Every Wednesday, WERS presents Wicked Local Wednesday, our program dedicated to bringing you music and interviews with artists in the Boston/New England area. Tune in at 9 p.m. every Wednesday night to hear songs from these local bands looking to share their music with the world! To learn more about the artists you hear on the program, check here on our WERS Music Blog for weekly Wicked Local Wednesday interviews.
In this interview, Boston artist Dwayne Haggins talks with Web Services Coordinator Nora Onanian about the decision to call his upcoming album “Call Me Boston,” the spirit of fun behind all of his recordings and performances, and the best place to find a cannoli around Massachusetts.
OK SO I WAS DOING SOME READING AND YOUR BIO HAS KIND OF LIKE A VARIETY WAYS OF DESCRIBING YOU AND YOUR MUSIC. I HAVE TO LIST A COUPLE BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL KIND OF FUNNY - THERE WAS “THE LOVE CHILD OF HANK WILLIAMS AND OTIS REDDING” AND THEN THERE WAS “THE JOHN LEGEND OF ROCKABILLY” (BOTH LAUGH). SO I WANTED TO START BY ASKING HOW YOU YOURSELF WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR MUSIC.
Dwayne Haggins: Oh man. Well, see, that's why the person who wrote the bio— I just think bios in general are kind of dumb because you're just always trying to nail what you are or somebody else is. Seeing the band is always the best bio to me. Like, just if you see them live, then you're able to choose your own bio.
But a close friend of mine did that bio, so I would just go with that just because there are so many different types of music that I like.
Like, I started playing out of my love for country music, old country music. So that's where the Hank Williams comes in I would say. I grew up listening to a lot of old soul, like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding, of course. So yeah, I always describe it as rock and roll, blues and soul. When I'm solo-acoustic, it's way more a kind of country blues and that flare. And then with the band, it's always more like rock and roll blues and the soul influence. And even though I'm not a religious person, I'm a huge fan of gospel blues, so I think that it's very influential on my vocals. So, yeah, it's kind of, it's a lot of different things.
WELL, YEAH, IT MAKES SENSE TO NOT DIRECTLY COMPARE TO ONE ARTIST BECAUSE YOU'RE YOU. YOU'RE YOUR OWN ARTIST.
DH: Yeah, yeah.
ALRIGHT, I NEED TO ASK ABOUT YOUR SONG “LINE MY CASKET WITH CANNOLI” - WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THAT ONE?
DH: Well my bass player, he's a ridiculous person and it was in conversation one night. He said some joke that I cannot remember at this time, but I know that he tagged the joke with like, “Yeah, you know, line my casket with cannoli.” And I loved that so much that I immediately wrote it down and told him there will be a song using this title.
And then it was coupled with— I did a video shoot with my guitar player that I always play with, Ahren Shreeve. And it was a country blues kind of song that we were doing, and it just really inspired me to go home and write another song like that. And I had it in my head, like, 'I would love to do a whole album of these like country blues type songs.' And that was the first one that came out when I had that idea. So I just took that title, and that song was one of the easiest I ever wrote.
And I love sweets. I can always write about sweets if you give me an opportunity to.
AMAZING, I DID READ THAT YOU'RE A FAN OF CANNOLIS ANYWAYS.
DH: Yes, love cannolis. Even though I haven't been a long fan. Like I just— I'm a picky eater. So for one, I had never tried cannolis. And then the last day-job that I had, my manager got me to try a cannoli, and I was like, “How has nobody ever showed me this? How has no one forced me to eat cannolis before this?”
YOU GOTTA CHECK OUT THE NORTH END CANNOLIS!
DH: Oh yeah, Mike’s Pastries?
I LIKE MODERN PASTRY!
DH: See I’m with you. Like Mike’s is good, but they haven’t been my favorite. I also like smaller cannolis. I don’t like the giant, fat cannolis, you know?
YEAH, THAT’S FAIR.
DH: There’s a few spots that I like. There’s a place in I think it’s Westborough called Gerardo’s, it’s on Route 9. I love their cannolis. There’s a place in Salem, New Hampshire — Tuscan village, and they also have great cannolis there. But I will take any recommendations you have.
SO GOOD TO KNOW! I’LL WRITE THESE DOWN.
WHEN YOU HEAR THE TITLE, YOU THINK IT’S GOING TO BE REALLY FUNNY. AND I MEAN IT DEFINITELY STILL HAS A LIGHTHEARTED NATURE, BUT I WAS SURPRISED AT JUST HOW WELL-MADE IT SOUNDS. AND I WANTED TO TALK A BIT MORE ABOUT ITS CREATION. YOU RECRUITED THE HELP OF SOME OTHER MUSICIANS FOR THAT. COULD YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THAT COLLABORATION CAME ABOUT?
DH: Yeah, I just, I knew I wanted it to be a country blues type thing, so I didn't want a full band when we did that video at least. And Ahren, I just always love playing with him. I would use him all the time.
And then my friend Aisling, she was one of the earliest people I met when I started doing open mics. I met her and her dad at an open mic in Concord, Mass., called Main Street Café. And she's one of the best that I know at harmonies, and I knew that song needed some kind of harmony.
So that trio just really spoke to me when I was thinking of recording it for a video. And then since then, of course, for the album that we did, it's a full-band version of it. But when it started, it was just, I could hear only a very small orientation of a band, you know. Just two guitars and a couple of vocals. So it was clear to me that that's how I wanted to do it at first.
YEAH, I THOUGHT YOUR VOCALS SOUNDED REALLY NICE TOGETHER, AND THE GUITAR WORK WAS AWESOME TOO.
DH: Oh, thank you. Also, Aisling, she's so easy to sing with. Like, anytime I want a song like that, for harmonies, I would just always go to her. And she's a good friend, too.
AND THEN ON THAT ONE, SPECIFICALLY, AND LISTENING TO THE REST OF YOUR MUSIC, ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS I’VE FOUND IS THAT YOU END SO MANY OF YOUR SONGS JUST ON A VERY FUN NOTE. LIKE THERE WILL BE A KILLER ELECTRIC GUITAR RUN AND A HOOT OR EVEN LAUGHING. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
DH: (Laughs) I mean, there's really nothing more to it than just: music, it's just fun. And I can never take— I can't really take anything in life that seriously. To a fault at some points, probably. But just in music, it's just always fun.
Like anything somebody does. I don't plan out too much what a song is, what's going to happen in a song. So I'm just always surprised at whatever the guitarist does. It's just funny at that moment or surprising or cool. So it's just always— there's always just laughter. And especially if it's a song like that, that’s just in nature very ridiculous.
So yeah, there's very little, very few times where I’m being very serious. And then also, the people I play with, I like people that also are not very serious, you know. Serious in that they want things to sound good but not serious, as in you know, they can just stick in a silly riff or a silly vocal or, you know, whatever, just have fun and be loose about it.
YEAH, I LOVE THAT. THIS WAS NOT A PLANNED QUESTION, BUT I HAVE TO ASK, WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND? IT'S VERY COOL. I KEEP LIKE DRAWING MY EYES TO IT.
DH: Oh yeah. So during the pandemic— this is my garage where I live. And it was just, we just kept like a bunch of garbage in there, basically. Things that we didn't use. So I decided to turn it into a studio space.
And this was just, it's the one and only stone wall in this garage. And it was just a white painted wall at first. My drummer that I play with a lot of the time, his name's Jahnu, and he's an artist as well. And I asked him to paint something. So he decided to spray paint and trace or used a picture.
And this is Nina Simone, by the way. And I'm a big fan of what Nina Simone was and still is, even though she's gone to music. So I just wanted, after looking at a bunch of pictures, I just thought that was a nice— like it's very creative. In a creative space it's always driving. Like every time I look up, she's like, you know, “What are you doing now?” “That's kind of stupid—”
WATCHING OVER YOU!
DH: Always watching over me. It’s just like every kind of thought I have, I’m like, “she’s probably thinking the same thing.”
SHE HAS A VERY KIND OF “THINKING” LOOK.
DH: (Laughs) Yeah!
LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND A BIT. I READ ABOUT HOW IT WAS THE MUSICIAN BRUCE MARSHALL, WHO IS ALSO BASED IN NEW ENGLAND, WHO KIND OF TOOK YOU UNDER HIS WING EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER. CAN YOU TELL THE STORY OF THAT?
That open mic I met Aisling at, it was Bruce Marshall's open mic. And that just happened to be the first one that I found because I really knew absolutely nothing about music or how you would start when I first decided I wanted to play.
So I found his open mic and he was the host. And I think the first time I ever did it, he wasn't there. He was doing every other week. So the second week that I went, he was there, and he was just very nice. He's a great host of anything and he's very good on the mic. And he was just very nice to me afterward, and we talked. And then after that, I would go every week to his open mic and he had another one also that I would go to.
So I became friends with him and he was very much like a mentor and just always had good advice I felt like, as far as performing or just, you know, if you're starting a music career. Then, we would do shows together.
Once I got to the point of having a band, you know, I've opened for him a few times, so he's just been very nice. Him and his wife as well, who is a great artist as well, as far as making jewelry. And she's very just art-centered as well and [has] a creative mind.
So both of them just have been great people in my life and have been very helpful for, you know, connections and just things like that. But more importantly, just them as people have been really good to me. So, yeah, they've been so helpful.
THAT'S GREAT. AND GOING BACK EVEN EARLIER, HOW YOUNG WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST PICKED UP PLAYING THE GUITAR OR PERFORMING MUSIC?
DH: I started playing guitar at the very end of 2014 or the end of that summer, it was the year that I graduated. I decided to just go out and learn. I saw Sturgill Simpson on Conan O'Brien's show that he had on CBS. And his performance was just so attractive to me. So I started looking at some of his videos and there was just one video of him playing a song titled “Medicine Springs.” And that performance just inspired me so much to go and buy a guitar. So the next day, I drove out and got a guitar and started teaching myself on YouTube.
And then [I] finally decided to play an open mic a few days before my 21st birthday. Because I felt like I was stalling. I was like, “I'll eventually do one."
I just wanted to get this many songs recorded, or I wanted to learn how to do this on guitar first, and I recognized that I was just stalling. So I was like, ‘OK, before I turn 21, I have to go and perform and do an open mic.’
So that was at the very end of 2016 and December, a few days before I turned 21. So ever since then, for that whole year, I just went hard on doing open mics every week, like two to three a week. And then just slowly started getting my own gigs. Yeah, so it's been, I guess this year will be five years of performing live.
I WANT TO HEAR MORE ABOUT THE VERY FIRST ONE YOU DID. HOW DID IT GO? HOW WERE YOU FEELING?
DH: I was feeling awful. It was the worst feeling. I was like, 'Oh my God, I don't know how I'm going to do this for my whole career. How can I?' Just the nerves were so, so intense.
And I didn't even tell any friends or anything at first because I was like, I just couldn't even deal with the nerves at first. I was like, ‘I can't even tell people I'm doing this.’ And then I drove to the place and I think I might have gotten there like an hour before, and I just sat in my car, and then I started telling people at that moment. And obviously, people were like, “Why didn’t you tell us before? We would totally come!” Some friends were like, “Oh, OK, well, we'll be there.” So it was nice to have them because it made the night more fun. Like it was three of my friends that were there. And we kind of just were all seeing an open mic for the first time. And it was fun to see everybody else perform, and then it helped a little bit with the nerves, even though it's still tough.
I tried to eat that night at the restaurant and I was like ‘Yeah, I can’t even eat.’ It was just like my breath getting taken away. And then as soon as— I remember, as soon as I got up on stage [...] all the nerves just went away.
And the audience, they were so warm and welcoming just after I played. And it made me make the decision. I was like, ‘OK, I think I'm going to try to do music now.’
Like if I had done the wrong open mic or wasn't that receptive with the audience, like, I always wonder, like, I probably would have kept, maybe tried, but I also might just not have.
[...] But I also do remember, after, being like, ‘Man, I am going to definitely try this, but… ‘I'm going to take years off my life to have this kind of stress.’ I thought it would never go away, and it might have lasted for like nine months or so or maybe six or something. But I guess each time I did it, you know, it got less and less. And then I got to realize, like, ‘Oh, it's when you feel extremely prepared, that's when the nerves start going away.’
WELL, I'M GLAD THE FIRST SHOW WENT WELL. IT WAS PRETTY PIVOTAL- IT SEEMED MAKE OR BREAK IN YOUR MIND!
DH: I know! It probably was, yeah!
AND YOU'VE GOT A BIG [SHOW] COMING UP SOON... YOUR ALBUM RELEASE SHOW, RIGHT?
SO LET'S SHIFT GEARS AND TALK ABOUT THE NEW ALBUM. IT'S COMING OUT ON JUNE 9TH - IN JUST A COUPLE OF DATES, RIGHT?
DH: Yeah, it's definitely exciting now that we're on the week of!
We recorded this album in the first week of March in Knoxville, Tennessee, at a studio called Top Hat Recording. And the people who own that studio, John Harvey and Mary Podio, they're great friends that I met back in 2017, I believe.
The studio, it's just amazing. It's such a calming, beautiful property that they have. It's like hidden in this kind of wooded area of Knoxville. And it just feels like you're not in a real place, it feels so special. And they have the studio in the house so you can just stay there. So the whole band was there and you just get to sleep, wake up and just go right to record and you don't have to worry about traveling to the studio and all that. It's just great for those reasons.
But then also John Harvey as an engineer is one of my favorites to work with. We're very like-minded as far as music goes and ideas for music, so it's very easy to work with him. And although he wouldn't consider himself a producer on the album, officially, I really look to him for ideas. I can't think of a time where he offered an idea and I was like, “that is an awful idea.” Like, it's always just like, “that's a great idea. I love that you suggested that.” So for those reasons, it was great.
And this was also the first time that I've ever done a studio album with a band where it was all songs that we had been playing for the last two years. [...] It was very nice to do an album where it's all songs that we’re very comfortable with, because the last two that I've done, it's been like basically been learning the songs right before recording. So for that reason, it was just really a fluid, easy session and fun session. Like, I didn't feel stressed at any point of it. It just went so well. I was very happy with how things went.
There are 11 songs on this record, two of which are covers and then the rest are original. And yeah, there are a bunch of songs in there that are songs that I've wanted to record for like three or four years. And then there are songs that are on the newer side, too.
So, yeah, I'm just excited about all of it, all around. And now the Regent show coming up on Thursday, June 9th! It's just exciting to be two days away, and [the album] officially comes out on all platforms on June 10th, this Friday. But yeah, I'm excited about it all.
YEAH, THAT'S SO EXCITING. AND IT SOUNDS LIKE ALL OF THOSE ELEMENTS MADE IT LIKE SUCH A PERFECT CREATIVE SPACE TO BE IN!
SO THE TITLE OF THE ALBUM IS “CALL ME BOSTON,” COULD YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THAT TITLE MEANS TO YOU AND HOW YOU DECIDED ON THAT?
DH: Yeah! So I think we did a live stream — not to make this story too long. But we did a live stream right as we started realizing that the pandemic was going to be way longer. And this was probably March. I actually, I do remember the exact date, it was March 21st of 2020. We were supposed to play a live show at Sanctuary, which is a venue in Maynard, Massachusetts. And once we realized what the pandemic actually was going to be, we decided to do a live stream instead. So we had a very small audience. I think there were like some staff and friends of the owner there, but it was mostly focused on the live stream.
And we played the show, and it was still to this day, one of my favorite shows that we've ever done, even though there are about three people in the actual audience. But it just felt good. I think it was special because of just us thinking that we may not play music together for a long time after that, even though it didn't happen that way. We were lucky.
But on that show— so my bass player, his name is Will Woyda, and I've been playing with him the longest of any of the guys. And he's also an audio audio engineer, and he recorded the show. And what he always used to do and still does when he records shows is… When you have a band, you realize that if they're not singing, they have no idea what any song is called.
And Will especially. So he would always title songs in a funny way, or he would just try to, to the best of his knowledge. So on that show, we did a medley of two Blues songs. “Call Me the Breeze” and a song called “T for Texas.” And he knew both of those titles. So on the recording, he called it “Call Me Texas,” and I was like, “Wow, I actually kind of like that as a title.”
And I almost started writing that song and then decided, I don't know enough about Texas to really write that song. Like I would rather be there and know like local references and things like that. So I decided to change it to “Call Me Boston.” And I just really like that title. And at that time, I had wanted to write some kind of song that was about some area that I've grown up in. But that stuff is harder for me to do because I'm not as prideful of a piece of land as some people are. And I always look at people that can write songs like that. I'm like, ‘Man, I wish I could write that song, but you know, I just haven't been able to.’ But I really like that title, “Call Me Boston,” so I sat on that one. I didn't want to like, waste it or write a bad song, so I sat on it for a little bit.
And then we did a show at — I don't want to say where because I don’t want to give this person away — but we did a show somewhere a little after I decided on that title. And there was somebody there that night that was talking to our friends, and she was kind of drunk. She was like, “I can get any guy I want in Boston, blah blah blah.” And I thought that story was just so funny. So I was like, ‘Oh, that's how I'm going to write that song. It's going to be about somebody who just thinks they're the best thing that's ever happened in Boston.’
So I wrote it from a perspective of somebody like, “Call me Boston, I could get any guy I want.” So it was kind of written in a woman's perspective, but I just decided to make it just a general thing. It doesn't have to be gender. It's just like somebody that thinks they own the town almost.
So then it was very easy. For me, it's always easiest to write songs that have a ridiculous premise or just are funny or things like that. Like, it's always tough for me to write serious songs. So that song came out easily once I decided that that's what it was going to be about.
[...] But also, if you're just listening and you don't know that whole story, it just can be taken as a general prideful Boston song, like an anthem or so.
So when I started to put all the songs together, for the record, I just felt that that was probably the best way to go as far as titling the album. And since I got signed to Verdict Music, I felt like it was a good way as an introduction album to be, you know, home–based, “Call me Boston.” So it just spoke to me in that way.
YOU SAID EARLIER THAT YOUR INTENTION WAS TO WRITE A COUNTRY, BLUES PICKING ALBUM. CAN YOU EXPAND ON WHAT YOU WERE HOPING TO DO AND HOW IT STANDS APART FROM YOUR PAST PROJECTS?
DH: Right, so well, I did say that, and then this album is definitely not that (laughs). But I still would love to do that country blues kind of album. But that will be one of the next ones, probably.
The first studio album I did, it was called Heavenly Rooms. And that was also recorded in Knoxville at Top Hat. And [a] friend of mine compared them both. That first one, I played acoustic on the whole thing. And it was a four-piece band for the entire thing, it was just me on acoustic, electric guitar, drums and bass. And this one, I play electric on most of them. And then our electric lead guitarist Ahren Shreeve and then Jahnu on drums and Will Woyda on bass. And then we also have sax, which was played by Mario Perrett, who I always play with.
And yet, my friend, he's like, “Oddly enough, I feel like this one feels more acoustic than the other one.” And I don't know what exactly that means, but I also understand what he means by it. Because I would say it's a rock and roll, like blues album. But I don't know. It might just be the nature of the songs and how the playing on it, which is very different than the playing on that first one we did.
And the thing I'm most proud about with this album that I feel like I've been chasing since I started, was creating a studio album that is a good representation of what the band is live. Because as proud as I am of the other two that we've done, I just felt like I was still trying to figure out how to make it feel and sound [like] just a good representation of what you would see if you came to a live show. And this one, I feel, is that.
So I would say that the biggest difference for me is that. Also, I feel like I know who I am as a vocalist way more now, whereas the first two [I was] still trying to figure it out. And now I feel like I'm more comfortable. Still, you always are working on everything that you do as an artist. But this is the first studio album that I feel like I knew who I was as a musician, and I know who the band is and I knew how to complement what we are. And I feel like it really is a good representation of what you would see if you came to a live show. So I would say that's what I'm most proud about for this record.
And then also just another thing that I thought about way more [...] is the real production of a studio album. [...] This one, I was way more involved as far as really producing each song to be the best that that song could be, rather than just throwing a bunch of songs on a record and calling it a record, you know. So I would say those two things make this record the most different from the other two.
DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS OR SHOWS WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT OTHER THAN THE UPCOMING ALBUM AND RELEASE SHOW THAT WE TALKED ABOUT?
DH: I'm excited about a lot of the shows we're doing this summer. Like we're opening for an artist named Miko Marks. We're doing that at the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. That's August 10th, which is a Wednesday. And we played last year at that show. And the crew there is really awesome that works with you. And then that setting there, that's kind of right on the water in Portsmouth. And I love Portsmouth as just a creative place too. It's a great artistic community there. So that's a show I'm definitely looking forward to.
We're playing at the Big E, the fair in Springfield. I'm opening up for a Chicago tribute band at the Blue Ocean Music Hall, and that's in July. So that would be my first time playing at Blue Ocean, so I'm excited for that too. So, yeah, there's a good amount of shows that I'm excited for this coming summer.
LOTS OF EXCITING THINGS COMING! IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT THAT WE DIDN'T COVER?
DH: I think that’s it. There’s the Regent show Thursday, June 9th, this Thursday, we're pumped about that. And Bruce Marshall's opening up that show, actually, which I'm very grateful for. He's done so many great things in his career, so he absolutely does not need to be opening up for us. But just as a friend, he's kind enough to do that. So yeah, I think we're just, we're all just really excited for that show.
Catch Dwayne Haggin’s In-Studio Concert tonight on Wicked Local Wednesday! Every Wednesday at 9PM, we play music from Boston-based bands you won't hear anywhere else.