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Photo by Steven Cohen

INTERVIEW: Dan Israel

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

Thanks.  I have been pretty good.  I am working really hard right now.  Some people sometimes think maybe I’m not working that hard because I don’t have a day job anymore (I worked for the Minnesota Legislature for 21 years, and quit the job in 2017).  Actually, I’m working as hard as I ever have, because I feel like I only have so much time to do what I have to do in my life, with age 50 coming up on me (I’m 48 right now).  I am a parent – I am divorced but I have half-custody of two amazing kids – so that keeps me pretty busy, right there.  And this new album comes only 17 months after the release of my last record, 2018’s “You’re Free.”  On top of that, I spent a LOT of time in the studio making this new one.  I felt like I wanted to give it “my all” – I have always put a ton of energy and heart and soul into my music, but this is really the first time in my adult life that I’ve had the TIME to make a record like this.  I am really proud of the result.  It’s not just about “hard work,” it’s about being inspired too, but as an artist, you need some time to work on your art, and our modern rushed world with so many financial stressors and other things weighing on you all the time can make it really hard to give that focus to one’s art, so I feel fortunate that I had the time to make this record and I feel like it shows in the results.

Can you talk to us more about your song “Be My Girl”?

It’s pretty much the song of a lonely divorced single Dad, hoping he has maybe found love again.  It’s not meant to be creepy, and I hope it doesn’t come off that way.  But life can get rather lonely when you find yourself single again in your late 40s.  It can be hard to meet people – or, the right person, anyway.  Everyone around sometimes seems like they’re in their happy relationships and “all set” in their lives and I sometimes am like “well, I’m not!”.  So it is a song about wanting to take some chances – being vulnerable, asking for what you want.  I haven’t found that “one person” yet.  Maybe I will.  But that’s what it’s about – asking someone else to take that risk, which isn’t always an easy subject to broach.

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

Well, I wrote it after I met someone who I thought was going to be “the one.”  It didn’t actually turn out to work out that way, but I got a good song out of the experience, so that’s good, right?

Any plans to release a video for the track?

Yep.  We actually have one done – I dance around quite a lot in the video, which probably means, at my age, I kind of look like a dork in it, but I’m willing to take the chance in the hopes that it can help people hear the song.  I love how the song turned out, especially the horns (the trumpet part in the song was played by Paul Odegaard).

The single comes off your new album Social Media Anxiety – what’s the story behind the title?

(Quick small correction – the album title is actually “Social Media Anxiety Disorder”).  So…I think our lives are, sometimes quite unfortunately, revolving around social media these days, particularly Facebook and Twitter.  It’s hard to avoid those platforms, especially if you’re a (somewhat) struggling singer-songwriter, trying to get people to hear your music and somehow stand out.  But it’s an addiction too, and often a very dangerous one – I am not mocking the disorder, I suffer from it myself!  And I think in naming the album this, I was trying to get at something – to talk about this openly and frankly – that while social media can be a useful tool and can sometimes be a way to make connections, it also isolates us and makes us more anxious – we turn to it so much, and it often just lets us down.  We compare ourselves to other, and it can be really unhealthy.  So that’s what I was getting at.

How was the recording and writing process?

Really good and interesting.  I had all these song ideas that I was collecting on my little digital recorder and in my notebooks.  I reached out to two producers who I have wanted to work with in the Twin Cities for a long time – Steve Price and Jon Herchert.  As I said before, I had more time than I have had in the past to really spend and hunker down in the studio, and I think it shows on this album. We got a ton of great musicians to play on it, and we were able to explore and experiment musically a bit more than I have done on previous albums.  I really had FUN making this album, and i think it shows in the music.  Some of it is just…fun!  But we also went in some new directions for me on this record – new styles, new approaches – and it shows, and people seem to really like this one (so far) – I’m hopeful that this record will bring my music to a wider audience.

What was it like to work with Jon Herchert and how did that relationship develop?

I have known Jon for years.  He is a musical genius, and I don’t use that term lightly.  He and I had played together in a tribute to the Last Waltz every year for many years (the final concert by The Band, made into a legendary concert film by Martin Scorsese).  We talked for years about working together, and now we finally did, and I’m very pleased with the results of that collaboration.  And Steve Price, who produced 5 of the songs on the new album, was also someone I knew for a while, and is also a musical genius – he is the bass player for the legendary band The Suburbs and has played with lots of my friends in town, and I wanted to work with him for years.  It’s pretty cool, having 7 songs on my new album produced by Jon Herchert, and 5 songs produced by Steve Price – it’s part of what makes this record interesting, I think – they have different styles and it makes for a varied and intriguing record, I think.

How did he get to influence the album?

Jon Herchert has such a great ear, and is such a talented producer and multi-instrumentalist.  He is full of ideas, and executes them like nobody I know, and takes so much time and care with the music he works on.  He has a strong sense of humor, as do I, and I think that comes through in his work.  You can hear his dedication and his drive and his sensitivity in the music he helps to make. It’s all right there with Jon.  He is as real as it gets.  And I could say all of those same things about the other producer on the record, Steve Price.  I bonded with both of them in making this record.  We had a great time!

What role does Minnesota play in your music?

It’s so much a part of me – the music from here has influenced me tremendously – obviously you have Bob Dylan and Prince and the Replacements and Husker Du and the Jayhawks and so much great music from here – and the environment, too – the lakes, the long winters (last winter was especially long and cold), the people – you just soak it all up here, and it comes out in the music, whether you want it to or not.  It’s just part of the fabric of everything, and always has been and always will be for me – Minnesota is in my blood.

What aspect of anxiety and social media did you get to explore on this record?

I suffer from anxiety and depression myself, and I also think social media can exacerbate those syndromes.  I think it comes through in a lot of the songs – how upsetting it can all be – all the political debates and controversies and petty jealousies and things that get us all so worked up – that’s what I’m alluding to both in the album’s title and in many of the songs.  How bad it can make us feel, and how we have to look inward or to other things to find our joy and our purpose in life.

Why did you choose to tackle on this somewhat tragic themes?

I think I always tackle some tragic themes.  It’s part of life – the good with the bad, the happy with the sad.  I see it all, and I “report” on it all with my songs.  I can’t only talk about the happy stuff – I need to use songwriting to process the difficult stuff too.  I think overall, though, that this is a positive album.  The trajectory is “up” – I’m trying not to wallow in it, to find a path to something better even while dealing with the pain of life.

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

Dreams – I always look to dreams and those fleeting thoughts that happen between waking life and dreams – I get a lot of song ideas from that “twilight zone” of consciousness. My kids inspire me, people inspire me, other musicians inspire me – I collect bits and pieces from everything I experience, and then try to somehow distill all that down into songs that mean something to me and hopefully move others as well.  That’s why I do this – to try to make connections, to feel better, to love, to hope, to pass on aspects of my experience.  I am compelled to write – I don’t think I really “choose” to do it, it’s just something I always do and always will do (I think!).  Inspiration can come from anything that is meaningful to you.  Anything.  There are no right or wrong answers in terms of what can inspire someone to write songs.  You just do it, because you have to do it.

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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