DOLLY VARDEN IS:
Steve Dawson: singer / songwriter, guitars, piano
Diane Christiansen: singer / songwriter, guitar, melodica, organ
Mark Balletto: guitars, lap steel, singing
Mike Bradburn: bass and singing
Matt Thobe: drums, singing and piano
“I went following the footsteps of a friendship that ended in Chicago.”
Steve Dawson sings this ambiguous, evocative line on Dolly Varden’s sixth and latest studio album, For a While, and we wonder: Did the footsteps or the friendship end in Chicago — or both? This much we know is true: Steve, born in California and raised in Idaho before studying music in Boston, moved to Chicago in 1987, formed the band Stump the Host with his soon-to-be-wife Diane Christiansen the following year and, after that band’s demise, launched Dolly Varden with Diane in 1994. Dolly Varden is a type of trout found in the Pacific Northwest, and the fish was named after a character in Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge. So now you know.
For 18 years Dolly Varden has been wowing and charming audiences with the warm, sublime interplay of Steve’s and Diane’s voices (yes, they’re still married); the emotional potency, intelligence and undeniable melodicism of Steve’s songwriting; and the supple backing of supremely versatile guitarist Mark Balletto and the limber rhythm section of bassist Mike Bradburn and drummer Matt Thobe as the band encompasses rock, folk, country and R&B/gospel influences to create something solely its own. From the 1995 debut, Mouthful of Lies, through The Dumbest Magnets (2000) and The Panic Bell (2007), Dolly Varden has built a sizable, loyal fan base, and now listeners new and old can reap the considerable rewards of For a While. It’s an album that feels like it couldn’t have been created at any other point in the band’s history.
Recorded and mixed by Steve at Kernel Sound Emporium in Chicago and produced by the band, For a While finds Dolly Varden occupied with the passage of time, diving into lifetimes of memories to make better sense of today. From the delicate opening reflections of “Del Mar, 1976” (“I don’t remember her name, but I remember her well”), to the Diane-sung transience-themed title track to the generations-spanning ballad “Saskatchewan to Chicago” to the album’s centerpiece, the achingly gorgeous “Mayfly” (“We are lucky, and I must not forget”), Dawson and the band demonstrate that time has had only a positive effect on their artistry. Dawson’s songwriting has gained in depth and observational powers while his voice has never sounded richer or more expressive. And the rest of the band is with him every step of the way, whether tightening the screws on the taut rocker “Done (Done),” creating the eerie outer-space-garage vibe of “Temperamental Complement,” splashing a hymn-like beauty over “Girl in a Well” and “Favorite Friend” or reveling in the joyful pop of the closing “Thank You.”
Some aspects of life may be fleeting, but the pleasures of For a While will be everlasting — and for that we are lucky.
DOLLY VARDEN BIO:
Dolly Varden has been making music for almost two decades but its latest release explores how quickly that time has passed. The band is built around the heartfelt singing and songwriting of husband and wife Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen, the melodic and soulful guitar and lap steel playing of Mark Balletto, and the solid rhythm section of Matt Thobe on drums and Mike Bradburn on bass. Remarkably the line-up has stayed the same through 18 years, six critically-acclaimed albums, and well-received shows all over the USA and Europe.
“For A While” finds the group taking stock of its experiences and travels with a dozen songs crafted and recorded in Chicago. From the opening cinematic snapshot of “Del Mar, 1976”, the rocking “Done (Done)”, the dream-inspired “Mayfly”, and the wistful title track the listener is taken on a complete journey of sonic adventure and haunting lyrical reminisces.
Dolly Varden will tour throughout 2013 in support of “For A While”
DOLLY VARDEN EXTENDED BIO (in case the one above isn’t enough!)
Chicago quintet Dolly Varden is built around the singing and songwriting of husband and wife duo Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen, along with Mark Balletto on guitar, Matt Thobe on drums and Mike Bradburn on bass. Though the band’s name suggests a euphonious connection to a certain country singer, it is actually derived from a rare and beautiful species of trout which in turn was named after a character in Charles Dickens’ short novel ‘Barnaby Rudge‘. Strange, but true: Dawson and Christiansen both had fathers who were avid fishermen who dreamed of one day catching the elusive Dolly Varden in an icy Alaskan lake.
Dawson and Christiansen started the band in 1994 when their previous band, Stump the Host, broke up. Originally a trio with bassist Lisa Wertman, Thobe and Balletto joined within months and they began playing shows in Chicago and the Midwest. In 1995 Mike Bradburn replaced Wertman, solidifying the bands’ present day line-up. Dolly Varden recorded their debut album, Mouthful of Lies, in Christiansen’s art studio on a 4-track cassette machine and released it on their own Mid-Fi label. Mouthful of Lies was played regularly on WXRT-FM in Chicago and at the end of the year the station named it one of the best local releases of 1995. Through 1996 Dolly Varden continued writing and playing whenever and where ever they could, building up a fanbase and gathering reviews. In 1997, following a year of exciting and frustrating music biz adventures, the band signed with New York indie label Evil Teen Records. Their second album, The Thrill of Gravity (1998), was produced by Dolly Varden and recorded by Bundy K. Brown at Uberstudio in Chicago, and features guest appearances by David Grubbs (piano), and Julie Liu on violin. The band did their first national U.S. touring for Gravity, supporting Whiskeytown and Gov’t Mule, and headlining shows in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Dolly Varden’s third album, The Dumbest Magnets (Evil Teen Records, 2000), was produced and recorded by Brad Jones (Chuck Prophet, Josh Rouse) at Alex the Great Studio in Nashville, TN. The Dumbest Magnets was also licensed in 2001 for release in the UK on Flying Sparks Records, and in Europe on Fargo Records. Magnets significantly raised the group’s profile with rave reviews in Rolling Stone Magazine, The Village Voice, No Depression Magazine, Uncut, CMJ and many daily papers across the U.S. The band increased their touring schedule, adding dates in the U.K. and France throughout 2000 and 2001. Legendary BBC radio host Bob Harris was a big supporter of the album and the group in the U.K. For their fourth album, Forgiven Now, released in March 2002 on the newly formed Undertow Records, the group once again recorded with Brad Jones in Nashville, TN. Pedal Steel legend Al Perkins (Rolling Stones, Gram Parsons) makes a guest appearance on the songs “There’s A Magic” and “The Lotus Hour”. 2002 was the group’s busiest year of touring to date with shows from coast-to-coast in the U.S. (including an East Coast tour with Jay Bennett and Edward Burch) and 2 trips to the U.K. After writing, recording and touring together for eight years, the group took a step back in 2003 to pursue side projects and raise families. Drummer Matt Thobe and bassist Mike Bradburn both became new fathers and chose to take time off from touring. In 2003, Steve and Diane released an album together called Duets. In 2004, guitarist Mark Balletto formed a band called My Record Player and made a self-titled pop rock album reminiscent of the music that originally inspired him to play guitar. In 2005, Dawson recorded a solo album, Sweet Is The Anchor (Undertow Records), heavily influenced by early ’70s soul and singer-songwriters. Dolly Varden re-grouped with renewed energy in 2006 and recorded and released their fifth album, 2007’s The Panic Bell (Undertow Records). The band toured the East Coast and Midwest in the Summer and Mojo Magazine called it the Americana Album of the Month as the band toured the U.K. that Fall. In 2008 Dolly Varden celebrated the 13th anniversary of their debut album, Mouthful of Lies, by releasing a limited-edition 2-CD set, 13, (disc 1: The Best of Dolly Varden, Disc 2: Rarities) and hosting a sold out show at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music with special guests Lisa Wertman Crowe, Robbie Fulks, Edward Burch and others. In 2009 and 2010 the group stayed close to home and played just a handful of shows as Dawson focused on his second solo album, I Will Miss The Trumpets and the Drums, and Christiansen focused on a large art installation project, “Notes To Nonself” with collaborator Shoshanna Utchenik. The band is currently writing and arranging new songs and will record and release a new album in 2011.