Fresh off the release of his new album, “Animal,” singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop will perform at Webster Hall on Wednesday — twice. The Northern Ireland musician is touring as the support act for countryman Foy Vance and is also playing bass in Vance’s band.
Speaking to Highway 81 Revisited via Zoom from a hotel room in Virginia earlier this week, Dunlop said writing the title track set the tone for the rest of the album.
“Animal” the song was inspired by Dunlop’s internal monologue about hangups and oddities in songwriting. “A great piece of advice I once received was to ‘write like no one will ever hear it.’ It tricks my brain into being more honest with myself than I normally would,” he said.
Another trick: Dunlop made the album at his home studio in Belfast. The comfort level of working at home, he said, is a double-edged sword: yes, you can easily step away for something to eat or drink, but you might have to pause to answer the door.
While Dunlop’s influences are squarely in the singer-songwriter tradition of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits with some Pink Floyd, the album is enveloped in electronic sounds, a bit of a departure from his previous material. That, he said, was a result of him being turned on to LCD Soundsystem and subsequently buying some synths. For the tour, however, he is playing solo with no keyboards or loops.
Vance’s most recent album, “Signs of Life,” was a collaboration with Dunlop, who performed on a slew of instruments. When it came time for Vance to tour the record, he asked Dunlop to join his band on bass. Signing up was a no-brainer, Dunlop said, but it was a bit of a challenge that he jokingly compared to rubbing his belly and patting his head at the same time when it came time to playing the instrument and singing harmonies.
Dunlop is long-time fan of Vance’s and was a frequent attendee at the latter’s gigs, hanging around afterward to pepper him with questions. The fandom led to friendship and collaboration, and Dunlop said that has provided major validation as his own career progresses. Vance is signed to pop superstar Ed Sheeran’s label, Gingerbread Man.
Dunlop has written songs with and for everyone from T.I. to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, as well as John Oates, who called him “the real deal.” He’s opened for A-listers like Van Morrison, Snow Patrol and Stereophonics, wonderful resume builders but challenging propositions. For example, during a pair of Stereophonics gigs, the crowd was whipped up into a frenzy of rugby chants due to the local team’s success and not exactly in the mood for an opening act.
The tour with Vance will continue through the end of the month before wrapping up on the West Coast. The duo will do it again for a run of dates in the UK and Ireland, and for those engagements Dunlop might put together a band, he said.
Photo by Jamie Neish