—David Menconi, Down on Copperline
When most club-level indie-rock musicians hit the road to go on tour, they tend to play a straightforward schedule of nightclub venues. But UNC professor Florence Dore rolls a bit differently when it comes to touring endeavors.
After releasing her most recent album, 2022’s “Highways & Rocketships” (Propeller Sound Recordings), Dore undertook a tour that was equal parts conventional rock-band outing and traveling liberal-arts symposium. Along with playing standard rock shows, she appeared (with support from a public humanities program at places like the University of Memphis; at a museum exhibit about juke joints in Fayetteville, Ark.; and at the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Okla. Whatever the stage, her performances included a lot of talk about the intersection of literature with rock and roll – the place where she lives and works.
“Even though I was on sabbatical from teaching at UNC, I was still teaching a lot all over,” Dore says. “It was a fabulous balance between both endeavors, music and literature, weighted more toward rock shows. It was an eye-opening experience. You hear people say universities are ‘out of touch,’ and often that seems right. But it was pretty cool that UNC helped support this public humanities project where they wanted me to go out and teach in different contexts. I had amazing conversations in the most unlikely places, like parking lots in Alabama.”
A professor at UNC since 2010, Dore has been working in her various fields for pretty much her entire adult life. She made her recorded debut way back in 2001 with an album called “Perfect City,” then had to put her music career on hold when her daughter was born a few years later. Teaching turned out to be a good compromise, and she currently teaches classes in songwriting and 20th century American fiction at UNC.
Teaching writing led to Dore writing books herself, most of them with a musical theme. Her most recent book is “The Ink in the Grooves: Conversations on Literature and Rock ’n’ Roll,” published last year by Cornell University Press.
No matter how far down the teaching and publishing road she went, however, Dore never gave up on her ambitions to be a performing musician. After a songwriting binge in 2019 left her with enough material for another album, she tentatively began work on recording the tunes. But that process came to a screeching halt with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.
Quickly changing gears, Dore oversaw the recording and release of a multi-artist benefit compilation. “Cover Charge: NC Artists Go Under Cover to Benefit Cat’s Cradle” featured more than two-dozen recordings from a cast including Superchunk, Chatham County Line, The Veldt, Mipso and many more local stars. Released in the summer of 2020, it hit No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s compilation chart despite being an independent online-only release on Bandcamp. The album raised a tidy sum and helped the fabled Carrboro nightspot weather the pandemic shutdown.
After “Cover Charge,” Dore resumed work on what became “Highways & Rocketships,” another intersectional work that is both catchy and historically minded. It’s a solid slice of proto-Americana from the South, very rooted in 1980s-vintage college-radio underground rock. It features contributions from various members of The dB’s (including Dore’s husband, drummer Will Rigby) as well as a number of Dore’s former UNC students, Mipso fiddler Libby Rodenbough among them. Overseeing the sessions were two bona fide North Carolina music legends, Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, best-known for co-producing R.E.M.’s first two albums in the early 1980s.
Dore spent much of 2022 and 2023 on the road, headlining her own shows and opening for Steve Earle. She has a few dates lined up this fall, too, including Oct. 28 at the annual Pittsboro Street Fair. But Dore’s main item of business right now is writing more songs. The goal is to get another record out there in less time than the 21-year gap between her first two albums.
“I think we’re gonna make it in 2024,” she says. “The kid turned 18, so I have no more excuses. There’s time I didn’t have before, and I’ve just decided to make my research time be about songwriting for the time being. So I’m trying to write a ton of songs – like 40, one a week – and then select the best ones that make the most sense together. And I want to write another book, too. I’ll probably do both. But lightning hasn’t struck yet, so for now it’s one thing at a time.”
>>Florence Dore performs at the Pittsboro Street Fair on Oct. 28, and with Walter Salas Humar at The Cave in Chapel Hill on Nov. 2. The latter will be the first show in a monthly series at The Cave, Florence Dore & Friends.
>>>2019 Piedmont Laureate David Menconi’s next book, “Oh, Didn’t They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music,” will be published in October, 2023 by University of North Carolina Press.