I’m doing ok, thanks. I appreciate you covering me for VENTS. It’s summer – meaning I’m playing a lot of gigs and going to a lot of my son’s baseball games. Also trying to carve out some time for friends, and for family, and for writing, and for relaxing, and for solitude. I have some issues with time management. At any given moment, there is so much I COULD be doing that I often feel very overwhelmed, and that sometimes turns what could be a perfect moment into anxiety and depression.
I’m trying to care about the things I should care about and not constantly, to the point of losing my mind, care about everything I feel like I’m SUPPOSED to care about all at once. We live in an era of “too much” of everything. I have to be careful not to get totally sucked into the madness of overdoing everything.
I’ve been finding some peace and solace in growing flowers and veggies in my little garden areas of my house (I’m renting a house, have two young kids who are with me half the time). It’s a nice break from computers and emails and texts and Facebook messages and promoting this show and that thing and so on. Not to mention keeping a relatively clean living space, paying bills, staying on top of all of my kids’ activities (my daughter is very busy too, just not with sports – more with dance and violin, and my son plays trumpet quite well too, musical family!).
None of this is very “rock star” – though the part that is a bit more “rock star” I will go into some more detail about below.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “You’re Free”?
That’s a song of liberation. It is pretty straightforward: this is your life, and you can choose to do what you want with it. You can drag around all of your burdens and worries and troubles and grudges, keeping them with you, weighing you down, bumming you out – or you can decide to embrace your life, and the good things in it, and go forward with SOME kind of positivity despite a world that seems to be constantly seeking to erode the joy in all of our lives.
Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
Yes, quitting my job of 21 years. I worked for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes (long name, huh?) at the Minnesota Legislature for 21 years. Before that I did similar proofreading work (the MN job was also a lot of typing/editing/making copies, etc.) for the Texas Legislature when I lived in Austin, TX in the early ’90s and had a band there called Potter’s Field. So I had basically been working for state legislatures for a quarter century, and enough was enough. I quit the job at the Revisor’s Office officially last fall, and have become a full-time musician. Scary, in this day and age, but necessary. I had a few nice things fall into place as well, that made it so I could make the leap. But it still was a big leap – I still can’t quite believe I finally left the job. I had been saying for YEARS (as all of my friends can attest to) that I could not take it another minute, and then, I finally made good on my words.
You may be wondering – what was so bad about the job? It was not all bad. I had a lot of friends there, most people liked me, and I did very good work for them for many years (I like to think, anyway). But there were a few people who were so intent on making an “issue” out of the fact that I also played music, even though I NEVER let my music career get in the way of me doing a good job at my job, to the point where I probably overcompensated a LOT by working extra hard and diligently so that my music could never truly be an issue there. But some let it be an issue anyway, and that was definitely part of the reason I decided it was time to, once and for all, get out of there. I’m very grateful to most people there for their kindness and friendship, and was lucky to have a good job there for so many years. That said, there were some jerks there too!
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
I work with my friend Steven Cohen, a noted Twin Cities photographer/videographer, on each of my videos. He is great at scouting out cool locations and having a plan for how to make striking, engaging music videos. We shot the performance scenes of this video mostly at a practice space – it’s a practice space in Minneapolis that I contributed half of the rent for, for several months, and ended up only using it to shoot videos at! Well, at least I got SOME use out of it, right? We also went out on Lake Harriet here in Minneapolis when it was frozen over, and Steve (the director) clipped a GoPro camera on the end of my guitar, and that’s how all of those cool shots out on the frozen lake were filmed. A lot happens in editing too. But we had these multiple locations to work in too, like from recording the album up in Sparta, MN (on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, near the town of Eveleth, which is next to my mom’s hometown of Virginia, MN and Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, MN). We had some good footage from the recording studio so Steve adeptly worked that stuff in too.
Why naming the album after this track in particular?
I think it was indicative of something bigger for me – a change in my life that involved me TRYING to liberate myself. Not just from the job, but also from all of the health problems I’ve had (a lot of digestive system issues over the years) along with the burden of mental illness (I suffer pretty constantly from an alternating anxiety-depression thing). I often feel trapped in my own life, and overwhelmed by obligations, needs, feelings of guilt and remorse, and just generally a REALLY busy schedule that sometimes just doesn’t seem to let up and give me time to connect with myself and my surroundings, which is detrimental after a while to my overall well-being. So saying “You’re Free” really felt like the thing I needed to say right now. It is also relevant to my divorce a few years ago (my last album “Dan”, released in 2015, was really my “divorce album”. This one is kind of about trying to be free from the sadness surrounding that obviously upsetting life event too. Instead of mourning the end of my marriage, I’m trying to celebrate my newfound freedom. It’s a tricky balance, and I don’t always feel so awesome about “being free” in that sense, but overall, I think all of us need to liberate ourselves from things and people and situations that just are not making us happy. Especially in these trying times.
How was the recording and writing process?
Fun. I love “collecting” song ideas and then listening back to them over and over until I feel like some are sticking in my head, and then those are the ones I flesh out more with real lyrics, other parts, riffs, a bridge, etc. I finally moved slightly into the modern era by using a digital voice recorder for this “song collecting” now, rather than the clunky old cassette tape recorder I used until about 2016 (yes, for real, I am a bit of a Luddite, no doubt about that, not the world’s biggest tech fan). These songs took shape over a couple years – and then going to record them with Rich Mattson at Sparta Sound on the Iron Range in northern MN and with my drummer Dave Russ (who has worked on TONS of my albums) at his It’s a Secret studio in Minneapolis. We did it in both places, I like the variety of locations and of working with these two guys, who are my favorite people to record/make records with.
What role does Minneapolis play in your writing?
I think it’s central in that I have lived here and absorbed everything here for most of my life – I only lived away from Mpls for 7 years, 4 in college at Northwestern in Chicago (I studied film, so that helps me make music videos sometimes, at least!) and then playing music in Austin, TX and working for their Legislature for 3 years – other than that, my whole life has been spent essentially in Minneapolis or the surrounding area. And of course the musical tradition here is incredible: the Trashmen, Koerner, Ray & Glover, the Castaways, Prince, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, The Time, Replacements, Husker Du, Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Semisonic/Trip Shakespeare, Peter Himmelman, it goes on and on, too many Minnesota artists to name have influenced me tremendously over the years. To me, it has ALWAYS been the best music scene, at least in terms of songwriting!
How Bob Dylan and Tom Petty has influence your music?
I don’t know how to quantify it. Beyond words? Don’t mean to cop out on this one, but that is a potentially very long answer. I will keep it short by saying that while I was already a fan of both Petty’s and Dylan’s, it all kind of came together when the Traveling Wilburys formed. That was the ultimate supergroup, that can never be topped. Also, one of my first-ever rock concerts was Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, I believe in 1985. The sound was terrible for most people, but I lucked into good seats on the main floor and I thought it was great, especially Tom Petty at that show. So that kind of lit my fuse for both of those guys, and it never went out. I still rate them as being in my top 5 or 10, both of them, of all time, along with the Beatles, Stones, Neil Young, the Who, etc.
What made you want to seek for a new direction for this record?
I felt happier, basically. More at peace (but not totally) with my life and the direction things were going in. So I think that’s reflected in a more upbeat album, overall. Now, there are friends/fans of mine who really like my “bummer” tunes, some even going so far as to openly fret to me that they hope I am not done writing sad songs. Well, don’t worry, I don’t think I’ll ever be totally done with that! But I do reserve the right to have fun, enjoy my life, seek positive experiences, and not always dwell on all the negativity. That said, I don’t shy away from it when I feel I need to confront darker things.
What aspect of our political and social climate did you get to explore on this record?
Everything. Trump, of course. He’s unfortunately impacting all of us, whether we like it or not, and I definitely do not like it, but I won’t just ignore the evil in the room either. He’s bad and he needs to go, sooner than later. Enough said about that. I fear both the Far Right AND the Far Left. The Far Left gets a free pass from way too many of my friends. They are not “harmless”, and their antipathy to Israel, which often goes way beyond just being “critical of the policies of the Israeli government” (which of course is a legitimate stand), to sometimes reeking of darker motives/inspirations (what I’m saying is that some criticism of Israel seems fair, but other criticism employs the rhetoric and symbols that were so often used in the past by violent anti-Semites, and that is just not OK with me, period, and never will be). So all of that. I am a center-left kind of person, personally, almost ALWAYS vote or the Democrat in everything – I consider myself a moderate but favor much more progressive economic policies to help those stuck in a cycle of poverty. Down with all of that, big time, but NOT down with some of the Far Left madness, and so I find myself adrift a lot, definitely don’t feel like I fit in with the BASE of either major party these days.
Any plans to hit the road?
I am upping my regional road gigging. Especially around the Upper Midwest, have quite a few dates booked in the coming months, with more to come. Gonna try to expand that eventually to getting out to the coasts and also trying to tour in Europe. We’ll see! My website is here: http://www.danisraelmusic.com/
What else is happening next in Dan Israel’s world?
A lot. I’m listening back to some songs that didn’t make this album and realizing I probably have the start of another album already. I also am going to try to coordinate a “tribute to myself” where I have friends/people I like cover my songs and we release that as a record. I have been thinking about a project like that for a long time, and I’d like to bring it to fruition in the next couple years. Also, I am working with Tinderbox Music here in Minneapolis on a national promo campaign (press) for the new album, and with their college radio department, as we do the first-ever Dan Israel album release to national college radio. Wish me luck! Hopefully we can land on the CMJ charts, and get some more national notice in general for the new record. Also, I signed a publicity deal with a publicist in Europe, who is essentially going to release the record to press/media/radio/venue outlets in Europe, so hopefully that leads to even more press, radio, and touring possibilities in Europe. Busy! Thanks for interviewing me, I appreciate it. More links below, in case you are interested.