Dan Tyminski – I’m with the band
Quotation: “I try to not be too conscious of creating music. I just try to let it be. That’s what makes great music, I think.”
Dan Tyminski doesn’t do what’s expected of him. After the amazing success of “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow”, on which he sang lead vocal, and the phenomenon of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the movie and soundtrack from whence the song came, Tyminksi could’ve signed a deal with one of the major players in Nashvegas, recorded some crap about what a good old boy/true patriot/war-monger he is, or any of the other manipulative ploys that new country “stars” use to get played on the radio these days. He could’ve worn a cowboy hat and gone down to the Bahamas to shoot videos, or even positioned himself as a traditionalist while he quietly drained the soul out of his music.
After all, “Constant Sorrow” put him front and center. He performed on the Grammys and took home four of the awards that year (he has a total of thirteen). Tyminski’s voice will always be remembered for helping to bring old-time music to the masses. He could have ridden the surprise success of the single and the visibility given him by his role in the whole O Brother breakthrough all the way to the bank.
Instead, he stuck with his friends in Alison Krauss & Union Station, and took nearly eight years to release his second solo album.
His first, Carry Me Across The Mountain, was almost finished when O Brother hit, and was released just before the rollercoaster ride began. If there was any con to the whole deal (Tyminksi hypothesizes that it was pretty much all pros), it was that his first album was somewhat overshadowed by the hugeness of the O Brother machine. Tyminski’s debut was one of the tightest and best bluegrass albums in recent memory; his only regret about Carry Me is that the pickers were an assorted lot rather than a collective of a few musicians with whom he could tour. And that’s the main reason he made Wheels, his new album from Rounder Records, which will be released June 17.
Though the album lists only Tyminski’s name on the cover, he says he’d rather think of it as “the Dan Tyminski Band.” Not only did he not rush to ride the coattails of O Brother, he’s also in no hurry to identity himself as a solo artist as opposed to a band member. The most important thing to him, he says, is the music; that’s always been his way of looking at it.
Tyminksi credits his parents for that love of music. Growing up in the Green Mountains of Vermont (a part of the Appalachians), he says, wasn’t all that different than growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee might have been. “The people are definitely similar,” he says, “and everyone I grew up around had a real appreciation for the music, a pack of people who just loved live music.” He picked up his first instrument — the guitar — when he was 5 years old. Three years later, his older brother came home from the service with a mandolin. “That became my passion,” he says.
When he was 12, he heard J.D. Crowe & the New South. “That’s when it really hit me, that I had to be a musician,” Tyminski says. “I was determined from that point to be a banjo player, so I begged my parents for one, and they got me a banjo for my 13th birthday.”
His parents fostered his passion for anything musical any way they could. “They were big music fans themselves,” he says. “We were all the time going to square dances, festivals, any live show that was within a couple of hours. We’d camp out every weekend at the bluegrass festivals.”
Tyminski says he loved all kinds of music from an early age, but bluegrass always spoke to him the most, probably because he was most often exposed to its best pickers. While he counts long-established acts such as Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, the Del McCoury Band, the Lost And Found, and Crowe as major influences, he was actually shaped by dozens of local musicians in the area who never became widely known but had a lasting impact on him all the same.
By 1989, he was signed up with the Lonesome River Band as a banjo player when he was only 21; around the same time, the band began to rise in prominence as one of the best acts in bluegrass. Five years later, he struggled with allegiance to that band when switching over to play with Union Station. After going back to Lonesome River for a brief spell because of those loyalty issues, he eventually signed on full-time with AKUS as their lead guitarist. “I realized that’s where my heart was — with them,” he says. “So I followed it.”
Krauss and her band flourished, fairly exploding with the platinum-sales success of 1995’s Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection. AKUS has become the most influential bluegrass outfit of the last decade, managing the delicate balance between traditional bluegrass and a more “poppy sound,” as Tyminski likes to call it. “We do bluegrass with more chords,” he says.
Then O Brother happened. Tyminski says that although T Bone Burnett said from the beginning that the album would be a landmark in sales for old-time music, he had no idea the record would be such a big deal. And despite the opportunities that arose in the wake of it, Tyminski had no desire to change his career path.
“Well, none of us were used to making any money,” he allows, “but that didn’t change my outlook on music at all. I still just love music. I’m still just passionate about it.”