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Dan Israel

30 Jun

Dan Israel really should be famous by now, so he says, and it’s not for lack of trying. That sentence isn’t supposed to conjure up some attention-grabbing, reality-TV wannabe, that’s the antithesis of who Israel- a vinyl & Neil Young-loving family man- is. He should be famous because he just keeps on putting out quality records, filled with guitar-driven songs of sweet honesty delivered in his rumbly bass like an alt-country Randy Newman. Crosstown Traveler, which is being celebrated with a CD release at the Aster Cafe on Saturday, is his 11th record, which the St. Cloud Times writes, “may just be [his] best release yet.” During a busy week, CakeIn15 caught up with the songsmith via e-mail to talk longevity, rejuvenation and ask him possibly the best question he’s ever been asked (take that, Gimme Noise!)

Photo by Steve Cohen

CakeIn15: The title of the record is Crosstown Traveler, which, as I understand it, is a reference to Jimi Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic. There’s some great guitar soloing at the end of “When The Day Is Done” but is there a larger Hendrix reference going on here?

Dan Israel: No, not really. I mean, yes, it is a Jimi Hendrix reference, and I love Hendrix, but the title “Crosstown Traveler” just sort of bubbled out of my subconscious as a result of traveling across town for work every day and taking the Crosstown to get to the recording studio. Then we came up with the cover art concept, got permission from artist Bruce McCall to use that picture, and it all just sort of clicked.

C15: Crosstown Traveler opens with “I’d Never Make It Through” and closes with “This Love’s Gonna Stay”, both of which feel like it’s written both for family and people in your life but then also to your relationship with movement. What do you do to keep yourself refreshed and creative and that love strong?

DI: Keeping the love strong is natural to me – my kids are really my reason for existing, in some ways, at this point in my life. I love them so much and even when it’s exhausting and exasperating being a parent (often, actually), it’s always there. But yes, this whole album is sort of about movement – the title obviously refers to that, and almost every song has some sort of reference to it. I think it’s what keeps me sane. And parenting is indeed hard work, and you’d better have something to keep you sane, something else that is an escape at times, and for me, that’s music. But even when I’m making music, my kids are never far away from me – and I strive for that, and maybe that’s why I write songs about them so much. To try to bridge those two worlds. It’s not easy to bridge those two worlds, either – for me, anyway. But I try. Everybody has to carve out space for themselves in this world – even if you’re not married and are not a parent – you need to get away from everybody else’s “deal” now and then and find yourself and enjoy doing something on your own. I really believe strongly in that. Look, it’s been a tough few years for me (and a lot of people lately, it seems, the recession is hitting everybody hard)…working without a raise at a job I don’t particularly care for, having two young children, dealing with a mysterious gut ailment (I’d rather not go into the details, but I lost a lot of weight and had numerous tests done and am still not 100% better, but improving)….a lot of stress…so it was a challenge to write and record this album, but it is fulfilling to see it finally getting out there.

C15: Looking back on the fact that you now have 11 records under you belt, how would you describe your own musical growth in that time?

DI: I’ve become a better lyric writer, I know that. It took a long time, and I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’ve improved. Many of my songs are simple, and I no longer worry about that – simple can be the best. Sometimes I have more complicated chord progressions and structures, and I do challenge myself to do that, but it’s not all about “being more complicated” or “sophisticated.” Often, the best songs are the simplest ones. Usually, in fact. I’ve tried to keep that at the forefront of my mind when I write. I’m not as caught up anymore in “keeping up” with anybody. I just do my own thing, try to do it as well as I possibly can, and try not to worry about what other people do, artistically or commercially. But I’m not always able to transcend those competitive feelings – so I work them into the songwriting and producing too, I guess! If that makes any sense. Sort of, right?

C15: You keep an active Twitter account- have you had any distinct boosts for your musical career via Twitter and do you see it a critical part of getting your music out, or is it just a good place to argue politics and baseball?

DI: Twitter and Facebook both have their ups and downs. They’ve been a boon for me as far as having fun and conversing with friends and acquaintances about, as you say, baseball and politics, among other things. Because of my nonpartisan job, I can’t be nearly as honest about politics as I’d like to be on social networking sites, so I just have to be more clever about how I say things, and then maybe slip a few things into songs when nobody’s paying attention! I do love celebrating Twins wins with my friends on those sites and bemoaning Twins losses – I am, as you probably know, a true diehard fan. It’s been a tough year! But there’s still hope – for now. It is handy to have those sites to get the word out about shows and the new album and everything too, believe me. I love the instantaneous nature of it – usually, unless I say something stupid. Luckily that never happens. Um…

C15: If it was a one-or-the-other decision, would you rather have a platinum selling record or a Twins World Series Championship?

DI: Wow. Best question I’ve ever been asked, possibly. No, seriously, kudos! I think I’d have to take the platinum selling record because it would help my whole family, not just me. But, selfishly, if we’re just talking about what would bring me the most joy, I can’t honestly say anything would bring me more joy (other than my wife and kids being healthy and happy, OK?) than the Twins winning another World Series. WHY DO I HAVE TO CHOOSE?!?! Arghhh! Still, great question. Food for thought.

C15: What do you want more of or think the Twin Cities could do better for the artists living and working here?

DI: More and better-paying gigs, more radio and TV exposure opportunities, more press outlets, more ways for hard-working musicians to earn a living, or at least significantly supplement their living, off of music. It’s hard and getting harder, a lot of the corporate-sponsored “money” gigs have really dried up in the recession, and it sucks. It’s so hard to be able to afford to self-release an album. I barely pulled it off this time, and it’s always a struggle. So more financial support, and more general support from the community. It’s a great town, but artists can’t do what they do, indefinitely, without M-O-N-E-Y to help them make it.

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