Interview with Dan Israel on his new album, “Seriously”
Cover album artwork by Laura Bennett
Dan Israel wants you to hear his new music –Seriously.
After the “Use Your Illusion”-like dual album success of 2019’s “Social Media Anxiety Disorder” and 2020’s “Social Distance Anxiety Disorder,” a new batch of powerful songs emerged, fueled by seasonal change, desire for escapism, and true love. Seriously“explores themes” of rocking and rolling in turbulent times.
Seriously offers up pointed and poignant commentary for troubled minds in troubled times – both personal and political – with hooks aplenty and some surprising turns and twists. It meets at the intersection of Israel’s Petty/Costello/Rafferty in- fluence alchemy and Brantseg’s stunning “Mick Ronson meets Mike Campbell” guitar work.
Dan Israel Interview
Tell us a bit about your new album: Seriously
Dan: Well, it’s my 17th studio album – I’ve been doing this for a while (understatement)! It’s somewhat a basic rock and roll album – with flourishes of some of my heroes, like Tom Petty and Bob Dylan and so on – some people hear Elvis Costello as an influence in my stuff, and while I would never deny that, I don’t actually listen to him a lot. I’m really excited about this record – it was more of a collaborative process with my core band (David J. Russ on drums, Mike Lane on bass, Steve Brantseg on lead guitar) and Rich Mattson (with whom we recorded most of the basic tracks at his Sparta Sound studio on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota) than maybe some of my other records have been – everyone brought cool ideas in after I gave them my home demos of the songs (mostly solo acoustic demos, but sometimes I play rudimentary drums and bass and everything on my home demos too). I think that really helped to make a more interesting album, with all those interesting ideas coming in from the band and being incorporated – and we rocked on these songs – the songs that should rock, anyway – the quieter ones turned out really nice too. There’s a good mix of the two on the record (upbeat and slower songs).
What was your creative process/concept with this new album?
Creatively, I kind of always have the same basic process. I start humming musical ideas into a digital recorded and sometimes adding real lyrics in a notebook to accompany those ideas – sometimes I just sing “dummy” lyrics that are essentially nonsense but “hold the place” of the melody in my head for me – then, later, I go back and listen to all of my ideas and the ones that start to permeate my daily consciousness (in other words, the ones I find myself hearing and singing even when I’m NOT actually listening back to the recordings of ideas) are the ones I figure have enough going for them for me to continue to shape them into real songs. So I go to work on those – add guitar parts, figure out lyrics that actually work, add a bridge where a song needs a bridge, and so on – and when I’m not too embarrassed by the results, then I might play it for my girlfriend or another friend or make a crude home demo of it so I can see if it really “works” – and if it does, then I probably will make a more refined home demo for the band to listen to and see if they get enthused about the song. Once I get enough songs that the band seems to like, that’s when I typically go “ok, maybe time to start making a real album here.”
What did you learn about yourself when writing and creating Seriously?
I think I always learn about “where I’m at” with a new record – personally this new album shows a mixture of contentment and happiness along with some restlessness that is always sort of under the surface for me. I also learned about letting others in a bit more, musically – that it is worthwhile to gain input from your band (I mean, I always knew that, on some level, but I think it particularly helped this album to pull in ideas from everyone in the band a bit more) rather than going solely on your own creative instincts. I always try to go in some new directions with writing songs – I think this album shows a wide array of approaches – some real “back-to-basics” rockers along with some different ways of presenting songs (there are a couple “medley” type things on this record – two songs that go together but are also separate songs – I like doing that sometimes, I grew up with those McCartney “Band on the Run” type “suites” where he mashed 2 or 3 or even 4 or 5 song ideas together into one multi-part song medley thing).
What single is your favorite off your new album and why?
Well, I have more than one – I think “How Do I?” (track 3) is one of the best love songs/ballads I’ve written, and it really resonates for me now, personally, so I’m partial to that one – I also just love how track 1 “Happy for Now” kicks off the album – it really “rolls” along and has a classic fade at the end over the guitar solo that reminds me of some of my favorite ’70s rock songs – and then the acoustic-based groove of track 6 “Set Each Other Free” feels PERFECT for radio airplay – the song is just over 3 minutes along and just MOVES – so I’m sorry I couldn’t give you just one answer, I really think all 3 of those songs have an element of the kinds of hit singles I grew up listening to on American Top 40 with Casey Kasem every Sunday night on KDWB-AM 630 here in the Twin Cities (yes, I guess I’m old). That’s a big part of what turned me on to music, those weekly Sunday night pop music countdowns in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
What is next for Dan Isreal? Any big plans?
Well, I always want to build on what I have and try to take things to the proverbial “next level” – would love to get more shows out of town, expand my small fan base, get some more national exposure (through media/blogs/radio/you name it) and also overseas – I toured Europe in late 2018 and hope to eventually get back there and play there again. I hope to get lots of good shows around the Upper Midwest next summer because that is when artists like me have the greatest opportunity to play outdoor festivals and private “yard shows” and “patio shows” and so on – and frankly, I still want to play on a national late-night TV program someday – I can dream, right? I don’t even think it’s that out of the question that it could happen at some point – but meanwhile, I want to just keep being able to make music, win over a few new fans at a time, make my longtime fans happy with my new stuff, and have fun playing music while I can. But yes, I always have big plans – and I always think some of my dreams can still come true – it helps me keep going. It really does – there is nothing wrong with dreaming.
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