The music of Dallas Ugly is anything but what the name implies. The trio’s heartfelt and soothing indie-folk is the culmination of three musicians finding one another, parting ways, and then circling back around to each other again. When Libby Weitnauer, Eli Broxham, and Owen Burton met as classical music students at DePaul University in Chicago, they bonded over a shared curiosity about folk music. “When we started playing together, we were all really inspired by modern progressive folk music, but we didn’t really have any foundation or historical knowledge of those styles. So what came out of our collaboration was this insane, imitative mashup that made absolutely no sense,” laughs Weitnauer, “but we loved playing together and I’m grateful that we had each other to experiment with.”
After graduating with their respective degrees in classical violin, bass, and guitar, the three went separate directions. Weitnauer pursued a master's degree in violin performance at NYU, while sharpening her fiddling at jams, and gigging around the city. Broxham stayed in Chicago and dug into a variety of styles, transitioning from learning on the job to being an in-demand bass player. Burton joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Senegal working in the public health sector. “After college I ended up with a big roster of guitar students, and I got pretty burnt out. I just wanted to do something really different, and I definitely achieved that” says Burton.
In 2020, on the precipice of the COVID-19 pandemic, the three friends all found themselves ready for a change, and without much planning, moved to Nashville and rented a house together. Burton had returned from Senegal with a stack of new songs, and Weitnauer had also begun songwriting. After time apart, and a lot of individual musical growth, they were surprised at each other’s newfound musical identities; they were an entirely new ensemble than the one they had created in college. “When we first began as a band, we were kind of trying to cram one style into another,” explains Broxham, “With some time off, and no prescribed identity, we are able to take songs and do with them what the songs are asking for rather than trying to fit them into any one genre.”
The trio named their reborn band “Dallas Ugly” in reference to a joke about the band’s home city of Chicago. “I have a friend who was once described as ‘Dallas ugly but Chicago OK’ while on a first date with a woman who had just moved there from Texas” laughs Burton.
Dallas Ugly’s work is a subtle fusion, incorporating Burton’s unique rolling electric guitar style as well as other, more traditional music influences. “Something I noticed about the way we arrange songs is that there’s often an underpinning of an unvarying, almost trance-like guitar line, and then there's always some other repetitive aspect.” says Weitnauer. “For me and Eli, I think that has come from sitting with old-time music so much, the idea that simplicity and repetition will turn into something.”
Their plain-faced and striking vocals also reflect influences of old time, country, and folk music. On the song “Gold”, the vocals of Burton and Weitnauer intertwine beautifully, nestled against a soundscape of long fiddle notes. “It was a sight to behold, as the sun sunk low, all they saw was gold” the pair sings. One can almost hear the color gold played out in the instruments, a testament to the band’s commitment to song-based arrangements.
Dallas Ugly has plans to record a full length album in 2021. Although the trio has recorded together before, they consider the upcoming project to be their debut album. “Just because we are the same people doesn’t mean it’s the same band”, they explain, “in fact, it’s anything but the same band, and that’s what we are really excited about.”