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Live From the Living Room

Dogwood Moon celebrates its latest CD, which gives home recording new meaning.

October 20, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Grossman and Laurie Gunning--a.k.a. Dogwood Moon--will feature their brand of high-energy folk music Saturday night as they host a CD release party at the Ban-Dar in Ventura.

It will be another strange double bill that could only happen at this eclectic venue, as boogie-woogie piano virtuoso Carl Sonny Leyland takes over the stage at 10 p.m. after Dogwood Moon has finished blowing minds with several of their 100 or so original songs.

The new CD is "Dogwood Moon Live @ Fox Run," a recording that is not much more than a month old. This is the Moon's fourth album in a career that is not quite 5 years old.

Gunning and Grossman met while taking voice lessons from the same teacher, and although recently electrified, began as a pair of acoustic folkies. Based in Los Angeles, the pair toured frequently around California, across the country and in Europe. Locally, their soaring vocals and hook-filled songs and enthusiastic performances made them favorites at the old Cafe Voltaire in Ventura. Gunning has a powerful voice that is part Grace Slick, part Carly Simon and part Stevie Nicks and harmonizes perfectly with her husband.

Now living in Santa Monica, the couple still play 15 to 20 gigs a month and are at work on another album. They're about to enter the soundtrack business, as well. Grossman discussed the latest news concerning his favorite duo during a recent phone interview.

How's the Dogwood Moon biz these days?

It's been fantastic, man, really good. The best thing about what we've been doing is that we've been off the road.

How long have you two been gone?

We were gone for two years, living in our car, staying on friends' couches. We never had our own bed to sleep on, that kind of situation, and always having to entertain. You haven't seen your college buddy in three years and he happens to be working the night we're playing in his town, and when we get back from the show, it's like "Hey, sing me a song." You know, it's like one in the morning and we've driven 800 miles that day. And that was kind of the downside of the whole thing. The good side was we got to spend so much time with all of our friends and I was able to meet all of Laurie's family, and she met all my family.

Four CDs is quite a body of work. You're definitely not on the Boston timetable of an album every 10 years.

Exactly. Four years, four CDs and about a thousand shows. My big thing is writing. I love to write. The greatest thing about loving to write is that it's a talent to have when you don't want to be on the road. It's not all about performing and being in front of a crowd, but about the craft of writing. And, as it turns out, I'm starting a company with a friend of mine I met in college at Cornell, [called] Dogwood Moon Music. We'll be writing soundtrack music and we'll be able to stay here in L.A. and just write music, and I won't have to sing for my meals at one in the morning anymore.

So how many Dogwood Moon songs are there?

Oh, I don't know, maybe one hundred. But we play so often that songs don't stay new for very long. A song that was new two months ago has been played 100 times, so that's the impetus for writing new songs.

What's the story on the new album?

We met some people in Sudbury, Mass., who are really big folk people, folk angels really. They have a rather large house with a recording studio, and they house a lot of traveling performers--people come through and do a house concert at their home, then stay at their home. We were staying at their home often when we were in that area, and they said "Hey, let's do a live album." They had all this tricked-out studio gear, so we invited all our fans in the area and recorded it in the living room. I mixed it over the course of the next week and we released it within a month after it was done.

Where does it fit in with what came before?

A little bit edgier, less folky, more like singer-songwriter rock, or alternative folk. I think we're coming into our own sound. We're able to do the vocal harmony thing, and I think there's a little more drive to it. Whereas the lyrics on the first couple of albums were centered around nature, these lyrics seem to be more centered around questioning our purpose here and questioning our relationship with the people we come in contact with.

Why did you go from acoustic to electric?

We had been playing the same set for the first couple of years. I was playing guitar and Laurie was playing shaker, but what happened was we'd have these four-hour shows and we'd want to do something improvisational and all she had was a shaker, so she decided she wanted to learn an instrument. Then one day on our tour in Europe, she picked up a bass and within three days she was playing at our shows. It really freed me up from being just the acoustic strummer guy, so then I started adding a more acoustic-electric sound.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a duo?

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