INTERVIEW: Americana Songwriter Dante Mazzetti

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

I’m good! I’ve been really busy recording. This new project has taken up a lot of my time.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Breaking in the Sun (Live)”?

Much of what I do is storytelling. “Breaking in the Sun (Live)” is no exception to that. It tells the story of a man who has come home from prison to find that he is no longer a part of his family.  He has been replaced as husband and father. He has no connection to the life he once had and loved. It’s like staring through a window at something you want but can’t have. Something you can no longer hold. He sees the beautiful life he could have, but through mistakes, he has become lost. This song explores his emotions surrounding that realization. The refrain, “I am too small for you,” suggests the power of a life one doesn’t fit anymore.

People usually fall apart in the rain, but I titled this song “Breaking in the Sun.” I liked the idea of falling apart in the sun because of its strength and ability to warm you and hold you up. This man sitting in the sun with all the freedom in the world feels trapped, small and cold. He wants what he once perceived as suffocating because of its normality. But now it’s gone and it has broken him.

This version of “Breaking in the Sun” was recorded live in a studio setting. This past year, I have been having a lot of fun creating this live performance where I play a number of different instruments at once. I’ll switch between a 12 string guitar and mandolin while simultaneously playing harmonica and percussion and bass with my feet – kind of like a one-man band but my focus is on creating a unique sound. It’s been a lot of fun for me though it has taken a lot of practice to really get it down. So, I’ve been playing a lot of shows this year using that method. I noticed that “Breaking in the Sun,” was going over really well live. So I tried recording it while playing all the instruments at once and it gave the song recording this great energy. In the past, I used the more traditional route of recording each instrument separately in the studio because each track can be redone a hundred times to fix any mistakes. So, to record live while playing a number of different instruments myself was a bit tricky because you really have to nail every aspect. You also have to live with nuance parts you may not have planned.  We ended up really liking the results. The fact that I can’t fix every little mistake is part of what gives it that real sound.

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

I know a lot of fathers who are disconnected from their children. Each story is different, but the pain of not being able to be a part of their child’s life is the same. It’s something you don’t hear about often, but so many men are in a similar situation. Maybe they haven’t been locked away in a physical prison, but they are heartbroken about their reality. I used this particular story of a man returning from prison as a way to illustrate an extreme separation and distance that could be easily understood.

The single announces your new album Hotel Vol. 1 – what’s the story behind the title?

I grew up in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. I still live there today. There is this famous hotel right down the street from me called Hotel Chelsea. There is no other building in New York City that has been the home and muse for so many generations of musicians, writers, and artists.

I have a view of the Hotel Chelsea from my window. During the course of writing these songs, the musical history of the famous hotel inspired me. I thought of the characters that I see coming in and out of the front doors. I thought about who could be roaming around the interior.

“Breaking in the Sun (Live)” is the beginning of a longer story of this broken man. After losing everything back home, he comes to New York City – a place where he can get caught in the abyss of the metropolis. He checks in at Hotel Chelsea and starts the next chapter of his life.  Hotel Vol. 1 includes four songs about his time staying at this hotel.

Would you call this a conceptual record?

Yes, in Hotel Vol. 1 you see the next part of this man’s story. “Hey Now” is the lead song on that EP.  You hear the emotions that the man is going through in his decision to leave. “Secrets” is another stage of him mentally moving on. There is less self-pity. He’s feeling animosity towards his wife and realizes that through all his efforts he is “falling anyway.” In “East Village Tattoo Queen” we start seeing him out in the city. He’s starting to take advantage of being in a city where one is almost faceless at times. He has a clean slate. He’s trying to move on in his life.  He meets a woman from the East Village – an unbelievably real character who you could only meet in New York City. The last song on this EP is “I’ll Be ‘Round.” Here we see him trying to have a relationship with yet another woman who is not quite right for him.

Will each volume follow a different theme or are they somewhat connected?

They’re definitely connected. Hotels Vol. 2 will continue this man’s story. Then, in late fall we will be releasing a vinyl which will have all the songs from these two EPs and one or two others.

How were the recording and writing process?

I have been writing and rewriting some of these songs for years. When I create a song, I want to paint a series of pictures – visuals that are both mine and the listeners. The listener is the artist as well. The faces the listener sees are mine and theirs. The intricacies in facial expressions that could never be imagined the same from one person to the next. The writer paints broadly and the listener creates the focus – the final touch. It is only a work of art together.

For this EP, some of the recordings were done in my home studio and some were done at Mercy Studios here in Manhattan. I’m always torn between recording in my home and the studio. At the studio, I get to record in a perfect sounding room with vintage microphones, but sometimes I find I can get more intimate or expressive vocals when I record at home. Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen was a big influence on my current recording process. He recorded that album in his home with his 4 track cassette recorder. I was very impressed that he decided at the height of his career to go use home recordings as a major release. I think that’s why that album feels so special. I don’t think you can get that from a studio. He had to be staring at his own interior walls to grab that emotion out of that album. The feel of a song is more important to me than the perfect sound quality. I believe people don’t necessarily want perfection. We think we do – and we strive for it. But really, the things that we truly love are flawed.

What was it like to work with Oscar Zambrano and how did that relationship develop?

Oscar is a very easy going person who gives an incredibly personalized experience. He takes his time on each song. It’s very important to him that he’s not handing you a generic finished package. He wants us to be happy with the result and he wants himself to be happy with it.  He’s also just a great guy and a lot of fun. We always go out and celebrate after he finishes a song!

I originally met Oscar through Adam Sussman, another amazing engineer. Adam and I have been working together for years and he knew that Oscar would be beneficial to bring into the project because of his expertise and experience.

How much did he get to influence the album?

On the production end, it was mostly Adam Sussman and me, but we often referred to Oscar’s one of a kind ear to help us understand if we were going in the right direction.

How The Band and Bob Dylan has influenced your writing?

The Band always seemed to me to be the quintessential group of talented musicians that made it feel like they were hanging out and having a good time playing music. They always had such a great feel for music. The Band helped me realize the value in not concerning myself with overproduction or perfection – the value in just loose, good feeling real music played once or twice, slapped on a recording and sent off before it loses its feeling. That’s important.

Bob Dylan’s freeform style and lyrical expression really allowed me to take liberties in writing songs that were free to travel in many directions at once. I’ve been inspired by many great songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and John Prine, but Bob Dylan’s volume of work and his willingness to change direction and follow completely different paths and styles really sets him apart.

What aspect of society and your own life did you get to explore on this record?

I approach songs in a way someone would write a novel or a play. I create characters. I draw upon my past and my experiences with people who I’ve met throughout my life. When you try to perceive things from the characters you created, you need to put yourself in those shoes. It’s similar to method acting.

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

I find most of my inspiration in my roots, the music I grew up listening to and playing. I have this great record collection that I’ve been listening to since I was a kid. A lot of the records were my father’s. There’s Slim Harpo, Howlin’ Wolf, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones.  All of those guys have had an influence on my sound. Through the years, I’ve listened to all kinds of music, but these ones have been a constant throughout my life. I keep coming back to these old records.

I also find lyrical inspiration by paintings of great artists, especially Edward Hopper’s work. His paintings are stories captured on canvas. Each time I look at his works I feel I’m stepping into a moment he’s frozen in time alongside him. He shows me the world through his eyes. That is a skill only great artists have and I try to aspire to that.

Any plans to hit the road?

We are currently in the midst of our Music in the Vineyard Series which is a number of concerts that I play in vineyards throughout New York State. Out in the vineyards, you’re reminded of the good things in life – the taste of great wine, human connection, the beauty of the land, and the joy of getting lost in the music. The Music in the Vineyards Series highlights all of these things at once. They come together for a moment in time and, for me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

What else is happening next in Dante Mazzetti’s world?

I’m currently working on finishing up the second EP in this series, Hotel Vol. 2. It will be coming out in the fall. This continues the concept of Hotel Vol. 1, but the songs are more introspective.

I am also excited to be releasing the vinyl in late fall. I love listening to vinyl and so it was important to put one out of my own. My love of vinyl is partly because of the sound quality, but it’s also about the experience of sitting down, putting the record on and listening from start to finish. It’s therapeutic for me because it forces me to listen to music in a very un-rushed manner.  You can’t just skip a song with the push of a button. The experience makes me a more patient listener. My vinyl release will include all of the songs from these two EPs and we will add a song or two to complete the album.

Listen to the single HERE.

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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  1. This guy is awesome. I saw him play City Vineyard earlier this year and I was blown away.

  2. Great interview. I like hearing the insights of a musician/artist and the creative processes they employ. I’ve enjoyed Dante’s music and lyrics throughout the years and I am excited to hear and see his progression as an artist. I especially liked that he made reference to the listener being part of the art form as well.
    Very true.

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