Tunecore Q&A Feature

I recently got to do a really cool interview with the fine folks over at Tunecore:

What is your first musical memory?

When I was 3 years old, I remember my parents had a Casio keyboard in the living room. I would play standing up, clicking on all the buttons until I eventually stumbled onto what I thought was the perfect sound, somewhere between an electric piano and a trumpet. Shortly after I wrote my first song, which more or less just repeated the phrase "You Should Know Me Better". Though I'm still not entirely sure what that really meant, I've found the theme has woven itself into almost all of my songs in one way or another. The best part was that I'm pretty sure I liked to play completely naked, except for a blanket draped around my shoulders.

What was the first concert you ever went to?

My parents took me to see B.B. King at Westbury Music Fair in Westbury, NY. This was long before I really had any concept of the blues or American music, but I was completely mesmerized by it. The stage was circular and would occasionally rotate so everyone could get a decent view. But everytime King would come around, I would watch intently while his fingers moved over his guitar. Before that, I remember standing on my mom's lap, waving pretzel rods like a conductor at my older brothers' elementary school orchestra performance. I think he had a glockenspiel solo.

What or whom do you go to for musical inspiration?

If I ever need inspiration, I like just looking around - riding on the T, walking down the street, listening in to small conversations - really anywhere, and trying to pick up on something - maybe there's a new song title in someone whispering to their significant other, or a new story to take in after a late night at the bar. Or maybe it's just something that reminds me of something else entirely. Whatever the case may be, I think there's inspiration to be found everywhere, it's just a matter of being open to it. I also find a lot of inspiration from nature - taking notice of all the smaller moments that can get overlooked with all the noise around us - the moon when it's bright orange and hanging right over our heads, the sound a river makes when everything around it is still - to me, when I step back from it all, I often realize that everything is pretty miraculous.

Without using the words "alternative," "pop,” or "rock," describe your sound.

Musically, I like creating rich textures and layering them beneath more organic, traditional instrumentation - acoustic guitars, strings, upright bass, pedal steel etc. Then more broadly, the goal is to make a song sound at once familiar, evoking imagery and ideas that resonate on a more specific level, as they sound more elusive and open to interpretation - really just allowing the listener to create their own landscape to explore and take from it what they want.

Stones or Beatles?

Stones. No wait, Beatles. Actually if I could take the creative artistry and production of The Beatles and mix it with the raggedness and rock 'n' roll spirit of the Stones, that'd be ideal.

What's your dream collaboration?

I'd love to work on an acoustic album with Rick Rubin or Ethan Johns. To get that sense of ease that they capture is really amazing. Anything they touch just seems to rise up out of the ground - like it's always been rooted in the earth and just needed someone to dig it up. Either that or I'd like to spend a month in the Icelandic countryside taking in the landscape and writing an electronic instrumental album.

Do you find the song or does the song find you?

If they don't find me first, I go out looking for them. I tend to be a very disciplined songwriter - I've written almost 250 now and they all go through a fairly rigorous writing process, from trying to capture that first moment of inspiration to the first and second rewrite to the final version. As soon as I think that an idea in one of my notebooks (which are everyday college ruled notebooks scribbled with black ink) is ready - which is to say, assigned a number and input into my laptop (I just finished up song #248 called "Monument") it then becomes a permanent collection to my catalogue. From there, unless it's one of those songs that just comes all at once as a fully articulated thought (as often the best ones are), it either stays put until I'm ready to record it, or undergoes an intensive set of rewrites - which can range anywhere from replacing a line or two to scrapping the entire set of lyrics and rewriting them from scratch.

How do you discover new music?

I look for new music everywhere I can and consume a lot of it on a regular, almost daily basis - whether it's listening to interviews on KCRW or NPR, new artists that come up on my Pandora stations, my friends' iTunes libraries, or sifting through record collections at garage sales, I'm open to all kinds of music. The more I can find and take in the better. There's always something to learn from.

Dan Kaplan