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Before winning "Best Album" at the 2009 Outmusic Awards, Dudley Saunders (like k.d. lang and Laurie Anderson before him) began his music career first as a critically-acclaimed performance artist - only to find the experimental "gothic folk" music he wrote for his pieces take over his career.
Described by critics as "surreal, modern folk tales" (VILLAGE VOICE), Dudley's performance art told stories about strange, haunted people, usually exiles of some kind. Many were southern, many urban, but most of them were extremely sexual and rejected by their families for the forbidden, even obscene thoughts they couldn't keep out of their heads and their lives. The pieces were told in a mixture of text and song, but as the years passed and his songwriting grew, audiences began to respond much more powerfully to the songs. With his Jeff Buckley-like voice and his intricate folk melodies, he began to draw a non-art-world audience.
Dudley recorded his debut, RESTORE, for Fang Records in the mid-90's, with art-funk artist Chris Cochrane producing. The sound, subject matter and feel was a precursor to the as-yet-undefined "New Weird America" or "Freak Folk" category, moving from surreal acappella songs like BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON I DROVE MY CAR (detailing, in quasi-Biblical terms, a man's descent into dementia, blindness and death) to driving Neil-Youngish country songs like GUTTER BROKE (about a woman losing her mind in a rainswept truckstop). Reviews were strong but Fang Records lost its distributor just before release, keeping RESTORE largely under the radar (although it received a GLAMA nomination for "Best Debut Recording").
Together, Cochrane and Saunders also recorded a band record as SUCK PRETTY for Knitting Factory Works. All those songs were written by Cochrane and the band broke up.
Midway through his second album, Dudley abrupty moved to California and started to re-record his new songs all over again. These tracks slowly made their way out on Fang as THE BILLY WHITE ACRE SESSIONS in 2005. The release had a hard time gaining attention, although one track THE UNDOING (EVERY DAY) was included in his addiction-themed documentary, THE PROCESS.
During this same period, Dudley kept exploring his fascination with American characters in other fields, not only THE PROCESS documentary, but also in his collaboration with performance artist Heather Woodbury. They worked on two epic multi-character pieces, the ten-hour WHAT EVER (parts of which were featured on Ira Glass' THIS AMERICAN LIFE) and the merely six-hour TALE OF 2CITIES: AN AMERICAN JOYRIDE ON MULTIPLE TRACKS, which went on to win an Obie Award in 2007. Both were published in book form.
Afterwards, Dudley recorded his most intricate and disturbing record, THE EMERGENCY LANE, with Duncan Sheik stalwart Milo Decruz as producer and arranger. For the first time, Dudley had access to a number of famous musicians, many of whom came out of the bands of MARIANNE FAITHFULL, DAVID BOWIE, SUZANNE VEGA, RUFUS WAINWRIGHT and LEONARD COHEN. Like a lot of independent releases, it had little coverage in the print press, but ended up a favorite among music bloggers and online publications. It was featured on several "Ten Best" lists and, of course, won the 2009 Outmusic Award for Best Album.
Currently, he is writing and recording a new album of songs based on obscure novels, to be called NOVELSONGS, and looking for a new label. He has also begun a new interactive website project.
At DudleySaunders.com, web-surfers find a panoramic, 1920¹s-era photo of the entire population of a small town. But as they scroll through the sepia-toned crowd, they discover that the twisted people in Dudley's songs are hidden there. Signs appear over them: Whore. Killer. Masochist. A click brings you video of Dudley taking you inside the fascinating background on the songs and the characters' lives.
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