Name: Danny Lee Blackwell
Nationality: American Indian
Current Release: Outlaw R&B preorder on Fuzz Club Records/Cooking Vinyl
Recommendations: Arabesque no. 1 by Debussy / (untitled) How Does it Feel by D'angelo
If you enjoyed this interview with Danny visit his website thenightbeats.us and Facebook page
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I began writing my own poetry when I was a young kid around 13 years old. I picked up the guitar around the same time but I started playing in bands as a drummer. I loved the feeling of the endless possibilities of music. Growing up in the 90's I had the same Nirvana CDs as the next teenager, but I gravitated towards the blues and the Velvet Underground. I also grew up with the Internet becoming a thing, so I could download music and discover the bands I had read about in magazines and books.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I wear my influences on my sleeve so I consider myself a student for life. Part of my love of music is sharing the influences that helped me find my own voice. I still sit down and try to figure out songs that end up becoming my own thing. I think as long as you honour your predecessors, music is meant to be influential and adapted.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Identity is a strange thing…I believe as long as we have respect for others and proceed with reverence we can be whoever we want. Identity is a fluid thing, that's why genres have no meaning. Soul music applies to any style, instrument, voice or interpretation. I'm lucky to come up in a time where I was able to discover new music and styles from any era and gravitate to what speaks to me.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Finding like-minded musicians. Making music on your own is one thing but collaborating and growing with other people is the challenging part. I don't make music solely for myself, so when you are trying to make things with other people while also pursuing an angle of self-discovery or growth you have to find the balance of selflessness.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My initial drive was necessity. I couldn't play all the things I heard at once so I learned all the instruments I wanted to hear. Couldn't find a drummer? Save up and buy a cheap drum set and learn that language. No bassists that know who James Jamerson is? Pick up the bass and buy a sponge.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I generally stay away from digital instruments. But making rules like that are antithetical to keeping an open mind. Everything can be used or learnt from, it's all about how you use it.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
It has to come naturally. I've had many potential collaborations fall through because someone expected something to magically happen. A collaboration is meant to be a two-way street. There's too many talkers, not enough doers.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I've spent most of my adult life on tour… so with a pandemic erasing that part of my life I have found other ways of routine. As wild and crazy as touring is, there is an order. You wake up early, drive hours between cities, sound-check, play the show and eventually stumble back to the place you're sleeping. I eat, breath and sleep writing and creating music, everything I do in some way flows back into my nature of creation. I also handle all of the band business so I have my plate pretty full. I do find time to play chess, watch horror films and plan video concepts.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Austin Psych Fest 3 was a really special event for me. I had been touring for a bit by then and was able to perform for a crowd that had only heard the name before. We were well received (I think) and I deepened my relationship with the Reverberation Appreciation Society. From there we went on to tour with some great bands and I was able to return to Austin, Texas with hard earned respect.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I have been able to write under any circumstance. There is no ideal place for me. I can write an album undergoing an existential crisis, or relaxing with my family in Texas. I don't put up walls or regulations with my creativity, at a point it becomes who you are and you learn to listen to yourself with the right temperament.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
This seems like 2 questions, so firstly: only awful music hurts me. I have a visceral reaction to music so generally I stay away from the bad tastes. But sometimes you find the good in things and you come back to it. Secondly: it's no secret that music has healing capabilities. I can speak from experience that John Lee Hooker's music helped me feel comfort in ways that nothing else had. I believe music should be studied and appreciated in schools, like a health class. But I also have an anti-establishment streak in me so I don't want to force anyone to do anything. Music is out there, it's part of life.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Like I said earlier, I believe music is meant to be shared and learnt from. What's the point if not to teach others to find the same grace I receive from music? One must honour the teachers you learn from and not try to come off as holier than thou. I love when people call out my shit…that means they are listening to the same things that have inspired me. I love when I see young (or old) folks covering my music so as long as you don't copy, you should embrace your influences with respect for the roots. Hell I named my band after a Sam Cooke record.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I have a visceral reaction to music. So, I can feel sick or dizzy when something is hitting the wrong chord in me. But let's break that down-- by saying the "chord in me" I am connecting my proclivity of sonic perception to my physical well-being. Music makes me cry, laugh etc., that is a direct causation AND correlation to my internal organs. I am lucky to have my sense of hearing to say the least, though I do think art as a whole cannot be reduced to one sense at a time.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I've never been one to shy away from politics or speak my mind on social issues. I think we live in a fucked-up society where it is difficult to know the whole truth. I am an artist first and a citizen second. I am a citizen of the world and I write about the human experience. My song "No Cops" was written as a reaction to what I was seeing and from my own experiences. There are ways music has helped steer movements and engage the youth in ways politics never could. At the end of the day I want to empower people to think for themselves and form their own opinions.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
The same way a painting can capture heartbreak or a chord can summon joy. Music is a gift we have been given that lets us tap into the eternal. Music is unique in its own ways, but it is just one medium or river we can float with to connect with the ocean. Life is meaningless without death, much like a song needs a beginning and an end.