Songwriters, by their very nature, move through life not only from the inside out, but also from the outside in. They look and listen at the worlds within and around them, pulling it all in and pouring it all out in melody. The barriers between personal and political, fact and fiction, us and them do not exist within the confines of a song. Music is about connecting hearts through art, as singer/songwriter Will Dailey well proves on his newest offering, Golden Walker, calling on us to turn away from our screens and toward each other.
“In an album, two opposing ideas can exist in the same time, the same mind, the same song, the same relationship, the same country. We can belong together, and I still have to prove it to you,” Dailey offers. “Golden Walker started as a mantra about carrying a message and communicating authentically. Connection, itself, and the amount of connecting cannot be the end goal any longer. There is too much loneliness for that to be true. Nurturing and strengthening the important connections we have is a way forward — the emotional economy of the future.”
The album’s title came from a chance encounter with a sculptor in France who beckoned Dailey to his workshop after a show. The craftsman was so moved by the music that he welded a piece, right then and there, of a man walking with a golden nugget on his shoe. As he told Dailey, “When I heard you tonight through the walls of my workshop, I heard real communication. You have to keep communicating like that. You have to carry the gold, protect it.”
Going into the writing and recording of Golden Walker, Dailey knew he had to grab people’s attention — and hold it — in order to make that communication work. The music had to engage with the listeners so that they would, in turn, engage with the music. If not, “the album would tumble on without you,” he says. “Each song, in both its tracking and composition, is there to keep the listeners’ hearts and ears awake, not just happy. Just when you understand the pattern, it slightly changes on you, but leaves a thread to hold onto. There’s an optimism that counts on the listener’s innate ability to stop and listen more than once.
“Hopefully, it’s too distracting to put on during dinner or talk over on a drive. I’d rather someone drop the needle and commit for the 38 minutes or do something else,” he adds.
From “It Already Would Have Not Worked Out by Now” to “He Better Be Alive,” the thread it leaves and weaves throughout is one of accountability. The album starts and ends with a call for it, in both the personal and political realms. As Dailey sees it, accountability is necessary for compassion and connection, humility and humanity to survive and, hopefully, thrive in this world.
“I need to believe that accountability is the commodity of tomorrow, as our gross imbalances struggle to correct themselves,” Dailey confesses. “I look forward to a day when it is proper to celebrate it. If it’s present here, it may just be my way of adding compost to the soil for the coming spring. Accountability, I hope, is part of a path toward a reality that thrives with facts and truth.”
The making of musical compost finds Dailey facing his dreams, both the literal and metaphorical ones, and trying to measure them against the reality of his life, as evidenced in the album’s gentle opener, “The Submariner,” as well as its buoyant closer, “Ultimate Companion.” And, once again, accountability comes into play because, without it, the lies told by — and for — dreams can destroy our ability to be present and grateful for the moments we actually have.
“The life we think we want can often make a mess of the life we have,” Dailey says. “I am miles from where I used to think I needed or wanted to be, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
It also sees him digging into the darkness that surrounds him and letting the light transform it. “Bad Behavior” was originally meant to be a finger-picked folk song inspired by the Women’s March of 2017, but it shape-shifted into a groove-based pop tune a few days before recording. The message holds, still, just set against a lighter backdrop. “When there is cognitive dissonance within the meaning of the song,” Dailey says, “I find a need for the production be an outlier from where I usually might operate to help contend with the absurdity.”
The album’s anchor is another quirky, but sure-footed cut, “When It Dies.” Tethered to the idea that “all we ever really want is not to be forgotten,” the piece is wistful, yet contemplative. As Dailey tells it, “The recording and arrangement most closely resembles what music sounds like in my head just before I wake up in the morning — a little dread of the new light, but setting out to cope with the anxieties and creeping sense of insignificance that can easily dominate the day.”
Those anxieties come into much sharper focus on “Today Is Crushing Me” and “Tell a Friend,” two seemingly disparate tracks that both recognize reaching out for connection, whether with a friend or a song, as the best way to get through a deeply dark day. “Even in the darkest moment, if I just nudge my foot forward an inch, something will come of it, and I’ll be beyond that moment,” Dailey says. “I fully realize that those suffering from depression often can’t find that moment. Maybe without music, I wouldn’t be able to find it, either.”
But Dailey has the music, just as he has the moments, and he uses one to communicate and connect to the other. In songs like “He Better Be Alive” and “Up to Your Heart,” those elements are as pointed as they are poignant. “I saw the video of Keith Scott’s death and his wife almost chanting ‘He better be alive.’ It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go,” he confides. “It’s intentional to pay attention and feel something. If I’m really bearing witness and being honest, it’s hopefully unavoidable that something of social consciousness presents itself.”
From the inside out and the outside in, with Golden Walker, Will Dailey lives up to the promise and premise at the heart of being a songwriter. The best part of it, though? “It is lonely at worst and freeing at best,” he confesses. “There are a million rules and you can ignore them all if you want. There are infinite tunnels available to mine just one feeling. You might find one that has yet to be traversed and, there, create something that is, at once, familiar and only exists because you dreamed it. It all succeeds exponentially when it connects with at least one other person. And it saves me from overwhelming, existential dread.”