Don’t Dream It’s Over

Steve Wynn segues from wine and roses to ticking bombs.

To properly place the career of Steve Wynn — the guitarist-singer-songwriter, not the Vegas hotel magnate — you have to go back to the early ’80s, when he fled UC Davis for Los Angeles and became frontman for the Dream Syndicate. As such, he became the official face of the Paisley Underground, an LA-based grouping of bands like the Rain Parade, the Three O’Clock, and Game Theory, all propelling a tumultuous tangle of Velvet Underground cool and jangly pop. The Syndicate’s debut, 1982’s Days of Wine and Roses — especially lead track “Tell Me When It’s Over,” with its hypnotically simplistic guitar lead — remains a bold and crucial marker on the alt-rock growth chart. It was beloved long after the Syndicate disbanded in 1989, pointing Wynn toward a vast, challenging solo career that yet endures, though with occasional difficulty.

Alas, the weight of accomplished youth.

“It’s not an albatross,” Wynn says from his home in New York City, “because I’m really proud of the Dream Syndicate. It’s not something I’m trying to live down. What was frustrating for a long time was, until I made [2001’s heavily praised platter] Here Come the Miracles, I was kind of forever being gauged by the Days of Wine and Roses record I made when I was 22. And no matter what I did, it seemed that people just saw that as the record that mattered.”

And so, while Wynn is overtly unobsessed with obliterating his own past, following the Syndicate’s 1989 dissolution he made a cross-culture, cross-country move to the Big Apple and, after a handful and a half of solo efforts, locked down his second band, the Miracle 3. Ironically enough, this new band helped release Wynn from his iconic old one — by revisiting its music on a near-nightly basis.

“When Days of Wine and Roses got reissued, we would play new songs for one set, take a break, and play Days of Wine and Roses all the way through,” Wynn says. “And this band plays Days of Wine and Roses better than the Dream Syndicate ever did. Flat out. Everything that was good about that band this band does better, and everything that was bad this band avoids. It’s just a better band for that kind of music, even. So in a way it takes a little bit of the desire away from going backwards.”

Which doesn’t mean that movement isn’t a good thing. Despite a veteran’s level of comfort on both musical coasts, Wynn took his current troupe to Tucson’s Wavelab Studios — recording home of Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, as well as the recent Iron & Wine/Calexico EP — in search of a sound he properly proclaims as “loud and raw and huge and broken.”

Thus the three Miracle 3 releases, including the third and most recent, … Tick … Tick … Tick, have become an effectual Tucson Trilogy. And the result is reminiscent not so much of the aforementioned Wine and Roses, but the Syndicate’s thicker, darker, and rootsier follow-up, Medicine Show.

“Tucson, in general, couldn’t be more the opposite of New York,” Wynn concludes. “New York is so all about getting on top of things and staying up to speed with a very fast city. And Tucson’s just laid-back. You get more in touch with what you’re doing. And, you know, things are so slow and so lazy and so kind of chaotic half the time that you can experience every moment.” Including Wynn’s most important moment: right now.

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