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Clouds of cigarette smoke and the lingering smell of beer and whiskey haze the dimly lit room that hides behind the famous Hi-Tone bar in Midtown Memphis.
Five members of the almost orchestral-sized collaborative group Dead Dawls sit amongst the tattered couches of the soundproof lounge equipped with cigarettes in hand and liquor in their guts, taking one last moment before performing a set as the Memphis Dawls, one half of the super-group that will be performing their debut show later this month.
On March 28, the Dead Soldiers and the Memphis Dawls, two reputable local bands, will debut their newest co-composed project the Dead Dawls, a fused entity of both bands, and will be releasing a 7″ vinyl featuring the super-group’s two new, original songs.
The super-group will play both Memphis Dawls’ and Dead Soldiers’ songs together, as well as a few covers and their two new songs.
Although the band wrote and recorded the songs earlier this year, the members of the band said that this has been in the works for the past six months. However, due to conflicting schedules between the nearly a dozen members, it got pushed back.
“We had talked about it for awhile but Ben Aviotti, the guitarist of Dead Soldiers, actually brought it to the table about six months ago,” Holly Cole, a University of Memphis graduate and singer and guitarist for the Dawls, said. “Someone mentioned that we should do a 7-inch together, so we all got together and had drinks at El Toro Loco to talk about it. That became our first Dead Dawls meeting.”
Paul Gilliam, drummer for both the Dawls and the Soldiers, said co-writing the two new songs wasn’t the original plan, however, it just ended up being the most natural outcome.
“The initial idea was for Dead Soldiers to play a Dawls’ song and in turn for the Memphis Dawls to interpret a Soldiers’ song. Luckily, we decided it really wasn’t the best way to go about it since it wouldn’t really put anything out to the public, but by collaborating and writing two new songs together we could put out something a lot more unique,” Gilliam said. “I was really surprised that we could get eight creatively-opinionated people in one room and get it done so fast.”
Aside from having joint members between the two bands, Krista Wroten, violinist, keyboardist and vocalist for both acts, said that the first hint of the Dead Dawls was during January of 2013 when the three female vocalists from the Dawls recorded strings and back-up vocals on the Soldiers’ first full-length album. Soon after, in the summer of 2013, the two groups formed an intense bond and friendship after doing a weeklong tour together, which initially started the conversation of doing some form-or-fashion joint project.
“We (Dead Soldiers) recorded our full-length in January 2013, and I had asked the other Dawls to come in and sing back up and do strings on a couple of tracks. I suppose that was the first time we had collaborated at all,” Wroten said.
This is a natural occurrence within the Memphis music scene according to Wroten who said that it is common for musicians to help each other and play alongside one another in the family-oriented music scene within the city.
“Memphis to me has always been a family-oriented music scene. Everybody is always playing on each other’s records and everyone here is so good at working together and helping each other out,” Wroten said. “This project really represents Memphis to me in that way. This city is a musical family.”
Although the feminine-Dawls and masculine-Soldiers both radiate separate auras within their own projects, together they form a harmonious-sound that hits all ends of the spectrum.
“I feel like we mirror each other as groups in a way. The Dead Soldiers are a masculine energy, rowdy and fast, and the Dawls are the softer feminine side of the spectrum, but together we cover all of the bases. We just work well together,” Cole said.
The group features six-part harmonies between the members from the Dawls and the Soldiers, producing an overwhelmingly impressive and nearly angelic atmosphere.
“There will be between 10 and 12 people playing on stage at a time, but all of it makes sense and is one cohesive entity that we’ve been able to make work. I’m very excited about it,” Gilliam said.
The music rings with the traditional sounds of the south, featuring Nashville-influenced riffs and catchy choruses, displayed with an impressive orchestral line-up that features keys, strings, horns and percussion.
“This small orchestra of musicians is a really interesting group of people all with unique voices and the sum of all of these people together have become a really interesting musical force,” Michael Jasud, the primary vocalist and guitarist of the Soldiers, said. “I believe it will be a unique edition to Memphis-music landscape.”
One of the two songs, “Suburban Woman,” reflects upon the monotonous and repetitive lifestyle of living within the limits of comfort zones, primarily focusing on the redundancy of suburban living.
“The song is about re-evaluating your redundant world. It is specifically referring to suburban mentality within the song, but anyone stuck within their own limits or world can reflect and re-evaluate why they’re their,” Cole said.
Even though the two groups are very passionate about their new project, they said that this fusion is not meant to replace their separate projects, but they hope that the Dead Dawls will remain its own entity.
“The intention is not to phase out our own projects. We always want to keep the Memphis Dawls and the Dead Soldiers,” Jana Misener, cellist and vocalist for the Dawls, said. “This is just another band-a different expression.”
Although the groups will continue to focus on their own music, they said if the show goes well they may continue performing on an annual or semi-annual basis.
“We are talking about making this an annual thing where we get together once or twice a year, but we are very passionate about the two projects remaining separate entities even though we love how they melt together,” Wroten said. “Together they fuse into a different sound than what either band could do on their own and it’s just really neat to see how they come together.”
After the show, the super-band is touring the Northeast and the Southeast for two and a half weeks.
“I couldn’t of predicted that we would’ve ended up doing this six months ago, but it’s something I feel could progress and we are all excited to see what happens with it in the future,” Jasud said.
The Dead Dawls will be performing at the Hi-Tone on March 28 with Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition. The show starts at 9 p.m. and is open to those 18 years old or older. Tickets are $10.