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INTERVIEW: Don DiLego

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Sleep deprived and craving a puppy.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Drive Like Pirates”?

I have an old grumpy Silvertone acoustic in my studio tuned down to open C, which is very low for an acoustic. It’s hard for it to keep tuning. I actually originally got this from the legendary Pat McDonald from Timbuk 3, but hadn’t really ever used it myself. When I wrote “Karma King”, the first song on the record, I had randomly grabbed that guitar off the wall, and I loved the sound of it so much I decided it was to be “the sound” of the record…at least for the acoustic anyway. So I was in this studio in Virginia with Marwan Kanafani, one of my apparent 75 guitarists, and I showed him this simple strum pattern on the open C guitar. That was about 11pm. By 6am we had the finished track, which would have been done earlier were it not for the 2 of us doing dozens of stomping and clapping tracks.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I don’t find myself usually inspired from the lyrical side of the fence. I have like thousands of half-baked musical ideas that I record on my phone and save for later. Of course, I often don’t look back on them but they find their own way into the new songs, and I figure that’s a testament to whether the idea was really good or not. They often will have a line or two of mostly nonsense that I was singing at the time. So when I get to the lyric writing phase, I write those down and try to unlock what may have been behind that supposed “nonsense.” In this case, I had this line, “Oooh, stand and deliver, before the morning carries you home.” I just built the whole story around this idea of holding strong, the “stand and deliver” aspect. That, at the end of the day, what’s most important is right in front of you. Also, pirates. I didn’t have any songs mentioning those yet, so, you know.

Any plans to release a video for the song?

Already have really. I did a video for it that I was calling the “lyric video”, but then decided it was more than that. It’s compiled from a bunch of old pirate and zombie movies. It’s completely tongue and check, except that it eerily fits so well…

The single comes off your new album Magnificent Ram A – what’s the story behind the title?

I’m pretty sure it came from a visit to the Natural History Museum in NY. I am obsessed by the genus names of all the species of animals and flowers, etc. There was a section of all these animals in their natural habitat, and in one of them I saw the ram referred to as The Magnificent Ram. I honestly don’t remember where the “A” came from, but I do remember it meaning something  to me along the lines of being an outcast. The lone ram away from the pack for one reason or another. The lines are blurry, but the album title was definitely there before the songs were. I love that. It helps me focus.

How was the recording and writing process?

As I was saying with the album title, I try to approach each record as a concept album. I think I only have one album where I didn’t do that, The Western & Atlantic EP. But that was really only a product of having a bunch of songs I had finished that weren’t going to fit into this concept but wanting to get them out. I have a recording studio in the woods in Northeast Pennsylvania called Velvet Elk Studios, so I pretty much have full access to recording any little kernel that climbs into my head at any hour. I am a master of the uncompleted song! I’d say I probably finish about 10% of the ideas I have. It’s actually a decent source of regret that I have as an artist. I find myself often feeling a lesser songwriter for not seeing an idea through to completion. But I just trust that these threads will wind their way into the songs I do finish. Often I’ll sift through these old ideas and hear little hooks or lyrics that ended up on the album, and I feel a sense of relief that I hadn’t completely abandoned them. In my head, they are alive and just hanging out in my iTunes folder waiting for their turn. It’s sad when I think about them like that, but it makes me go back in to their rescue! Yes, I am currently in therapy for this.

What role does 70s music plays in your music?

Not any role that I feel is bigger than any other. But I think it’s the era of both music AND film that I probably most appreciate the aesthetics of. I just feel like they “got it right” in the 70’s. The constraints of the modern film and music era hadn’t quite fully kicked in, pre MTV and pre sequel and blockbuster. So I think there was a quality throttle in place that is not necessarily gone, but that has shifted. I definitely don’t want to, or wouldn’t, claim that it was just better “in the old days,” because that’s not what I’m saying. I think we’re actually in a time now with some of the best music ever. I truly do. But what I am saying, is simply there was this gritty, thick, analog sheen over everything 1970’s that I aspire to. I’m still chasing it, even though most of my favorite music has been coming out over the last few years. Jim James definitely gets it. Bastard!

What draw you into the Americana genre?

Rhinestone Cowboy by Glenn Campbell when I was a kid. That, and the irrefutable fact that the pedal steel is the world’s greatest instrument.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Song ideas come to me constantly. I’ve written many many incredible hit songs in my sleep, only to forget them when I wake. We’re talking huge hits here. ; ) But honestly, I’m always recording bits and pieces of song ideas. The lyrics are much tougher.  I’m not one who writes too literally, which I know is not always people’s favorite. I’m often asked what certain lines mean or what I was thinking, but I always answer “what are YOU thinking?” I don’t mean that indignantly, just that often what I write is as much a surprise to me as it is the listener. There are definitely truths in there that I pull apart after the fact, but rarely if ever do I sit down and say, “today I will write a sad song about love.” It’s awkward sometimes when I play music for the people I care for and I can see their wheels turning about different lines they hear and wonder if it’s about them. I remember my mom asking me one day, years after I released a record, if one particular song I wrote was about her, where I discussed something very difficult. It wasn’t. It was about a friend’s father. But she held on to that for years thinking I had written that about her. I felt so bad. I wonder who else I may have freaked out that I don’t know! Most of the songs I write I look at as canvas and paint. The colors are there to be interpreted as the listener sees fit. I’m not painting a bowl of fruit. I think.

Any plans to hit the road?

Definitely. Have been doing a lot of shows in Europe the past couple years, and I took my band over there to about 10 countries for a month in February. It was an incredible experience to finally get the weight of the full band behind all these songs and in front of folks. In the US, I am doing a record release on July 7th in NYC then plan on touring after that. Honestly, I would do it all the time here, but America is so damn huge, and dragging a band around becomes an extreme financial issue. I’ve done so many shows as “solo acoustic singer-songwriter guy”, but I realize what I am up against with that format. Having the band allows me to showcase the songs as they’re intended. Let there be no confusion between me and Bob Dylan. I can’t pull off what that guy did, and my music also isn’t James Taylor territory. There’s a true art to what they do. I WANT to be like those guys in theory, as it would make touring a bit more, let’s say, cost effective, but those just aren’t my strengths. I guess what I’m trying to say is, please call your local stadium or arena and demand a Don DiLego show. I sort of have this fantasy of booking a Madison Square Garden show for like, 10 years out. Then I spend 10 years selling tickets to it. Like, my whole career becomes about this ONE show. Hmmm.

What else is happening next in Don DiLego’s world?

I’m always working on the next record, plus I’m lucky enough to be producing a few others for some very talented folks. Hollis Brown is a great recent example. I also have a small record label called Velvet Elk with my partner Jesse Malin and failed astronaut Tom Baker. It’s beginning to take a life on of its own, which is great. And when I’m not doing those things, I am obsessed with flying. I got my pilot’s license years ago, but sort of dropped it because of expense and time. But it came calling back, and it has become my stress reliever. It’s my yoga. Of course, no one has ever expressed concern about the safety of musicians on yoga mats. Nonetheless.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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