Tahoe’s Dead Winter Carpenters wrapping recording on third studio LP
Upcoming tour dates
Nov. 14: The Independent, San Francisco
Dec. 9: SLO Brewing Company, San Luis Obispo
Dec. 12: Winstons, San Diego
Dec. 31: New Years Eve Party at Sierra Valley Lodge, Calpine
Learn more: deadwintercarpenters.com
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Back in 2010, Dead Winter Carpenters, a newly formed alternative-country band based in North Lake Tahoe, were looking to get their name out.
As luck would have it, in March of that year they were given a platform — in more ways than one.
“We knew the booker over at the Crystal Bay Club,” said Jesse Dunn, a rhythm guitarist and vocalist for DWC. “And he knew that we had a new project going on and he graciously offered us a gig.”
That gig was playing back-to-back nights — tucked inside the casino’s intimate Red Room — as the after-party act for the critically acclaimed progressive bluegrass group Yonder Mountain String Band.
“Which means you were basically guaranteed a packed crowd,” Dunn said.
Indeed, Yonder’s popularity served as a gateway for DWC to be heard by a large crowd right out of the gate. They had played a handful of informal shows prior, but this was their first show billed as Dead Winter Carpenters.
“I just remember being completely elated with the reaction,” Dunn continued. “Just from those two shows we were able to get our name out.”
Five and a half years and hundreds of shows later, Dead Winter Carpenters — whose current lineup consists of Dunn, Jenni Charles (fiddler/vocals), Dave Lockhart (upright bass/vocals), Bryan Daines (lead guitar/vocals) and Brian Huston (drums/vocals) — are not only making a name for themselves in the Tahoe region, the Americana-rooted group is turning heads and tapping feet all across the country.
SETTING THE TONE
After breaking ground at the CBC, Dead Winter Carpenters didn’t waste any time harnessing that momentum and branching out to other corners of the west.
“We really just hit the road that summer and hit the ground running,” Dunn said.
What’s more, in the midst of their initial tour, the five-piece outfit shacked up for three days to lay down their self-titled debut album “D.W.C.” which they self-released in August of 2010.
From a distance, one might assume this was all done on the fly.
One can imagine a wet-behind-the-ears band piling into a dilapidated tour van, a rundown Mystery Machine pillowing smoke, and hunting for a place, any place, to play. Or perhaps spilling into a studio, frenziedly plugging in their instruments and recording every noise they make on their first take and calling it a day.
This was not the case for Dead Winter Carpenters.
Yes, DWC was less than a year into their run as a music-making unit. But were they green? No, quite the opposite — each member was well attuned to the lifestyle of a band.
Dunn, Lockhart and Sean Duerr, a former lead guitarist, each came from the Montana Slim String Band out of San Francisco. Charles and Ryan Davis, a former drummer, were both alums of the Truckee-based group The Rusty Strings.
A fortuitous meeting at a music festival melded the groups together.
“We’re basically a combination of those two bands as they were both slowing down and going separate ways,” Dunn said. “We met at a music festival through friends and different contacts.”
LOCKED IN A GROOVE
With two studio albums and an EP under their belt (each released two years apart), Dead Winter Carpenters have been in a steady groove since their inception. Their sophomore release “Ain’t It Strange” (2012) was followed by a six-track EP titled “Dirt Nap” (2014).
DWC devotees and alt-country/bluegrass fans alike did not only embrace both efforts, music critics lauded the records as well.
Relix Magazine described “Ain’t It Strange” as a “mix of melodic Americana that melds foot-stomping energy and hushed poignancy.”
“Dirt Nap” earned even more praise from media outlets, like “The Roots Music Authority” website No Depression: “Effortless five-part harmonies, capped off by the sweet, soft voice of Charles, bring a surprising smoothness to the tone of the entire EP,” the review said. “Each track tells a story, just as each instrument and voice coalesces into the band’s rich and textured sound.”
Dead Winter Carpenters are taking their texture and sound to new places on their forthcoming album slated for release in February or March.
Darker tones. Funkier. Edgy. These are terms the band used to describe their yet-to-be-named third studio LP.
“It’s certainly a departure from our previous records,” Lockhart said. “I feel like a lot of our previous records have been pretty straight ahead; like train-beat kind of feels. And this one does not. It only has like two songs that do that. So there’s a lot of different rock and roll feels.”
Added Charles: “It’s definitely a genre-bending record. And I always try to steer away from that word, but if I had to describe it that’s what I would say. It’s definitely a good window into our sound.”
Charles went on to mention that influences for the record’s sound range from the dark bluegrass of Gillian Welch to the indie/blues rock of The Raconteurs.
“I think the goal is to bend all the genres and influences into our own genre, which is Dead Winter Carpenters style,” Dunn said. “And I think that’s kind of what we … I wouldn’t say we’ve accomplished that yet, but we’re on the right path.”
STRENGTHENED BY TAHOE
DWC did the album’s primary tracking over 10 days at Sierra Sonics Recording in Reno before trekking to Cotati, Calif., for the final mixing at Prairie Sun Recording Studios, a historic complex (everyone from Paul McCartney to the Wu Tang Clan has recorded there) set on a 10-acre chicken farm.
Working with producer Zach Girdis and engineer Kevin Bosley, Dead Winter Carpenters put the finishing touches — “the meat and audio gristle,” as Dunn said — on their new batch of songs over a three-day span.
“I think the crux of the whole thing was the way they were able to get really good live performances out of the band,” Dunn said. “That was kind of what we were going for; more of the live feel, more so than our past records. And I think we accomplished that. It’s going to have a pretty heavy live feel to it while being a studio record.”
Since cutting their teeth at the Crystal Bay Club five-plus years ago, Dead Winter Carpenters have certainly evolved.
DWC averages 150 shows a year all over the U.S.; they’ve played at nationally known music festivals like High Sierra and Del Fest; the quintet has even opened for alt-country giant Jason Isbell.
And they don’t think they could’ve reached this position — making music for a living — without the support of North Lake Tahoe.
“I think Dead Winter Carpenters has grown through the strength of our community here in North Lake Tahoe,” Dunn said. “This area seems to support each other no matter what your trade or craft is; everybody pitches in and helps each other and this is a prime example of that, I think.
“That (CBC gig) was a great spot to jump off for us and kind of dig into the community, which rallied behind us. Fortunately, we were able to take the show on the road.”