Video Premiere: Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds, “Useless”

Just over twenty miles south of Athens, Ohio, Pomeroy is your basic small Midwestern town.  That being said, don’t allow yourself to believe that nothing is happening; musician Jake Dunn has shaped his music to sound as big as anything to come out of the Buckeye State.  As for his lyrics, Dunn taps in the vintage standards of those who are not afraid to bare their soul; the trials and tribulations of life, love, and loss are heavily showcased.

Teaming up with the Blackbirds, Dunn’s music soars to higher points all while establishing a blue-collar work ethic.  The musicianship is crisp, tapping into elements of Americana and Roots Rock.  Their newest release Cosmic Americans (out February 15) further strengthens a bond that comes off effortlessly to the ear.  Today, Dunn and the Blackbirds share the video to their latest single “Useless.” 

Dunn on the video/single: “Useless” has a couple of different ideas behind it, really. I think I was reading about subatomic space between particles in solid objects, believe it or not, and how fascinating it is that there is still empty space in dense objects. I think that idea got me thinking about how there’s just a lot of “empty space’ in our real lives sometimes too and we should fill those spaces with love and happiness. The character in this song is saying that the person in their life they love is what completes them and makes them whole and they would be more “useless” without them. The video itself was filmed, directed, and edited by Bradley Jones of Nomad Photography with the assistance of Todd Offenberger.

Prior to the release, Dean Tartaglia got in touch with Dunn to discuss a few topics:

“Useless” is so immediately Ohio on first listen. I don’t think people immediately think “roots music” when they think Ohio but we’ve got a pretty burgeoning scene not nearly getting the attention it deserves. Tell us your favorite artists and friends that represent “Ohio roots”.

If I’ve realized anything from playing with this band all over Ohio the past 4 years, going on 5, it’s that this state has such a wide variety of musical culture to it and it’s expressed in so many different ways. The influence of Appalachian music is certainly strong almost everywhere but the sounds of the musicians we’ve had the pleasure of playing with are so diverse and far beyond those folk and bluegrass roots. I would say if you really wanted to get the full understanding of how diverse the sounds of this state are you should spend some time with The Outside Voices, Coup De Grace, Drift Mouth, Sean Marshall and Ray Flanagan, all artists from Northern areas of the state. From the southern counties, there are artists like Ben Davis Jr., Cutler Station, Gudger, Oyo, and Hayfield & Crow, just to name a few. Not one of those artists is the same but they all represent something completely unique yet universal about the Ohio sound: scrupulous attention to detail in their arrangements and rectitude for truth in their lyrics.

What does Americana mean to you in 2020? Your guitarist is repping the American flag on his hat in the video, yet I can guess you’re not happy with the way things are in the country right now. “I’m useless, oh but I could be much more”, I think that’s how a lot of people are feeling.

To be honest, Americana doesn’t mean that much to any of us anymore. Maybe at first, it was an umbrella term for the general ballpark of a sound we wanted to attain, but anymore it just seems like a “box” to fit in and it has become a little redundant. I think sonically, we want to “be much more” than just an Americana band. “Cosmic Americans” in its entirety, both lyrically and musically, is a call for folks to embrace the idea of breaking away from being labeled as anything at all, especially as a source for individuality. “Country”, “Rock”, “Americana”, “Democrat”, “Republican”, “Liberal”, or “Conservative”, those are all just words that give us a category to fit in and an identity to assume, when in reality they are just made up to represent ideas either politically or musically. “Useless” is a good example of a tune that could fit into many categories or “genres” sonically, but can also be interpreted in many ways lyrically, as well. Its main idea is that life is made up of many, many moments and each is just as important as the last, and the way we choose to spend those moments is what really makes life worth living. I think the priorities of our country are completely misspaced and if we cherished the things that really mattered, like love, freedom, empathy, and compassion, then we would be less concerned about the titles we assumed and what side of the political line we each sat upon.

What are your goals musically and personally for 2020? What do you want people to know about you as they listen to this song?

In 2020 we just really want to make our voices be heard by as many willing ears as we can, not just as a means for success but as a way to spread our main message, which is community and love for all human beings in every part of the world. We want to venture even further into the realm of Cosmic American Music and create a “universal” sound that anyone could find a little piece of that they enjoy. Hopefully, through that idea, we can bring people together and help them to remember that we are all the same, no matter what side of the line we’re standing on.

For more on the band:

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