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Vermont songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dan Johnson began putting his poems into song somewhere back in the late 90s, inspired by Bob Dylan’s landmark “Blood on the Tracks.” Starting out with guitar and harmonica, he eventually picked up the mandolin along the way. He performs original americana music, with occasional covers from the bluegrass, old-time, country, and folk repertoire.
"Things started happening for me when I started to get involved with some of the people making traditional folk music in the Hudson Valley," says Dan. "Old Songs, Jay and Molly, The Picking and Singing Gathering. All these various people who were all doing their own kind of thing, but which was all based in acoustic instruments and unique personal styles. Then I started digging into the history of American music. I'd always been into Dylan, but didn't understand what he was about until I started finding all these weird roots and strands that were all inter-connected. Many of his lines are pulled straight out of old-time, folk blues. The more of these connections I made, the more I wanted to be a part of it. And to me, as a writer, that meant writing songs."
After co-founding and releasing a self-produced album with upstate New York bluegrass band Three Quarter North, Dan left to explore his own songwriting. With his band, The Expert Sidemen, he produced two albums of original music, and played shows throughout upstate NY, Vermont, and Western MA. Dan and The Expert Sidemen most famously hosted a weekly americana music revue at Valentine’s Music Hall and Beer Joint, where they shared the stage with Woody Pines, JP Harris and the Tough Choices, Star Anna, Vermont Joy Parade, The Farewell Drifters, Eastbound Jesus, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Driftwood, and many other regional and national acts. He also hosted a roots music series at the Linda Norris auditorium in Albany, where he and his band opened for Della Mae, The Sweetback Sisters, Michael Daves, and Martha Scanlan (Reeltime Travelers) and Amy Helm. These shows were broadcast on local public radio station WAMC.
SUCK IT UP, CUPCAKE
While playing the annual riverside barbecue bash known as the Pig Out in Troy, NY, singer-songwriter Dan Johnson was heckled by a couple of local beer-swilling lovebirds on a date, who yelled out to the troubadour, “Suck it up, cupcake.” This innocuous event became the inspiration for a new round of self-deprecation, -immolation, -searching, and –discovery. In his basement in Richmond, Vermont, Dan crafted and recorded the songs on this record, honing his skills as an engineer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist.
“When the songs start to pile up, I know I’ve got to get them down and share them with the world,” he says. “This group of songs is special because they’re all about songwriting and performing in some ways. They show me trying to loosen up and find something unexpected and strange in the process instead of trying to achieve some standard of pre-invented ‘songness.’ I think I’ve managed to create something new with all of the music on this recording.”
The previous work, Mercury 85, represented an effort to focus on the writing, and to bring renewed depth to the performance. “Recording the album at home gave me the opportunity to record, listen, edit, re-record, and really take the time to experiment and explore,” said Dan. “I feel like technology drives movement in music, and I wanted to see what I could do with what I had, and this album is the product of that mindset. I recorded all the parts myself, using MIDI bass and occasional drum loops to fill the sound out. I also used guitar amplifier modeling extensively to help me craft the sound I was looking for. This album was a big turning point for me, I feel. Although the production quality was relatively weak, I feel like the process and the songs made it worth it. My hope now is to bring the same kind of process to a stronger studio recording. I’ve already got a bunch of songs lining themselves up to get on the next one.” Mercury 85 is currently available at Bandcamp, iTunes, and CD Baby.