Already a 14-time Grammy winner, Dan Tyminski possesses a vocal instrument refined enough to offer harmonies alongside the equally ethereal voices of his Alison Krauss and Union Station bandmates in addition to unvarnished and earnest to portray the singing voice of George Clooney’s character in O Brother Where Art Thou.
In 2014, Tyminski’s voice proved it was capable of piercing through frenzied EDM beats to provide weathered wisdom on Swedish producer and DJ Avicii’s “Hey Brother.” The chart topper made history in 18 countries, earning 5.3 million downloads and more than 1.1 billion streams globally.
Perhaps more than those sales stats, Tyminski’s crossover success emboldened the belief that his voice could reach outside the ever-widening borders of bluegrass.
“I think the whole Hey Brother experience probably gave me a little courage to step out of the box,” he tells MusicRow. “I look back on my career and every time I’ve done something outside of the box like that, it’s always been rewarding. I think I gained courage from doing something so different and having it feel so natural.”
With his new album on UMG Nashville, Southern Gothic (out today), Tyminski (he goes by his last name for the project) is a study in blending seemingly opposite characteristics, from reconciling the struggles between good and and evil, to mixing acoustic and electronic music styles. Helping Tyminski blend those musical demarcations is Jesse Frasure, a Nashville songwriter/producer/DJ known for his R&B and pop-leaning productions for artists including Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, TobyMac, Lauren Alaina, and Meghan Trainor.
The album’s origins are as organic as they are improbable. At the time, Tyminski intended for most of the songs to be recorded by other artists, until he found himself with a set of songs he felt passionate about. One of those would be the album’s haunting, soul-searching title track, which Tyminski penned with Frasure and Josh Kear.
“Southern Gothic” brings to life a town of “God-fearin’” people rattled by sin and spiritual guilt, where every house has got a bible and a loaded gun, and where dogs and deadbolts guard the night, a line Tyminski remembers contributing.
“It was a very personal thing because that’s how I saw this town,” Tyminski says. “I saw a two-sided town where people are very nice to you during the day—they are your best friends and your neighbors—but when you go to bed you make sure the dog is near the door and the deadbolts are locked.”
Near the conclusion of an unfruitful writing session, Frasure had suggested they listen to one more track, to see if it would spark a song idea. He offered the sparse groove that would be come the song’s bedrock. “It made one of us say, ‘Wow, that’s kind of creepy, kind of gothic.’ And I remember Jesse said, ‘Well if we are going to write gothic, it should be southern gothic.’ And we knew we had to write and record it.”
And they did–quickly.
“Southern Gothic” was written and recorded, including harmonies and all instrumentation, in three hours. “We did nothing to that track after [the demo], literally, except mix it,” recalls Tyminski. “It was the first song I remember driving home and being jealous because I wanted to keep it for myself. I thought I was going to have to give it away.”
That universal struggle between abiding by, or abandoning, one’s own moral code runs throughout the album, seeping through tracks like “Breathing Fire” and “Hollow Hallelujah,” though Tyminski says that wasn’t intentional.
“I think it’s probably just a theme that runs through my life. It’s one of those things that everyone struggles with. Everyone knows what that pull is. I’m not telling people what to do. More than anything I’m holding up a mirror to society as I see it and letting people draw their own conclusions.”
Other tracks find Tyminski leaning toward the light, fighting off fleeting advances in “Temporary Love,” being a pillar of strength in “Wailing Wall,” and reminiscing on his inherited love of music on “Bloodline.”
After UMG Nashville’s Cindy Mabe, Mike Dungan, and other execs heard a few early tracks including “Southern Gothic,” and “Perfect Poison,” they signed Tyminski to a multi-album deal.
“We had complete say on what we wanted to do, lyrically and musically,” Tyminski says. “They were so gracious to let us do what we wanted to with this record. Right now, thankfully, I think the margins within each genre of music are pretty wide so we were able to step outside the box a little bit. I’m so thankful that Universal would allow that.”
Universal Music Group’s Cindy Mabe says the music in those early demos for Southern Gothic was moving and simply unforgettable.
“The more we lived with these songs, we couldn’t stop listening,” she says. “He is one of the most gifted, intelligent, unique, world class talents we’ve ever worked with. He has a very strong vision for how this music should be played and heard and he’s just the embodiment of musical integrity. He knew what he wanted to say and how the songs fit together and beyond making them fit an album, he knew how he wanted them to sound in a live music environment. The uniqueness of Dan Tyminski is not simply in his incredible talent but in the series of risks he’s taken in his career which have led him to defy the odds and simply connect with an audience. But most of all we bet on him because he moves us and we believe that will translate to wider audiences.”
Universal set an ambitious plan in place, one that included a splashy album preview for industry members back in July, and includes visual content to support every track on Southern Gothic.
“It’s just so amazing to see how much care and time they put into this. “It was obvious that the label sees this as a special project, and they are willing to go the extra mile,” he says of the preview party in Nashville. “For me, walking into that event, and seeing the care they gave that, it just felt like being cradled in someone’s arms, like they really care.
“From the get-go when we sat down and starting talking about how to present this music, we decided it was so visually-oriented that it was important to have a visual aspect to everything we did,” Tyminski says. “This will be the first record, I believe, that Universal Nashville has put out where they are able to include 100 percent visual content for the entire record.”
Another much talked-about aspect of that plan is the move for Tyminski to go solely by his last name for the album, a move he says primarily has to do with streaming.
“That was proposed by the label,” Tyminski says. “And I understand why, for streaming purposes, to be able to draw a clear line to this new music, because I have a very long career with a lot of different directions. For my whole life, people have called me by my last name. I’ve gone by it so much it seemed natural. Though when I was introduced for the first time, and they said, ‘Please make welcome Tyminski,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, that is a little strange.’ But I think it is appropriate.”
In the studio, Tyminski gave Frasure free reign to assemble the cast of players that could craft the acoustic, and pop-driven, genre-bending sounds on Southern Gothic—even though that meant Tyminski didn’t play a single guitar lick on the album.
“I wanted Jesse to have the freedom to create without any preconceived thoughts of what I might do or not want to do,” Tyminski says. “He has a strong Motown and electronic background. I think that was part of what makes it work. He was able to take such a fresh approach to what is a roots sound and style. It was finding that ground where those two things converge, and that’s where the magic happened.”
Tyminski hopes that magic that occurs with the right blend of music, voice and message continues with his next project.
“I hope so badly to be able to follow this record up. I feel so strongly about this and I’m not going into the studio anytime soon to try to top this but I would love to be able to go back in and finish the rest of this thought.”
Southern Gothic Album Track List:
1. Southern Gothic (Dan Tyminski, Jesse Frasure, Josh Kear)
2. Breathing Fire (Dan Tyminski, Cary Barlowe, Will Weatherly)
3. Gone (Dan Tyminski, Kyle Fishman, Nick Bailey)
4. Temporary Love (Dan Tyminski, Cary Barlowe, Jesse Frasure)
5. Perfect Poison (Dan Tyminski, Jesse Frasure)
6. Devil Is Downtown (Dan Tyminski, Ashley Monroe, Paul Moak)
7. Hollow Hallelujah (Dan Tyminski, Sarah Buxton, Jesse Frasure, Amy Wadge)
8. Good For Your Soul (Dan Tyminski, Sarah Buxton, Jesse Frasure)
9. Wailing Wall (Dan Tyminski, Sarah Buxton, Tofer Brown)
10. Haunted Heart (Dan Tyminski, Andrew Dorff, Cary Barlowe, Jesse Frasure)
11. Bloodline (Dan Tyminski, Cary Barlowe, Jesse Frasure)
12. Wanted (Dan Tyminski, Brad Rempel, Seth Mosley)
13. Numb (Dan Tyminski, Kyle Fishman, Nick Bailey, Ryan Ogren)
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