Dead Winter Carpenters’ Jesse Dunn talks about new EP and the COVID-19 shutdown

The Dead Winter Carpenters - photo: Melody Hoover

The Dead Winter Carpenters are an Americana band from the north shore of Lake Tahoe, California. Over the past decade, the band has released four albums and toured in support of those recordings at venues like Winter Wondergrass, Del Fest, High Sierra Music Festival, and many others popular in the modern Bluegrass/Americana scene. Over the winter the group recorded a new EP titled “Sinners ‘n’ Freaks,” which will be released this month.

The band was set to tour and promote the new recording until the novel coronavirus pandemic closed concert venues across the United States.

Listen to an audio interview with Jesse Dunn.

I spoke with Dead Winter Carpenters lead singer Jesse Dunn about the new EP and how the band is adjusting to the world of social distancing.

“We just recorded it [Sinners ‘n’ Freaks] in January at a place called Baxter’s Ranch Recording up in the foothills outside of Auburn, California, and just a beautiful spot, great setting,” Dunn explained in a phone interview. “The engineer Matt Baxter had the place about 20 years and he’s worked in the industry longer than that, great guitar player but a great engineer. We went down there for probably five or six different sessions and came out with the EP. We’re stoked about putting out some new music. Just feels good, you know.”

Sinners ‘n’ Freaks is a fun, upbeat tune.

“I started tinkering around with that tune several years ago,” Dunn said. “At that time, it was more of like a country rock, maybe a bluegrass tune. It’s based upon this idea that most of us, including myself, we always try to put our best foot forward. But that’s not always the case. Everybody’s got their own vices and things of that nature. Be that as it may, there could still be room for all of us in “Glory Land” you know. It’s kind of a tongue in cheek lyric about that. Lord save room for the sinners and the freaks.”

Bands rely on live concerts to promote recordings and to make money. For artists, live performance affords an opportunity to directly connect with people through music.

“I guess heartbreaking would be a term that fits as far as what’s going on with our tour schedule and everything,” Dunn said. “But we’re not losing sight of the fact that we’re not the only industry that’s struggling. Namely, the medical professions as you know, obviously they’re on the front lines and they’re the true heroes.

“We had a number of album or EP, release parties [scheduled] – one in Oakland, one in the Crystal Bay Club up here in Tahoe, and then a Southern California tour and a Pacific Northwest tour. Prior to that, we were going to play Winter Wonder Grass in Vermont, and that was early April. That was kind of the first stuff that started falling by the wayside.

“At this point, all of our shows are canceled into late June and beyond. And, you know, we’re hearing that festivals are even being canceled into September and October, rightfully so – don’t get me wrong at all. It’s been tough to witness and to feel that, and there’s a lot of emotions surrounding that, but we’re just grateful that we’re healthy. I was really grateful that we had this music to work on in the interim as this pandemic developed, because we got to put some positive energy into that and, and see it come to fruition.”

Many bands have turned to online resources to help them find new sources of revenue while music venues are shut down. Jesse explained how the band members have been finding new ways to connect.

“Well, you know Jenni Charles is in the band. She’s a great singer, great fiddler. She’s also my wife, and I’m very fortunate and thankful for that. Fortunately, we live together and we can do our show that we’ve been doing for years anyway. That allows us to get on Facebook or Instagram and stream for different events or fundraisers and we’ve been doing a weekly thing at 3:30 in the afternoon on Sundays. It’s been fun. It’s just been great to kind of check in with the team and the family and we go back and forth on the chats a little bit. So that’s been cool.

“The full band has really only done one thing because two of the guys are down in Roseville, one is in Truckee, and then Jenny and I are in Tahoma on the West Shore. So we’re spread out, and with the social distancing mandates it didn’t feel right for all of us to get together and play. We did a kind of a Zoom format listening party on Friday for the EP. We all called in, and that was the closest that we’ve gotten to getting together. We’ll see what the future holds as some of the regulations relax, if we’re allowed to do it. I’m sure we’ll explore some full band live stuff.”

The Dead Winter Carpenters played before a Bernie Sanders rally in Reno in May of 2019 – photo: Brian Bahouth/The Ally

Like for many people, the post-COVID-19 economy presents many challenges. Likely many touring players will have to find ways to backfill their incomes until concerts can safely resume.

“It’s unique to everybody’s personal situation, but three of the band members teach lessons,” Dunn said. “So they’ve been able to do a lot of that virtually. Doing Zoom type lessons, so that’s been cool for them.

“Personally, everything I do is on the music side of things. We lost our income from the Dead Winter Carpenters shows, but I also do a bit of booking and stuff like that kind of on the back end too. So all those shows and the bands that I helped book have seen their income evaporated, so we have been fortunate to qualify for a couple Music CARES grants, which comes through the Grammys. It’s a really cool charity program. They have that going on for musicians in their times of need.”

There is a song on the new EP titled “Cornerstone.” The song is dedicated to Jesse’s mom who died last year.  The band is working to raise money for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.

“I did want to mention one of the songs on the EP called Cornerstone. We wrote that as a tribute to my mom who passed away from ovarian cancer back in the fall. We’re doing a big fundraiser for the OCRA, which is Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance. We have our own fundraising page there and we try to drive some awareness and hopefully some donations to that. That’s a great cause as well. And I wanted to mention that we appreciate everybody that’s already listened and donated, it’s awesome.”


Will Houk is host of Roots, Rednecks and Radicals on KNVC radio and is a musical arts reporter for The Ally. Support his work.