Melding lyrical nakedness with ambitious arrangements and pure imagination, Danny Ross builds a sound that’s completely his own – and yet awfully familiar. The Long Island-native has exactly that: a unique sound that channels his heroes. Over the past year, everything came together for the singer when he and his nine-piece band and horn section, played their first official showcases at the SXSW and CMJ music festivals, made their television debut on MTV, Animal Planet and The History Channel, and were voted Deli Magazine’s NYC Artist of the Month. Recently, Bestnewbands.com caught up with the budding star to chat about his musical background, his college experience and how he manages to balance his day job with his emerging career.
Daniel Kohn: When did you start playing music and what was the impetus for that?
Danny Ross: The big ‘Aha!’ moment for me came around thirteen years old listening to Beatles albums for the first time. It sounded like pure creativity and I wanted to lead the kind of life that produced such imagination. That’s when I started tinkering around the piano, and thirteen years later I’m doing the same thing. I do wish that I had some formal training earlier in life though. As much as the self-taught genius is mythologized in pop music, I’m making up for lost time now discovering things I could have learned as a kid. That being said, I’m glad I grew up with my own kind of passion for music that wasn’t forced upon me.
DK: You went to an ivy league school. was making/creating music in such a notoriously studious environment difficult? What was the music scene like?
DR: That’s an interesting question. I went to Cornell essentially because I’m a competitive person and grew up an environment that encouraged me to attend the best possible school, which of course is a good thing. But it was the kind of environment that usually led to a career in finance, law, medicine. It took awhile for me to accept myself as an artist, which is why I didn’t really hang in the music scene there, and why I also studied government. Actually I wasn’t technically a music major because I had no formal training, I created my own program called Popular Music Composition and Performance and worked with professors to compose and perform the first incarnation of the album One Way.
DK: Who are some of your greatest influences?
DR: It’s both a blessing and a curse that I have too many great influences, as it is for some of my heroes like Elvis Costello and Ryan Adams. In my opinion, there’s so much recorded music in the world, there’s no reason to ever have a stagnant collection. (which is also how I feel about books and why I get anxious at libraries) As I’ve grown to love musicians and read about their lives, I trace back their influences and THEIR influences. All music and art dip from certain traditions, and as a comprehensive personality, I tend to want to learn all of the lineage and absorb all the styles into my own subconscious. But there’s a point where you can go crazy, and where output has to balance with input.
All that being said, it started with the Beatles for me. From there I grew to love 60’s folk-rock like Simon and Garfunkel and The Byrds which led me to country like Merle Haggard and Wilco. Bob Dylan led me to Pete Seeger, The Band, Bruce Springsteen, which led me to Sam Cooke, Rolling Stones and Otis Redding. Then there’s my love for jazz and newfound passion for classical which developed with Brian Wilson and Sufjan Stevens. It goes on an on. But my eyes are bigger than my ears, I haven’t listened to half the records on my itunes yet.
DK: How do you manage to find time to balance music and your day job working for a Congressman?
DR: Yeah, no kidding. I basically had no choice but to suck it up and understand that for now I have two full-time jobs. And especially if you aspire to be the best dude around, don’t get used to sleeping. But it’s good motivation – the harder I work now, the sooner I can play music full-time. Working for a Congressman is a great dayjob though. I get to pursue my second passion, and be a public servant for New York’s 8th district. Beats bartending I’m sure.
DK: How would you describe your style?
DR: I’d like to think our sound has developed right now into a morph of jangly folk-rock, wooden alt-country with a touch of bar-band soul. All centered in a clear lyrical voice determined to understand the truth. Or something.
DK: How is the hometown NYC scene different than any other cities you’ve played in?
DR: I’m just getting outside of New York, so it’s tough for me to know how other cities operate quite yet. In fact, we’re playing our first ever “tour” this weekend with stops in Boston and Philly, with the hope of gradually branching out further away. But my feeling is that New York’s just bigger and harder to crack than the rest of ‘em. It takes awhile to know the best venues to play and the right musicians to hang with. After several years I’m still meeting people for the first time who have 95 mutual friends on Facebook. I also think there’s a heightened level of competitiveness in the scene here.
DK: What’s the deal with the release of your record? How did it come to fruition?
DR: To make a long story short, through my program at college I was able to write the album One Way as my thesis and perform it live with a 17 piece band and orchestra. Last year I was able to release the proper record and perform a similar large-scale concert at NYC’s historic St. Mark’s Church. It was meant to be a conceptual album across many styles that musically and lyrically tied into a narrative about young adulthood, but who knows how it will stand up in 50 years. I’m just proud to have that grueling experience behind me and hopefully it sincerely affects some folks and its ambitions come across.
DK: What’s the rest of 2011 looking like?
DR: 2011 so far has seen our first shows in Boston and Philly, my first TV and radio appearances, a new music video and the recording of a live album. I think the rest of the year will see the release of that record, and just more shows in expanded cities like DC, and hopefully some next level gigs in New York like the Bowery Ballroom. But above all, I hope 2011 sees more real interaction between us on stage and the good folks supporting us at the shows. That’s the stuff that counts. Oh and I want a Nintendo Wii.
You can stream the album One Way free at dannyrossmusic.com and you can check for upcoming tourdates there as well.