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Checking in with Cindy Wasserman

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Only recently did her band release its first album, Honey and Salt (Populuxe), but Dead Rock West singer Cindy Wasserman is no rookie when it comes to music.

Wasserman has learned a thing or two from bassist brother Rob Wasserman, not to mention Lou Reed and John Doe.

Speaking of Doe, Dead Rock West is on tour with the former X man, opening for him and also serving as his backing band. Prior to Dead Rock West coming together in 2002, what was your musical track record?
Cindy Wasserman: “I had recorded and/or played with many different artists, such as Grant Lee Phillips, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Brosseau, Gregory Page and, more recently, John Doe and Mark Olson. However, Dead Rock West didn’t really come together until early 2004 as a full band; 2002 is just when [singer/guitarist] Frank [Lee Drennen] and I started singing together as a duo, yet we didn’t gig out. We were both in other bands when we met. So DRW’s evolution has been slow, but when [bassist] David J. Carpenter, [drummer] Bryan Head and [pianist] Phil Parlapiano came onboard DRW was ‘born,’ so to speak.”

Honey and Salt, the band’s first album, was released earlier this year. Was it actually five years in the making, or was it written and recorded more recently, in a condensed period of time?
Wasserman:Honey and Salt was really only one-and-a-half years in the making. We began in late 2004 and finished in 2006. The reason it took so long was two-fold — one being money! Since we recorded to tape, the process was much slower and cost us much more. Then Frank and I took off for a monthlong U.K. tour after the initial tracking of the album was completed.

“The last delay was due to the schedule of Richard Dodd, who mixed our record. We were so excited when Richard said he would mix the record, we would have waited another year for him if need be. He has worked with Tom Petty, Steve Earle [and others].”

Talk about how Lou Reed has influenced your music career.
Wasserman: “I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Lou. My brother has been playing and recording with Lou since 1989 — the New York album. Lou is in my Top 10 list of great songwriters, as is John Doe. So getting to spend time with Lou and hear his views on life, art and music has been such a treat, to say the least.

“As far as Lou playing a role in my singing, it was really both my brother and Lou. My brother bought me a four-track machine, and I played Lou some of the stuff I had been recording. He was very encouraging and gave me some really great feedback. So, I guess you can say, any time someone like Lou tells you he likes what you’re doing, it makes you want to keep going.”

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about the music business from your brother Rob?
Wasserman: “I would have to say the biggest lesson I have learned from my brother Rob has not been about the music business, but about the craft of music itself. Since I was a kid, he would bring me along to sessions and gigs he was doing. Thanks to Rob, I have had the opportunity to watch, listen and learn from some of my favorite artists — Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Rosanne Cash, Neil Young, Jerry Garcia, Brian Wilson, Willie Dixon and many more.

“Unlike my brother, I have never had any formal musical training. I learned to sing by trial-and-error, lots of gigs and the ‘School of Rob Wasserman,’ so to speak! Clearly, I am my brother’s biggest fan.”

Dead Rock West is opening for John Doe and serving as his backing band as well. Does that require any physical or mental adjustments on your part to give equal effort during both sets?
Wasserman: “I always give 100 percent to all that I do musically. I love singing and hope that it shows. Pulling ‘double-duty’ has really been energizing for me. This is my second tour with John where I pull double-duty. The first was a double bill with John and Grant Lee Phillips, where I was in both bands as well.

“It’s been great getting back on the road with John. He is such an amazing singer and songwriter; he is one of the greats. I have learned so much from John about songwriting, singing and life. So, to get the opportunity to open the show with my own band Dead Rock West, and then sing with John Doe all night? What more can a girl ask for?”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Dead Rock West on tour with John Doe (schedule subject to change):

* July 24: 8×10 — Baltimore
* July 25: World Cafe Live — Philadelphia
* July 26: Mercury Lounge — New York
* July 27: T.T. the Bear’s Place — Cambridge, Mass.
* July 30: Maxwell’s — Hoboken, N.J.
* July 31: Iota Club and Cafe — Arlington, Va.
* Aug. 2: Capital Ale House — Richmond, Va.
* Aug. 3: Hideway BBQ — Raleigh, N.C.
* Aug. 4: Visulite Theatre — Charlotte, N.C.
* Aug. 6: The Nick — Birmingham, Ala.
* Aug. 7: The Basement — Nashville, Tenn.