Dallas Ugly is a band from Nashville, TN, that prides itself on raw, honest lyrics that come from personal experiences. I recently spoke to them ahead of their appearance at The Rose Bowl Tavern this Friday, April 7th. The band discussed their creative process and how they balance their individual artistic voices with the collective sound of the band.
The band is composed of Eli Broxham on bass, Owen Burton on guitar, and Libby Weitnauer on fiddle and guitar, with all three members sharing vocal duties. These three friends met while at DePaul University in Chicago, but their road to this point wasn’t a straight line.
Broxham and Burton, both from Illinois, grew up listening to music as diverse as Wilco and Led Zeppelin. The friends initially met in college while pursuing classical music degrees but found themselves drawn to acoustic roots music like bluegrass and old-time country. For Broxham, the music they were creating was a natural intersection between his classical training and his love for rock and roll, which he had been exposed to through his father, a rock and roll drummer who played in cover bands.
Like Wilco, they fall into the broad category of “alt-country,” which allows them a wide berth to explore and expand that sound while staying true to rock and country roots. Their sound has evolved from instrumental, string band-focused music to a rock band orientation with a strong country influence. Weitnauer, who hails from East Tennessee, adds a Southern influence to the band’s sound. Despite their different backgrounds, the three core members of the band have come together to create a sound that sounds fresh, but nostalgic at the same time.
The band’s evolution can be attributed to their growth as musicians, as well as changes in their personal lives. For example, Burton served in the Peace Corps in Africa after graduating from DePaul, and it had a profound effect on his songwriting.
“It played a big role that maybe not in a direct, like, world music influence kind of way, but a lot of the songs that I contributed to the record, I wrote. A few of them have some inspiration from the landscape or my specific experience to that specific place [Senegal], but a lot of it’s just about being homesick or dealing with the other emotions that come with being homesick. It had a big influence on my writing, but I think the style itself that I was writing in is pretty coherent with stuff I was otherwise into at the time,” he told me.
Broxham spent time gigging in the bluegrass scene in Chicago after graduation. I asked him about the state of the bluegrass scene in Chicago and the influence on their sound today.
“When we were sort of cutting our teeth in that scene. We’re going to bluegrass jams and stuff before we even graduated college. I feel like it’s hard to separate it from the fact that I was learning the style, and I wasn’t coming into the scene already knowing how to do everything,” said Broxham. “I was very much learning on the job. And so everyone was super-supportive and incredibly nice. That was pretty invaluable to me at the time: that there is no snobbishness to the scene. It is a big city, but it’s a pretty small tight-knit scene.”
He continued: “At some point, I felt like the type of that type of music I was wanting to make wasn’t happening at the frequency I was looking for. And there’s kind of just a limit in that market for how many gigs and what type of gigs you get just based on the audience. I felt like at some point I wanted to graduate and go down to Nashville, but that [Chicago bluegrass] scene is very near and dear to my heart and I have lots of friends that are still some of my best friends.”
When COVID hit, the stars aligned and by May 2020 the three old friends regrouped, and decided to start fresh with a new name and a new sound in the Music City. When asked about how the pandemic affected their creative process, Broxham mentioned that it actually helped the band, as they were all forced to live together in the same house in Nashville for over a year due to the shutdown. Living together helped them experiment with their sound and figure out what kind of band they wanted to be.
Burton revealed that the band’s lyrics are all written by individual members and are like journal entries. “There are no co-writes on the lyrics, and whoever wrote the song sings it,” he said. “Everything on the album is borderline confessional. The lyrics are earned the old-fashioned way.” laughed Broxham.
So, what’s up with that band name, I chuckled and asked.
“We really needed a band name. We had the project a few steps along the way, and we didn’t have a name yet. So, we gave ourselves a deadline to pick one,” recalled Burton. “When the day came up, I had been catching up with a friend of mine, from Chicago, and he was telling me about a date he had just gone on with someone who had just moved to Chicago from Dallas. Early on in the date, she said ‘Everyone in Dallas is so hot and everyone in Chicago is pretty ugly. But you’re all right. That’s why I’m here.’”
“And you know, the three of us met in Chicago, so we were just like, ‘So are we Dallas Ugly?'” added Broxham.
Dallas Ugly’s debut album, Watch Me Learn, takes you back to the emotions of life in your early twenties, exploring themes of missed adventures, mistakes, lessons, and the friendships you make, and break, as you discover yourself. The thoughtful lyrics and rolling country music vibes of the melodies make you want to kick back in your lawn chair and watch the stars at night. The fiddle, upright bass, and slide guitar create their distinct sound along with their airtight harmonies. No doubt we’ll get to hear the majority of the beautiful songs on the album at The Rose Bowl Tavern.
The Rose Bowl Tavern
106 N Race St
F Apr 7th, 8:30 p.m.
$10 suggested donation