CMJ 2011: Interview With Danny Ross

The Spotlight

Danny Ross the government employee has a had a rough week. Danny Ross, the Beatles-inspired singer-songwriter, has had a week of new found freedom. Before embarking on a mini East Coast tour (the “Laid Off Tour”) that begins on the last night of CMJ, Danny took a few minutes out of his recently opened schedule to chat about the music industry, its position in a suffocated economy, and what CMJ really means to musicians. Hey Danny, can you give us a quick introduction to you and your music?
Danny Ross: I can, but I won’t.

MP3: What can a potential audience expect from your live performances?
DR: Okay fine, let me bring in my publicist.

“Melding lyrical honesty with ambitious arrangements and pure imagination, Danny Ross builds a sound that’s completely his own – and yet awfully familiar. Like some refreshing hybrid of Paul McCartney‘s sophisticated 60s pop, Springsteen’s American rock n roll, and Ryan Adams’ alt-country twang. And like his heroes, he somehow retains a uniquely identifiable voice. His explosive live show with the 9-piece band and horns is coming to your town.”

I like to say the live performances are like an exotic animal farm in Cleveland. You just hope the audiences don’t end up shot on the freeway… I immediately regret this crass attempt at current event humor.

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MP3: We hear you’ve experienced a recent employment snafu. What happened?

DR: It’s true. You take home one too many stapler-removers and people start to notice.

I worked 5 years for a US Congressman while pursuing music and it was a common case of cost-cutting layoffs. I recommend you read the blog post to get my full spiel on our generation, politics, the Wall Street Occupation and how it relates to music. But let’s just say I have too much to say on the topic, and none of it substantive.

MP3:You mention in your blog post that “the walls of access…to the American Dream are too high.” How do you think this relates to musicians?
DR: Ah, this one I can answer earnestly. The music industry used to invest in the recruitment of emerging artists. But because of the downfall of the record industry, profits can only be made on a sure bet. This puts the emerging artist in the position of having to look, sound, feel and grow into a fully developed artist before a company can throw its weight around.

So the young musician today who wants to give it a real go has to invest their own dime in making a record, which includes band members, studio time, production, post-production and artwork. There’s publicity costs, websites and touring with huge expenses and no intake. And that doesn’t include lessons in voice, or composition if you’re still interested in learning. The real kicker is after all that, there’s still no guarantee! After five years, you’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars in loss with basically no recoupment. I know it was never easy, but it’s impossible to do today without a starting sum, which is what I mean by the walls of access to the American dream closing in.

MP3: What is your view on the role CMJ plays for new and/or struggling musicians? Is the flurry of shows and stressful scheduling worth it?
DR: I’m excited for our CMJ showcase but I can’t say I participate too much in the secret parties or buzzworthy scenes. I mean, I live here and stopped believing in those things a long time ago like Santa Clause. All of our lives in NYC are secret parties.In my circle of NYC artist friends at this level, organically pushing with increasing audiences, I haven’t seen these festivals make a noticeable difference in career trajectory quite yet except providing a new set of ears and emails to the list, which is important. But just saying you played the gig makes people’s ears perk up.

MP3: You’ve started your own #occupy tagged tour. Can you give us some background on that? Any plans to support the #occupywallstreet protests in the different cities you’ll be hitting?

DR: I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what the hashtag is or how it operates. I thought the pound thingy looked real cool in graphics.

But you did just inspire me, my friend. I’m pledging now to visit the protests along with my Laid Off Tour dates in New York (10/22, 7:30 @ The Living Room), Boston (10/30, 8:00 @ TT The Bear’s) and DC (11/4, 9:00 at IOTA). Maybe even play a tune down there on the ol gee-tar and get in the old folk tradition. This Machine Fights Fascists a la Woody Guthrie. Now that’s an exclusive!

MP3: Do you have any plans beyond this #occupy tour? I saw the potential for a big album with Danny Goldberg, former manager of Nirvana and founder of Ammal Records.
DR: Yes, exactly. I have this incredible opportunity with a true artist-friendly veteran of the industry. In December, we’re recording about 20 new songs with the band and horns live in the studio. Our debut album One Way (stream it free at expressed the lyrical tensions of young adulthood with the help of a seventeen-piece orchestra. But between now and then, our band played 150 shows with an emphasis on energy, rhythm and soul.
I’ve also lived a little, and know what it means to work, pay rent, and work out relationships. I grew a beard and got fired. Exploring the genres of 60s folk-rock, R&B, Soul and Country, I plan on recording songs that are muscular, rootsier, twangier but still warm, thoughtful and organic, addressing the struggle we’re all feeling today. Think the Beatles, The Band, Bruce or The Byrds.

MP3: Any luck on the job front?
DR: I can’t tell if you’re being helpful or trying to hurt my feelings. But if you are being helpful, I attached my resume as a .TXT file. Can you read those?

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