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Featured: Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon • The Impossible Tour

| January 16, 2021

Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon (Photo: Michelle Noach)

For many enterprising artists, live-streaming concerts from home during last year’s pandemic lockdown became a requisite new skill that demanded mastering; finding a way to implement several online platforms to your benefit when touring was no longer possible. But for Dream Syndicate bandleader Steve Wynn and his drummer wife Linda Pitmon, it had a cold, clinical downside. “We did about 30 shows, mainly for Facebook, in 2020, and we did most of them sitting in our living room with an iPad on a tripod,” he says. “Then you finish the last song, turn it off, and your show’s over, and you’re still sitting on your couch, thinking, ‘What the hell? What just happened?’ Then you look on Facebook and see that 5,000 people just watched that, so you had a connection, but now it’s over.”

Wynn and his missus aim to change all that this Sunday, January 17, when they launch their month-long “Impossible Tour,” presenting 13 hourlong virtual shows in 13 separate cities both overseas and Stateside, in simulated versions of some favorite local clubs that The Dream Syndicate has played before. On paper, it looks preposterous: It kicks off in Milan, Italy’s hip Germi venue this week, then ricochets through other exotic waystations like the Tiki Bar in Athens, Greece, Pop Torgal in Ourense, Spain, Loppen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and finally grinds to a halt February 28 at the famous Mercury Lounge in their native New York. But through a site called StageIt, it was relatively easy to piece together at The Chimp Factory, the couple’s new rehearsal space in Queens, just a few blocks from their old broadcasting HQ, their apartment. The only thing missing will be the sweaty, cramped tour van.

IE: Chart your personal pandemic arc, starting last March.

STEVE WYNN: Well, throughout it, I’ve mainly been keeping in close touch with all my various bandmates (from The Dream Syndicate, The Baseball Project, Gutterball, Danny and Dusty) and staying informed that, say, Peter Buck has been busy, too. But I think about this stuff, and I feel sheepish to complain that I can’t tour and stuff because people have much bigger problems, and I know that. But it is a hard thing when you’ve spent your entire life doing exactly that. Just from a musician’s point of view, you spend your whole life playing music, and there’s joy in doing that. A joy in connecting with people in real-time, traveling from place to place, and just the randomness and the adventure of the whole thing. Plus, you’re getting better at what you do, night by night—all of that. And I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, and I didn’t get into it to be famous, I didn’t get into it to make a million dollars, and I didn’t get into it out of inertia. I got into it because I really enjoy doing this. And I dove into the punk rock right away. I was up the road from San Francisco, going to school in Davis and playing in bands and all that. And I remember at the time, the bane of our movement was metal and disco, although it’s amazing to see how much indie culture has appropriated those two genres since then. So I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I still enjoy it. And it’s funny — I’m talking to you right now from our rehearsal room, where we’re going to be doing all these shows. And Linda and I tour a lot — she tours on her own, I tour on my own, and we also tour together. We’re kind of road monsters. But we never got a rehearsal room before because we thought, “Oh, we tour so much, it’ll just sit there empty.” But we always wanted one, and we talked about it for years. But we finally said, “Let’s just do it, and we’ll have a place to keep our gear and play whenever we want and get together with our friends.” So we found this place in our neighborhood in Queens, and everything’s cheaper out here. And we started renting it on March 1, and we moved in here all full of piss and vinegar, got all of our gear in, set things up, and ten days later, everything went belly up. Especially here in Queens. Queens got hit the hardest, immediately, out of everywhere in the country. So we suddenly had this room that we couldn’t go to for three months, and it was like, “Oh, shit…” But now I walk here, and it’s a couple of miles from home, and it’s a nice refuge to go to and have fun and keep our chops up. And we don’t get together with friends — it’s just the two of us playing together here so far. Because I’m telling you — March, April, and May here in Queens? It was like, “Don’t leave your apartment!” It was a severe lockdown until about mid-May. It was really frustrating.

IE: So neither one of you got ill, then?

WYNN: Thankfully, no. So we’re lucky in a way — did I just say ‘lucky’? But because Queens got hit so hard, it scared the shit out of me, so everybody wore a mask, and our numbers have remained low. But we found out — this is no game. Linda and I would turn on CNN, and they were showing the Albert Hospital as the epicenter, and that’s one block from where we live. It was being overrun with COVID-19 cases, and we couldn’t even go out the door and go there, just to see what was going on. So we’d just open up another can of beans and turn back to the TV.

IE: Photos of your Chimp Factory rehearsal space make it seem like it was decorated by Steve Martin, circa The Jerk. “I don’t need anything but this ashtray…and this lamp…and this ottoman…”

WYNN: Yes, it is like that. I’m sitting here looking at it now. But because we couldn’t go to clubs and see the things we love, we just kind of created our favorite club here. And ever since lockdown, people have been finding new hobbies, like baking bread or whatever. And Linda threw herself into decorating this place. So I’m sitting here in kind of a combination Casbah den, ‘60s psychedelic place, and vintage gear shop, all in one 14’ X20’ space. And that’s going to help us put these shows on because it’s gonna turn into a cocktail lounge and a snack bar, too. But for some people during the pandemic, things just went on as usual. Some people still had their jobs. But for musicians, I’ve seen some people who play music just stop and do nothing, while others recorded a lot of stuff and put it up on Bandcamp. I mean, Taylor Swift made two entire albums, and I think that’s great. And I myself paint, so I did a lot of paintings and sold some of those, and I actually had four records out last year, Dream Syndicate and solo stuff, so that gave me the feeling that I was really doing stuff. And then we did 30 shows from our apartment, but it’s not the same thing as doing regular gigs because usually you rock out, say a few words, and then get to hang out after the shows. These upcoming shows will be almost like hosting parties, and all the talking and the stories and the connections that we’ll make are as important as anything. All live from Queens!

IE: And you’ll try to recreate the ambiance of each nightclub around the world with every show?

WYNN: Yeah. And I think the shows are archived for one hour by StageIt. But at five o’clock in New York this Sunday (Jan. 17), we’ll be in Milan, as far as we’re concerned, spending an hour in Italy playing this club called Germi there. It’s kind of a cultural center/cocktail bar/bookstore, and it’s run by the biggest rock band in Italy, The Afterhours, these friends of mine. And I feel bad for them — in 2019, they opened their dream club with all the things they love, like books, music, cocktails, and politics, all in one place. And one year later, they had to shut down, hopefully only temporarily. So I chose that club because I really like what they’re doing (some Impossible Tour pay-what-you-can proceeds benefit the venues, as well). And at six o’clock, we’ll stop and have a snack, and then at eight o’clock, we’ll be in Cleveland, virtually, playing the Beachland Ballroom (Wynn’s live stream via SPACE in Evanston is January 31st). And we’ll be trying to give the feeling — between the stories that we tell and maybe a cover song or some inside jokes — that we’re actually in these places. It was just a crazy idea. But you try to find something to do to keep the ideas and creativity and whimsical notions flowing until you can go back out on the road again. But the thing I’m wondering is, How will this change your approach to what you do when this is all over? Will you just go back out and get in the van again and go town to town in the same old way? And just play a gig and go home? When people start playing live shows again, will things ever be the same? Or will we feel the need to seriously address what happened, which may change the whole thing? I don’t know for sure.

IE: The toughest part is, your recent Dream Syndicate albums have been some of your best work ever. Which we’ve been seeing a lot of lately — long-lived bands like X making great albums late in their career.

WYNN: Yeah. And I used to think about that. When I was 40, I did Here Come the Miracles, and I was proud of that — I was like, “I started doing this 20 years ago, and I’ve just done some of my best work.” And I started thinking about it back then, how unusual that was, to be older but come back even stronger like that. Tom Waits had done it a bit, but it was really unusual. But now it seems to be happening a lot, with artists like X or Bob Mould — his last record was fantastic. A lot of people who’ve been around for a long time aren’t just doing a pale imitation or trying to be relevant and hip in a way that sounds hollow. And I’m still getting off on the same things I got off on 40 years ago — making a little piece of art, or what the Coen brothers call ‘Playing our sandbox,’ just doing your own thing. And sometimes, the aggravating thing is realizing that not everything you do is gonna get a lot of attention — you might make something that you think is really great, but if it’s your 27th record, people might take a pass on that, no matter how good it is. So I’m like, “Well, let’s make the 28th record now.” And it’s true liberation once you get to that point. I mean, the Dream Syndicate album I made in 2019 (These Times) was the most outside, indulgent record I’ve ever done, and I didn’t care. The shortest song on the record was eight minutes, and that wasn’t a problem because we were doing it for ourselves. So that’s a real luxury that you have after you’ve been around for a while. And I turned 60 last year, and I looked back and said, “This what I do and what I did, and I have no regrets. I’m glad I did it.”

IE: And you’ve got a new reggae-tinged single out, too, “Strummer & Jones,” recorded In Jamaica at a shanty-sized studio that you could rent for $40 an hour?

WYNN: Yeah. But the track sat around for seven years, and I kept thinking I should put it out, maybe as a B-side or something. But now was a perfect time. And Bandcamp, where it’s available, has just been a godsend for musicians last year. They’ve made it so easy to just put things up spontaneously. You can write a song on Thursday night and put it up on Friday morning.

IE: Will you be composing a conversely dark and condensed new coronavirus concept album?

WYNN: Probably not. And it’s funny to say that because after 9/11, I somehow felt the need to address what had happened and the mood, and I did it in the next record that I made. It was my 9/11 album, and it was a somber little number. And I felt weird about putting it out there. But at this point, after everything that’s happened, both politically and with COVID, I think I just wanna make a record that’s fun to listen to and take on tour. So just to make myself happy and maybe make a few other people happy in the process would be enough at this point.

Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon livestream via SPACE Evanston is January 31st

– Tom Lanham

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