By Jake Tully
Before setting off on a slew of tour dates and new single, “The One That Got Away (Came Back Today) from his forthcoming album with New West Records, Turnstyled Junkpiled got the opportunity to speak with singer-songwriter Daniel Romano. Coming from an eclectic background of punk, indie and now country, Romano’s sound can’t be pigeonholed to one specific sound. Whatever that sound may be, Ramano’s music is among the most genuine in the scope of the greater genre known “Country” and his affinity for the authenticity of those country greats has certainly not been diluted. The following is a conversation between TJ Los Angeles contributor Jake Tully and Daniel Romano.
You’re from Canada, an area in which people might not immediately associate with country music, but we’ve got a lot of artists like Hank Snow and Ronnie Hawkins that hail from there. How did growing up inform you musically?
A lot of the Italians on the east side of the town I grew up were into Country music – I obviously come from an Italian family – my grandfather lived on the east side of town and was always listening to country music. My parents were sort of as well, so I don’t know, it was always around, it was the music I first became familiar with in any sort of real attention span kind of a way.
Yeah, that’s just basically for performance and quality of performance, mostly. As far as the country aesthetic I could mostly take it or leave it. It’s not something I focus on or anything like that. I don’t know – the look is honestly more of an afterthought. I try not to pigeonhole myself into country music specifically. You don’t want to set limitations on what you’re doing unnecessarily, although that does seem to be the going rate as far as what the industry wants now. I guess artistically speaking I’m not interested in belonging to country music or anything of that matter – just music in general.
It seems a lot of people try and make the distinction between what’s “true country” and “alt-country” and we get into so many sub-genres and sub-categories.
It gets very confusing, you know. So little of contains the actual body of what country music was or had, yet it’s still called that. I find it to be very confusing and for the most part untrue.
Apart from your music, you do leatherwork, your early influences are the greats, and I think there’s a lot of country artists masquerading under the term country that really want to have that label slapped on them.
Yeah, I find that very confusing, I don’t see “Country” as being a very desirable label these days – unless you’re in the pop-country world – which is really what country is, now. That’s the natural evolution of what it was and what it became. Anything in between you’re just confusing the public, I think. Personally, I don’t have any interest in belonging to what I think real country music is today. Then we’ve got all this little sub-genres that will just get washed away like anything else. I just don’t see the purpose in it. The purpose in belonging to any sort of club like that, I don’t see the purpose in it. I know that a lot of people think about music these days saying, “What does that band sound like?” and then the answer is never anything but a reference to another band. I guess that’s how all that goes. I don’t know, there’s nothing you can do about that.
The pop country sound and vibe is enormous, it’s almost inescapable. That accounts for so much music nowadays too.
Other than hip-hop it’s the other music that’s popular. Whereas hip-hop is innovative and pushing the boundaries of artistry, pop country is basically just putting a twang on pop music. It’s not very inventive. It’s very dull and boring in my opinion.
TJ: Absolutely. With that in mind do you think that because the general public can’t or won’t make the distinction of music that you’ve ever found it hard to sell yourself to crowds and audiences?
Oh yeah, it’s impossible. The attention span that I have for what I love inevitably does not translate to the attention span of the average music listener, say the “put on the radio” type of music listener. People who are wild about music – those are the type of people that I see coming to my shows, which is obviously very flattering, that’s a goal achieved within itself. As far as reaching the general public, a lot would have to change. You know, it’s hard to say. Music today is an afterthought and the industry is a joke. Figuring out how to market (Music) and to make it a sustainable way of life means that inventiveness and creativeness is a necessity unless you’re given that major label deal where they tell you how to structure your whole life. There are people out there doing that and doing a job of it, but there’s a lot of clutter.
I think the whole subgenre thing even confuses it even more and just breaks it down into little clubs where it doesn’t need to be little clubs. There’s ‘I’m a guy who likes Americana music’ or whatever he only listens to Americana bands – he’s not going to listen to you unless you call yourself Americana. And what does that even mean, Americana? American music? That’s hip-hop. That could be anything. That genre bewilders me.
One of my favorite quotes from any singer-songwriter is from Tom Waits. When asked to describe his style he said, “I think what I try to do is write adventure songs and Halloween music.” I know that with your songs you clearly have a narrative to them. What is your songwriting trying to convey and achieve?
I don’t know? People songs about people. Sometimes real but often times not. Probably real. (laughs) Even when they’re not real they’re probably real somewhere.
They seem reminiscent of classic country in that they have a point to them. There’s something actually going on, not just describing a perfect Saturday night at a bar.
I like to think there’s a purpose to them. The thing about contemporary country that bothers me is that when country music started it was for the average bumpkin, the working class guy that could relate to the hardship is being sung about, even though whatever is being marketed or sold it was still the truth. Now it’s just this weird, glorified, Hollywood romance where every song is about taking your beautiful blonde down to the water and drink a beer in your truck, those kind of ideas. That’s not everybody’s lives. I guess the main goal for me, whatever genre it might be, is to create something interesting first and foremost and to also harness something somewhat relatable on a larger scale.
I wanted to bring up your graphic art, I think it’s really killer. Does your musicianship ever permeate into your other forms of art?
Oh yeah, absolutely. And vice-versa. It all stems from one thing which is just pure necessity. There wasn’t a lot of industry around here and so I just taught myself to finish a project or to have a finished product of sorts. It all comes from the same place and all accomplishes a similar feeling at the end of the day, which is a quick moment of pride and satisfaction. And then doubt ensues (laughs) and that’s pretty much it. If I could bury it all and only have what I’ve done in the past ten minutes to represent me then that would be better, but that’s not how the world works.
With Stagecoach coming up next month, are you looking forward to being in that environment with a bunch of seemingly like-minded folks coming from the same oeuvre?
I’m looking forward to just seeing it all. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily be among like-minded folks personally, but you never know, right? I’ll try not to be a total social outcast. I just coming to represent, man (laughs.)
Any last words for any of the folks coming out to see your shows on this tour?
I would say get ready for a really wild light show. That’s not true. I’m definitely for sure going to play songs in a row and probably talk for a little bit in between them at the show. Hand to God.