By JENNY SLATER
A MISSOURI TRAILHEAD
Their melodies rest comfortably between a Kansas border
to the west and a beloved river to the east. In Columbia, resting in the
middle of Missouri, a band creates songs from the same place -- the middle.
Each member of the band identifies heavily with Missouri. Their lyrics and song are like the branching rivers and rich lakes that hug closely to the land. Their rhythms are as constant as the current.
"We write about the world we see around us and what troubles us," said Jonathan Dahm, guitarist and vocalist. "There are several aspects to our lyrics, like deep songs of great personal introspection."
Trailhead associates its love for music and music writing to their home state of Missouri. The band, in fact, is closely connected to each other. From St. Louis, Jonathan and Becky Dahm, brother and sister, lead Trailbead. Bassist Doug Sonnenberg, from Jefferson City, and drummer Barry Marquart, from Washington, fill the singers' melodies by keeping rhythm with the bass and drums.
Like Missouri's landscape, Trajlhead's sound is quite diverse. The band hates to classify their sound. When asked by others, Becky, 24, said it's always difficult to classify the band's sound into one category.
"We get asked so much," said Becky. "We are stripped-down, lyric-based songwriters."
The band is spiced with traditional country, said Marquart, drummer. This fact, along with Jonathan's steel guitar talents, allows Trailhead' 5 music to intermingle between genres.
"it's an acoustic, folk, rock, singer-songwriter band," he said. "It's complex. And it depends on where you see us."
Marquart continues to discuss the topic of band labeling as he sips his Thursday afternoon beer. The two-year old band, Trialhead, has remained busy the last couple of months. Their first CD, "Burnt Brown Fields," was released April 18 at the Down Under Bar after the band played that afternoon in Peace Park for Earth Day. An independent CD release has caused Trailhead to think about categorizing its sound for the sake of prospective listeners.
"I hate trying to label us in general," Marquart said. "There's a way record stores can bind you, and that's the way it is. Unfortunately people can't open their minds. The new alternative thing is so big, how can you market us in that way -- you can't."
Trailhead said having a new CD is like "the beginning of a great new adventure." Members attribute much of their background knowledge of music to influences such as Johnny Cash, Uncle Tupelo, Mason Proffit and the Carter family. Depending dn the venue, Trailhead can deliver anything and everything for the listening ears of concertgoers.
From Lucinda Williams to traditional folk songs, Trailhead plays a wide variety of music. Recently, Jonathan has borrowed a mid-i 950's Gretch guitar from Marquart's fiancee's grandfather, who also once played in a band. Becky said this has allowed Trailhead to play older songs like Johnny Cash and June Carter's "Jackson," with a bit more "twang." Another song with a story that Trailhead enjoys to play is John Prine's "Paradise."
"The first time I heard it, my older brother was playing it," said Becky. "He didn't know whose song it was then. The words are striking because it's about the destruction of the environment. A line mentions Peabody Coal Company and my dad once worked for them in St. Louis."
A group consensus decides which songs to cover from other artists. But the true dynamics of Trailhead is not borrowed from anyone. The Dahm brother and sister duo is the essence of Trailhead.
"Making music with Jonathan is a miracle," said his older sister. "Our heads and our voices work the same. We get joy from one another from trading off. It's marvelous. I wouldn't want to share the journey with anyone else."
Jonathan and Becky share their musical creations with one another. This is a fact Becky said is possible only because the two musicians are siblings. Often, bands with two-lead singer- songwriters experience disagreements. This is not the case with Trailhead, however. The songs Becky writes, Jonathan fills in with background vocals and his guitar. Becky often plays the harmonica and backs up Jonathan's voice as sings the songs he has mastered.
Depending on which song, the writer becomes its director, said Becky.
"We get the harmonies from experience," Becky said. "And the other instruments are added to get the flill dynamics and build up the song so it's worthy of motion."
The motion of Trailhead's music depends on each director. Becky said many of the songs she has written come from simply being a female.
"My songwriting comes from a greater force not necessarily from me," Becky said. "This is similar with Jonathan. People say a lot of guys like Jonathan's music and females like Becky's. This says something about us and our male and female dynamic. It's appealing to a wider audience."
When a moment of instantaneous writing happens, sometimes it leads to an infamous song, or a song sung and performed foriong periods of time. Becky said her songs tend to fall from her mind onto paper all at once. Likewise, Jonathan has a song on their new CD he wrote early into his songwriting career.
The song, 'Whiskey in a Bottle took one morning, in an odd place, to write. Ever since Jonathan has played it with Trailhead, audiences expect to hear it. The song starts out slowly and ends in a ft~rious collage of music. Trailhead usually saves the song until they have only a few songs left to play for the night, after the majority of the audience has enjoyed some alcohol. Cowboy hoots and hollers are perfectly allowed at anytime of the show, but they have become a necessary addition during "Whiskey in a Bottle."
"I was 17-years old when I wrote 'Whiskey in a Boffle,"' he said with a sly smile. "I went to Troy with my sister and drank some Siegrams. I passed out in a chair with my eyes open. I woke up at seven a.m., and wrote the song on a brown whiskey bag."
Jonathan's smile turned into chuckles as he recalled the moment four years ago. "Boy-oh-boy," he said with a sigh. "The lyrics, -- it's not really a deep song."
Marquart interrupted Jonathan to say he thought the lyrics were great. The charm of the simple song is that it's easy to relate to, as many of Trailhead's listeners do. Each word hints of Trailhead's youth~l sincerity, a key element to its music.
But Jonathan quickly pushed aside his remark to point out that drinking is something everyone likes to do every once in a while. "Everyone likes to escape into a bottle," he said.
Trailhead performs songs straight from the heart, of issues that pertain to the land and personal emotions. When together on stage, the band can't help but have fon, carefree side. This carefree attitude is the irony of the band, Marquart pointed out.
"We are jokesters on stage," he said, although the band tends to have a serious side. "On stage we become more accomplished."