Interview: Dan Israel

Last week, I published my review of Dan Israel’s new album, Social Media Anxiety Disorder. We are very lucky at the Diversity of Classic Rock to have Dan Israel on the blog for an interview. If you want to learn more about Dan Israel and his music, keep on reading.

Angie Moon: How did you get started as a musician?

Dan Israel: I come from a family of music – not necessarily a lot of professional musicians, but my maternal grandmother was a concert pianist and my paternal grandfather played regularly in a band in the Catskills in upstate New York. I was required to take piano lessons as a kid – but I think I would have gravitated to music anyway, since I was always listening to the radio and records as a kid, and loved all of that.

Then I switched to guitar at age 12. Then I started to get in bands in high school – mostly playing cover songs. It was in college (I went to Northwestern in Chicago) that I really started getting serious about music, and writing my own songs. Then I moved to Austin, Texas after college and played with a band called Potter’s Field for several years

Angie: What brought you to Minnesota?

Dan: Well, I grew up in Minnesota.  My parents met while attending the University of Minnesota – my Mom was from northern Minnesota (the Iron Range, where Bob Dylan is from) and my Dad was from New York City, and they met here and stayed here, so I grew up in the suburb of Minneapolis called St. Louis Park, which is where the Coen Brothers and Dan Wilson and Tom Friedman and Al Franken and many other fairly well-known people are from.

I came back here to Minnesota in late 1995 (after Austin, TX) and met my then-wife and we had two kids – I worked for the Minnesota Legislature for 21 years before quitting the job a couple years ago (and I got divorced about 5 years ago, but I have my kids half the time, so that keeps me busy!).

Angie: What is your favourite genre of music to play?

Dan: Rock and roll, still.  Also like playing acoustically, so I guess I should say “folk” and “singer-songwriter” and “Americana” too, but really, my heart is always with rock music.  I have tried to play other genres, but I always come back to rock, and I always come back somehow to the two core songwriting influences – The Beatles and Bob Dylan.

Angie: What do you prefer: vinyl or digital?

Dan: I will always be a lover of vinyl. I also like CDs and tapes. I just don’t like listening to music on a phone or a computer nearly as much. Something about it bugs me.  I will also prefer physical media – and vinyl is the best, though I have no problem with CDs or tapes either – I am a dinosaur, I totally get that.

I know people these days listen to so much music through Spotify and YouTube and so on, but I just tend to prefer those physical media – maybe because that’s how I first fell in love with music (along with hearing songs on the radio – not much on the radio that excites me these days, though, sadly).

Angie: What’s different about playing punk versus folk and Americana?

Dan: Well, I like some punk rock, always have. One of my bands in high school was a semi-punk rock band called the Big Madras. We played stuff like the Ramones and Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols (believe it or not, I sang lead on that one!).

Punk is fun – it’s very basic. Much of folk and Americana is pretty basic too, but maybe sometimes not quite as aggressive – but folk and Americana can be raw, and I like that too.

I don’t think there’s as much difference between genres as we sometimes make it out to be. Music is music, kinda. I love elements of lots of genres, even if I only play, technically, in a couple genres.

Angie: Who are your biggest inspirations?

Dan: Anyone who can keep going in this brutal era of trying to make independent music! No, really – it’s hard – REALLY hard, especially these days – there is a glut of music, and very little money in any of it.

I also would of course say that Tom Petty is one of my biggest inspirations.  I am so sad that he’s gone. We just did a tribute show to him at the legendary First Avenue in Minneapolis, and it just reminded me of how great of a songwriter he was and how much I miss him.

I am inspired by anyone who does this with passion and conviction and persistence. It’s hard to explain just how difficult it is…but trust me, it is! It’s also fun and the best thing ever – you just have to really love it, because it’s super demanding, and it can really wear you down.

Angie: What have you been listening to lately?

Dan: Honestly? Demos for more songs of mine! Sorry, not a great answer – but I have been doing so much promotional stuff for my new album that when I get a free minute, I have been listening back to other song ideas and demos of my own stuff because that keeps me energised for all the promo stuff, which can frankly get pretty draining.

It’s how I recharge sometimes.  I also listen to a lot of classic rock type stuff – everything – I try to keep an open mind and open ears, always. To new music too.

Angie: What was recording Social Media Anxiety Disorder like?

Dan: A great experience! I worked with two different producers, and I had never worked with either of them before. Jon Herchert and Steve Price, and we brought in some amazing guests in both studios.

I don’t have a day job right now, and believe me, it was a real luxury to get to spend so much time in the studio. I think it shows with this album. We really worked on it – but it was a labour of love. We had fun. I think you can hear that in the finished product.

The songs are serious, mostly, but you can also hear us having fun while making it. We experimented a lot – tried things. A lot of trial and error. That was nice, to have the time to do that (which I have not always had with my past albums, while I was trying to work a day job too and squeeze the time in to make a record).

Angie: Why the title “Social Media Anxiety Disorder”?

Dan: Well, we went through a lot of debate about that – not everyone loved the title, but ultimately, I felt like it tapped into some zeitgeist – everyone is on social media constantly these days, myself included. Not sure that is a good thing, but I am not about to judge – I have my own issues with it.

We are all competing constantly, comparing ourselves to others – it is not particularly healthy, and if you are already anxious and/or depressed (I am both, at times), it can really exacerbate those problems. The album is not really “about” social media anxiety disorder, but it does touch on those themes, at times.

Angie: Is there a theme or a mood to the album?

Dan: I think it’s a celebration of life and of music. It is mostly upbeat. I am trying to create something beautiful and fun to listen to amidst the chaos and confusion of life in 2019. I hope I did that. I tried!

Angie: What do you like best about about touring?

Dan: The freedom. I love being on the road. I don’t have a booking agent or a manager or a record label right now (wish that all would change!), but I do love the open road and playing for new people and making new fans every night. It’s exciting. I always loved travelling, my family went on lots of road trips when I was a kid, and touring takes me back to a lot of that feeling of excitement about the open road.

Angie: What advice to you have for musicians?

Dan: Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself and ask for what you want.  Make the music you want to make – life is short. You had better love the music because the business can be really super hard – find ways to recharge and don’t burn yourself out too much.

Get some rest and cultivate as many healthy relationships and friendships as you can, because you’re going to need them. It can be really crushingly lonely and there is a lot of rejection and/or indifference. Go back to the songwriting, when you can – it’s your means of expression, and your refuge, no matter what.

You can follow Dan on his websiteFacebookTwitterInstagramBandcamp, and SpotifySocial Media Anxiety Disorder will be released to the public tomorrow, October 11th.

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