I thought that was a very reasonable response. Though I wanted to explain to her that his career was met with great success about 15 years before she was born, I let it go and wound up taking her advice.
What was the inspiration behind your latest single/ album?
Money. And time. I have little of either, so I decided to take on the endeavor of releasing a single a month for an undetermined length of time. I was lucky enough to earn the interest of Pat Sansone, multi-instrumentalist of Wilco and The Autumn Defense, who is playing on and co-producing the songs with his studio partner Josh Shapera. Part of the theory behind this experiment is my romantic affinity for the “good ol’ days” of music. Back when people just put out singles – like those wonderful 45s that I have stacks of back at my mom’s house. Rather than committing to an album and dropping it in one lump, the releasing of singles allows me to give folks a snapshot of what interests me musically at the time. I don’t feel compelled to have any common thread or “theme” for a body of work. And it’s just more fun – it lessens the pressure of having this big investment of time, cash, and resources all exhausted in one fell swoop. I can afford to eek out one-off recordings, release them into the wild, and concentrate on the next tune to foster.
Who or what inspires you? Why?
This is a tough question. As for “who,” I’m inspired by a lot of musicians – The Beatles, Buddy Holly, The Replacements, Elliott Smith, Josh Rouse, Wilco, TheJayhwaks’ Gary Louris, Merle Haggard, The Lemonheads, Glen Phillips, Grant Lee Buffalo, Bob Mould, Spoon, House of Large Sizes, Andrew Bird, Bailiff, Matthew Sweet, Nada Surf, Verbena, Jason Faulkner, The Shins, Rufus Wainwright… the list goes on and on because from the first time music took hold of me through the Beatles, I’ve been inspired by hundreds of musicians that I’ve heard throughout the years. They all have contributed to who I am now and I’ll hear someone tomorrow or next week that will influence me in some way.
The “what” that inspires me is to make a real attempt to craft songs I’m proud of – I get a big high off of pride, I’ll admit. I don’t find much wrong with making ‘feeling good’ as a habit.
What was the last piece of art (music, physical art, film, book, etc.) that really blew your mind? What effect did it have on you?
The film The Woodmans was incredible to me because I was introduced to the work of Francesca Woodman, the young photographer who was the subject of the documentary. I find her photos incredible, especially considering her age, the subject matter, and the time in which it was all created.
The effect this had on me is the same that all art that impacts me has these days – to keep doing it because, like my daughter so eloquently stated, that’s who I am.
If you could travel anywhere in time past or future, where would you go and why?
February 2, 1959. I’d coerce my father to go to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA to see Buddy Holly play. Then I’d have a beer with both of them. Buddy died that night and my father passed away in 1973 when I was 4. Let me know when we’re going.
Why are manhole covers round?
Because if they were square they wouldn’t do that cool spinny thing when The Roadrunner zooms by them.
With the final installment of the Twilight Saga being released on film, I gotta ask, are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?
I’m Team The Lost Boys.
Are you a coffee drinker or a tea drinker? Do you have a favorite blend?
Tea. I love pomegranate-infused white tea with a good dose of honey. I try to have one every morning. Though I do like me an espresso. Double, of course.
How would you describe yourself?
Driven, insecure, kind, impatient, anxious, comical, indecisive, generous, abrasive, accepting, temperamental, inquisitive, opinionated, sentimental… how about we boil it down to lovable asshole?
You’re from Iowa, but now live in Chicago. How did that transition take place? How do both of those places influence your music?
My wife at the time took a position in the Chicago area that relocated us. It was between Chicago and San Francisco when she was on the job hunt and I’m cut from the Midwest, so my vote was to stick around. She thankfully agreed.
Iowa is just where it all started. The music scene in Iowa City was awesome to be a part of because there was no pretense and all the artists seemed to be in it together. They encouraged me, taught me, and really challenged me to focus on the craft of songwriting. Everything was new to me then, so I was kind of this wide-eyed dude who was soaking up all the education I could.
Chicago has shown me an incredible pool of musicians. There’s obviously a grander, more expansive vibe to the music scene in Chicago and you’re motivated to be a part of that energy. The competition in the city has pushed me to be at my best and to concentrate on all aspects of my creativity and my performance.