Jerry David DeCicca always pops up in the right, weird places. I was writing about one of my favorite bands the other day, State Champion, and noticed that the 44-year-old musician had written their bio. Last year, I saw that Will Beeley’s incredible, long-lost Passing Dream LP, from 1979, was reissued — alongside a note that DeCicca had just produced the country singer-turned-trucker’s first album since. Now who the hell?
Based a little ways outside of Austin, TX, he made his name in the 2000s as the frontman of Columbus, OH's folk-rock band The Black Swans. This year, he’s releasing his second and third solo albums: the sublime Time The Teacher, and next week Burning Daylight. The first record has been in constant rotation for me this year — it’s patient and silly with songs that are clearly secular, about watermelon and woodpeckers, but it achieves an almost-religious sensibility of wonder about the world.
Burning Daylight, up for pre-order now, is more peppy, more country, more ready for the bar. Recorded live to tape at Sonic Ranch studios in West Texas, it notably features drummer Gary Mallaber, a veteran of albums by Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, and the Steve Miller Band, all of whose work clearly inspired DeCicca here. It’s just a super-fun record from one of the more delightful, underrated figures on the DIY side of Americana.
Today, The FADER is premiering “Cutting Down the Country,” my favorite song from the record. “Every day coming home from work, I drive pass the old King Ranch / 140 acres man, that’s some big inheritance,” he begins, and you know it’s gonna be good. Fuck, it really is.
I always think of you not just as an artist but as a champion of other people's music.
That's nice, I appreciate that. I'm such a music fan, and I'm definitely not in the position that a lot of people are that could be championing other people's music, you know? That always kind of bothered me. I produced this Ed Askew record a while ago, and it definitely opened up a lot of doors for Ed, because it was a good record. It wasn't because my name was on it or anything. Ed's been living in New York City since 1985, and nobody was helping him make a record. I love being able to try to help people — especially people that have been marginalized in some way — to kind of help get some attention back to them. I think now, kind of more than ever, that's really important because there's no trickle down from labels to have them foster those kind of records like they used to.
How did you get to produce the Will Beeley album that’s coming out?
I had this really weird experience, and I never said anything to anybody about this. My mom was visiting me here several years ago, and I went to an estate sale. It was later in the day, and I see these boxes of records. I'm like, "Oh, fuck," like, this guy looks like he probably had good records. I found the Passing Dream record sitting there, and I looked at it, I'm like, “Man, I have never seen this record before.” I bought it, took it home, listened to it, and it was amazing. Six months later, I got a call from Josh at Tompkins Square saying, "Hey, you probably don't know who this guy is, but I love what you did with Larry Jon Wilson. Would you do it with this other guy?" And he told me his name was Will Beeley.
I lived outside of San Antonio, so where I actually live, Will Beeley used to hang out in this area when he was a little kid. We got along great. He came down here and he was able to visit his mom and record a record. It's different than Passing Dream because now he sounds like a truck driver. It's pretty gnarly. His voice is just one of those things where, when people talk about Americana music and stuff like that, nobody's got a voice like that anymore. Time has sucked the regionalism out of a lot of people's voice. When they hear this record, they're going to be like, “That's what people want from that style of music.”
Does working with people like that impact your own music differently than working with younger artists, people who are closer to the music business?
As a producer, I would tell these guys, like, “Less is more, we just need this.” I found that a lot of my ideas that I wanted to kind of enforce on other people's records, I was not doing myself. It's a good kind of learning tool in that regard.
I have tried to produce records by a couple younger artists and they've kind of backfired, because the younger artist, immediately they want to talk about who is going to put it out, and who is going to review it, and who do you know? The older musicians that I work with, they care about those things, but they really care about making a great record. They believe in the history of records and the permanence of records, that this is a forever document, and they’re aware that the records that they admire are great, whether they're R&B records, or country records, or rock, whatever. That's what they're up against, so they don't give a shit about blogs, or stuff like that.
They're just like, “Is this going to be good?” and that's the focus of the conversation. When you have that type of energy in the room, it makes everybody else kind of respect each other more. It's a total thrill, and I always feel lucky when I get to do it.
It must have been so cool working with Gary Mallaber on the new album.
When I needed a drummer, and Super Secret, the label putting out, gave me a little bit of a budget to play with, I just called him up, and we talked for like an hour, and he was like, "I'll do it." I'm like, “What? Just like that, you're going to fly out to middle of nowhere, West Texas, and meet up with a bunch of people that you don't know for five days?” He's like, "Jerry, I've been doing this since I was 19 years old. I know how to figure out if a gig's good or not."
In the studio, I would run down the songs and he'd be like, "Do you want me to use a click track?" I'd go, "Did you use a click track for [Van Morrison’s] Moon Dance? He's like, "What, are you fucking with me?!" I'm like no. “Then don't use a click track, you know? We're not making that type of record. This is going to be just on the floor, we're doing this.” It was really nice to have somebody of that level of record making to kind of glue everything together.
I remember reading that your day job is in social work. I don't know if you like to keep that part of your life separate, but I’m curious to hear a little bit about it.
What I do specifically is vocational rehabilitation. I help in young adults with disabilities learn employment skills, and help them acquire employment and for them to be able to be independent. Most of the individuals I work with have non-visual disabilities. For me, it was kind of a job that I sort of stumbled into, about ten years ago. I just kind of connected with it, and it really took.
That type of work coincides with a lot of my humanitarian beliefs. That doesn't mean that I necessarily write songs about my job, but I'm somebody that really is drawn to records, and books, and movies that are personal, but there is this kind of political meaning in the peripheral, or it's about people that, maybe the world isn't exactly how they want it to be. A lot of the songwriters I like, and have worked with in the past, have been marginalized by either commerce, or bad luck.
To me, it's all one thing, the personalized and intersecting conflict with the real world. I really like working in social services. It's one of those things that I always feel like, when people are like, "I hate my job, what should I do?" I'm like, "Well, a lot of social service jobs don't pay great when you first start, but that world needs more intelligent, hardworking, empathetic people to be working at those jobs." Especially with how negative so many things are in the world, it definitely feels like you're out there, like, you're voting everyday. You are doing something that, though you're just a very, very tiny Bandaid, you're trying to help improve the lives of other people.