Dan Tyminski has spent most of his career playing second fiddle to other bluegrass stars, most notably Alison Krauss. In his three-decade career, the Vermont native has performed with the Lonesome River Band and Union Station, as well as provided vocals for George Clooney in the 2000 Coen brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Avicii’s 2013 hit song “Hey Brother.”
But last fall, the Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter launched his own solo career with the album Southern Gothic and a new project name: TYMINSKI. Working with songwriter/producer Jesse Frasure (Rascall Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, Meghan Trainor) and several other songwriters, Tyminski crafted a gritty yet catchy album of songs that fuse country, roots and pop music.
We spoke with Tyminski prior to his Jan. 16 performance at The Birchmere.
Many of the tracks on Southern Gothic have a pop or even an EDM feel. What made you decide to go in that direction?
I didn’t necessarily sit down with a set of blueprints and say, “This is really what I’m going to try to do at this point in life.” This album was born out of, essentially, a songwriting deal. I started writing with some of the different writers here in Nashville and through that process found Jesse Frasure. So we started having fun experimenting to see if we could just write music that was unlike anything else. Through that, we ended up coming up with the song “Southern Gothic.” I found myself driving home after that particular song write, jealous for this song. And when I discovered an opportunity to not only do that song but a few of these others, part of this body of work I’d been creating, it was a really big decision in my career. I wasn’t trying to get a record deal or do anything solo, but I then found myself with a body of work that the only way I could honor was to put a band together and to decide to go out and tour.
So when you wrote Southern Gothic, you were writing for another artist and ultimately decided to perform it yourself?
Yeah, when you have a songwriting deal, you sit in a room with people and you try to come up with songs that are interesting, that someone might want to record. It’s actually a neat story in that Josh Kear, Jesse Frasure and myself wrote from 11 till about 1:30, when we decided that what we had worked on wasn’t really for us. And we decided we were just gonna either go home or do something different. So I was leaning toward going home, and Jesse’s saying, “Do you guys want to hear one more groove before you go?” He played us the bones of what is now “Southern Gothic.” And I remember Josh saying, “That’s kind of dark. It kind of has a gothic sound to it,” and Jesse saying, “Well if Dan’s gonna sing it, it has to be Southern gothic.” When he said that, we all kind of looked at each other, and that just had a very interesting ring. The song literally poured out of us. There’s a few songs on the record actually [where] we literally left our demos alone. These were like a gift.
What’s it like to write songs for other people that sound personal, especially while collaborating with other writers?
I think there are a lot of instances where you have to attach your own truth to the songs that you write, but you can’t always do that. You have to be willing to go down whatever path you’re going down. My filter is that it has to be true to someone, so for me, if I feel like I’m writing a truth, then I feel like someone out there will connect with it when it’s their time.
Tyminski, Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas. Image courtesy of UMG Nashville
Having grown up in Vermont, how did you first get into bluegrass music and then ultimately move to Virginia?
I had parents that just went to listen to anything, so bluegrass was a part of it. We started really looking forward to the bluegrass festival circuit at this point in time, and I just fell in love with it as a small kid.
I had the opportunity to join the Lonesome River Band when I was 20 and moved to the southwestern part of Virginia. I got to go to what I considered [was] where the real bluegrass came from, into the Deep South: Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky. The bands that used to come up from that area that we would listen to growing up in Vermont were the ones that I just loved so much. The town that I moved to, Ferrum, Virginia, was actually famous for three bluegrass bands: the Lost and Found, the Bluegrass Cardinals and the Lonesome River Band, which within bluegrass, were all very prominent, well-respected, long-career bands.
So it’s 1999 or 2000, and you get a call from your agent saying, “Hey, would you like to provide the singing voice of George Clooney?” How did that transpire?
That was one where a lot of the stars lined up, right place, right time. Joel and Ethan Coen and T Bone Burnett recruited our manager at the time to help find some talent in Nashville. So Alison Krauss and Union Station, like everyone else, went in to do some auditions to see if we could just be a part of a Coen brothers movie. So as we’re getting ready to go, [our manager] said to T Bone, “You don’t have a voice for Clooney yet—what about Dan?” They looked at me on the spot and said, “Do you want to come back for an audition tomorrow?” I said, “Sure.” And I didn’t even really understand what they were talking about, but it turns out they needed a voice for George Clooney to sing a song, and I thought, “I don’t sound like George Clooney—this is insane, right?” I go back and I audition. I don’t think I knocked their socks off. And they were like, “That was great. We’ll call you.” And I was like, “I know what that means.”
Sure enough, the next day, T Bone calls, says “So, we thought about it and when we see George Clooney in the movie, we hear your voice. Do you want the job?” So we record the song. We’re on the set weeks later, and we’re filming, and they come to me and say, “Hey, Clooney wants to sing the song. We have a day off in a couple days, would you go in the studio with him and record it?” Now I get excited. So Clooney comes in the studio and he does it. After like two or three tries, he took his headphones off and he walked out. He goes, “Dan, let’s think about this. This is a day off—I’ll make you a deal: I’ll act, you sing.” And he shook my hand. So I shake his hand; now I’m bummed out, because even though I’ve got the song already recorded, I thought it would be so cool to play it with Clooney—until I find out 8 million, 10 million records later that I’ve got points on a record that I wouldn’t have had if George would have sang it. That was a life-changing record for me.
With soulful folk/country artists like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Maren Morris, Jillian Jacqueline growing increasingly popular, would you say this album fits within that brand?
Over the holidays, I found myself in my girlfriend’s house and she had on some internet radio. They would play Sturgill and Chris and myself, always in a row. I never considered where it would fit. I still wonder where the ultimate fit is, and I think that it’s a record that has so many different—I think you could go in a lot of directions and really find a home for it. It’s interesting for me; I’ve never done such a diverse project. So listen, truly, from the bottom of my heart, that it could fit anywhere is a thrill.
Image by David McClister
Interview has been edited and condensed.