If you’re a Twin Cities music fan, chances are you’ve heard the guitar work of Jeremy Ylvisaker—but never quite like this.
Ylvisaker’s two new instrumental collections, Dimebag and Malibu Hymnal, are the veteran local musician’s very first solo albums. With both electric flourishes and spare acoustic melodies, the guitarist conveys emotions as varied as vulnerability, loneliness, and affection.
The six acoustic songs on Malibu Hymnal have a relaxed, summertime vibe, as though listeners are sitting around a fire pit hearing Ylvisaker play tenderly as the sun sets over the lake. Dimebag is an experimental concept album about the death of Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and his burial with Eddie Van Halen’s guitar beside him. The material was culled from 10 years’ worth of recordings made at multiple locations, from Andrew Bird soundchecks to Micheal “Eyedea” Larsen’s studio. Each song is a fond ode to the musicians Ylvisaker has worked with over the years, who have taught him more than they’ll ever know.
“I never went to college,” Ylvisaker says over coffee on a beautiful summer morning in Minneapolis’ North Loop. “But all my friends—Andrew Bird, Martin Dosh, Andrew Broder, Ryan Francesconi, Mikey Larsen, JT Bates, Mike Lewis—they are like my professors. Learning from them was my college. Those guys are just impossibly inspiring people. I feel like I want to dedicate this to everybody who showed me how to do stuff.”
Ylvisaker has turned that quality education into an impressive music career. He’s performed with renowned artists like John Prine, Justin Vernon, Jenny Lewis, Eyedea and Abilities, Haley, Fog, and Mark Mallman. And in addition to his current gigs with the Suburbs and Andrew Bird, he plays with his own bands: Alpha Consumer, the Cloak Ox, Gramma’s Boyfriend, and Guitar Party (fronted by M Ylvisaker, Jeremy's kid). A few months back, Ylvisaker was an artist-in-residence at the Eaux Claires music festival. Makes you wonder how he found time to record two solo albums.
“I’ve actually started and never finished a ton of things in the last 15 years,” Ylvisaker says. “I just kept making things but never finishing anything. The initial part of Dimebag came together really fast, and then I, of course, never finished it. Over the years, I just kept making things that fit with the sound of it and the vibe of it perfectly. So then I had all these CDs laying around with all these ideas on them. Finally, with the help of many engineers—Alex Proctor, in particular—we organized all those into a semi-cohesive thing. With the other one [Malibu Hymnal], I just started playing the acoustic guitar a bunch, and suddenly I had a lot of that music too. So one night I went down to Littlebig Studio with Brent Sigmeth, and knocked that out in a couple hours. So suddenly I had two finished things, what do I do? So I decided to put them out at the same time. One took 10 years, one took two hours.”
Both albums offer unfiltered glimpses into Ylvisaker’s imagination. Malibu Hymnal’s “Website Creek” has a wistful, somber tone that evokes walking away from a bad situation to a new place full of possibility and potential, while the mournful, finger-picked chords of the title track suggest both loss and love. The title of “Bob Ross Saying Maybe,” which belies the somber nature of the tune itself, is perhaps a nod to producer Mike Lewis’ penchant for comically naming the songs he composes for his jazz band, Happy Apple.
“I just want everybody’s day to be happier and more calm,” Ylvisaker says of his creative aims for these releases. “The word ‘sentimental’ is kind of taboo in the world of a creative person, but I feel there is a proper way to engage with that real feeling.”
Malibu Hymnal has a casual, easy-going charm, but also a rare emotional depth. “It’s a nice day, just bring your guitar outside and mess around with open tunings,” Ylvisaker says of the album’s overall vibe and the leisurely way the songs came together. “Feeling your way through them, they just become tunes. I just wanted to dare myself to do it. I’m an electric player, and I’m usually in a band where I’m not accountable for the content at all. So it was just like, ‘All right, dude. Can you do this?’ The only way to do that is not think about it too hard, and do it quick.”
Dimebag is a more unconventional, eclectic collection, with Ylvisaker joined on various tracks by Tim Glenn, Lewis, Dosh, Bates, and Broder. The avant-garde tonal excursions “Diamonds in the Sky,” “Hazer,” “Dusk,” and “Rust” have an ominous, Lynchian quality, while the melancholy Steve Earle cover, “Goodbye” (recorded by Eyedea in his studio), is the most straightforward song found on either album. Dimebag’s centerpiece is the droney, eight-minute epic, “VH II (The Elder),” which captures the moment that Dimebag’s Kiss-themed coffin slowly descends into his grave. “I see this elder being lowered into the ground, and this crazy, mystical lighting, and this guitar resonating forever,” Ylvisaker explains.
After years of ceding the spotlight to his talented collaborators, Ylvisaker isn’t fazed by having the attention placed squarely on him. “How I take the pressure off is realizing that this isn’t ‘impressive’ music,” Ylvisaker says. “It’s not necessarily that it’s boring, but it’s like looking at a lake. There’s big waves, there’s millions of little waves, it’s one shape, there’s a few colors, you can look over there and it’s different, there are sparkles from the sun. There are a lot of ways to look at a boring thing. I’m not trying to impress anybody.”
But whether he’s been trying to or not, Jeremy Ylvisaker has been impressing us all along.
Jeremy Ylvisaker album-release show
When: 9:30 p.m. Mon. Aug.14
Tickets: $10; more info here