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 pm 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, singer-songwriter Billy Dodge Moody, who was born and raised in the Boston-area and still resides locally, talks with staff writer Kira Weaver about who inspired his songwriting growing up, the kinds of stories he’s trying to tell, and his latest album Condition.
*Content warning: Mentions of depression and suicide.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO SONGWRITING?
Billy Dodge Moody: It really started when I found the right guitar teacher. When I began to play, he told me about how songs are written and what to listen for, in terms of inspiration; how there are similarities, patterns, formulas that typical songwriters use in terms of crafting good songs. Once I started listening to that within my favorite bands, I started understanding it. [And I started] being able to listen for those patterns and hear them. I found an immediate enjoyment from doing that.
I became really fond of certain lyricists like Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan. It really struck me how simple Dylan’s writing was, yet how powerful it was. It inspired me— him being able to write something so simple that had so much power. Being kind of a hack guitar player as a kid, I felt it was possible for me to do the same thing.
From there, I just got into the practice and was almost obsessing about it. The creative process was something really exciting to me as well. Having this vessel to express myself was really appealing to me.
IS THERE A SPECIFIC DYLAN SONG OR LYRIC THAT REALLY STUCK WITH YOU FROM YOUR YOUTH?
BDM: I think the song that really drew me in wasn’t really the lyrics, more the melody of “Positively 4th Street.” I remember it was the first song I learned how to play.
“Everybody Must get Stoned” was the first song lyrically that struck me, because of the duality. It comes off as encouraging people to get high, when the reality of it was about Dylan being booed off stage, of him being ridiculed for his act. The fact that it had a double meaning and also that someone of his stature had to [cut] through criticism was another inspiring factor of his life to me; that everybody sort of has to go through it. It’s almost a right of passage as an artist, being able to withstand the ridicule from the public.
TALKING MORE ABOUT THAT TIME IN YOUR LIFE, WAS THERE A TURNING POINT WHERE YOU REMEMBER SORT OF REALIZING THAT THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO?
BDM: I think when I was in high school, and I played— I remember there was one particular song I played. I was in like a root rock reggae band, and I knew just from the feedback from the band I was playing with that I was strong in songwriting at that age. That sort of gave me the confidence to consider pursuing it.
I don’t know if there was ever a specific moment, just early on when I was a teenager, into college, that I was just improving on my skills. During that time, it felt like I was growing in my capability and couldn't stop. It made it feel like it was less of a choice and more of a need. Like ‘I need to keep doing this.’ I never planned on doing it as a profession, I just knew I couldn’t stop.
LOOKING ONLINE EARLIER, I SAW THAT YOU MENTIONED STORYTELLING AS A BIG ASPECT OF YOUR WRITING. HOW DOES THAT FIT INTO YOUR NEW ALBUM, CONDITION?
BDM: I think the main objective with any of these songs is to tell some sort of story, or for my song’s, to have some sort of message. But sometimes it doesn't always work out that way. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a meaning all the time.
In terms of what I typically write about, with Condition it’s all about capturing stories of the human condition; telling stories that reflect that.
IS THERE AN OVERARCHING STORY? OR INDIVIDUAL ONES CONNECTED THROUGH THEME?
BDM: Individual stories that connect through themes. It’s not a concept album by any means, but there’s a general theme of perseverance running through it. The idea of the perseverance of the human spirit. And [how] while we face these challenges and obstacles, we still manage to get through them through whatever— by any means necessary.
These stories that I tell on this record are mostly my own personal experiences, whether it’s with depression or grief or family dynamics. Most of these songs have this call to action in them to overcome the adversity illustrated throughout these stories.
One song, “Charlie,” is about a friend of mine who committed suicide. Just the idea of paying attention to your friends is the main message of that song. “Wildlife” is about the onset of my depression as a young kid and grappling with that concept, grappling with that idea. My song “Vistitor” is about dealing with grief and looking — holding — people in our thoughts despite our loss of them. Looking at sort of the positive side of an unfortunate situation is kind of the main idea that runs through the course of the album and through all the songs.
“CONDITION” WAS JUST RELEASED IN 2022. BEFORE THAT YOUR LAST RELEASE WAS “WILDWOOD” IN 2018—
I WAS WONDERING WHAT WAYS YOU FEEL YOU HAVE GROWN AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND HOW YOU THINK THAT HAS IMPACTED YOUR EVOLVING SOUND?
BDM: Wildwood was a moment in my career where I think I was still trying to find myself as a musician, and as a person in a lot of ways. It was experimental in the sense that I was still trying out different genres. Figuring out if I was a blues musician or a folk musician or whatever it is, trying to find a label for myself throughout that writing process.
And I don’t think it was successful in that regard, I think it was kind of a patchwork of different genres I was trying to piece together. The process of recording and writing that album was a little rushed. It wasn’t until this album, “Condition,” that I [can say I] feel as if I have found my identity, musically. The identity being— just be yourself and do what you feel is right, versus… instead of trying to shoehorn yourself into a category. Just do what you feel is right and natural and makes sense.
Condition really reflects my true identity coming into fruition and understanding who I am as a musician and as a person.
WHAT WAS THE RECORDING PROCESS LIKE FOR CONDITION?
BDM: It was interesting. The album was recorded over the course of Covid. I started recording it near the end of February 2020. Starting off [I had] the intention of it being a fluid process, going into the studio at a regular rate.
We started off by recording the basic instrumentation for all the songs. Then over the course of the next two years, I would come in once maybe twice a week to do the vocals or add any other instrumentation that I felt would serve the song best. Sometimes there would be occasional lyric changes that would be made based on the rough mixes Brian Charles, the producer, would put together.
Traditionally, most record everything over a couple of weeks. In our case, I would record, take a break for a couple of weeks, and then go back into the studio and make any changes. It was challenging in that regard.
Finally, once we got everything together, we began mixing mid-2021. Overall, it was pretty amazing that we were able to do what we did during Covid, especially with the fear of going indoors and into studios.
WHAT STUDIO DID YOU GUYS RECORD IN?
BDM: We used Zippah Studio’s, which was in Allston. The studio unfortunately burned down last November, shortly after we got a mix of the album. It was Brian Charles' studio, who was also the producer of the album, so it was really devastating. He’s been trying to rebuild these last six months; finding a new studio, finding a new space, getting the support of the community. He’s fortunately come out better, but it was difficult for a while.
LAST QUESTIONS... WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS?
BDM: I think Dispatch was my driving force over the years in terms of, you know, the idea of doing something like this. The joy of writing and playing music— a lot came from them. Their sound is something that has shaped me over the years and helped me pinpoint what it is that I want to capture in my own music. They are really the core of my inspiration I think.
WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST NON-MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS?
BDM: That’s a good question! Mark Twain was always a huge inspiration of mine, just in terms of writers. The combination of intelligence and satire and comedy that Twain’s writing represented was always really interesting to me.
Paul Anderson, just in terms of as a writer, he is somebody I always go to. His films, in a weird way, are always something that can influence my musicianship and writing. I tend to listen to his interviews; listen to how he talks to people and learn of his creative process. I love the way he explains his work, making everything sound so simple, yet interesting still.
LASTLY, DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING SHOWS?
BDM: I actually do have a gig at The Porch in Medford in September so that’s the next one. We just had a great album release show at Club Passim. That was a big one, that was a big milestone as a performer. To be able to play there and share this record with friends and family.
Billy Dodge Moody's session already aired on Wicked Local Wednesday, but is luckily available on our Youtube here. To hear music from local artists like them, join us every Wednesday at 9 p.m. while we play music from Boston-based artists you won't hear anywhere else.