The Joy of Forgetting Rock and Roll
Dan Zanes is a Grammy-winning family musician. A former member of the band the The Del Fuegos, he has gone on to redefine children's music with an "unsanitized, unpasteurized, [and] organically even" mode of composition. In 2009, he won the Independent Music Award, and has collaborated with Lou Reed, Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega and numerous others on his albums. He lives in Brooklyn.
Question: Do you miss being in a rock and roll band?
Dan Zanes: No, there is nothing about being in a rock and roll band that I miss at all. It was really fun and it was… I felt you know. I’m really, really lucky that I was able to do that because everybody that I knew wanted to be doing exactly what we were doing, so and there were plenty of bands that were better than we were, but we got some really lucky breaks, but everything that I liked about playing in a rock and roll band, the sense of community that we had in the beginning in Boston, the feeling that you could wake up and write a song and be playing it that night at a show if you wanted to, just the feeling that anything was possible musically, just that open ended part of it, all that stuff and the energy of… You know for us in The Del Feugos’ time we didn’t even think it was a show if people weren’t dancing. You know people had to dance for it to have any meaning to us at all and that is still the case man. You know it’s just… It’s so you know and that was really one of the best things about it, so all the things that I liked about rock and roll, the energy of it and the participation from people in the audience and just the completely open ended musical aspect of it, all that stuff is alive and well in my life every day, so all the great things are there and then all the sort of the more negative sides of it all. You know the you know unhealthy lifestyle, terrible hours, questionable associates, you know all of that stuff is not there anymore and now it’s really hard to imagine shows or gatherings without young people around. It’s just they’re very inspiring. You know they’re inspiring on the dance floor. They’re inspiring the way they’ll sing even if they don’t know the words. They just set a good tone, so I love having young people and adults together and we even get teenagers at our shows, so that is the ultimate crossover and so there is really nothing. There is nothing that I miss. I feel like I have it all now.
Question: What was the best career advice you ever received?
Dan Zanes: Yeah, well I know when I… You know the thing… The reason I feel so lucky about being able to make family music now is because when I was wasting my youth in a rock and roll band we were able to make… You know we made four records and toured around the U.S. and Europe and got to meet our heroes and do all that stuff and everyday was an opportunity for new mistakes and I feel like we just made them all, so people could have been giving us good or bad career advice and we wouldn’t have known it. You know we were just so self willed, so willful about what we were going to do and how we were going to do it and we just... You know we were just constantly shooting ourselves in the feet, but then when I started the family music I felt like I had an opportunity to do things differently, but a lot of the advice that I did get was you’ll never get… you know you’ll never get distribution. You got to go with a major label and don’t try and start this yourself. A lot of people really weren’t too supportive of it and so I’m really… Sorry, excuse me. A lot of people weren’t supportive of my starting a label and having a go of it. You know the feeling at that time ten years ago was you really need to work with a larger company and so I guess that was you know. I mean I don’t know if it was bad advice, but fortunately for me it has worked out really well that I’ve been able to start a company and be independent and I’m surrounded by great people. I’m not running the company, but I’m surrounded by great people that are doing it.
Dan Zanes headed an 80’s rock band out of Boston, got some breaks, toured, but then left and eventually became a renowned children’s musician. Does he miss it?