NEW YORK At 38 years old and the father of four, Jakob Dylan won't be taking any backpacking trips through Europe. A musician's equivalent of that, however, inspired the first solo album of his career.
Asked by friend T Bone Burnett to be his opening act on a tour last year, Dylan eagerly accepted. It was a break from the rock band he fronts, the Wallflowers, and a chance to hang out backstage with musicians he admires like Burnett, drummer Jim Keltner and guitarist Marc Ribot.
"It was the opportunity I was kind of waiting for," he told The Associated Press recently. "I was kind of confused. I didn't want to get right back on the treadmill and write another record for the band. Relationships with the record company (Interscope) had dissipated. It was a bad relationship. Not a crossroads, but we just weren't sure what to do next."
Dylan landed at Columbia, his father, Bob's, label, and told label chief Rick Rubin he was writing some songs without the band in mind.
He couldn't have gone to a better person. Rubin has produced his share of rock and rap, but his ability to rip protective layers off an artist to get to the essence of a song his work with Johnny Cash, for instance is the defining characteristic of his control room talents.
So Dylan entered the School of Rick Rubin, leaving with the disc "Seeing Things." The stripped-down affair highlights Dylan's voice and acoustic guitar with only a few musical colorings.
"There's really no point in being in the studio with any producer unless you're willing to learn something," Dylan said. "You have to. There's a lot of trust involved. As soon as anyone opens their mouth, your first instinct is to think they're wrong ... I trusted him implicitly with the material and I didn't feel proprietary toward it once we started discussing it. His taste is that good."
Dylan has no ambition to be a troubadour, yet he's always wanted to show more sides of himself musically than he believes he has so far.
Stark and impressionistic, the songs on "Seeing Things" require concentration. With no band behind him, Dylan needed to carry them on his own. For the most part he does, although a lack of variation in tempo is a weakness.
He likens his compositions to paintings, with rich imagery the brush strokes. War is a frequent backdrop to these songs, although the author is quick to say it's not necessarily the current one. He's not much for explaining songs, anyway, feeling listeners have the right to take what they want from them.
More literal songwriting, with phrases that can be used as "bumper stickers," isn't his thing, he said.
The solo album doesn't mean the end for the Wallflowers. It was just a break; the band has some gigs this summer. His band members are always busy with studio work, so it's not as if they sit around waiting for him.
"A couple of them are happy about it, to tell you the truth," he said.
Dylan going acoustic is sure to invite comparisons to pop, who, you might recall, had some success in that arena. Musically Jakob Dylan is his own man, however. The new song that most makes you think of his father is the opening "Evil Is Alive and Well," which structurally and thematically sounds like an inverse to "Gotta Serve Somebody."
Whether his father's work influenced his interest in doing "Seeing Things" is the one question he knows will come up in virtually every interview. He's easygoing and funny about it.
"I probably let my vanity down in that department a long time ago," he said. "If that was my concern, there wouldn't be a lot of options for me to do, period, in my life. If you talk to some people, somebody will tell you he actually invented soup."
By waiting until he was 38 to make this sort of disc, some may think he was purposely avoiding it, he said.
"I really don't care," he said. "I love songs. My life would be shortchanged if I let that affect whether I did this sort of thing or not."
It's tempting to ask: With a father generally acknowledged as the world's greatest living songwriter, do you avoid the subject with him to keep your own artistic identity and talk about the grandchildren instead? Or do you go to him for advice?
Silly question. Of course you ask him questions.
"I'd have to charge for that," he said with a smile.