by: Thomas D. Mooney
Singer-songwriter Dan Tedesco is playing The Blue Light tonight with fellow songwriter, Lubbock’s Dave Martinez tonight (Wednesday, August 12). We caught up with the storytelling Tedesco yesterday afternoon to quickly talk about his latest album, Death in the Valley, songwriting, and the trials of the modern traveling troubadour.
Listen to “Death in the Valley,” the title track from his latest album, below.
New Slang: One of the things I feel happens on this record a few times is the slowing of time. Songs like “Death in the Valley” and “Rubber Left to Burn,” they feel longer than they actually are. They have this slow burning feel to them. I feel the way they’re done, they make you pay attention more to the details of the lyrics.
Dan Tedesco: Yeah. It sort of draws you in. “Death in the Valley” has a bit more detail to the picture it’s sort of creating. “Rubber Left to Burn,” I didn’t really know how many people felt a connection to that song or spent a lot of time listening to it. It’s a pretty simple song, but the lyrics allow someone to really put themselves into it. I think the production, along with the lyrics, conjures up a really specific image and feeling. If you close your eyes and listen, it can take you to a very specific place. It feels like the lyrics. It has that isolating feeling.
NS: With that song, it feels like there’s a sense of defeat to it. That character, they feel they’re in a defeated position. But with it, there’s still this sliver of resilience. You feel that this person is truly in the worst spot, but there’s a glimmer of hope and you just know that they’ll pick themselves back up–somehow. When you were writing this song, where were you? What kind of mindset were you personally in?
DT: That was a song that was written within a group of other songs. They were based off a few particular stories that I was interested in during the depths of the last recession. I think I wrote that when I was still living in Chicago. There’s a lot of places around that area of the country that I played at during the recession. It was in a lot of markets where people who were watching, those turn of events really effected their lives. It was incredibly hard. I met a lot of people during that time who were very much that character.
There’s an element of struggle that comes with what I do for a living. I tend to do a lot of writing of songs and telling stories that are based on the road. It’s something that comes very naturally. Using the imagery and symbolism that you see while out on the road, it’s a very organic way for me to tell a story. Where I was personally in my life, it wasn’t that much different. Hopefully, no matter how successful you get, hopefully, there’s always a sense of struggle. Else wise, I don’t know if you’d have anything really to write about [laughs]. There’s always something you’re gnawing at.
There’s a lot of people I’ve been around who, when they’ve become unemployed, they start spending more time at the bar. Sometimes, that becomes a bit of a distraction for any kind of upward momentum. That’s where a line like “I haven’t worked in a year and I drink too much beer” comes from. Maybe you don’t want to admit that to yourself.
A big part of that song, it has the metaphor of a storm coming through. When a storm comes, a lot of times the sky can have a clarity to it. The way light is effected by it, it has this real clear feel to it.
NS: Yeah. A lot of people when writing about you, they’ll compare your songwriting style to the likes of Tom Petty, Springsteen, some Bob Dylan. Essentially, they’re saying there’s an element of heartland rock to it. You’re from the Midwest. That’s essentially what a lot of those guys were writing about–folks often having difficult times in the flyover states and how the West has always represented opportunity. You mentioned it earlier, how seeing folks during the recession struggle first hand, it’s effected your storytelling. Do you think overall that just naturally crept into your songwriting?
DT: I think with songwriting, if it’s not organic to some extent, it just doesn’t work. You can feel that it’s contrived or isn’t genuine. I don’t know if creativity works well that way. For me personally, it never has. I always try and be aware of what’s going on around me. I try and be present when around people. When you’re observational and aware of what people do and what they’re saying, when you do go to write, it helps spark that inspiration. It gets you to sit down and write.
When you get to making a record, you see this pool of songs, you’ll notice a batch of songs that kind of fall together. Lyrically, maybe they all have this specific reference or phrase. It’s almost like this theme that starts making its’ presence known. They start coming together like the chapters of a book.
If I have a batch of four or five songs, I don’t want to then sit there thinking about how to write the next four to match those. An album can kind of show you what needs to happen. It can push you in a place that you need to go. I never want to sit down and say, “Well these four songs are about this. I need to now write a song about this, one about this, and another about this.” It’s never that black and white.