Interview with Daniel Carlson
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I was reading an interview the other day with one musician or other and he said that any guy who says he didn’t get into music to get a girlfriend is lying. And so I think that was part of it. But I was lucky in that my parents both had great record collections, so I was exposed to fantastic music as a kid and that really helped pull me in. The Beatles, Leon Russell, Deodato, Ray Charles, The Carpenters, Dionne Warwick and a hundred others.
If I hadn’t gotten into music? I was super into sports as a kid. The only problem there was that I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. So who knows?
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I watch a ton of movies and I think that there’s something about my attraction to the visual that comes across in my songwriting and records. Not only wanting to tell a story with lyrics, but wanting to paint a picture using melody and harmony and rhythm sounds. People have occasionally called my music “cinematic,” and so I think my obsession with movies spills over.
How long has your band been around?
Two answers. The first is that I’ve been playing music since I was a kid in the 1970s. But I’ve only been writing and putting out my own records since around 2004. I guess it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do and how to do it.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I live most of the year in NYC but spend summers in Amsterdam. In terms of both places’ influence on my music, I think NYC influences just about every single aspect of my life so it’s difficult to tease out the impact on any one thing (like my music). I do think living in NYC brings with it a kind of pressure, a feeling of obligation to work all the time (and to do great work). It’s a city filled with creative people doing a ton of work, much of it at a really high level, and so that of course gets into one’s bones and brain. With Amsterdam, it’s a bit fuzzier in that - while it’s the place I do almost all of my songwriting - I really can’t put a finger on what of the place ends up in the songs. But I do absolutely love being there. It’s a very special place.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
I don’t play a ton, but this is an easy one to answer. Ten or so years ago in Rome. I was already there and the band’s van broke down a very long way away and so I had to do the show on my own (which isn’t really something I do well). So I spent a day programming a Casio keyboard/drum machine and ended up doing a kind of dime store Karaoke show for a small but very amused audience.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I love playing at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. Great room, always a lovely crowd. Places I haven’t played? Huh, I haven't really thought of that. I love the Bimhuis in Amsterdam so maybe there.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I saw an amazing show in NYC in the 90s. It was Low, Magnetic Fields, and the High Llamas. So maybe you could just insert me in there somewhere.
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?
Listen more. Practice more. Learn to be collaborative in a meaningful way. I’ve been really lucky in that I have a few people I’ve worked with for a very long time who I both trust and admire (re music). And, in my experience, that’s a rare thing: music is filled with people who let their competitiveness get in the way or real collaboration.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Don’t be in such a hurry to get your stuff out there. Take your time to get it right first.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
That’s a difficult one to answer. Very often it’s the last one I wrote just because it’s the freshest in my mind.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
My favorite songs to play are the one where the band really carries the thing. That can either mean a song with a really good feel or a song with a really great solo section or whatever. But, when we’re doing songs like that, I feel like I can be a listener as well as a player. I love that.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I write when I need to make a record, it’s as simple as that. I put time aside and write every day until there’s enough strong material. I know that sounds unromantic, but it’s my process.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I’m not so much of a “message” writer. I try to give the listener enough to hang their own ideas off of and not dictate too much about this story or that.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
I really try to work only with musicians who are much better than I am, so my general rule is to let them do whatever they want. As a result, there’s not much in the way of disagreements.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I’m going to do everything I can to get the record out there, hopefully do a run of shows in the new year, and then start on the next record. Forward!