It had been almost two years since Jason Dunn and I had last talked. A lot has changed since then for the former Hawk Nelson frontman and founder/frontman of Lights Go Down. The last interview came just as LGD was getting off the ground and writing/recording their We Kept It Alive EP. (Click HERE for that interview)
Just before Christmas I got on the phone with an energetic as ever Jason. It was awesome to reconnect, and to hear how stoked on life he is.
Jason filled me in on the circumstances surrounding the end of Lights Go Down and we had a great time catching up on his move back to Peterborough, his new studio and music, and some big life changes.
It’s cool that you’re back in Ontario.
There’s no place like home, buddy.
How long have you been back?
I moved back July 12th last year. So a year and a half.
Still pretty recent. So you’re obviously still working on music, which is awesome. Last week you put out “Last Goodbye.” What’s the reaction been? Because that’s the first thing you’ve put out in a while, right?
Yeah, it wasn’t a new song by any means. It’s one I’ve kind of been sitting on for a couple years but obviously I have a couple skeletons in my closest I’ve been kind of trying to let loose for a bit. But I wasn’t sure how to. So I think I just got to “Okay, I’m comfortable talking about it now.” That was my introduction to what’s to come and I wanted people to know that I was still making music.
With personal songs like this you’ve got to be pretty vulnerable, how do you find the line where it’s some metaphor and some real life, or when is the time right to be open?
You know, Darcy, I don’t know where that line is either, man. It’s one of those things where you let it got and you’re like “Well, I hope that was okay!” or “Oh, shoot. Was that alright? Was that too soon?” I don’t know. I’m the kind of guy that I act out before I think. [laughs] I’ll record a song and think “I’m going to release this today.”
It was the same back in the Hawk days where a manager would be like, “Why did you put that up? You should have waited.” And I’d say, “Why? it was good!” but they’re like, “No, there’s timing, you’ve got to plan these out.” That was my classic move. I would release something based on the pure excitement and enjoyment of something I created. Whereas the business side, where you should probably wait to do something like that for the perfect timing. I’m still trying to work out those quirks.
Fair enough! So you and your wife released the song “The Night We Ruled the World.” It’s only a couple days old, right, but it’s getting quite a few plays already!
Yeah, that’s something that it’s always been kind of in my back pocket for a while. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about the Dunn Boys? It was a project that I did with my dad and brothers. It was about five or six years ago. It was this Great Big Sea kind of vibe, it was really fun. It was never serious, though, we just did it because we enjoyed it. But then I was never really able to work on anything, I just didn’t have time. Now that I’m back home and my wife and I are writing – she’s a musician. She’s way more skilled of a musician than I am. That’s how we met: just playing together. We’ve just been jamming and we play locally. We just started incorporating some of these new tunes and we thought, “We should just go for it.” That’s what we did, we’ve been recording all week and we’ve been recording even this morning just kind of getting an EP out for the new year. We’re starting to do a few shows around town here in a couple weeks and getting ready for 2017. And it goes back to the same thing like, “Should we wait? Nah, I’m just going to put this up now.”
Just go for it!
I just put it up and I think the response has been pretty good.
That’s awesome. You actually answered my next question too. I was wondering about any kind of plans for an album. And a small amount of touring, you said, or just keeping it pretty local?
We’re expecting our first child in May, so we’re not really planning to go anywhere. But if the opportunity arises, we’ll definitely consider it. Maybe Uxbridge is calling our name, who knows?
I was actually going to ask if you’d head out my direction!
My rule has been for even the last two years, if I can’t be at home every night then I’m not going to do it. So I think Uxbridge is within that range, so that’d be okay!
Oh, we’re definitely within range!
Also, you’re hosting a radio show, Indie Spotlight. How did you get hooked up doing a show on Trent Radio?
When I first moved home… there’s always an awkward transition period from being an artist to “what the heck do I do now?” There’s a little piece of me that still wants to maintain being an artist, but without having to tour 200 days a year. So that part of me is still there but it’s slowly fading; I’m about to be a dad, which I’m super amped about. I talked to a couple guys that I’ve known over the years just being from Peterborough and trying to get in locally in radio. I thought that would be a really cool transition from artist to still staying in entertainment someway, somehow. So I put my name in at a few different radio stations here in town and kind of the same result, like it would be really awesome but I had no real experience in radio. So they’re like “You should just try to get a show on Trent. That way you have it on your resume.” and I’m like, “yeah, okay. Good idea.”
So I went in the next day and they said “Okay. Can you start on Wednesday?” and I’m like, “Are you serious? I don’t know what I’m doing. “ So I just kind of learned as I went. It’s fun. It’s a lot of work though. So tonight’s actually the last night of the radio show for the year. They take a month off for the next season. My wife and I have been talking about if I want to do another season or not. It is a lot of fun, but like I said it’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of time.
No doubt. It is indie focused, so do you get artists submitted music to you or are you searching the bands out?
It’s cool, man, I didn’t really know what to expect. I would go in there and they’d say, “Hey man, some bands came in and dropped some CDs for you.” And I’m like “Seriously?” They’re like “yeah, they’re in your cubicle over here.” I’m like, “No way, I didn’t know I had a cubicle!” I was more excited about that.
It’s been a really cool experience. I remember growing up here just wanting people to play our music. It was hard to do. Radio stations won’t just play your music. They would say, “Well, we can’t play unsolicited material.” Like, come on! I just wanted to be the guy that said, “I can play this for you, for sure. Yes!” To give that glimmer of hope. Maybe something arises from it or whatever. It’s been a lot of fun for sure.
Such an interesting position to be in where you’re the guy that would have been helpful to you starting your career.
Absolutely. There’s a guy Dave that’s on right after me. I remember a few times I’d gone in for interviews with him in the past. It’s kind of fun to go full circle. Now I’m “that guy.”
Sometimes you’ve had artists in studio with you?
Yeah, a couple times. Mostly it’s over the phone just because they’re coming in from Toronto, or they’re playing a show here in town on the weekend. They just call in the week before and we talk a little bit about their show and their music. It’s cool because they’re getting the publicity they’re looking for and it’s fun, which is so important.
That’s where I started out – in radio, and I loved it, too. Doing interviews and getting to play something new is a rad experience.
I’m seeing some posts about Maplerock. That’s your own studio?
Yeah. I kind of did studio work in Nashville for like seven years. I did a lot of demos and stuff like that, but it’s just so many fish in a little pond in Nashville. So everyone’s got a gig. I had never claimed to be a producer by any means, but, I mean at the end of the day I kind of am because I’ve always done that kind of stuff. I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to go for it.” Everything I’ve done in the last couple years, I’ve done it all myself. I think the more you do it, the better you become at it, like anything.
We’ve just been going for it here and we’ve been building a studio. We have a detached garage which we’ve slowly been converting into a full-fledged studio. Like I said before, our creative minds kind of take over in the process so we end up getting all these ideas so we end up moving the studio inside to our living room with mics set up by the couch and it ends up sounding pretty decent so we think, “Okay, we’ll leave it for now, we’ll work on the floor another day.” It’s been really fun to just be able to be creative from home and make things happen from here rather than trying to book studio time and that kind of stuff.
I think it’s really great for artists too, especially in town. In Peterborough there are a lot of great studios. Here, and in the Toronto area, but they’re always charging by the hour. So if you’re a young band – like at least for me – our parents would give me like four hours of studio time for Christmas and my birthday or whatever. You can’t really knock out a lot of time in four hours. You end up rushing the project and it doesn’t turn out what you want because you’re running out of time. Instead of per song, where the song may end up taking eight but you’re getting what you came here for. I don’t think that exists here. Maybe that’s a thing I picked up living in Nashville, I don’t know, but it just seemed to make sense. And I think our studio maybe introduces creative freedom when you’re not on crunch time because you’ve got only six hours to do a song or two. That sucks.
That’s kind of what we’re bringing to the table here.
That’s such a great idea. Another way where your experience is helping you be able to give the new musicians more of a shot.
As we were saying before, it’s been probably a couple years since we’ve chatted last. It was at the beginning when you were just starting to work on Lights Go Down stuff, and obviously a lot has changed since then. People end up at my site everyday because of that interview so there is a lot of interest. Could you give us an update or let us know what ended up happening with the band?
Lights Go Down was kind of my “let’s not focus on life right now and let’s keep our mind off reality” project. It was my escape from reality. Obviously, I got divorced and it was just a really.. even when you and I were talking a couple years ago, it was a very awkward time in my life. There was obviously a lot going on but we didn’t talk about it. I wasn’t talking about that kind of stuff.
So Lights Go Down was my “I’ve just got to get out on the road to escape and I won’t have to think about anything but music.” So that’s exactly what I did. I got a band together. I had kind of given the guys a lowdown, like, “Hey, this probably isn’t a full time gig.” I knew when I ended with Hawk that there was something always missing with Hawk, like the sound. I could never quite put a finger on it but in hindsight I look back and realize all the guys in Hawk, none of them were pop punk guys. The original Hawk Nelson with Matt, and Davey and Dan and I, we wanted to be Blink-182 and Good Charlotte, it made more sense back in the day. But as bands progress and evolve, we end up becoming something that wasn’t really what I had originally wanted. Being the typical Canadian that I am, I was kind of just “go with the flow” and “okay, yeah, whatever you guys want.” And it just never took off to what I expected. So that’s where Lights Go Down, all the writing came from that. That EP ended up being what I wanted to make.
To be honest with you Darcy, Lights Go Down, that recording, of anything I’ve ever recorded, that was my favourite thing I’ve ever got to do. And I’m so thankful I got to do it. And I’m so thankful I got to do it with the guys I got to work with. Daniel and Blake and Enrique and Ryan and Nathan who produced it. It was a really really great experience. Even with all the crap I was going through, it was a really, really great thing. I’m so thankful I got to do that.
Once everything kind of came to, and everything… as they say, once it hit the fan and it came out, I was like, “Okay, the cat’s out of the bag.” I just knew that I needed to get home and reset. Which obviously put Lights Go Down on the back burner.
So I moved back home after I did a last show with LGD in Indiana. I picked up my dog and played a bunch of shows with those guys and was like, “Alright boys, this has been great. We’ll keep in touch.” And I drove back from Indiana all the way to Peterborough. I drove all night and once I crossed the border I had this sense of “I’m home.” I’m homefree, you know. I don’t want to do anything but just be home and reset and try to figure out what to do with my life again. It felt really good but very foreign to me.
Once I got home I saw my family and let them in on what’s been going on in my life. It was really great. Very freeing I guess. I kind of recharged and kept in touch with the guys in the band and let them know, “I don’t think I’m going to tour again for a good bit” and the guys have all been off doing their own thing, playing with other bands. I know Daniel took off and was doing modelling, and playing in other bands in like Texas, and Seattle and Portland. We maintain ways to keep busy as we all did.
It’s been a year and half now that I’ve been home and I still consider it one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. Obviously, I remarried in June of this year and my wife and I are expecting a baby. Life is good, man. We were talking this morning about how this is what life is supposed to be: family and friends. I think for so long my whole focus was to make music but that’s not what music is to me now. Music will always be a huge part of my life, but it’s not my everything like it used to be. I can still play music – my wife and I play music on a weekly basis in and around town – and we don’t do it because we have to, we do it because we love to. There’s a huge difference in there. When you do it because you love to, I don’t know, it’s just different. I woke up this morning excited to record music. And I wasn’t like “Aw, I’ve got to jump in here and make this happen or else.” There’s no deadline. It’s really relaxing, and it’s really fun again and I’m really thankful for that.
Sounds like you’re in a such a good place, now. I’m happy for you, dude. Right from the beginning of this conversation, you’ve just sounded like you’re loving life and in such a good place.
I really am, man. I’m so thankful to be back.
Be on the lookout for more music from Jason,
and more new Jason & Niamh songs!