The last time Rocks Off caught up with Jesse Dayton, he was up to his eyeballs in alligators with his film project Zombex, working on an album of Kinky Friedman cover songs and playing Kinky for a bunch of New York art types in Marfa. One of the hustling-est hustlers in show business, Dayton has plans to spread himself even thinner. He had just left a rehearsal when we caught up with him.
Rocks Off: The last time we talked, you were editing your movie. Where does that stand?
Jesse Dayton: We're very close to being finished. I just found out the producers are going to take it to Cannes next month. And it looks like I'm going to get to direct two more pictures for them. I've got one script finished and I'm working on another one.
RO: It seems a little weird that they're taking a zombie movie to Cannes.
JD: Yeah, but we got some great actors in it, people like Malcolm McDowell, and I think that gives it some cachet and cred some zombie movies might not have.
RO: What's it like, movie work versus making music?
JD: Making movies is a hard, hard, very demanding gig. After working on the film this long, getting in the studio to record or getting out with my band is like a vacation. That's my way of fucking off and relaxing.
RO: Will you be going to Cannes?
JD: Probably not. I was just looking at the schedule, and I'm headlining at Gruene Hall on my birthday, and that falls at the same time as the film festival. So I doubt it.
RO: What is the musical project you've been working on with Don Was this week?
JD: Don came into town to put together a house band for a show that is part of the big celebration of Willie Nelson. His statue is being unveiled -- and it's being unveiled on 4/20, man. Only in Austin.
Anyway, the organizers asked Willie what he wanted to do and he wants to do a night of remembering Johnny Cash. So Don asked me to play guitar and sing harmony. Sheryl Crow, Matt McConaughey, Kris Kristofferson, a bunch of guests are going to sing. The whole thing is being filmed for PBS.
RO: Who else is in this band?
JD: Buddy Miller, Kenny Aronoff, Ian McLagan. We've been rehearsing two days and it's been a blast.
RO: I see you've been playing some three-piece gigs that you described as your redneck rock trio. Is that the lineup for your shows at the International Festival this weekend?
JD: Yeah, since I've started playing a lot of listening rooms, I really like what we can do with just my acoustic, bass and minimal drum kit. I've been doing the honky-tonk dance hall thing so long, I've gotten away from a whole bunch of my song catalog, so it's been great to be able to play the folkie stuff and the rock stuff. I'm even throwing in a few old Road Kings tunes in those sets.
RO: So have we seen the last of you and steel guitars?
JD: No, I still have my residency at Broken Spoke, and we'll keep doing a country show there and at the other dance halls. But I've been doing that a long time and I just like to change things up, try to stretch out in some new directions. And lately I've been enjoying just rocking out, letting it blast.
RO: What do you think you'll do recordwise after the Kinky album?
JD: I don't want to do another country record. One for the Dancehalls did really well in Europe, mostly thanks to Bob Harris of BBC. But I'm probably going to make a rock record. I'm ready to throw down.
RO: I know guys in country bands who like to get away from it and rock out.
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JD: Yeah, country is cool in its way, but there's a lot of laying back that goes with it. Who learns guitar so they can lay back? That's like saying I want to grow up to be an accountant. Nobody says that, do they?
Jesse Dayton plays the Houston International Festival this weekend, Saturday, April 21 at 2:30 p.m. on the Americas Stage and 6:30 p.m. on the 29-95 Entertainment Stage. See www.ifest.org for more information.