Payne dedicated this, his first solo effort, to friend and musician Lucas Crawford, who was the kind of person that Lao Tzu had in mind when he said, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
Twelve years ago, Dave Payne and I were briefly in a band with his old buddy Crawford. Lucas was hit by a train one dark, New Mexico night in 2003 after an increasingly weird, ultimately aborted drive with yours truly. During that trip, Lucas gradually lost his grip on reality. “Everything I write is confessional and first person,” said Payne. “I think you can really hear Lucas in some of these songs and if there's a character in there that I'm sad isn't around anymore—it's generally him.” “'Alternate Reality Blues' is about thinking about what life could be like if certain things hadn't happened. I was in Guadalajara and I met this fella and we were going to move up to Banff—in Canada—and be roommates. We drove through Albuquerque and wound up stopping here and never leaving. What if I'd just kept on going to Banff?” I hear it as a rumination on the decisions and friendships that ultimately led to Lucas' death.
In “The 10 Year Waltz,” when Payne sings, “When you hear bad news/and you think its a joke/look up at the sky/or stare down at the ground and sigh,” I think immediately of Lucas' sister, Sara, calling me at dawn to ask what happened the previous night. After telling her he'd clocked me with his guitar in the middle of the desert by the side of Highway 6, she told me he'd later been killed. Will Not Admit Defeat ends with a composition of Crawford's, “Drifting Away”. Payne says it was “certainly one of his best songs and maybe one of the most accessible. I played it at his memorial service … It fit the mood of the album as well.”
To record these songs that he'd been accumulating since 2008, Payne recruited drummer Paul Groetzinger (who also sings harmonies) and guitarist Brett Davis from Boris McCutcheon's band The Salt Licks; Alex McMahon from Wildewood played pedal steel and electric guitar and Payne himself played a nylon string guitar as well as overdubbing electric bass on most of the tunes. “I taught the songs to the fellas in the band by recording them—using the camera on my phone—putting them on YouTube and sending them links. We had one rehearsal! We recorded the album in 12 hours over two days.”
Roughly half the songs on the album feature guest vocals and it's fair to say a couple of these are among the best tracks. “I've never considered myself the greatest singer and didn't think anyone wanted to hear a whole album of me singing, so I got who I consider great singers to break it up a little bit and make the album more enjoyable.” Boris McCutcheon's phrasing on “Lipstick Lies and Gasoline” is as perfect as the song is suited to his laid back delivery. About the truck-driving song, “18 Daze,” Payne noted, “I wouldn't have pulled that off. If Anthony Leon hadn't agreed to sing that song, it wouldn't have wound up on the album.” Payne's own vocals shine on the tracks “Strength” and “Drifting Away”.
Will Not Admit Defeat is essentially a one-off project, but considering the high quality of the songwriting and the players involved, lets hope we get to see Dave Payne at least sit in with Boris and The Salt Licks for a few of these tunes next time they play. Regardless, this recording will remain a fitting tribute to a lost friend who's sometimes painful life was punctuated by writing songs and playing music.