Daniel Blue is equal parts open book and enigma. The artist-turned-fashion-designer-turned-musician didn't get serious about music as a profession until he was in his late twenties, but you wouldn't know it by listening to his project Motopony's self-titled debut album. I was charmed by the first track "June", but it was the second track "King of Diamonds" that made me fall head over heels for this record (see video above). It's the kind of glistening indie pop rock that many aspire to but rarely achieve, and while the music is fantastic the lyrics are what really make this album stand out. Profound without being too preachy or esoteric, there are many lines with the power to warm even the hardest modern hearts and minds. You will undoubtedly get caught singing along to this record at the top of your lungs, because the lyrics are so well written they demand to be learned by the listener so as to better express their message. Who is the source of such creativity, and where did he come from? I chatted with Daniel on the phone last week as he waited for a haircut, and he was surprisingly down to earth and completely at ease dissecting his various works of art:
Laurel Kathleen: How does one go from art and fashion design to music? Isn't it usually the other way around?
Daniel Blue: Yeah, I mean I had my period of rock star dreams growing up. I’ve always sung, and I’ve always sung really passionately. My mom had me onstage at church when I was a kid. I loved being the center of attention and I loved to sing, but it really wasn’t until I had been kind of like, a full time artist for several years when I feel like I got a voice, or the confidence to do that. And then, something came out of the walls or sky and just filled me, and I had something to say. And because I had been singing to myself in my warehouse, the shower, all to myself all those years I had the vocal power to put that out there. I was 27 when I first picked up a guitar, because I wanted something to go along with what was coming out of my heart. When I first started performing, I was called oppressive and mesmerizing. Which was pretty awesome.
photo by Genevieve Pierson
LK: So when did you decide to strike out into music?
DB: I started writing poetry at a young age. I had a super one-sided love affair with my teacher in high school, she introduced me to E.E. cummings and Pablo Neruda. And deeper, crazier, wilder poets. But she also suggested that Paul Simon and John Lennon were also poets, and that really captured my imagination. I had been writing 304 pages a day since I was young :that’s something I’ve put my 10,000 hours in. Writing and writing and wrting. Whether it’s gibberish or awesome, it’s something I’ve done as long as I can remember. Even early on as an artist, I was doing spoken word. That’s something I’ve always really loved, the lyrics.
LK: With so much written material, how do you choose which lines to put to music?
DB: There was a point where I chose to be a songwriter, not a poet. It was like, “Okay this is important, I’m going to try to say it in a song instead of just a poem." It’s born out of passion, that feeling of “Oh, I have to say that”. I write a lot of songs now, and not all of them are great (laughs). Some really resonate with people, but sometimes the ones I think are great everyone is like "Uh, ew" because it’s about anger, or grief, or such a sappy gross love that no one else can handle it.
LK: Is there an overall theme or message you want listeners to take away from the album?
DB: That’s a really good question. These songs have changed meaning several times. I think I have to keep doing that to stay passionate about them; they unveil more and more layers. My goal is to tell the truth about what I’m feeling, to be as honest as possible about what I’m feeling and say it in a beautiful way. But they can be many things to many people, and when I grow and change I think I’m almost lost, because the songs have evolved with me. It was an attempt at catharsis, an attempt at truth. Sometimes I don't even realize what the song is really about until much later. Like with the video for "King of Diamonds": while I was watching the finished product, I realized that that song is about me looking for my father. I didn’t even realize it until I saw it. It ripped my heart open and almost made me cry.
Motopony's eponymous album cover
LK: Is there a big difference in your creative process when making art versus music?
DB: Anything that’s been successful or has been well-received or because I felt like it happened in a genuine way, has occurred when I’ve released it. I have to take that emotion and release it at the beginning. “This is alive, and it wants to speak through me." So I release myself to the muse, and once my seed is planted I have to release it to my fellow trusted artists. Now, this crazy machine marketing department that exists in the label is a unifying principle: all I have to focus on is that release, and humbleness. I’m a channel, I’m willing to let this go to let it fully mature. It'd be better than if I were trying to grab it.
LK: Who would you list as your current influences?
DB: I was deeply inspired by Antony and the Johnsons and CocoRosie. That was what really started me, kicked me in the butt and said “Now it’s your time”; they showed me what was possible. Since then, we’ve steeped ourselves so much in our own work. I’m just now having time to get out and see more artists on the weekends, and I’ve been really impressed by them. I love a lot of artists in Seattle; I can’t say just just one.
LK: Are there any artists that you enjoy that one might not guess after hearing the album?
DB: (laughs) Sure! I have pretty voracious tasts. I’m in love with Philip Glass, and old Italian composers. I like Justice, I like that really dirty drum n bass, Bassnectar. I go to Burning Man now and just freak out. I love electronic and techno so much, I love going out there and dying my hair pink and just walking around naked.
Motopony's full-length eponymous debut is now available on iTunes. They will be playing at The Troubadour May 24th before heading back up to San Francisco and then on to Portland and Seattle. For more information about tickets and upcoming tour dates, please visit their Facebook and Twitter pages.