Bells’ Toll: Let Independents Ring – Our Q&A with Dan Tedesco

Dan Tedesco, like most, if not all, musicians found himself in rock ‘n’ roll. As a Chicago born and bred musician who has played 200+ shows a year across the Midwest for most of his career, he’s also found a home in rock ‘n’ roll, settling into his own style, which is slightly more Americana than the greats he’s been compared to (e.g., Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty). Tedesco’s latest, American Darkness, was written in 2016 amidst political turmoil and the birth of his daughter. Needless to say, he had a lot to say about the state we were (and are still) in at the time the album was written, and while some words seem to speak directly to his daughter, others speak to the children of the world (they are our future, after all).

American Darkness’ title track, for example, is seemingly an open letter to his daughter. Setting the tone of the album as a whole, it alludes to the heartbreaking Pulse nightclub shooting. Tedesco uses the tragedy as a lesson in the song, telling his daughter that though he won’t always be there to protect her, he hopes leading by example will teach her to separate right from wrong (love is love, after all). Though it’s been three years since the song was written, its message is still as relevant as ever.

Tedesco’s short website bio acknowledges that he does not have a dramatic “Behind the Music”- type story, as he came from a “solid” suburban family. Although he’s played with a full backing band, he’s more of a solo show, so also lacks the drama that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with that (being in a band, that is). Instead, he was a bit of a high school loner, discovering various genres of music early on and learning to play various instruments through experimentation.

Although his path hasn’t been exceptionally rocky, he has paid his dues, touring heavily. His tour schedule has slowed a little since becoming a father, but he still manages to play in the range of 100-120 shows a year. And, as a working musician, Tedesco wants his fans (and all music fans) to remember that “music isn’t free,” which is another message that is as relevant as ever, and a good reminder to us all that we should support our local musicians.

Tedesco’s new EP, Who Knows How Long This Will Last, will be released in January 2020, but his latest single, “Adventureland,” is available now. He'll also be playing the The Back Room @ Colectivo in Milwaukee, WI on December 20, 2019.

Our Q&A with Dan Tedesco follows, below.

Bells’ Toll (BT): Your website bio says that you have no story, per se, but we would love to hear more about your Chicago upbringing and how you got started in the music world. Are you a self-taught pianist, violinist, and guitarist?

Dan Tedesco (DT): I took piano lessons for a few years when I was really young, like 5-7 years old. Beyond that, I’ve picked up most of what I do on the instrument from experimentation. I only played violin for about two years, towards the end of elementary school, and did take formal lessons. As for guitar, I studied with several different teachers from the time I started all the way up through my sophomore year of college. I was a jazz performance major at Arizona State University.

BT: You call yourself a social outcast, and say that you found yourself (your comfort, security and confidence) in the rock ‘n’ roll world. Can you tell us about how you discovered your voice and rock ‘n’ roll became your home, so to speak?

DT: Well, to me, and for me, rock 'n' roll music always stood for pushing limits. For pushing yourself. Taking chances. To challenge the status quo. It was meant to be both scary and thrilling. It was as much an attitude as it was a sound. And it was inhabited by people like me, that didn’t fit in. It was a place where all of us could feel like we belonged. We could connect through records, guitars, lyrics…The misfits. The outliers. And I found that when I put on a guitar and stood in front of people to play a song, it was the one time that I really felt free. Like I could do anything. More important than being “bad” or “good,” it gave me a chance to be free. And it still does.

BT: American Darkness seems to speak to our current state of turmoil. Was this the inspiration behind the title track and the album as a whole? Was this album also recorded using just your iPad (we know you went for a lo-fi sound with DT)?

DT: Our current state of turmoil combined with having a baby amidst the chaos of mid-late 2016 was the real catalyst for the writing of the record. There was a period of a few months when I was really scared to be having a child. I didn’t know if I wanted to, or if I should, bring someone into where we seemed to be headed. As I’ve told others, writing the songs for American Darkness seemed to be a cheaper way to sort out my psychological battles than hiring a therapist. I’m really proud of how the project came together. I think it speaks to the things I wanted to speak towards, but also works on a larger perspective, which will give it relevance down the road.

Recording of the album was done at Shangri-La Productions in Lexington, KY, known now as The Lexington Recording Co., with producer/engineer Duane Lundy. We did the bulk of the tracking over eight or nine days in May 2017, with a fair amount of follow-up overdubs by various musicians in KY, as well as additional recording at my home. Roughly three quarters, for example, of “All I Wanted Was a Friend,” was tracked in my living room, the files exported to Duane in KY via Dropbox, and mixed at his studio.

BT: We’ve read that you play 150-200 shows a year, and you have a couple of shows scheduled through the rest of 2019. Did you hit the 150-200 show mark this year? Or has your touring schedule slowed down now that you have a family? How have you balanced your family life with that of a touring musician?

DT: I’ve trimmed down my volume of shows, for sure. I’m doing more like 100-120 these days. As you mentioned, I’ve done the 200, and really even 200+ shows a year, and I think I got that out of my system. Now I try to go out for 3-4 shows at a time, rather than 3-4 weeks. I’ve been flying more, to help cut down on travel time. It’s still just as fulfilling, but I’ve been learning how touring fits around the rest of life instead of it being your life.

BT: Besides playing solo, we’ve read that you’ve played with small and large bands. Which do you prefer?

DT: At this point, I think I’ve dialed in my solo show to the point where it’s really my own thing, for better or worse. So, in that sense, I really enjoy playing in the format, but I grew up on rock 'n' roll bands. And I definitely have a great time putting full band shows together. I just space them out so they feel really special when they happen.

BT: Your website also states that “music isn’t free,” which is quite a concept in the digital age. Why do you think it’s important to state this on your website?

DT: I offer it as a reminder of what exactly goes into it: the financial expense, the various contributions from other performers, producers, mixing engineers, mastering engineers, etc. I’m not sure that recorded music will ever have the same sort of value in listeners’ minds as it did in the past, but it’s the least I can do to try and remind people. There’s an argument to be made that, in a business sense, music has become the loss-leader; released as a way to flag down interest in the hopes that it will lead to ticket sales at a concert, merch purchases, etc. And there’s a part of me that has a hard time not agreeing with that argument. It’s a sad affair. But, as for why I mention it on my website, it’s really just a reminder to anyone who reads it­ ­­– to remember how much time/effort/money goes into any music you listen to.

BT: Is “Before You Were Born” about your daughter? How has being a father changed your life as a musician?

DT: It was definitely heavily inspired by her, but, really, I was trying to speak towards youth, in general. The kids are the future. They represent what we’ll be become, and we have a tremendous responsibility to them. And to ourselves. We have to provide some kind of guidance. It’s up to us to teach them, and give them the tools to take things in a positive direction.

BT: How do you think you’ve grown from the release of your first EP to now? Do you think your sound has changed?

DT: More than anything it’s in my writing. The songs are tighter and more focused, musically and lyrically. Compared to the beginning, there is much less imitation. I’ve found my style and my voice and grown confident within it.

BT: Can you tell us about your new single, “Adventureland,” and what’s next for you?

DT: “Adventureland,” was recorded at home during the summer of 2018. I stole the title from the name of a local amusement park outside of Des Moines, and wrote the song shortly after visiting said park. It really has nothing to do with roller coasters, but the name made for a great title. You can expect a new EP in mid-January, which will serve as an extension of the American Darkness, project, overall. The exact release date is TBA.

(Please note: this interview was proofread for grammar and clarity).

About the “Let Independents Ring” series:

When we first started writing for IE Weekly back in 2007, we wrote a few columns on mainstream artists before we began covering the local IE music scene, mainly discovering bands via MySpace. Around the same time, we started collecting records more obsessively. We met and fell for so many bands and have continued to support both independent artists and record stores. Through this series, we plan on highlighting bands and musicians that want to be “heard” amid the vast and competitive musical landscape, hopefully contributing to their growth. In her master’s project, Kady compared local bands to non-profits, as they typically put most of what they have into creating art, thereby providing a service to their communities. By sharing independent bands' stories through short Q&As, our goal is to inspire more listens, follows, likes, and, perhaps, success, to let them loudly ring. We hope you’ll also lend them your ears (and, us, your eyes).

If you're an independent artist or band and would like to be featured in this series, please contact us for consideration. We can be reached at jkbellstoll@gmail.com or via Instagram (@thebellstoll).