With influences ranging from traditional folk music and Americana to more contemporary alt-country and pop, Dan Kaplan's sound is at once familiar, but altogether his own. Exploring recognizable themes of love and loss, emotional insecurity and mortality, Kaplan manages to survey the landscape of twentysomething trials by fire without sounding derivative.
Coupled with a delivery that is both heartfelt and honest, Kaplan’s tales of longing, youth, and world-weariness defy categorization into any one genre. "I’ve always been drawn to the idea of not being constrained by any preconceived ideas of what music has to be...the goal has always been to figure out how to break the patterns that are so easy [for me] to fall into - to constantly challenge myself to write better melodies, better songs". And with an extensive back catalogue already, including 3 solo EPs and a newly released full length album, it’s clear that there’s no end in sight to his creative potential.
Year of the Swallowtail
I packed a small suitcase of clothes, my guitar, my keyboard, a small tape recorder and a handful of blank canvases and headed up to a pristine barn that I rented for a month in Vermont. After finally getting used to the more frenetic city life in Boston where I had been living since 2006, I needed a change of scenery. I needed a new perspective on what I was doing with my life, and a new direction to take it in.
It was April, which, in Vermont, means that when I looked out the window, there was still fresh snow covering the ground, still a cold sky looming overhead, still that sense that winter might never end. There was a purity to it, though - the vast blanket of white, the complete silence, the smell of wood fires burning in the distance and fresh air to breathe. I came to rid myself of all the distractions around me - the buses blowing plumes of black smoke in the air, the ebb and flow of people hussling to get to their offices, the cars honking, the ambulance sirens blazing - hoping I could focus on finishing writing what was to be my first full length album. The timing seemed just right, and lying just outside of reliable phone reception, the nearest general store a mile and a half walk away, and surrounded by acres of untouched land on either side, Vermont seemed like the perfect place.
So, next to a blank canvas perched on its easeI, I set my keyboard up by the window - my college ruled notebook open to a fresh page and my tape recorder resting on top, and started working. One month later, I had finished writing the last two songs – “Balancing Act”, a jumpy, country-twinged folk song propelled forward by swirling pedal steel and punctuated drum hits, and “Remains of the Day”, a breezy homage to Summerteeth-era Wilco. The former ended up being the lead single. A reliable barometer for the entire album, the song touches stylistically on a broad range of the music that I had grown up with, music from the 60s and 70s that my parents listened to, but also lyrically explores the most recurring theme throughout the album - the idea that there's always hope for change. Things can get better, sometimes it just takes time and a willingness to put your faith in landing on your feet.
After several false starts recording in studios around Boston, I scrapped almost all the work I had done, and instead flew out to Ann Arbor, MI to record with longtime producer and engineer Gregg Leonard at Big Sky Studios. Gregg had helped me record my first EP, Stranger Land (Folkus Records, 2007) and had a much better idea of the album that I wanted to make. We put together some mutual friends of ours, including keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Kurt Wolak, who came fresh off touring with Bruce Springsteen, Pat Prouty on upright bass, Hans Anderson on cello, and a host of others. Over the course of next few months, slowly but surely, we pieced the album together.
Now, one year after its formal release, I think I may have finally come to find some peace in it. It got me through one of the darkest, most transitional, complicated times of my life and for that, I have to be grateful that I got the opportunity to make it. For anyone listening, my hope is that you can find something in it too - whether it's easing your own painful experience, finding comfort in knowing that things can better, or embracing life and all its twists and turns to find your own peace.
Acoustic guitar and the country moan of Crosby Stills & Nash era pedal steel kick off Dan Kaplan's full length debut album, Year of the Swallowtail (Folkus Records, 2010). A companion to his first EP, Stranger Land (2007), Year of the Swallowtail picks up where he left off - from cold nights underneath midwestern skies to the more familiar highways of his native East Coast. Exploring similar themes of love and loss, twenty something trials-by-fire, emotional insecurity, and mortality, the album is a testament to an artist always on the run, trying desperately to find a place for himself in the world. With a vocal delivery that is heartfelt and honest, Kaplan’s subtly shifting lyrics float delicately over a backdrop of lush instrumentation. From the swirling pedal steel of the gorgeous Hurricane Katrina inspired “Louisiana” to the soulful horns of Young Lovers, Year of the Swallowtail finds a home somewhere between Van Morrison's “Tupelo Honey” and Ryan Adams’ “Heartbreaker”, but leaves plenty of room for the imagination.
The album was written after Kaplan quit his job in Boston and set up shop in a barn in Vermont with his keyboard and guitar, a tape recorder and a few blank canvases to paint. "I needed to get a new perspective on things - see some new scenery, clear my head of the city landscape."
After penning the last 2 songs to add to his already extensive 250+ catalogue, “Remains of the Day” - a breezy tribute to Wilco’s Summerteeth and “Balancing Act”, Kaplan flew out to Ann Arbor, MI to record with longtime friend and co-producer Gregg Leonard (Big Sky Studios). “I tried recording a few times in Boston” remarks Dan, “but found that I wasn’t getting the sound that I was looking for.” With all the tracks scrapped from the original recordings, Kaplan started from scratch with a select group of friends and seasoned studio players in Michigan. “It was amazing getting to work with such a great group of people…It all just kind of fell into place at the right time.”
The surpise track of the album, Who We Are, dubbed a bonus track, was written a year or so earlier and added in at the last minute. Kaplan laughs, "My dad just loved that song so much, I had to record it!" With its Penny Lane style timpani and church bells, it veers further from the more traditional folk instrumentation and arrangements, hinting at what’s to come.
And like Kaplan implores on opening cut “Balancing Act”, Sure as hell ain't gonna be/The last you hear from me, here's to hoping that he's telling the truth. We're looking forward to seeing what else he's got in store.
The album is available now on iTunes and Amazon, along with a special limited edition of CDs.