Idiosyncratic Minnesota Songwriter Dex Wolfe Releases Debut Single "Lightning"
Dex Wolfe has been working on his debut album for nearly three years now, but it will not be the first project that you hear from him. Born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, the Seward-based musician was galvanized by the looming urgency and restlessness that besieged 2020. Turning to songwriting as a receptacle to comprehend this year’s darkness, the musical polymath decided to dig through old compositions and craft new ones that resonated with the world’s heaviness. The result is his debut EP Lightness, which consists of four tracks that weave post rock, jazz, and bits of folk music into a tenebrous maze that exits into a graceful clearing. Although Wolfe is beginning his journey publishing under his own name, he’s been an active part of the Minneapolis music scene for over ten years, involved with folk acts such as Rivers, Undlin & Wolfe, and Humbird. He departed from those projects and took several years off from live performance to work at his writing craft while simultaneously beginning to work as a full time producer and engineer for other bands and artists. From writing public radio themes to working with Communities Organizing the Power and Action of Latinxs (COPAL) on campaigns and helping build one of their radio stations, he is consistently diversifying his talents. However, writing music is something Wolfe always comes back to. Now, the 29-year-old is primed to release music of his own that he’s been tending to for years.
Wolfe’s prolific penchant for music runs in his blood. His grandfather grew up selling accordions and went on to own a music store in northern Minnesota and work for Martin Guitars. His grandmother was a piano teacher. His childhood was painted with a variety of genres and disparate sounds—his father a jazzhead in love with the likes of Coltrane and Clifford Brown, and his mother a talented linguist who exposed him to salsa. Wolfe grew up playing first piano and then some saxophone. When he fell into rock ‘n’ roll’s grip as a middle schooler, he dropped the latter for guitar despite his father’s chagrin. The musician lifestyle was ingrained into his brain after hearing stories of his dad as a teenager playing bass in bars. Wolfe followed suit, persuading venues like the legendary (now closed) 400 Bar to put on his high school band.
Early on songwriting became an outlet for processing life’s unexpected anguish. His mother was diagnosed with a rare form of multiple sclerosis when Wolfe was nine. Wolfe explains that it was a prolonged grief that pushed him to find respite in song craft. “It was really complicated to try and understand what was happening because it wasn't simple like mom died, but she wasn't mom anymore. I started writing songs, very much so out of a form of coping.” He continues, “I still do a lot of my writing to this day to cope with whatever depression, anxiety, trauma, grief.”
Over the years, Wolfe’s songwriting has been an outlet for acceptance and radical self-love. It’s a practice that has helped him log his life’s journey and grow close with creativity’s ambiguity and mystery. His first solo EP Lightness reconciles with our struggle to accept reality, for both its beauty and difficulty. “Why can’t we all be alright,” Wolfe sings towards the end of the spiraling “Highly Likely.” His voice is vulnerable and straightforward, until it glitches and malfunctions into oblivion. “This music feels right in this moment of time with all the unrest and uncertainty living in multiple pandemics, the horrible political sphere,” he says. “These lyrics are centered around reckoning with human and personal failure, which feels pretty acute right now.” Lightness is a prologue, an intricate glimpse into Dex Wolfe’s elaborate work to come. The name was partially inspired by the cycles of light and dark that we adhere to as a species. Wolfe explains it’s about the “process of being in a dark part of the cycle, but being rebirthed in light like we are every day.” The opening track “Lightning” is filled with frayed guitar plucks that stagger along, while fuzzy synth wails threaten to plunge the song into abysmal gloom. Although Wolfe doesn’t spare us from any somber or chaotic moments at the EP’s beginning, he does eventually guide us into tranquility with the closer “Love Breaks.” Wolfe’s music doesn’t try to erase life’s bleakness, as he knows the wash of sunshine wouldn’t feel as sublime without it. - Margaret Farrell