He placed highly in two prestigious songwriting contests, qualifying as one of 10 regional finalists in the 2010 Mountain Stage Newsong Contest, as well as placing in the top 10 of Planet Bluegrass’ Folks Festival Songwriter Showcase. While the former contest sputtered for Dion after that initial selection, the latter offered him a chance to perform on the big stage at the Folks Festival in Lyons in front of a crowd of thousands. He had the misfortune of drawing the short straw and performing first, which all but killed his chances of winning, but it was a highlight, he says — surely an enormous understatement.
“In addition to playing my set on the big stage, which was a thrill, I got a backstage pass,” Dion recalls. “I’m literally hanging out with Ani DiFranco, David Wilcox, all these people I love and try to emulate.”
It was a great experience for the up-and-coming songwriter, one that reaffirmed in his mind that he was right in pursuing his musical dreams and that he deserved to rub shoulders with his heroes as a peer, not just an adoring fan.
The Naropa grad and therapist-by-day has come a long way since his first album, Finally, dropped in mid-2008. Back then, Dion says, he was having doubts about trying to make it as a career musician when a talent scout heard him one night and offered to set him up with Denver producer Lance Bendiksen. Dion came into the recording process without knowing a thing about how to record a CD and pretty much handed the reins over to Bendiksen without considering what that might entail.
“The first time around, I didn’t have a clue what kind of a record I wanted to make,” Dion says. “I said, ‘Let’s do it. You tell me what to do,’ and I sort of abdicated a lot of the decision-making to him. So he made the kind of record that he wanted to make.”
The result is an album impressively put together for an independent musician. It’s slickly produced, and each song has a full band backing Dion, including multiple backup singers. There are technical, impressive guitar and mandolin solos woven throughout each tightly written song, courtesy of the professional studio ringers Bendiksen brought in. It’s an impressive end result; it sounds like a major label release. But after more than two years of songwriting and performing (he estimates he plays around 50 shows a year), Dion is back in the studio recording a new album, and he is doing things a bit differently this time.
In the time since he released his first album, he has submerged himself in the folk music world, paying closer attention to details he only could have noticed after obtaining a certain amount of experience as a performing musician.
For instance, over time he has come to realize that his first CD, with the full band and chorus backing him, sounds great but isn’t necessarily representative of his one-man show. It can be awkward when the venue manager who books acts is expecting a six-piece band and gets only one guy with a guitar. So for the next CD, which Dion is in the process of recording, he plans to keep things simple.
He loved the sound work on Gregory Alan Isakov’s album and tracked down his producer, Jamie Mefford. Dion has a vision of the finished product this time, and he is ready to be in the driver’s seat rather than ride shotgun on his project.
“I’m much more clear about what I want to make this time around, so I’m able to steer the ship,” Dion says. “I think also in contrast, that first album, because it was my first and only I’ve made, some of those songs were new, some of them have been around for 10 years. … In contrast, these songs on the new album have all been written in the last two years. I’m performing them weekly, and they just feel much more congruent with where I’m at as a person, as a therapist, husband, father, songwriter. So I think they have a little more juice to them.”
On the Bill
Jeremy Dion plays The Laughing Goat on Thursday, Dec. 23. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. David James Band also plays. 1709 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-440-4628.