New creative life begins at 30 for Dennis Crommett

Posted
Thursday June 2, 2011

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.

A couple of years back, Dennis Crommett had conjured up a huge batch of songs just waiting to be fashioned into an album.

"Okay, this could be a record" the singer-songwriter (and guitarist for Winterpills) thought to himself. But at that time, Crommett was feeling a bit restless and reflective. There were changes brewing in what he wanted to do with his music.

"Those songs were more on the sad, mellow, whispery, double vocals, side of things," recalled Crommett as he sipped on some tea at a local café. "But I was increasingly feeling like moving on from that. I decided not to go forward making a record with those. Instead, I needed to go where some of my newer songs were leading, to a less melancholy place."

So Crommett, like many who have just turned 30, began to re-imagine his life and eventually, his art.

The result: "In The Buffalo Surround," his exceptional new release on Signature Sounds that captures a bolder, more expansive musical palette.

The first time I listened, the two tracks that jumped out of my speakers and into my brain, happened to be the CD’s most rocking tunes -- the, catchy, R.E.M.-ish "New Year’s Resolution" and the galloping "Dark Grey Horses," which just so happened to be two of Crommett’s newest compositions.

"They definitely come from that place of wanting to bust out," explained Crommett. "I’m just tired of writing sad songs. Not because I am some incredibly happy, blissful person all the time now. I just want to move away from that with my art. And the things I have been listening to are much more reflective of that."

One of the artists that caught Crommett’s ear while making "In the Buffalo Surround" might come as a bit of a surprise to those familiar with Crommett’s earlier work.

"I have never been a Bruce Springsteen fan, except for ‘Nebraska,’" said Crommett. "But, one night driving to a session, which was down in Connecticut at my friend’s place, I heard one of the singles from the newest Springsteen record. It just blasts you with great rockin’ joy for three minutes. And I thought, ’That is what I want to sound like!’ ... The guitars are simple. And killer."

Another surprising influence would be harder to discern from the sound of the new record. But it could he found in the spirit of the songs.

"It’s West African music," said Crommett. "I’ve been listening to these guys from Mali. Their purpose for music is community, for celebrations, for spiritual things. That is what is going to be even more and more coming into my music."

An example of that spiritual influence can be found on the current disc’s gospel-inflected "High Cotton," a gorgeous track that the local radio station WRSI has worked into its rotation.

"I wrote that song the day after the Haiti earthquake which was also the same day my maternal grandfather died seven years ago. We were close. ... It is very personal."

The supporting cast Crommett picked to join him on the project represents the community aspect of "In The Buffalo Surround."

"I wanted to do this for connection and expression, so in going into the studio, and making this record with my old friend Will Beadle was a huge part of it. We were in grunge bands together in high school. There was as much laughing as there was music when we were making the record. The same with Dave Chalfant, who mastered. Also, having Ray Mason play bass for me. I specifically wanted him to play, even though there are a thousand great bass players. He has this totally positive vibe about him and is also so funny and down to earth. I thought, lets get a little of that energy in there".

Crommett laughed when I pointed out that he traveled back home to make a record that was essentially about busting out.

"It was definitely interesting. There were a couple of weekends where I stayed over at my dad’s and did the drive around the old neighborhood thing. ... Went to the restaurant I went to every week in high school. There was no nostalgia for the first time, there wasn’t any longing. It felt more like driving into a dream."

Dave Madeloni writes a weekly music column for the Arts & Entertainment section. He can be reached at madeloni@aol.com.


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