Ben Dickey catapulted into the cultural lexicon as the star of last year's Blaze, the Ethan Hawke-helmed biopic about tragically under-appreciated country musician Blaze Foley, a contemporary of Townes and Willie. Foley's life proved a tragic tale; he was a self-destructive type who was shot and killed in Austin, Texas, in 1989—but who wound up achieving legend status with fans like John Prine and Merle Haggard immortalizing his songs "Clay Pigeons" and "If I Could Only Fly," respectively.
Dickey feels like a legend in the making as well. With a couple films under his belt and two solo albums, including this year's A Glimmer on the Outskirts—which was produced by his Blaze co-star Charlie Sexton, who also plays on the record—and a nationwide solo tour currently underway, he shows no signs of slowing down. But Dickey doesn't have the bearing of a movie star, and his Santa Fe performance finds him taking over The Kitchen Sink.
SFR caught up with Dickey while he was in Prescott, Arizona, recording new tracks.
On how Blaze wound up infiltrating his own creative space, Dickey says, "The first thing it did was make me completely immerse myself in someone else's music. I love to learn other people's songs, but I've never abandoned all musical direction to sit with somebody else's music, to wade in it. What I realized with Blaze was that there's a lot hidden in his simplicity. These are three-chord songs, but there's a lot of nuance you can do with them. The second thing it did was, being on a movie set, seeing how that universe translates to the music universe—to me, it overlapped perfectly, … that storytelling and emotional expression. It made me respect 'team' and the mission; having all your tools sharp."
On whether Blaze Foley stuck with him, he says, "In a way. For about five months after the movie. I had some pretty profound and generous and talented actors reach out to help me prepare; Vincent D'Onofrio, and Ethan [Hawke], other people from the New York world. These guys were all super-generous, but the one thing they didn't really talk to me about was what happened after the movie was over. Blaze was a tragic figure, and the way we portrayed him in the movie was that he was in a tailspin. But the tailspin happened to fruit some pretty amazing pieces of music. Me and Ethan, we saw each other in the spring of '17, and we had to lean into each other, because it's hard to pull yourself out of it when you mesh in with somebody else. It can feel dangerous. The way [Blaze is] with me now, I feel like I know him in a huge way."
On whether he'll keep acting, Dickey points out that "I was in that movie The Kid that we shot out there in Santa Fe with Ethan and Chris Pratt and Dane DeHaan. I'll put it this way: I'm comfortable on a set. I really love it. I've done it twice, once where I was number one on the call sheet, once when I was number eight; but I really like the process if I care about the piece. I'm not auditioning for stuff willy-nilly. My agents know music is my hyper-focus for 2019, but I'm working on a Showtime show with Ethan this fall. The part is small-ish, medium, and I'm going to contribute how he wants me to."
On working with friends like Ethan Hawke, Dickey explains, "We're great teammates. We had frank conversations with each other before Blaze, like, 'We're friends today, we'll be friends when we're done with this.'"
On his roots in the world of punk rock and DIY, Dickey thinks "the term 'punk rock' is funny. I think it got hijacked at some point. What I did grow up inside was a very do-it-yourself culture, certainly punk rock-fueled. Fugazi is and was one of my favorite musical, artistic expression pieces ever."
On how to quantify his music without using the term "Americana," Dickey says, "I try not to be pretentious, because words do mean things, but when people say 'Americana,' or they'll say, 'Oh, you're a folk artist, Ben Dickey,' … I think of the Big Bill Broonzy quote: 'All music is folk music, I ain't never heard no horse play a song.' If me and my friends are sitting around talking about music, and they love music and are historians of music, I'll say I'm a rock musician. I play country-blues, R&B, this … music I love, it's American music. It has roots. All that stuff is what I understand rock to be—this souped-up, throttled-up blues and country swing. I try to tell people what I like right now, and what I like right now is big electric guitar, musicians who want to explore inside of architecturally finished songs but know songs can change, songs can be different things. I want musicians with purpose, who have something to say."
On getting to know Blaze co-star and musician Charlie Sexton, Dickey recalls, "I was a fan since I was a kid. When he got into Bob Dylan's band, I was like, 'Dammit, Dylan gets all the cool dudes.' And then they put out Love and Theft and that's some of the best music and some of the best guitars all day. Charlie met Ethan when he was making Boyhood, and when Ethan and I were like, 'Who is gonna play Townes in Blaze?' I was like, 'We've gotta ask Charlie Sexton, man.' Inside that crazy dive, both of us got close really fast. Any chance I have to play with Charlie, I have a ball. He doesn't want to half-ass anything. We've played full gigs, duo stuff, but both of us have lots going on."
On his upcoming Santa Fe show, Dickey is slated to play solo and says, "It's just me and a little stereo amplifier thing. It's going to be stuff I feel like playing. My new record will be the foremost focus, but I've brought back to life songs I've written in bands that I never got to release. I've got a lot of stuff."