Daniel Amedee is living proof that a musician can be from New Orleans, but not necessarily be of New Orleans, a distinction that courses through his quirky, eccentric songwriting style, informed by a haunting bluesy vocalese that scratches the soul somewhere between Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart, and certainly belies young Daniel’s 26 years. In fact, he’s been at it – writing and producing his own music (and getting by with a little help from his friends) since age 14. Which prompts the question: How and where did this unassuming bundle of talent come to be inhabited by the avant garde spirits of progressive rock and guerilla classical that suffuse his debut CD, Themes From (Ex Pat Records, 2011)? And what can we expect from its follow-up, Climbing, due for release in 2013?
For all its grand and storied heritage of America’s jazz, blues, rock ’n roll, Cajun, Zydeco, R&B, and hip-hop, the Crescent City can be a harsh and unforgiving mistress for a fledgling singer-songwriter-arranger whose music leans more towards the atmospherics of Billboard’s modern rock chart and U2. Throw in the Gulf’s annual barrage of natural disasters, with their withering effect on the psyche, and it makes for a musical sensibility that is more King Crimson than King Oliver, more Mars Volta than Mardi Gras.
“I never really got into the New Orleans blues jazz,” Daniel confides. “It never appealed to me. I was always rock. Even in high school when I was big into pop punk like Blink-182, and U2 just blew my mind, I was always a fan of huge rock bands. I guess the whole club jazz thing never really appealed to me that much, the New Orleans music stuff. I don’t know why.” Could it have something to do with your Catholic school upbringing? “It could, but I wouldn’t attribute it to that. I think even back then, it was just so oversaturated, you know? You hear it once on the street, you get it. I got it. It makes sense. I respect the musicians and I appreciate the music, but I don’t wanna play it.”
Daniel Amedee was born on December 31, 1986, in picturesque Lakeview, a neighbor-hood abounding in churches and parochial schools. His father was an attorney who specialized in school board law and wildlife law, and occasionally worked on projects with the Army Corps of Engineers. Mom ran a trendy Italian leather goods shop and taught English at LSU. She set that aside to raise her only child, but Daniel does remember trips to Italy as a youngster. His parents listened to Dr. John (dad) and Sting (mom), “those are the two that I really remember, and Bruce Springsteen too, he was there.”
Daniel is fond of telling the story back when he was eight years old, attending his cousin’s wedding, where gospel-soul singer Marva Wright’s band was playing. Daniel was captivated by their performance. He went over to them during their breaks, at the “band table,” and no doubt his Saints bow tie broke the ice. Marva let him up onstage when the band started to play and Daniel sang into the saxophonist’s microphone. Later he collected all their autographs on slips of paper and business cards, including one that read, “To Daniel - Keep the music alive - Love, Marva.” It was one of many treasured childhood mementos that were lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
In grammar school, Daniel sang in the St. Paul’s Episcopal School choir, and at Brother Martin High School he was in the drum line, run by renowned instructor Marty Hurley. “It was one of the biggest ones in the state,” Daniel recalls. “It was something like 15 snare drummers, 4 or 5 quad players, and then about 7 or 8 bass drums, and then a whole xylophone section, about 30 of us altogether. He had us tight.”
And what did you gain from that experience? “It taught me structure, how to play in time. I can play to a metronome like nobody’s business,” a useful skill when you’re recording your own demos in your own bedroom. “That was around the time in high school that I started playing bass and guitar, and then bass was my primary instrument, so I really got a foundation in the rhythm section and bass. And then as I learned to play guitar, I evolved more. I can do song structure and I can keep a solid rhythm.”
Green Day and Blink-182 were holding sway in the early 2000s when Daniel started his first band around age 16, called Silent Game, in which he played bass. He taught himself to play power chords on guitar by using Blink-182 tab books, those same books destroyed by Katrina.
Inevitably, it all comes back to Katrina. Daniel graduated high school that year, 2005, and after getting a name for themselves in New Orleans, the guys in Silent Game got their parents’ permissions to go on a road tour. “We were kids, but we went from New Orleans and then to Mississippi, North Carolina, I know we got all the way up to Pittsburgh. Then we went over to Ohio, had a gig in Chicago, and then we came back down. It was about two and a half, three weeks.” Shows were booked in advance, including one in Pancake, Pennsylvania at a roller rink. “I think there were two people there. But you gotta do it. It was so much fun.”
Daniel was enrolled at UNO (and living with his folks) when they evacuated their house prior to Katrina making landfall on August 29th. All the band equipment was destroyed under nine feet of water, except for Daniel’s guitar and bass. He had already brought the instruments with him to Baton Rouge, where the family was taken in by relatives. That turned into a two year stay, during which Daniel took online courses at UNO, and eventually transferred to LSU.
The band gradually acquired new gear and determinedly set out on another tour in 2006, the same year that Daniel began actively writing and recording his original songs. His bedroom became his recording studio, working with Logic Express software, a Shure SM58 microphone, and a Line 6 TonePort interface that plugged directly into his black Mac Book. Under the band name Themes From…, Daniel completed a mini-album called Pages From Chaos. In its seven angry, introspective tracks, the music reflected the huge displacement in his life that Katrina had wrought.
The band, of course, was not interested in Daniel’s material because it was far from their pop punk mainstream. Now, the handwriting was on the wall. Daniel’s personality was beginning to change and he soon departed Silent Game (who are still going strong today in New Orleans, by the way).
By 2007, Daniel had acquired his first manager. Later in 2008, Daniel met a new friend and made plans to stay at his house in Ireland, in Clonmel, County Tipperary. The manager thought that was a good idea, that Ireland could be the base from which Daniel could play shows and develop a following in the more progressive markets of Europe.
Clonmel, frankly, turned out to be “pretty…boring,” so Daniel’s friend brought him to Cork City for a visit. The first pub they stopped in, they met Colm O’ Herlihy who, with his brother Shane, fronted the well-known Cork band, Remma, signed to Morrissey’s Attack Records label. An immediate friendship was struck, and it wasn’t long before Daniel became Remma’s new bass player, a gig he held for the next two and a half years.
Now Remma had been around for six years without making a full-length record, “and it was crazy to me. I never understood that. I was in the band for two and a half years and we only wrote two songs. They had a very snail pace about doing things.” Part of that was attributed to the lead singer, who had kidney failure in 2004, went on dialysis, had a kidney transplant, and was never the same again. By 2010, the band, especially Daniel, knew they had to record their first album if they were serious about going anywhere as musicians. As it happened, they were able to take advantage of their connection with guitarist Noel Hogan (of the Cranberries), who was itching to become a producer at his home studio.
“We would show up and he would be with his kids or running errands, doing normal people things,” Daniel told blogsite The Mic in 2011. “Then we'd start recording and come lunch time his wife would have sandwiches for us. It was a surreal and incredible experience. He and his family were some of the nicest and most hospitable people I've ever met.”
Remma completed a 5-song EP that was released through NorthStar Music Publishing of London. The band then decided they wanted to tour the States. It turned into quite a journey that summer, 2010: “It started in New Orleans, we went to Texas, New Mexico, up to Colorado, Seattle, down to San Francisco, L.A., San Diego, Arizona, back to New Mexico, back to Texas, then New Orleans. Then we took a two week break, and went up the East Coast to New York and back to New Orleans. It was a long tour. And I was the only one with the driver’s license. So I drove the entire thing. It was like 16,000 miles.”
In San Francisco, a friend took the band to Revolution Café where Daniel met Charles Gonzales, “who is originally a bass player and he’s originally from New Orleans. And he’s a producer. He and I just hit it off immediately. He took us back to the studio to record a song there with Remma.” Back across the country in Williamsburg (Brooklyn), Daniel broke the news to Remma that he was quits. With the band in tow, “I drove from New York to New Orleans nonstop, 24 hours straight. The tour was really hard for me but I learned a lot about what I did and didn’t want out of life. At that point I knew I had to move forward on my own.”
On November 1st, Daniel was back in San Francisco to begin recording his first album with Gonzales. Drummer Patrick Spurgeon (of Rogue Wave) was onboard, a phenomenally accomplished musician in his own right. String arrangements were played by Charith Premawardhana, known for his work on the Mars Volta’s breakthrough album, The Bedlam In Goliath, and as the founder of the Classical Revolution underground chamber music movement.
This time around, Themes From was the album title, under Daniel Amedee’s name. Available at CD Baby, iTunes, and SoundCloud.com, the album built a small but elite following, and a video was produced for track two, the five minute “Swimming Through the Unconscious Disconscience.” Another track was given away for free, “Solution.” The Poule d’Or website called the album “beautifully dreamy, very well produced and overall pretty enjoyable! A fitting warm summer evening soundtrack.”
Flick-Thru.com, wrote: “Daniel Amedee is a singer songwriter who demonstrates a real knack for writing gorgeous cinematic choral pieces, like ‘Home And Heartfelt.’ When he sings, his voice sits really quite uncertainly between an indie kid and Tom Waits, so much so that it could be two different people. However here we have luscious harmonic writing that I found really rather affecting.” A live session was also released over the web, containing five songs off Themes From and unexpected covers of Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” and Bob Dylan’s “Its All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1Ztml21qIA
Currently making the rounds is a one-off single that Daniel recorded at the suggestion of his [new] manager, Michael Pillot, the record industry veteran who also manages Louisiana’s premiere Cajun band, BeauSoleil. “Christmas In The City Of Love” is part fever dream, part automatic composing, and part subversive Christmas song: “There’s love in the streets of New Orleans/ There’s love in the streets of Berlin. . . It’s Christmas in the city of love/ You can feel it in the hearts of everyone.”
“To me it’s more than a Christmas song,” Daniel says. “It’s more about the feeling of warmth and love that you feel towards your family and that you feel towards others, setting aside the materialistic side of Christmas. The idea of getting together and sharing this life and just giving, giving love to people, that’s really what the song is about.” The track is up for sale at CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, all the usual suspects.
What does the immediate future have in store for Daniel Amedee? Leading up to the release of his second album, Climbing in 2013 (also produced by Charles Gonzales and featuring Patrick Spurgeon on drums) – more videos, more interaction with social media, more recordings, more collaborations. When asked by The Mic what got him started in this business, the answer poured out: “My own persistence and belief that I could write songs and make it in this industry would be the round about answer. But I played with many different people before I realized I was what I needed to succeed and the right people would come to me instead of vice versa. I never stopped writing my own songs and privately developing my own style while playing with other people, and when the opportunity came to take a step forward and record my first full length album I took it.”
– Arthur Levy (November 2012)