Nancy Chow - February 25, 2011
Danny Ross shines as a musical chameleon as he tackles a variety of genres in his debut “One Way.” Well-versed in classic rock, he inherits a clear Beatles influence that runs through the tracks accompanied by touches of contemporary alt-country artists such as Ryan Adams and Wilco as well as ‘60s soul that coalesce into dynamic, lush piano-pop. Although he cites the Fab Four’s “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” as musical models, Ross’s “One Way,” with its eclectic nature, may just be his “White Album,” a pleasing presentation of a wide range of fine songwriting.
Wearing the mask of a balladeer, Ross vividly belts out heartfelt lyrics and charms listeners with his impressive band backing swooning melodies, but he can easily remove that guise to dexterously pick up the pace with more upbeat, rocking songs for good measure. “One Way,” the result of a worthy four-year endeavor, is currently available for a pay-what-you-like price. Hopefully fans will not have to wait as long for a follow-up, but in the meantime, Ross will be recording and releasing a live album to tide listeners over.
How has your songwriting progressed throughout the years? When you write songs, do you lean towards ballads or more rocking tunes?
Whereas my very first EP “Introducing Danny Ross!” sounded like my piano-pop influences as a teenager — Ben Folds, Billy Joel, etc. — I wanted to write a record that would sound like the sophisticated music I am listening to now a record that would introduce my folk and chamber pop tendencies, taking cues from Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Sufjan Stevens and Bob Dylan, all the while learning how to arrange from Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson. I started the project in college, creating my own major, popular music composition and performance. Four years later, “One Way” was released.
Since its release last year, I’ve been mainly digging on jangly ‘60s folk-rock (The Byrds, The Kinks, The Band and Paul Simon) and ‘60s soul (Sam Cooke, Otis Redding with Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello following in their footsteps). In the future, I foresee myself delving more into the twang of old-school country in the vein of Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt and Merle Haggard. But the Fab Four will always be the model, particularly “Rubber Soul,”“Revolver”-era.
I think my songs are basically evenly split into ballads and high-energy rock or pop songs. But there’s no science to it, and it’s certainly not on purpose. The instrument you choose to write on probably has something to do with it. Also, piano does lend itself to monster ballads like “November Rain.”
How do you approach a live show? How do you and your nine-piece band fit on some of the smaller stages in the city?!
Well for the “One Way” release show, for example, we rented out the historic St. Mark’s Church on Second Avenue and played the entire album straight through with a 17-piece band and orchestra for a few hundred people. For Mercury Lounge gigs, we’ve got a nine-piece and horn section we’re calling it the Saturday Night Band. For the Pianos residency, we did a basic rhythm section, or if it’s an intimate venue I could do a solo show on piano and guitar or with a string quartet. That’s the beauty of leading your own band — no limits! Of course there are plenty of cons too, like paying for everything yourself. And not having Lars Ulrich to spar with.
Why did you decide to do a live album?
After “One Way” was released, I decided to really focus on the art of putting together a great rock ‘n’ roll show. I also wanted to make fun music after such a serious effort. If making an album is like creating a film — taking your time to create a beautiful, cinematic production — then the live show is like theater. You have to build a rapport with your audience through interaction, humor, drama and ultimately a musically great performance. It’s also an excuse for me to be ridiculous, wear absurd costumes and run around like a maniac.
So whereas the record is a composed, deliberate piece of art, the live show is visceral and spontaneous. Most people wouldn’t know that side of me by hearing “One Way,” so the live album seemed like a natural next move.
"One Way" is a very diverse album with a wide spectrum of influences. What ties these set of songs together or what was the logic behind these selection of songs?
To be perfectly honest, my goal was to throw everything against the wall and see what stuck. I think I had a bit of a complex actually. I really wanted to prove to others, but mostly to myself, that I was a serious writer and capable of writing well in all of my favorite genres. So that’s why you hear rock, pop, alt-country, folk and wall-of-sound orchestration, all on one record.
That being said, there are some common threads. The music connects all the way through like Brian Wilson’s “Smile” or The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper,” and it hopefully takes you on a journey. You’re also hearing my voice, literally and lyrically, from start to finish singing mostly about the painful and emotional transition into adulthood in regards to relationships, family and understanding one’s own place in the world.
Your current day job is a congressional staffer, have you found any of the skills you've built there help you with your music career?
Yes, absolutely. My job for the congressman is basically to keep the office organized in such a way that everyone can do their substantive jobs without a hitch. Now as a creative person, this was not something that came naturally to me AT ALL. In fact, these were areas I actively avoided most of my life. But to have these organizational skills now in the creative world gives me a huge leg up. It allows me to keep an eye on all my major projects in a meaningful way — touring, publicity, musicianship, merch, songwriting, licensing, etc. For all my musician friends — or for anyone actually — I’d recommend reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.”
I was reading your blog and you mentioned that you and your cat were on a reality show called “Pet-o-Rama.” What's your cat's special talent?
It’s tragic, but I never had a pet growing up. A dog or cat’s love sure would have come in handy in those lonesome adolescent days. To this day, Billy Sanders makes fun of me. I hate him. But suddenly in my mid-twenties this cat Max came into my life, and we’re literally best friends. We eat together, sleep together, go shoe shopping together. He picked out this outfit actually.
So yes, the opportunity came to do an Animal Planet show “Pet-o-Rama” together. We lost to a crazy older woman in blue spandex. But it was my fault, Max was the man chasing around the laser pointer and pawing after those goldfish. But his biggest talent is probably sitting on the cable box as I’m watching television. I literally missed an entire Jets playoff game trying to see around his head. It doesn’t help that he’s getting fat.
" I really wanted to prove [...] that I was a serious writer and capable of writing well in all of my favorite genres. So that’s why you hear rock, pop, alt-country, folk and wall-of-sound orchestration, all on one record. "
listen to "
Big, orchestral piano-pop with a country twang. For those who like: Ryan Adams, Sufjan Stevens, Sam Cooke