Dan Rodriguez is firmly back in the Americana world with his latest single, “Passenger” (out now). After a brief foray into a more pop realm with his last album, “25 Years,” Rodriguez rocks the twang with “Passenger,” a rootsy, plaintive, pedal steel-laden exploration of the crossroads where devil and angel meet, where one can choose the darkness or the light.
“Passenger” is the lead single of a still-in-progress project that will include the release of an EP and an eventual full-length album. Tracks on the “Passenger” EP will include the singer’s recent COVID-inspired single “Together Again;” the autobiographical, richly detailed “The Older I Get The Less I Know,” which casts fresh eyes on growing up in a large, churchgoing family whose friends “walked a different road;” and two other songs, “Slow Down” and “Poor Me.” Several songs that will appear on the full LP, most prominently “Troubadour Family Man,” address the challenges of being both a hard-working traveling musician and a husband and a father of two young boys.
“For the new songs, I wanted to be more vulnerable and honest with myself,” he adds. “If there’s a common string, it’s that the tunes reflect the commitment I made to myself that I would not write anything that doesn’t have at least a sliver of my own truth.”
Vents Magazine sat down with Dan to talk about “Passenger,” how Americana music feels most natural to him, and plans for some live shows in 2021.
Vents: Hi Dan, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Dan Rodriguez: Honestly? Feels a little strange to say it during the days of COVID, but I’m actually really, really great. Life’s been weird and interesting, but I’ve been able to spend more time with my wife and kids this last year than I would have in three to four years with a full tour schedule. So, I’m grateful and happy these days.
Vents: Your new single, “Passenger,” is really special and caught my attention right away. Can you talk to us more about the song? What was the inspiration behind it?
Dan Rodriguez: Well, I’ve wanted to make a true outlaw country-leaning tune for a while now, so that’s the inspiration behind the vibe. The lyrics are a clear indicator of an internal struggle that I’ve seen both in my life and in some of the lives close to me. It’s a song about acknowledging our own mistakes, the things that lead us to them, and finding the balance between who we used to be and who we are trying to be. Sometimes we succeed at going about things the right way, other times something switches in us and we let our dark side run the show, and this song is about those moments.
Vents: Tell us about the video for the track.
Dan Rodriguez: This was the first time I’ve done a music video with this much production. We had stunt drivers, a process trailer, prop vehicles (including a squad car and a 1967 El Camino), and a killer production team from Minnesota’s own Aerial View Studios.
Vents: How was the recording and writing process for that song?
Dan Rodriguez: The writing for the song was fast, and I wrote this one as a solo write in my studio on my ’67 Gibson B-25 (the way I write the majority of my songs these days). Recording wasn’t too dissimilar, although I brought in more musicians on this. I engineered and produced the song myself. The band was Alexander Young on drums, my brother Andre Rodriguez on the keys, Aaron Fabbrini on the pedal steel, and I played bass and guitars. Luke Fredrickson, a longtime friend, producer, and mix engineer mixed and mastered the track as well. The team was incredible to work with, and every one of us have played music together for a decade or longer.
Vents: Your lyrics are always top-notch. Do you have a favorite lyric line or two in this song? What about those words really works for you or speaks to you?
Dan Rodriguez: Well, I did love the opening line enough to sing it twice (once again at the end). “There’s an angel on my shoulder and he’s far too drunk to steer… tossed the keys o’er to the devil and that’s how we wound up here.” The rest of the song lyrically just supports that line, really. It’s a story many of us could tell about ourselves in one way or another, and I think it’s the most unique lyric in the song.
Vents: What do you hope listeners take from hearing the song?
Dan Rodriguez: My hope is that if they connect with the lyrics in a way that is reflective of their own behavior, that they will see there’s a need for change somewhere in their lives. And hopefully they tap their toes and sing along as well.
Vents: You were known for your Americana/roots music sound for many years. However, your last album, “25 Years,” was pretty poppy, and that was a bit of a departure for you when you made that album, based on the music you’d released before that. What made you want to go in that direction on that record, and what did you like about exploring a more pop sound?
Dan Rodriguez: Well, while it was definitely more pop-leaning than anything I’ve done before, it was still organic sounds and roots-based instrumentation. I have a deep respect for the producer, John Fields (Switchfoot, Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, etc.), and I jumped at the chance to work with such a force in the industry. John is an instincts guy who doesn’t overthink a project or a song, and I like to think that I operate on the same wavelength. So, it was a no-brainer. And none of it felt forced or like we were TRYING to make it pop — it just served those songs a little more in that direction. It was an experience I’ll treasure forever, but I’m ready to jump back into the Americana world again. Give me that pedal steel and acoustic guitar all day, please.
Vents: And, related to the last answer, what was it that made you want to go back to your more Americana side again? Which feels more “genuinely you” — Americana Dan or Pop Dan?
Dan Rodriguez: Americana Dan is definitely home. It’s what comes naturally when I write, and what I gravitate toward when I’m listening to music. It’s where these songs have landed and I’m excited to share them with the world.
Vents: What are your plans for live shows in 2021?
Dan Rodriguez: I’ve been able to keep busy doing a myriad of backyard/private events, but I’m hitting the road for a couple of weeks playing venues again in September (God willing and the cases don’t rise), and I cannot wait for that experience.
Vents: What else is happening next in Dan Rodriguez’s world?
Dan Rodriguez: I’m getting ready to switch gears from wearing my producer/writer/preparation hat and putting on my touring/performing/traveling hat over the summer and into the fall. I can’t wait to share these songs and see where they lead me.