March 05, 2009

Danny Schmidt: Instead The Forest Rose To Sing

Danny Schmidt is an Austin folk singer who has been churning out remarkable albums over the last ten years, but is still below the radar. with his new release Instead The Forest Rose To Sing on Red House Records changes are good that he will be reaching a wider audience. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2003 a possible career in the movies was cut short and he released an album with home recording to meet his medical bills. After being cured writing songs and performing live became his mainstay, relying on word-of-mouth and collecting a huge stack of favorable reviews.

Instead The Forest Rose To Sing is about wealth as a concept in a broad sense, so there are a handful of songs about money, the environment and yes, no surprise, love. The latter is best captured in a laconic song called Accidentally Daisies, in which the hero goes out to buy roses for his loved one, but ends up with daisies, which is no problem as she happen to prefer those flowers. Schmidt has a knack for writing concise stories which come full circle. Serpentine Cycle of Money is a tale about discovering a million hidden under a stone in the forest and ends with planting pennies under every stone in sight (the forest rose to sing to him, urging him to "give it back").

Recorded with a lot of help of Austin music scene veteran Mark Hallman, who also co-produced, this album is food for thought, like a good folk record should be. That doesn't imply that it is a gloomy record. Schmidt signs off with a high note, the pedal-steel fueled drinking song The Night's Beginning To Shine:

You can close both your eyeballs and soak up the scene
And just sketch it all flesh in your mind
Cause it's the edge of the trance where the ankle bells dance
And where the night's just beginning to shine
Danny Schmidt: Instead The Forest Rose To Sing

Instead The Forest Rose To Sing is released on Red House Records. Release date: March 10th.

  1. Better Off Broke
  2. Swing Me Down
  3. Grampa Built Bridges
  4. Southland Street
  5. Two Timing Bank Robber's Lament
  6. Firestorm
  7. Serpentine Cycle of Money
  8. Oh Bally Ho
  9. Accidentally Daisies
  10. The Night's Beginning To Shine

Mark Hallman: drums, bass, mandolin, steel guitar, harmonies
Joia Wood: vocal harmonies
Carrie Elkin: vocal harmonies
Elana James: violin
Eleanor Whitmore: violin
George Carver: harmonica
Damien Llanes: drums
Brian Standefer: cello
Kevin Flatt: trumpet
Oliver Steck: accordion
Mark Williams: stand up bass

The HCTF Danny Schmidt questionnaire
Danny Schmidt kindly answered some questions via email:

The most prominent subject on Instead The Forest Rose To Sing is money. Money is big as a subject, now that big money is getting smaller every minute.
Yeah . . . that's a theme that runs through the album. I wouldn't characterise the subject as "money" quite so much as I'd characterize it as "how do we express our values". But, yes, many of the songs deal with how the various ways we conceptualize wealth.

Southland Street is a more or less political song that doesn't point an accusing finger, but wonders about how easy it is to get from riches to rags as a car manufacturer. Was it inspired by the state the American automobile industry is in right now?
This song isn't really so much a direct parallel to the US auto industry, as it is more of a parable about globalized industries, in general. It's the culmination of a lot of conversations I've had with a lot of friends about the process of globalization, and how it's affected different cultures.

Two Timing Bank Robber's Lament is really funny and tragic at the same time - using a plot that could have been created by the Coen Brothers. Is it based on fact?
Nope. Purely fictional. Luckily!

After self-releasing five albums as an independent Instead The Forest Rose To Sing is you first for a "real" record company. How did they find you?
I've played shows and festivals with several of their artists, and we had a nice rapport. And they passed my music along to the folks at Red House as someone they should keep an eye on. And this record seemed like a good fit.

Did it make recording different? Bigger budget and more time maybe?
No, not really . . . because I was already making the record while we were in negotiations. So I was gonna make this record the same way whether or not they ended up releasing it in the end. Being with the label has certainly made a huge difference in how well organized the promotional effort has been with the release of the record, though. And I'm hugely appreciative of that.

Mark Hallman plays a list of instruments as long as your arm on this album. He is veteran on the Austin music scene, playing for 30 years with people like Carole King, Eliza Gilkyson. I suppose he came loaded with useful advice and suggestions. How did you cope with that?
It was great working with Mark. Right from our very first pre-production meeting, when we sat down together with demos of the songs and discussed our vision for how the songs would develop, we were really in full agreement the whole time. Obviously, there's a million tiny disagreements along the way . . . which harmonica take was the better of the two on this or that chorus, etc etc. But as far as our big picture vision for the album, we both heard things the same way right from the beginning. So that was nice, feeling like a had a full partner in the process.

Who are your musical heroes? And I you had to pick one to appear on a future album, who would it be?
Long list of heros. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Mississippi John Hurt, Toots and the Maytals, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Tom House, Eric Johnson, John Prine. Those are the tip of the iceberg. If I could pick one to appear on a future album, huh?! Well, Mississippi John Hurt . . . except he's dead . . . or maybe because he's dead. Playing with Neil Young would pretty well blow my mind. I'd love to have Emmylou sing harmonies with me, too. Though, I'm pretty lucky to have Joia Wood and Carrie Elkin!

Anything else? Fire at will.
No . . . I think you covered a lot of ground. Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts to words . . . and for sharing your thoughts with the rest of the world. And I hope to see you when I'm back in Europe in the fall.


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