The lifelong musician shares her journey to stardom and a taste of what’s next
By Brooke Spach | Photo by John Michael Simpson
Ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up, and a common response would be a singer, pop star or rock star. It’s less common, though, that those childhood dreams manifest. And rarer still are kids like Dawn Landes, who grew up to have a career highlighted by five album and EP releases, multiple U.S. and international tours, a musical soundtrack and so much more.
“Ever since I was young, I think from the time I could talk, I was singing,” Dawn says of her Louisville, Kentucky, upbringing. “I was always asking my parents to turn up the radio in the car and leafing through their record collections and memorizing all the liner notes. I was always just really interested in [music].”
She recalls hearing her high school choir teacher talk about a friend who made music for film and TV as the first time she realized she could turn her passion into a profession. After graduation in 1999, Dawn moved straight to New York City to learn the skills that would enable her to bring her ideas to life.
“When I was in high school and making demos, I had to rely largely on men who had the equipment or access to a studio,” she says. “I just found that process a little stifling. It was frustrating to me that I didn’t have the language or know-how to make changes in my own music. So, I just decided to study it and to learn how to do it.”
“As a traveling musician, when I go to a city, I like to find good coffee, a good vintage clothing store and a good bookstore,” Dawn says. “Those are the things that I always seek out.” In Chatham, those favorites are Aromatic Roasters, Screaming for Vintage and McIntyre’s Bookstore.
After nearly two decades as a New York-based musician, Dawn and her composer husband, Creighton Irons, decided they wanted to raise a family closer to his native Chapel Hill. The couple moved into their home off of Manns Chapel Road on Valentine’s Day in 2020, where they live with their daughter, Callan, 5, and son, Wright, 1.
Dawn is now focused on producing a revue, “Dawn Landes and Friends Reimagine The Liberated Woman’s Songbook,” which will debut on April 14 in Raleigh. She was inspired by the 20th-century songbook and current state of women’s rights to put together a show that is both educational and uplifts other local female artists. The show will feature guest singers Rissi Palmer, Alice Gerrard, Emily Frantz of Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange) and more. She also plans to personally record and release songs from “The Liberated Woman’s Songbook” as an album sometime next year.
“As I get older, and especially [after] becoming a mother, I’ve embraced my connection with my female friends and peers and colleagues much more,” she says. “I did so many tours where I was the only woman on the tour, and that was just the way it was. I didn’t get a chance to be around a lot of women in the past, and now I do, and I feel grateful for it.”
Dawn isn’t slowing her roll anytime soon. She says she’s motivated by restlessness, knowing there’s always a new story to be told. This summer, she’ll rerelease one of her most popular albums, “Bluebird,” and embark on a brief tour to celebrate its 10th anniversary. You can also catch her performing at Durham’s Enofest in July.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’m not thinking about something or dreaming up something,” she says. “Presenting songs is just another way of connecting with other people. When you hear a story, you want to retell it or reframe it because it mattered to you, and you want it to matter to other people.”