David Berkeley is a romantic realist, known for his ability to look at the human condition in all its complexity and give us luminous songs full of sunshine and anguish, melancholy and delight. He brings the people and situations he sings about to vibrant life with a warm, rich tenor that often slips into an aching falsetto to underline the overwhelming emotions that can move us to tears or laughter. On Some Kind of Cure, his fourth studio album, Berkeley delivers some of his most heartfelt tunes blending folk, rock, and classic pop to create timeless expressions of love and longing.
The majority of songs on Some Kind of Cure were written while Berkeley and his family were living in a remote 35-person village in the mountains of Corsica. The silence and wild island landscapes seeped into Berkeley’s soul, bringing forth a collection of lingering beauty. “There were no stores in our tiny town,” Berkeley explained. “No cafes. No post office. No Internet. It was silent. I had very few distractions, which was quite different from life in a big city. Because no one spoke English, I could sing rough drafts of lyrics without being embarrassed. When I played songs for the villagers, I had to make sure the emotion came through in the music, as well as the words.”
Berkeley kept a diary of his stay on Corsica, which became the basis of his accompanying book, 140 Goats and A Guitar: The Stories Behind Some Kind of Cure. Like his songs, the stories are well-constructed pieces filled with revealing details and poetic language. Berkeley's concept is a unique one: The book includes a download code for the album, and readers are encouraged to move through the book reading each story and then listening to the corresponding song. Berkeley explains, "The stories give you a look behind all the songs on the record. I often tell stories that explain a song or that led to a song." He writes these stories with an openness and honesty that matches his music. "Ultimately, I believe my music conjures an eerie optimism, a mysterious kind of hope," Berkeley says. "I think that sentiment hovers over most of the album and most of the book.”
Berkeley recorded the album after returning to the States, working in Atlanta with producer Will Robertson. The project was entirely funded by Berkeley’s fans. “We took our time making this record. We went through the lyrics, almost line by line, translating words into music and emotion.” The core band for the project was Robertson on piano and bass; drummer Kevin O’Donnell (Andrew Bird); Kim Taylor (Over the Rhine) on background vocals; Jordan Katz (De La Soul, Sara Bareilles) on banjo and horns; and Lex Price (Mindy Smith) on mandolin and guitars. Most tracks were cut in the studio with Berkeley singing and playing guitar live while Will played piano or bass. “The recording has a lot of breadth and a natural, relaxed feel,” Berkeley explains. “It sounds more like I do in concert than my previous recordings."
In concert, Berkeley wins crowds over with his low-key charisma and hilarious between song banter. He usually introduces songs with long, intricate anecdotes and branching commentaries, using a manner that’s more front porch than show biz, relaxing people without any apparent effort to be funny, a difficult balance to achieve. He weaves together fact, fiction and hyperbole into stories that often leave audiences in hysterics without resorting to obvious punch lines. His on stage narratives rarely repeat themselves and are full of the same astutely observed details that propel his songs.
Berkeley recorded his first album, The Confluence, in the fall of 2001. He started playing live to support the album, working days as a teacher in a public school in Brooklyn. “I was allegedly teaching creative writing, but mainly I tried to control the kids and not get hurt. I played shows on nights and weekends.”
Berkeley’s second album, 2004’s After The Wrecking Ships, featured “Fire Sign." The next year, Berkeley made Live From Fez, recorded at his favorite club just before it closed, but working day and night was taking its toll. “I was losing my voice and exhausted. I decided I had to do music full time."
Berkeley’s music started getting national attention when a producer of the CBS drama Without a Trace saw him play live. Berkeley wrote “Fire Sign” for the show and went on to perform on World Café, Mountain Stage, XM’s Loft Sessions and radio stations across the country. He has toured in support of Dido, Don Mclean, Billy Bragg, Ray Lamontagne, Rufus Wainwright, Ben Folds, Nickel Creek and many more. He received ASCAP’s Johnny Mercer Songwriter Award and, perhaps most notably, performed on PRI’s This American Life, telling the awkward and hilarious story of a private serenade he was hired to perform to help a guy win back an ex-girlfriend.
Berkeley moved from New York to Atlanta “so my wife could go to grad school. We survived on my wife’s stipend and record sales.” While living in Atlanta, Berkeley wrote the songs for Strange Light (2008), which he recorded in Chicago with producer Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse). While there, Berkeley started the ATL Collective, an organization of local musicians that put on productions that recreated classic albums with food or beverage hooks. “We did Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison with prison food (grits and refried beans served on cardboard). We had bloody marys for Blood on the Tracks. We did Dr. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Berkeley relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area with his young family after returning to the States and will be touring nationally to support the album.
Though unexpected, Berkeley’s music has also made its way to the world of dance music. Club remixes of his "Fire Sign" have attracted the attention of major DJs like Tiesto, Sean Tyas, and Pedro Del Mar, and Berkeley has begun collaborating to create new original dance music with his signature vocals.