Understanding Drew: Drew Danburry reveals his creative inspiration for making music
In 2002, a bright-eyed, 22-year-old singer-songwriter decided he needed a new name: A stage name. He gave himself the moniker of Drew Danburry, hit the road with his guitar and never looked back.
Twelve years touring the United States and 700 shows later, a lot has changed for Mr. Danburry. He got married, became a father and settled down in Utah County. He bought a house and opened up a small business.
This domestic stability was a much needed anchor for Danburry. He desperately needed to take time off from the unpredictable lifestyle of a touring musician. He needed a steady income to support his family. He become a barber, opened his own shop and appropriately named it Danburry Barber Shop.
But musically, Danburry had hit a creative block. He began feeling trapped by his name. He felt it was hindering his creative process and disallowing himself to explore new musical styles. So Danburry began exploring songwriting exercises under a new name: Bastian Salazar. Soon, he had written enough material for a full-length concept album and, in 2013, the Bastian Salazar project became Danburry’s 17th release.
Inspired by the experience of creating a character-based project, Danburry decided to do it again. This time, he wrote innocent love songs from the perspective of a 14-year old boy named Damien Fairchild. The official name of the project is called For All the Girls. The second effort in this project series, 70 Love Songs, was released on Valentine’s Day 2014.
70 Love Songs is a collection of short, yet playfully crafted ditties, each featuring a friend of Danburry’s. Many are from the Provo music scene. It’s a compelling collection of works that really highlights Danburry’s creativity, spontaneity and long list of talented pals.
I asked Danburry to break down his creative process for creating music and to describe the details behind this new collection of works.
KUER Music: Where did you grow up?
Danburry: I grew up in Huntington Beach, California. It was a great place to grow up, though I wouldn't consider living there now. Nowadays it seems like it's even more of a suburban strip mall with an overcrowded beach alongside it, whereas, when I was growing up, I felt like there was still some places to explore and get in trouble. I grew up by the riverbed and a place called the bamboo forest, so there was a lot of exploring and building I got to do as a kid and in high school there [were] a lot of places to skateboard in Huntington Beach still. I'd even go as far as saying that Huntington Beach in the mid-90s was somewhat of a destination for skateboarding culture, and it played a huge role in how I saw the world then and continue to see the world now.
KUER Music: Has music always played a part in your life? Did your parents/family members influence your love of making music?
Danburry: I'd have to say that it did, music has always been a big part of my life. Whether it was singing in church as a little guy, playing in band from 5th-9th grade or recording rap albums on cassette in high school I suppose it's always been something that I do in some degree. My mom was in a religious all-female singing group for roughly two decades as I grew up and I'm sure that had some influence on me, but I wouldn't say I was ever pushed to play music so much as I always received a lot of support in whatever I wanted to do. I'm not sure why I've always liked music so much, or why I've liked writing songs, but I've always devoured and gathered as much music as I can. My family and parents didn't influence my taste in music very much, outside of my mom's affinity for old musicals from the ‘40s, my dad's decision to listen to the Carpenters on family road trips and some of my older siblings listen to The Cure and Depeche Mode, most of the music I like is stuff that I've heard and gathered throughout my life.
KUER Music: In the mid-2000s you were very active nationally, receiving a lot of critical acclaim. Can you tell us about this period? What were some of your most memorable experiences?
Danburry: It was a really wonderful adventure, with a lot of really great and horrible moments all tied into a few years. A lot of driving, a lot of shows, a lot of stress and hunger. A lot of helping hands and individuals that took me in and fed us. I got to meet a lot of amazing people all around the country and experience different cities all over. It was a really good experience that I'm extremely glad I had. I have a lot of really wonderful memories and horrible memories all over the United States. It's really kind of a huge blur, I remember watching the sunset in Bellingham, Washington and swimming in the ocean at one in the morning on a beach by Charleston, South Carolina. I remember staying up all night and watching the sunrise in Fargo, North Dakota and beautiful experiences all over, really. Good shows and bad shows. That's the beauty of tour, is that it's got such highs and lows, such extremes.
KUER Music: Does your LDS faith influence your music?
Danburry: It definitely has influenced my music. Being raised Mormon has shaped who I am to a large extent. The desire to share love, hope and kindness with others is always a strong motivator.
KUER Music: You have invented several characters that you embody and sing about through your first-person narrative songwriting. Many of these characters have become developed enough that they have released their own full-length albums, like Bastian Salazar. How many to date have you created and released in this manner?
Danburry: Leland Lewis (as USS Leland), Bastian Salazar (in the Apache), Damien Fairchild (as For all the Girls) and the first one I ever made was Drew Danburry, back when I was in the Danburrys.
KUER Music: Can you please describe the motive and creative process for this form of songwriting?
Danburry: It's just writing from a different perspective, similar to method acting. For example, with Damien Fairchild, I would write my songs from the viewpoint of an innocent love-stricken teen. Which, I definitely remember feeling and can easily recall what it once felt like. With Bastian Salazar, I felt like as "Drew Danburry" I couldn't say some of the negative and angry things I had inside me, but I felt like if I were someone else I could say those things. So that's how that came about. The Leland Lewis EP is simply a story about a boy who finds his grandfather's accordion and records an album in dedication to his memory. So each character is different and has a different motivation. Drew Danburry is all about love, positivity and meliorism. But, since I'm not always happy and hopeful, it's nice to have an outlet for a different manner of expressing myself.
KUER Music: Through these characters, it seems that you have been able to explore musically, in different emotional areas that you have not allowed yourself to tap into as Drew. Why do you think that is?
Danburry: When I released the album Goodnight Gary there was a song with the word "fuck" in it and I showed it to my brother who I'm very close with, and he was very upset. Given the context and the mood of the song, I felt like it was perfectly fitting, but he was so upset I knew that I couldn't release the song without it being edited (hence the title "Edited"), and I think at that moment, I knew I had reached my limits with the Drew Danburry character, because he's supposed to be uplifting ... but I had a lot more to say as a human being outside of that character. So the characters allow for that kind of exploration into innocence or anger or hope, etc.
KUER Music: Why is it important for one to artistically explore their dark side?
Danburry: Because if you neglect to identify the darkness inside you then you're just not being honest with yourself, because it's there, and pretending it's not doesn't make it go away. Not to mention I think a lot of people can't identify with "always sunny all the time" kind of music. The thing is, I'm generally a pretty happy person, but I have a wide variety of emotions and feelings and, as an artist, I'd rather address those feelings head-on rather than suppress them.
KUER Music: What is your definition of success in regard to your music career?
Danburry: It's hard to define success. I generally don't even try because it seems to be so relative. In some ways, I feel extremely lucky/successful because I've been able to do so much and travel all over and I'm able to record music and release it for anyone to hear if they wish. But in other regards I've never made any money with music really and it's really just an expensive hobby that I enjoy a great deal. So I generally just maintain a sense of satisfaction by the fact that I've been able to make music and make it available everywhere I possibly can in the hopes that someone somewhere down the road is going to listen to it and enjoy it. Because that's what really motivates me, the idea that someone out there in this vast world is perhaps listening to a song that I wrote in my basement and it's making them happy, and it's making their day a little bit better. And the thought alone makes me feel so glad. I don't know how many musicians I ought to thank for getting me through so many rough patches in my life. I wish I could give the RZA and Rivers Cuomo a big hug or something. Jake Bellows, too. Or at least just shake their hand and say, “Thank you.”
KUER Music: You own your own business in Provo, Danburry Barber Shop. What motivated you to getting into the barber industry? Does it pair well with your musical career?
Danburry: It kind of was just a spur of the moment thing. I didn't have any better ideas of what I wanted to do in terms of supporting a family and music wasn't working, so I just thought I'd take a gamble and go for it. It pairs really well with music, I made a lot of the beats for the Becoming Bastian Salazar album in my downtime at the barber shop when I was first starting out. Nowadays I don't have too much downtime ever. I'm pretty much busy all day, but it's a great way to make a living and it's extremely satisfying to pay the bills and feed my family.
KUER Music: How has your role as a musician changed now that you are a father? Has fatherhood changed your outlook on music and being a performer?
Danburry: It hasn't changed my outlook, but it has definitely affected my time and rearranged my priorities. Instead of recording for 4-6 hours straight, I now only have time to record snippets here and there. My schedule generally revolves around my son, so when he goes down for his afternoon nap [my wife and I] are hustling to do whatever we can while we both have a free moment. To be honest, it's extremely difficult, but it's a choice. We didn't decide to have a child so we could be irresponsible about it. He's our first priority. Always.
KUER Music: You’ve worked really hard to keep music a priority in your life. Why?
Danburry: Because I love it. It's fun. It makes me happy. Plus I get these ideas for projects or albums and I just think, "I should do that," so I do, just in case no one else is doing it. But my main priority in life always is to be happy, I want to enjoy life as much as possible. So things like skateboarding, hiking, photography and music have always played a part in that general happiness.
KUER Music: Have you ever felt pressured to give it up?
Danburry: Not really. If anything I feel like life and fatherhood is reprioritizing everything and consequentially slowing things down for music, but I don't ever feel like I need to give it up. I suppose I've always had boyish hobbies and I've never understood why anyone feels the need to stop doing what they love in order to "grow up." I just think it's sad when I see people who do things because they think they're expected to rather than because they feel an inner motivation to. It seems like a wasted life to some degree.
KUER Music: Please describe your idea behind the musical project, For All The Girls. Who is Damien Fairchild? Is Damien Fairchild based on a real person?
Danburry: He's essentially based on me as I remember myself when I was 14-years-old. He's innocent and he is heavy crushing like mad on so many beautiful human beings. He doesn't know what morning wood is and generally just wants to show up on a girl's doorstep with some posies and a handwritten love poem. He's sweet, well-mannered and an absolute gentleman with the best of intentions.
KUER Music: For All The Girls made two releases. The first, self-titled, was about “love songs for the girls he's been in love with or has loved at one point in time.” These were written from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy. Why did you choose such a young character to portray?
Danburry: Because he's less intimidating, and consequently less creepy. I know my intentions are pure and good, but I also recognize how humanity likes to misconstrue details. So, if there's a 14-year-old boy writing love songs for girls, it's kind of cute. If it's a 32-year-old balding/bearded dude in his basement, the imagery alone is a lot less cute and much easier to twist around as creepy, if not somewhat perverse. Because the automatic assumptions regarding one's intentions are completely different between the two characters. The whole idea behind the project was to see how people responded to my songs with Drew Danburry out of the equation. That's why there was a Facebook page and a YouTube page and an email, etc. So that the project would be perceived as believable. I was really intrigued to see how it was received when I took myself out of the equation (It was about the same as usual).
KUER Music: Your character Damien was 14-years-old when he released his first project. With the release of the second release two years later, does this mean he is now 16? Why is it important to you to create fictitious characters like Damien Fairchild?
Danburry: Yeah. I like imagining where he's at now. Going on dates or whatever, driving a car ... ha ha. I didn't really tap into the character so much on this album. It was a really great way to feel comfortable with music again initially though. After Goodnight Dannii, I didn't think I had a better album in me, and I was really daunted at the thought of trying to do better. By creating the Damien Fairchild identity, I freed myself of any worries or constraints that were shackling me down in terms of pressure in making good art. Because it wasn't me, it wasn't under the Drew Danburry name. I could do anything I wanted, and since people weren't going to know it was me ... I didn't have to worry if it was good or not. It was extremely liberating and it really opened up the door for me to feel comfortable to record more and work on the Becoming Bastian Salazar record following the first For All the Girls release.
KUER Music: Have you heard of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs? Was this an inspiration behind your latest release, 70 Love Songs?
Danburry: Definitely. Essentially what happened was I kept recording songs for specific people to be featured on and as some people flaked out and the songs just kept piling up ... well, eventually I realized I had 50 songs already, and I thought, "Since I'm already 50 songs in, what's 20 more? Cause it would be really funny to do just one more than The Magnetic Fields." Maybe people don't think it's funny, but it was meant to be a joke and in homage to The Magnetic Fields.
KUER Music: 70 Love Songs was an ambitious undertaking. Nearly every track is a collaboration with another Utah County musician. Can you describe the vision behind this?
Danburry: I just thought it would be something unique to do. I really liked the idea of having an album full of my songs, but with each song going in a unique direction because of the guest participant involved. I felt like I've been doing music for so long and I was trying to think of ways to take it in a new direction. It seemed logical and a lot simpler to just involve other people and let them pull it into a different realm than where I would have taken it. I generally gave people as much free reign as they wanted, the only thing I was a stickler about was keeping the songs as short as possible.
KUER Music: Were there any musicians who you wanted to include that could not participate in the project?
Danburry: Definitely. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. John McCauley of Deertick. Jake Bellows of Neva Dinova. Will Sartain and JP Haynie. All of them, but Will had agreed to get involved and I sent songs their way, but I think they all just got too busy. Which I totally understand, but I really wanted those guys in on it. In fact, at the time, John McCauley emailed me and said he was dating Vanessa Carlton and asked if I wanted her to sing/play on a track, too. So, I initially wrote the song "Vanessa" specifically for John so we could write a song for Vanessa Carlton together. But it didn't work out and that's life. No worries. But all those guys are some of my favorite artists. I would've been over the moon if they would've gotten involved.
KUER Music: What do you think was the most successful collaboration?
Danburry: There's no way I could pick one. I think that's definitely for the listener to decide though. So far it seems like Erica featuring Bat Manors and Chaunte featuring Coral Bones are strong favorites.
KUER Music: Why are the tracks so short?
Danburry: With 70 songs, I just wanted to make it as concise as possible. Also, I'd always wanted to do what I called a punk pop project. You know in old punk albums, they'd have like 30 songs, and I always thought it'd be super fun to do a bunch of super short pop songs. So this project also kind of satisfied that desire.
KUER Music: What is the future of Damien Fairchild?
Danburry: He'll grow up, get his heart broken, have a rough time recovering, probably become sexually active and feel guilty about it. He'll travel the world, which will inspire him to write more love songs geared towards names of other cultures. He'll struggle and learn and grow and mature into an adult that eventually settles down and has a child with an amazing woman. He'll also probably start doing a bunch of EPs with specific artists from the collaborative process from the 70 Love Songs project.
For more information on Drew Danburry visit: drewdanburry.com