Map Of Wyoming – Beating the retreat
A round trip, indeed — not to mention rather long and a little bit strange. Dale Duncan — self-proclaimed “art director” of the collective known as Map Of Wyoming, whose self-released debut CD is titled Round Trip — truly has come full circle.
Point A, circa 1984, was when Duncan, after a series of bands that never stuck (including a two-month project called Green Tambourine with Mark Olson and Chuck Prophet) happened across a pair of like-minded Beatles-loving musicians and formed Flying Color. Three of the four members wrote songs, each showcasing highly melodic sensibilities.
It worked for a while, borne out by the band’s 1987 self-titled debut on Grifter/Frontier Records (recently reissued overseas by Spain’s Munster Records). But while the notion of democracy might work well in guiding a nation, it rarely seems to serve bands well. By 1990, Flying Color was permanently grounded.
With the exception of guitarist Chris Von Sneidern, who replaced original guitarist Richard Chase and later went on to release albums of his own, the members of Flying Color seemingly disappeared. Duncan started his sabbatical by breaking his neck surfing (“it was just for a few months,” he somewhat dismisses). He then filled time with several trips to Mexico, a lot of carpentry work and “hanging out with this woman.”
“I stopped playing music completely”, he says. “I think I had been ‘out there’ for so long, touring, doing the nightlife and just being out in the music scene, that when I left it, I really hibernated.”
In 1996, Duncan was in Mexico on a “soul searching” trip, having recently stopped hanging out with the aforementioned woman. When he returned to San Francisco, his musical passions began falling into place again. “I came back, picked up the guitar and wrote a song that day. I hadn’t done that in ages,” he recalls. “Then I pulled out the four-track and made a little demo out of it.
“The next day Hector [former Flying Color bandmate Hector Penalosa] called me and said Munster was reissuing the Flying Color record and they wanted some liner notes. The day after that, Chris called and said he was building a studio, and why didn’t I help him out and we’d record some songs. It was like boom, boom, boom — all these things came together.”
Duncan convinced Flying Color drummer John Stuart to come down from Alaska; together the three hit Von Sneidern’s home studio and started recording. The vibe was immediate. After one session they had three songs; only then did Duncan realize that they were making a record.
“We were all grown up,” he reflects. “All that little petty bullshit that had gone down when we were younger was gone. We all knew our strengths and weaknesses now. It used to be poking at each other’s weaknesses and being insecure about our strengths. But we all just like each other now.”
Duncan’s newfound resolve is reflected both in his rejuvenated relationship with old bandmates and in the evocative music he takes considerable care in crafting.
“I’ve never been much of a storyteller, never like to say anything too concrete,” he says. “I respect that [more straightforward songwriting], but I can’t do that, because when I do, it just seems so small. I always like the stuff where I hear it, and then I hear it again, and it’s like, ‘Hey, it also means that.’ My favorite songs have layers of meanings; they leave room for the listener.”
Duncan’s songs also leave room for the players: “That’s why it’s a band, and not Dale Duncan,” he says. In addition to Stuart and Von Sneidern, Map Of Wyoming includes ex-Translator bassist Larry Decker and former Go To Blazes guitarist Tom Heyman. While the music lives primarily on the melodic pop end of the musical spectrum, pedal steel and twangy guitars are often part of the mix. Not to mention piano, organ, violin, harmonica, and even a battered old synth.
At the moment, Map Of Wyoming is working on a follow-up to Round Trip. Duncan promises more dynamics — higher highs and lower lows, both musically and lyrically.
Just getting to the second-album stage without retreating from his muse is a significant step this time around. “I want to set it up in a way that it’s part of my life for the rest of my life, without overtaking my life,” he says with a grin. “It’s part of who I am.”