Here, after months of delays, is the second half of my interview with Danny! It’s not something I’m proud of.
This year, I’ve watched site traffic spike several hundred percent. Honestly, it’s something I never thought would happen. Now, I admit that I’m just a mere flea on the big dog that is New Music Cartel and a few other hip hop Internet goliaths. But I can guarantee you that Plug One gets more traffic than many better known blogs and websites. Much of that credit is due to smart manipulation of Google’s search algorithms a rising interest in alternative and underground hip hop. Happily, it seems that I’m getting more returning visitors, too.
Unfortunately, I haven’t done a very good job of posting interviews. Often, I’ve talked with artists, promising to post our conversations, and then taken months and sometimes years to do it. One of the worst cases is Danny Swain.
Danny emailed me in the summer of 2007, around the time that he put out Danny is Dead EP. I already knew about Danny, so I was flattered that he wanted to do an interview for my site. It subsequently took over a year, nearly a dozen email conversations, a few CDs he graciously mailed to me and even a second interview before I posted the first installment at the end of October. I wrote in the introduction to the installment that I would post the second half a week later. That was nearly six months ago.
Even worse, Danny is only one of many interviews that I’ve conducted since this site began and never posted. So as a result, I am calling this series April Dues. Not only will I get all of these interviews posted in April, but I will do my best to update this site on a regular basis from now on. No longer will I just rely on Google search gimmicks to generate traffic (though I reserve the right to use that strategy as well).
In some ways, this has worked out for the best. When I last checked in with Danny!, he was commiserating over a Definitive Jux deal that was going nowhere. But since our last conversation in November, the label has released his debut 12-inch single, “Just Friends.” It also included the track on an iTunes compilation, Time Travel Vol. 1. It appears that things are finally moving forward for him.
Much of Danny’s music concerns success, or the lack of it. His most recent album, 2008’s And I Love H.E.R., plays on Common’s famous acronym for hip hop (Hip hop in its Essence is Real). Like so many rappers, he imagines hip hop as a woman just out of a reach, forever seducing him and nearly always breaking him. Both And I Love H.E.R. and 2006’s The Charm end with a romantic breakup, and while Danny says that this is a metaphor for his seemingly music career, it could also serve as a metaphor for the end of his dreams.
Part of the fun is watching Danny develop as an artist and wondering who he’ll eventually become. Will he mature into a Kanye West-sized ego tripper, turning his life into an opera and responding to criticism as if it were gunshot wounds? Or will he let his dreams mature into a working musician’s life, a series of peaks and valleys to navigate? Of course, I’m assuming he’ll become a major artist — he could simply drift into the blogosphere like so many once-hot rappers turned zShare over-sharers. In some ways, the jury is still out.
Personally, I prefer the Danny Is Dead EP because it’s short, succinct and concise. Meanwhile, his full-length albums, particularly the hour-plus And I Love H.E.R., tend to ramble for too long. Stocked with too many extraneous tracks, they sprawl and lose focus. However, it’s clear that he puts a tremendous level of creativity into his work. Yes, H.E.R. is a played-out metaphor, but by merging it with a fantasy based on the Beatles’ swinging London soundtrack A Hard Day’s Night, he gives it new life.
Regardless of my opinions over different aspects of his work, I believe that Danny is a prodigiously talented artist whose best work is yet to come.
Danny!: We already talked about how well And I Love H.E.R. did. Even though it wasn’t through them, they are aware that it’s a project of mine. They even offered to sell it on their website a while back…so I guess I needed to put that album out to get them to see that there’s a demand for me. And it worked to my advantage, so I guess they’re looking forward now, or at least more so than the last time we talked.
In regards to putting the album out, we’re getting the ball rolling on that right now. It’s going to be a crazy album format wise, lyric wise.
There’s not going to be a sense of urgency with this album. Every album I’ve done it’s always been, like, it has to be the one that gets me there; it has to be the one that blows me up. But I could care less about that anymore. I want to do an album I like and that I enjoy. Not to say that I don’t enjoy my albums, but I’m going to be straight doing me the whole album, not giving a fuck what anybody thinks or what anybody has to say about it. I think it’s going to be like Danny is Dead, where as far as the lyrics and concepts and beats will be totally left field, almost like a Madvillainy-esque project where the format is out there, and it’s not a formulaic hip hop record. Def Jux seems to be excited about it, so we’re working on that right now.
Plug One: Do you have a title for the new album?
Danny!: The working title is, uh, “Project X.” But that’s not going to be the title of the album, obviously. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to call it.
Plug One: Last time we talked, you were pretty frustrated about your dealings with Definitive Jux. Have you resolved those problems?
Danny!: No, not necessarily. I’m still dealing with the same things. When I talked with you last I was distraught because I wasn’t hearing from them, and they were brushing me aside. But now that [And I Love H.E.R.] has done well they’re trying to get back in touch with me again.
It doesn’t take away from the fact that I have frustrations with the label. And at the end of the day, who doesn’t? What artist doesn’t have frustrations with his label, unless you’re a million-selling artist? There are not too many artists that are going to get total support from their label. And I’m no different from anybody else.
I have frustrations like everybody else. I’m not completely eye to eye with them, but at least I know that there’s slightly more support behind me now than there was when we talked.
Plug One: Let’s talk about And I Love H.E.R. Can you explain what the concept of the album is about?
Danny!: Basically, the concept is an updated version of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. If you look at the cover and CD booklet itself, the artwork is derived from the Beatles movie.
It’s supposed to be a story about a guy who falls for this girl. They go through their ups and downs. At the end of the day, he realizes that maybe he should let her go for a while, and if it’s really meant to be she’ll come back and they can start over again. But in the meantime, and after all they’ve been through, it’s best to leave it alone.
Of course, the whole story is an allegory for my relationship with hip hop, and my career thus far these past few years. The girl is hip hop. Or even, digging deeper than that, my career in hip hop and the struggles and frustrations I’ve been through since I started putting out albums a few years back. When the girl and the guy break up at the end, it’s me saying, leave it alone for a while, I’m not getting where I want to be. Despite the accolades and acclaim, I’m not comfortable with the spot that I’m in. I feel like I should be further along.
Funnily enough, that’s probably the same thing I told you the last time we talked.
Every song on the album is a metaphor for something I’ve gone through in my career. If you listen to the songs, you can tell exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve followed my career closely enough, you can tell. Even the songs where I talk about meeting a girl in a club and getting to know her better, you can correlate it to something that I’ve gone through in my career. Basically, you can take it at face value, or you can look deeper into it.
Plug One: It seems like every album you put out is about breaking up with some girl.
Danny!: Yeah (laughs). Somebody could categorize me as an emo rapper if they really wanted to. I’m really emotional when it comes to expressing me. I really want people to know how seriously I take this music. It doesn’t seem like I do [judging by] the song concepts that I have, but I take my music seriously. I get frustrated, and I wear my heart on my sleeve in that aspect. I just wish that I had more notoriety than I already have.
Someone else from the outside might say, “You already have notoriety. What are you talking about?” But everybody wants a little bit more. Whatever the case may be, I do wear that on my sleeve a lot.
My last few albums have been these metaphors and allegorical tales about breaking up with a girl or hip hop in general. That’s just me. That’s my steez, I guess.
Plug One: Do you prefer making concept albums to regular albums?
Danny!: I just like the creative development of these projects. I like to think deeply about putting a record together and not just record songs and slap them on a disc. I want the listener to enjoy the record and get into it. I don’t want them to have these [random] songs to listen to and put out a mixtape or whatever. I want the listener to have a great experience.
I put records together the way I would want to hear someone else to do it. As a consumer, I would want to hear someone make a concept record. So I make records I hope people want to hear. It’s fun working on them: going through samples, and coming up with concepts and lines for the songs that I can use. I’m a very creative person, and I can’t help but do that. My first two albums weren’t concept records, but from The Charm on down it’s been just me taking a story and flipping it on its ear.
Plug One: Did you try to do anything different musically with And I Love H.E.R.?
Danny!: Definitely. And I Love H.E.R. is a far more musical album than Danny Is Dead, and Danny Is Dead is a far more musical album than The Charm.
With every album, I try to expound on the last record I made for the last album, and then just expand on that. I believe the last record I made for The Charm was “Café Surreal,” and then I expanded on that as much as I could and made similar sounding tracks for Danny Is Dead.
I think the last record I made for Danny Is Dead was “Press Conference,” and that was me adding musical elements on top, adding live instrumentation. I took that and turned it into And I Love H.E.R., and made a very musical album. There are breakdowns in the songs, whole minutes of just music, or just horns. I would say it’s a step up.
Any artist is going to get better and progress with his craft. I think And I Love H.E.R. is my most complete album to date. I’m proud to be able to say something like that.
Plug One: It’s gotten a fair amount of press. I’ve seen it reviewed in a few different places.
Danny!: Yeah, Okayplayer.com had good things to say about it, AllMusicGuide.com. It’s been getting good reviews. I’ve never read a bad review of any of my albums. But, in general, I’m glad that And I Love H.E.R. has gotten good press. That’s one of the things I was hoping for. I didn’t want it to go on deaf ears. It was a good look when I saw all these places singing its praises. It means I’m doing something right.
Plug One: Has moving to Atlanta helped your career from a networking standpoint? It seems to me that perhaps, in terms of your music, you just haven’t gotten to enough people yet.
Danny!: It’s a slow process, but it’s been more beneficial and fruitful than living in Savannah the past three years. In Savannah, I was fortunate to get the press and all the stuff I was getting while living there, so imagine how much further I can take it by living in Atlanta for a few more months. I have networked with a few people since I’ve been down here.
It’s funny that you say that, because it’s very apparent now, after living here for three months, that I have more of a following here than I did in Savannah. I was at an M.O.P. concert with a few friends, and these kids passed by me. One of them’s like, “Hey, Danny!” Yeah, that’s me. I thought it was a cousin of mine, my long lost cousin who recognized me or whatever. And the kid started breaking down, not necessarily crying, but very excited. And he called his friends, “Guess who I’m standing in front of right now? It’s Danny!” Like, oh shit, I didn’t realize it was like that in Atlanta.
Seeing that not only motivated me to get going on my shit while I’m down here, but it also let me know that I’ve already got my work cut out for me. Apparently people know that I am here, so let me take that, network more, and get to know more people, not only fans, but people who make music themselves, and see what I can do down here. I’m already off to a good start.
Related: Interview: Danny! (part one)
The College Kicked-Out (2004)
The Charm (2006)
Danny Is Dead EP (2007)
And I Love H.E.R. (2008)