Interview with Dan Riley
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My musical journey has been a pretty long and winding road. I started playing music when I was about 6 years old and have continued to play in some form or another ever since. The biggest catalyst for me pursuing music professionally was probably when injuries derailed my career as a competitive skier in my early 20s. After that, I dove so deeply into making music just out of a necessity for self-expression that I never really turned back once I started really getting into writing songs and performing outside of just my living room. With all of that being said, I think that if I hadn’t gotten into music I would probably be doing something in the ski or outdoor industry I imagine. If things had shaken out a little differently that’s probably where I’d be now but as it stands I couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
As I mentioned, skiing is a huge part of my life as well as just the outdoors in general. I love to camp, hike, rock climb, raft, bike, etc. Anything that allows for me to be outside is absolutely essential to who I am as a person and my idea of happiness. I think that it’s inevitable that being in those settings and trying to be as connected to the earth as possible will lead to many forms of creativity. I definitely talk about the natural world a lot in my songs. It’s the main frame of reference that I use to build the reality of the stories that I tell. Being outside is probably the most creatively inspiring thing that I can imagine. I also have a degree in English so I enjoy reading and writing as well, which influence my creativity endlessly as well. I’ve also gotten into painting lately. I’m a terrible visual artist, but it’s such a fun form of expression that I had never really tapped into before and I think that just fostering that part of my brain is definitely influential when it comes to making music.
How long has your band been around?
I’ve been playing music most of my life but I’ve been recording and playing live for a couple of years now.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’m currently based out of Washington, DC but spent the majority of my life in Colorado. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m very attuned to the world around me so right now the sights, sounds, smells, etc. of the city have been showing up in my music a lot. Colorado has deeply influenced my music in so many ways as well. Everything from my lyrics to the genre of music that I perform I think can be attributed to where I’m from in some way or another. As far as the juxtaposition of those two places goes, I actually wrote a song about it called “Colorado” that’s available everywhere you listen to music (wink wink). Really though, setting shows up in almost every song that I write in a major way. I really just can’t help it.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
One show that definitely stands out is when I played my farewell show when I moved away from Colorado. It was at a venue where I played very frequently but that night it was packed wall to wall with people that I loved and people that really wanted to be at that show. I got my parents the best seat in the house, too, which was a cool feeling. It was also right as things were starting to bounce back after the Covid lockdowns, so it was such a privilege to be able to helm an event that allowed for so many people to get together that hadn’t been out in so long. It was really special.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
My favorite venue to play is definitely where I cut my teeth at Derailed Pour House in Durango, Colorado. It looks like a magical forest in there, it’s a really great crowd the vast majority of the time and it’s just a great environment for playing and spectating. There are a lot of places that I’d love to play but the day that I play at Red Rocks I’ll know I’ve made it. I can’t imagine a better place to play.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Oh man, that’s a tough one. I’d want it to be the most eclectic lineup imaginable just to see what kind of crowd that would attract. Maybe, like, me, Sturgill Simpson, Frank Ocean and Alt-J or something like that. Maybe we could bring out Kid Cudi as a surprise guest. Wow that would actually be the coolest show ever.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
I’d probably say just go for it 100%. I think that when I was younger I was always afraid to fully commit to making music for a living because of the stigmas attached and the fear of failure. Really, though, since I’ve thrown myself into it it’s been a lot of hard work but it’s also come so naturally because it’s what I really love to do. I’d say just really commit in every way.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
I’d say just focus on the music in a way that’s structured and productive. Treat it like a full-time job and it will become one. Play and write every day, or any chance you get. Also, anything can become a song. Try to find inspiration in the places you go, people you meet, etc. The biggest thing would really be to just fully immerse yourself in the music and the world that you can create with it every day.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Probably “Out There.” It was the first song I ever released. It was also the first song that I produced and recorded myself so it’s not perfect but it’s definitely a big crowd favorite and opened some doors for me. It’s just one of those songs that’s really taken on a life of its own and means a lot to the people who listen to it. Just being able to see that for the first time when I released it was an experience I’ll never forget.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Of my originals, “Colorado” is probably my favorite to play. It’s just such a fun progression to play around with and it’s got some cool changes tonally and melodically. It’s also just a blast to belt out that big chorus. Also when it comes to originals, “Out There” is definitely the most requested and always seems to turn the most heads live.
One of my all time favorite songs to play that’s not an original is “Whiskey” by Trampled by Turtles. The lyrics just never get old for me and the chord progression is relatively simple but also incredibly malleable in a way that makes it a song that you can play differently every time depending on how you’re feeling. It’s a really great vehicle for emotion and I love that quality in any song. I also have some of the lyrics tattooed on my arm.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I don’t really have a set creative process. I think it really depends on the song and how the inspiration strikes. I guess the one constant is that I always think of a melody first. Something will pop into my head and I’ll just record a voice note on my phone or in my home studio and build from there. That initial melody usually determines what kind of lyrics and themes I’m going to explore. From there, it’s just finding the inspiration from places or experiences or people that I’ve met that I feel that I can use to tell a story with the initial ideas for melodies. After that, it really changes depending on the song. Sometimes I’ll hole up in my studio and finish a whole song quickly just recording it piece by piece, or if it’s a more lyrically-focused song I’ll usually take my time with it and just jot down lines and ideas in my notebook over the course of several days or weeks until I really have the concept dialed. Every song has its own unique journey, I suppose.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I just like to convey a general reverence for the natural world in some form or another. Oftentimes that’s through juxtaposition of inside vs outside or city vs nature but I always try to convey that reverence in some form or another. I also tend to gravitate toward nostalgia in my writing, but as far as the message of it I like to create a path beyond nostalgia in my music.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I’m just planning on continuing to play and release music as much as possible. I’ve got several more singles coming out over the course of the next few months. You can stream my newest one, “Howling At The Moon” anywhere you listen to music right now. I’ve got some new ones coming that I’m incredibly excited about as well. After the next few singles, I’m hoping to release a full-length album before too long. That’s the biggest goal for the short-term. For now, you can listen to my singles, check out my videos (there will be more of those coming soon), and catch my shows in the DC area, including my weekly residency at Astro Beer Hall every Wednesday. You can get more information about all of that on my social media or at my website danriley-music.com