You may know Mike Dawson as the engineer/announcer and occasional joke teller for The Adam Carolla Show, one of America’s most popular podcasts. Mike is also a prolific singer/songwriter and is bringing Rock & Roll back courtesy of his band The Smokin Kills and their new album The Last Honky Tonk Hero arriving Summer/Fall of 2021.
This will be Mike’s second full record. His first was recorded at Alan Parsons studio in Santa Barbara, Ca. Mike has worked as a road engineer for Alan Parson on a few South American tours. He picked up his first guitar at 15, took 3 lessons, learned 5 chords, and started writing songs. The Smokin Kills is made up of Tyler Kershaw (Doug Kershaw), Kevin Fosmark and Ted Russell Kamp (Shooter Jennings and Duff McKagen).
The album’s first official single “Circle the Drain” is available on all streaming platforms. It has received airplay on KPRI-San Diego and KTYD-Santa Barbara. More singles and music videos to come as The Smokin Kills roll out their epic The Last Honky Tonk Hero.
Another Southern California is the 2nd single from Mike Dawson & The Smokin Kills The Last Honky Tonk Hero. Written and produced in the style of a Southern Rock Anthem, Another Southern California boasts a triple guitar attack and a distinct down south vibe. Dawson wrote this song when he left his radio job in Santa Barbara to continue his career in San Diego and noticed the universal themes in So Cal beach cities; “The only difference here is they don’t know my name.” It’s a song about believing in yourself and going balls to the wall after your dreams, with little care about what “they” think. Guitarist Angela Petrilli lends her licks to this one.
Hi Mike, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’ve been busy overall, but it’s all positive. I’ve been kind of manic actually. One day I’m fired up about this record and making great connections with radio and venues and other artists and the next day I’m like, “is this good enough?” Thankfully the doubt doesn’t last long and I’m back to super manic.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Another Southern California”?
I wrote Another Southern California back in 2003 when I moved from Santa Barbara to San Diego for a radio dj gig. It was a big move for me in terms of market size and opportunity. Santa Barbara is a relatively small town compared to San Diego, but if you put it in terms of just another southern California, it can boost your confidence a bit. Like, I got this. The only difference is the beach is bigger. I remember making that drive. I had an old Chevy s10 pickup and everything I owned was piled in the back. Life looks different when the sum of it fits in the bed of your pick-up truck. On that drive, as I crested the hill over the 73 freeway and saw the city lights of San Diego, I tuned into the radio station that I was going to work for. At that moment Steve Miller’s song Jet Airliner came on and I actually cried when I sang along with the song. It was a good fucking cry. A proud one. Probably the best cry I ever had. I remember it like it was yesterday. The song has developed over the years, but really came to life with The Smokin Kills. I always pictured the song as a tribute to Southern Rock and knew it needed dueling solos, so I reached out to my good friend, guitarist Angela Petrilli (Roses & Cigarettes) to play the lead lick and trade off on the solo with TSK guitarist Kevin Fosmark. They both nailed it. I don’t dare compare it to Dicky Betts and Duane Allman, but shit, that’s what we went for. It’s got that Georgia Satellites Chuck Berry groove. One of the really cool features of the song are the back ground vocals, or BGVs as the big boys say. Drummer Tyler Kershaw harmonizes my vocals on a few verse highlights and really carries the “California”s. Everyone should have a Tyler Kershaw. He’s the secret weapon. I also really love this song in part because of the alliteration. Just another southern California…it flows.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Yeah, shit, I guess I just kind of described that. Sorry.
Any plans to release a video for the track?
Yes! We have to plan to shoot it first, but we will release it. I have a few ideas for a video shoot. I thought we we could drive around to a bunch of beach cities and guerilla shoot some stuff with people on the beach and in SoCal towns. I’d try to get random people to sing the “California”s and just try to showcase Southern California and good times and beaches and partying. That’s all pretty on the nose and seems cheap somehow though. We’ve shot other videos for Circling The Drain, Where’s Jesus and Wannabe, all songs from the new record, but those are all performance videos. We need to get more abstract. Good thing we live in LA where everyone who makes videos lives. Fuck it. We’re going to Rosarito, Baja California and shooting a video there. After all, it’s still technically Southern California.
The single comes off your new album The Last Honky Tonk Hero – what’s the story behind the title?
The Last Honky Tonk Hero is what my friend Doug Laux calls me. He was a CIA case officer and infiltrated the Taliban and Al Qaeda and disrupted an IED manufacturing ring. Dude saved hundreds of lives in Afghanistan. You can read about it in his bio, Left Of Boom. Great book. He’s what you could call a “badass”, so if he calls me The Last Honky Tonk Hero I’ll take it. I’ve always been a performer, but I think I’m a dying breed. A California cowboy. A troubadour. My grandfather loved Waylon Jennings, so I, in turn, love Waylon and all the Outlaw artists. The song Honky Tonk Heroes is one of my theme songs. It’s like they wrote it about me, or better yet, I modeled my life after that song. It ain’t healthy, but it’s real. We had 10 songs for the record but I wanted at least 11. I wrote the first lyrical draft of the song The Last Honky Tonk Hero in about 10 minutes and called my bass player/producer Ted Russell Kamp to sing it for him. We got together a week later and polished it up in about 30 minutes total. It was probably the easiest song I’ve ever written. When guitarist Kevin Fosmark heard the song he said, “dude, you know you have to name the record that, right?”
How was the recording and writing process?
Most of the songs were already written, aside from the title track, but each song needed to be polished before we recorded it. I wanted everything to be as perfect as it could be on this record. We are fortunate in that our producer, Ted Russell Kamp, not only wanted to produce the record, but also wanted to join the band on bass. Ted and I would meet at his studio, I’d play him the songs on an acoustic guitar. He’d write down the lyrics and help to arrange the song to it’s best form. Then we rehearsed the songs for weeks before we went into the studio to record the basic tracks. Most of the record was recorded at The Station House in Echo Park with engineer Mark Rains. Mark is amazing and got great sound on us. We did 8 songs in 2 days at Mark’s studio, and we recorded 2 songs at Tim Hutton’s studio, The Canyon Hut in Laurel Canyon. Months later we went back to The Station House to record the title track. After all the tracks were down, Ted Russell Kamp did what he does. He produced the hell out of the record. Then Covid hit and we ended up doing a whole bunch of tracking from our individual studios. All the vocals on the record we recorded in my studio, The Nohoasis, over a frickin Zoom call. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work. Latency was an issue, but Ted could hear my vocals well enough to know if I hit the note or not and he was able to still give me great vocal direction even though we were isolated in different studios. It worked for us, but I never want to finish a record that way again. I love being in the studio with the band.
What role did San Barbara play in your music?
Santa Barbara played a huge role. That’s where I started my first band. I played my first big shows there. I also began my radio career in Santa Barbara at 99.9 KTYD and lived there for over a decade. They used to call me The Mayor. At least in my circle. The reason why everyone ends up leaving Santa Barbara is so you can make enough money to live in Santa Barbara. There’s a little bit of Santa Barbara in all of these songs, but mainly in the final track, East Haley Queen. You see, East Haley street is where the hookers gather. We’d always see them when we were going thru the Jack in the Box drive thru for a post party meal. I wrote that song back in 2000 when I lived there and I’m pretty stoked to close the album with it. It’s a fictional account of a dude who fell in love with a sex worker.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
It’s funny. A lot of my songs are about drugs and alcohol. So, drugs and alcohol?
I’ve been writing songs since I was 15. Actualy I wrote the song Where’s Jesus when I was 15. Songwriting is a weird thing for me. Sometimes I’ll think of some clever phrasing. Sometimes that phrasing is a song title. Then I just start writing down lyrics. I’m really conscious about alliteration. I like rhymes that no one else ever thought of. For me, the lyrics are the most important. Probably because I’m a better writer than musician. On this record, I rhyme with “orange” with “storage”. And they said it couldn’t be done.
What else is happening next in Mike Dawson & The Smokin’ Kills’ world?
I think I might take a nap. I’m kidding. Hey, don’t you hate it when people answer a question with a question? Like if I said “what isn’t next for The Smokin Kills? I wont do that to you. Well, we’re releasing the full album on August 25. So in the meantime, we’re trying to create that underground buzz. My music biz friends all have advance copies of the record. I’m hoping they help spread the word. I’m after radio play and live shows. I mean, when you get down to it, the only reason we make records is so we can perform them live in front of an audience, so that’s what’s next. Gigs, tours, festivals. We’ll play anywhere, any time.