Veteran Charleston songwriter Yates Dew used to stay super busy playing weekly gigs around Charleston, but these days, when he’s not marketing real estate, Dew prefers the privacy of a home studio to the club scene. He’s still a dedicated musician, but he rarely steps foot on stage. Armed with a new nine-song studio album titled Exhale Through Your Feet, Dew will come out of hiding this week with support from several longtime musical colleagues.
“I moved to Charleston from North Carolina specifically to play music at clubs like Cumberland’s, the Music Farm, and the Warehouse,” Dew says. “But the performing thing is kind of in the rearview mirror now. I realized that I enjoy the introverted acts of writing and recording, both of which require holing up. It’s as if once it’s written, purged, and recorded, I feel satisfied with the process. It’s the crafting of the song that I like.”
Dew certainly took his time putting his new collection together — from the initial arrangements and lyrics to a stop-and-start recording process in which he played most of the instruments himself. He started writing and demoing material in 2006, almost immediately after releasing his previous disc, The Day. The Dog. The Girl.
“On my first solo album, I basically wrote all of the songs in a weekend and recorded them the following week. This time, it was the complete opposite,” Dew says. “With the The Day. The Dog. The Girl, I was thinking, ‘Man, I’m getting older, so let’s put a glossy pop song out there and see if I can get played on the radio before my time runs out.’ The goal with this one was starkly different.”
Dew started recording Exhale Through Your Feet at CHP Audio in Charlotte in January 2010 with producer Patrick Boyd (formerly of the band Noises Ten). Dew laid down all of the drum tracks over the course of a week, then he gradually added guitar, bass, piano, and vocal tracks over the next year and a half. The process required numerous roadtrips and a focused mind, but Dew was determined to create at his own pace. Looking back, he credits Boyd for nurturing and accommodating his approach.
“Patrick told me early on not to second-guess anything on Exhale Through Your Feet,” Dew says. “He encouraged me to simply work from the heart. That was the mantra. He said not to doubt anything that was coming out of me. Sometimes writing songs can get too left brainy. I needed to stay true to the right side of the brain, and I think I finally got it right this time.”
Guest musicians on the new album include critically acclaimed North Carolina songbird Shannon Whitworth, veteran bassist/vocalist Mimi Bell (a frequent side player with G. Love and Special Sauce and the Avett Brothers), local singer Gracie Nofsinger, and local singer-songwriter Emily Painter (of Corndog Mountain).
Dew worked on subsequent overdubs at his home studio nicknamed Barrel Studio. He mixed the songs at Ocean Industries Studio on James Island and with Boyd at his Sioux Sioux Studio in Charlotte. They sent the final tracks to be mastered at Studio B in Charlotte.
“At Sioux Sioux, it was the final culmination holy ground,” Dew says.
Much of Exhale Through Your Feet is melodic, snappy, and upbeat with a dry production quality. Some of the heavier songs, like lead-off track “Put it Off” and “Test of Loneliness,” resemble the post-punk power-pop of the late ’70s (a la Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Cheap Trick) and jangly Southern college rock of the early ’80s (think early R.E.M., the dB’s, and Uncle Tupelo). The softer, more atmospheric tunes, like the strummy “Hartwell” and the waltzy “Run from These Worries,” flow with a slight alt-country vibe.
At this week’s CD release show, Dew’s backing band will feature Boyd on guitar alongside Bell, Painter, drummer Jonathan Erickson (also of the Noises Ten), and keyboardist Whitt Algar. A few surprise guests might show up as well.
“It’ll be great to have pros like these on stage with me,” Dew says. “The core unit is tight. They understood where I was coming from with these songs. I wanted to put an album together where I could listen to whole thing six months from now or six years from now and not cringe. I wanted to put something together that would withstand the test of time — something I could be proud of.”