Like k.d. lang and Laurie Anderson, singer/songwriter Dudley Saunders began
his music career first as a critically-acclaimed performance artist - only
to find the experimental "gothic folk" music he wrote for his pieces take
over his career.
Described by critics as "surreal, modern folk tales" (VILLAGE VOICE),
Dudley's performance art told stories about strange, haunted people, usually
exiles of some kind. Many were southern, many urban, but most of them were
extremely sexual and rejected by their families for the forbidden, even
obscene thoughts they couldn't keep out of their heads and their lives. The
pieces were told in a mixture of text and song, but as the years passed and
his songwriting grew, audiences began to respond much more powerfully to the
songs. With his Jeff Buckley-like voice and his intricate folk melodies, he
began to draw a non-art-world audience.
Dudley recorded his debut, RESTORE, for Fang Records in the mid-90's, with
art-funk artist Chris Cochrane producing. The sound, subject matter and feel
was a precursor to the as-yet-undefined "New Weird America" or "Freak Folk"
category, moving from surreal acappella songs like BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON
I DROVE MY CAR (detailing, in quasi-Biblical terms, a man's descent into
dementia, blindness and death) to driving Neil-Youngish country songs like
GUTTER BROKE (about a woman losing her mind in a rainswept truckstop).
Reviews were strong but Fang Records lost its distributor just before
release, keeping RESTORE largely under the radar (although it received a
GLAMA nomination for "Best Debut Recording").
Together, Cochrane and Saunders also recorded a band record as SUCK PRETTY
for Knitting Factory Works. All those songs were written by Cochrane and the
band broke up.
Midway through his second album, Dudley abrupty moved to California and
started to re-record his new songs all over again. These tracks slowly made
their way out on Fang as THE BILLY WHITE ACRE SESSIONS in 2005. The release
had a hard time gaining attention, although one track THE UNDOING (EVERY
DAY) was included in his addiction-themed documentary, THE PROCESS.
During this same period, Dudley kept exploring his fascination with American
characters in other fields, not only THE PROCESS documentary, but also in
his collaboration with performance artist Heather Woodbury. They worked on
two epic multi-character pieces, the ten-hour WHAT EVER (parts of which were
featured on Ira Glass' THIS AMERICAN LIFE) and the merely six-hour TALE OF
2CITIES: AN AMERICAN JOYRIDE ON MULTIPLE TRACKS, which went on to win an
Obie Award in 2007. Both were published in book form.
In 2007, Dudley recorded his most intricate and disturbing record, THE
EMERGENCY LANE, with Duncan Sheik stalwart Milo Decruz as producer and
arranger. For the first time, Dudley had access to a number of famous
musicians, many of whom came out of the bands of MARIANNE FAITHFULL, DAVID
BOWIE, SUZANNE VEGA, RUFUS WAINWRIGHT and LEONARD COHEN. Like a lot of
independent releases, it had little coverage in the print press, but ended
up a favorite among music bloggers and online publications. It was featured
on several "Ten Best" lists.
Currently, he is writing and recording a new album of songs based on obscure
novels, and looking for a new label. He has also begun a new interactive
At DudleySaunders.com, web-surfers find a panoramic, 1920's-era photo of the
entire population of a small town. But as they scroll through the
sepia-toned crowd, they discover that the twisted people in Dudley's songs
are hidden there. Signs appear over them: Whore. Killer. Masochist. A click
brings you video of Dudley taking you inside the fascinating background on
the songs and the characters' lives.