Singer/songwriter Danny Malone lives in a creator’s paradise.
Residing in a refurbished barn in East Austin, Malone turned the place into a retreat where he writes, plays and records every day. There’s even a stage where he performs house concerts, inviting other musicians to use the space and play with him.
It’s in this barn where Malone recorded his new album, SpeedDreamer. Created during a period in the singer’s life where he felt stuck, SpeedDreamer symbolizes Malone’s determination to create despite any obstacles. As a result, the LP contains both moments of reflection and agitation.
Malone spoke with Citygram about his creative process, the art of improvising and why Austin makes an ideal home for musicians.
Citygram: Tell us about your space.
Danny Malone: I live in a barn behind a house in East Austin. I’ve had it for six years and I’ve converted it into a venue with a stage and a really nice sound system.
It’s become an art space basically. I didn’t mean for it to be, but I throw shows here and hundreds of people show up sometimes. Music videos have been shot here, recordings have been done here, so it’s turned into an art space for my friends to use, not only just me.
Citygram: Did you decorate it yourself?
DM: Yeah me and two other people. We made a childhood fort come to life in adult form. It’s pretty immature but it celebrates that.
Citygram: You recorded your previous album in a haunted castle in Denmark, but this album you decided to record here in this barn yourself on a four-track cassette. What made you want to strip down your sound this time?
“I needed a project to pull myself out of a depression.”
DM: It wasn’t that I wanted to, it was just necessity. I came back from recording balloons in Denmark to having no label and no money to put out Balloons. The label discussions that I was in, those fell through and some weird stuff went down. I came home and I had no way to not only release Balloons but no way to even mix the record. I hadn’t even heard the songs since I was in Denmark recording them.
The producer had no place to live after we came home and he had no place to set-up a studio and he had no money, so he just had the song files on a hard-drive and we had to wait to get money to mix the album. It took about a year before I could even mix Balloons. In that time I was stuck here, totally broke and had the wind knocked out of me because of the situation.
In that time a friend of mine mentioned he had a four-track cassette player and asked if I wanted to borrow it. I said sure and screwed around with a song one day –
SpeedDreamer. I started recording SpeedDreamer just to see what it would sound like and when it was done I was like, this actually sounds really good, and I tried another song and another and I was like, I’m making an album. I needed a project to pull myself out of a depression basically, because the situation I was in was really disappointing.
Citygram: You’re already starting to write and record new songs. Are you using a four-track again?
DM: This time I’m stepping it up and going hi-fi again. I am recording it here but we built a nice studio with nice mics and little booths. I’m going through a lot of effort to make it sound high quality. I’ve done the bedroom sounding album, I don’t want to do another. I killed it with that one, so why do it again.
Citygram: What’s the meaning behind the title SpeedDreamer?
DM: When I was eleven years old I went to a friend’s house and he was kind of a punk kid. My mom didn’t really want me hanging out with him, that kind of thing. There was a sleepover there and eight kids were there and we did this thing where we would bend over and hyperventilate and stand up and then another friend would come and choke you out. Basically, this would constrict your air for only a few seconds, causing you to black out, and we would fall onto the bed. You’re only out for two to five seconds but because you have this dream it feels like months, like the longest dream you’ve ever had, and they called it speed dreaming. I heard about it there in Dallas and I also heard about it in Georgia at this boarding school I went to.
It related to that sort of feeling of only being gone in reality not too long but having it feel like an eternity and having it feel surreal as well.
Citygram: What’s the most vivid dream you’ve had from that experience or in general?
DM: The most vivid dream I’ve ever had? Every day of my life. I don’t know. There’s one dream I can tell you where I was in an airplane and I was learning to fly an airplane and then I lost control and crashed into a river and this river took me, turned the airplane into a canoe-speedboat and I went through all these caves and turns and it was wild, scary but fun the whole time. There were indigenous people swimming in this lake and the airplane boat crashed into the middle of them and they exalted me as their king, I was their leader, and then I woke up. It’s a weird dream, kind of conceited.
Citygram: You’re a homebody, what do you like to do when you’re home outside of making music?
DM: I’m pretty simple. I play video games, I like to play FIFA Soccer somewhat compulsively. I like to turn my brain off. I watch a lot of movies, I play music a lot. Everyday there’s something musical happening whether I’m recording, demoing, or writing. I’m just at home roaming around, haunting my own house, basically.
“I write songs constantly, everyday.”
Citygram: When you’re not in the barn and you want to get out where do you like to hang out in Austin?
DM: Something I like to do is take walks in the middle of the night, through alleys and streets that would be busy streets during the daytime. There’s a public pool around the corner that I sneak into sometimes because it’s not open at night and I can’t go out during the day because I will burn. I’m a disabled person with my skin tone.
Citygram: How often do you write songs?
DM: I write songs constantly, everyday. I can just pick up an instrument and write a song on it then and there. I do that all the time, just to make friends laugh or for any reason. I don’t have a writing work ethic where it’s “writing time”, it’s just always sort of happening. The songs that have become songs that I put on albums and promote, I don’t really know what the difference is between those and the ones I’m constantly writing. Maybe it’s that I get a response from friends that I need to keep playing it or they want to hear it more, but it’s arbitrary to me. I write so many that any of them could be on albums and it’s just certain ones that I decided to keep.
Citygram: How many instruments do you play?
DM: I can play anything. If a song or music needs this at this place, I’ll figure out a way to make whatever it is work in a song. John Lennon said, “give me a tuba and I’ll make it sing.” I feel I can relate to that because on recordings I’ve played so many different instruments. In the moment I’ve made it work. I might not be able to sit down at a symphony and play a beautiful trumpet solo or something but I did play trumpet on a song and made it work.
If you’re asking what do I play proficiently? All the rock n roll instruments like piano, any keys instrument, organs, guitar, drums. I’ve always recorded all the instruments on my albums, which is another indicator of how I’m a homebody.
Citygram: Is there a specific song on SpeedDreamer where you improvised with instruments to create a sound that you were looking for?
DM: Yes, I’d pinpoint the song I’m An Artist as the best example. This toy keyboard that I had, had about ten drum beats on it. The drum beats sounded fantastic when I plugged it into the four-track. Although it was just a toy keyboard I got so advanced in the process that I decided to see how much I could do, so I started layering the drum beats on-top of each other, keeping the same tempo but changing to drumbeat 6 rather than drumbeat 2. When they played on-top of each other there’d be this strange phasing issue, it had this weird effect, this strange wavy effect and it all came out of this toy keyboard I had because I didn’t have anything else to use and I just made it work.
“You live in Austin and you’ve made it, life is easy to live here.”
Citygram: How do you cultivate your sound?
DM: Since I was thirteen years old I’ve been writing and playing constantly. I’m always playing in front of friends. While I’m a homebody and loner I like to have people over. I always played and played and got feedback from my brother or best friends. I’ve always been friends with people that have good taste I think, my brother has excellent taste, so I’d get feedback because I don’t know what’s going on. My friends with taste would guide me and say, “don’t do that but keep doing that” until after a while I got it a little bit. More and more it became that I was being myself more and more in my music, sounding more like myself somehow, not imitating anyone else in any way.
Citygram: What do you feel is a quintessential Austin experience/attitude that has influenced you growing up here?
DM: It’s so easy to live in this city. It seems like so many people’s attitudes are “gosh, if I only lived in New York or LA I would’ve made it by now.” Why are you worried about it? You live in Austin and you’ve made it, life is easy to live here. You don’t have to work too hard and somehow you keep getting by and you get to be creative and do these projects. You might not be globally famous or a pop star but what else could you ask for in life as a creative?
What’s quintessentially Austin? Everything is cool, everything is laid back and there’s plenty of time.
“It feels like a gift, not like a talent of mine… it’s not anything that I’ve needed to cultivate or harness. It’s just there; it’s just given to me.”
Citygram: Has there ever been an unexpected moment when inspiration has hit?
DM: It’s always unexpected. It feels like a gift, not like a talent of mine. I feel truly grateful that somehow there’s this gift of unexpected inspiration that out of nowhere I’ll sing a song in my head that’s never existed before and then all of a sudden there’s a song that exists. I’m never expecting to create something it just happens and I’m grateful for it.
Citygram: Can you explain the difference of a gift and a talent?
DM: I would say that a talent is something that you cultivate throughout your life. You might find that you’re coordinated and you apply that to a sport you’re playing and just get better and better at it, but you have a fundamental talent of that coordination or something.
Whereas a gift, to me, is not anything that I’ve needed to cultivate or harness. It’s just there; it’s just given to me. It arrives there for me. Then my other talents of bringing that song to life, my talents for my focus and what I’ve learned on instruments and how I’ve learned to manipulate tones, that’s the talent part, but the gift is, I’ve been gifted a song or a melody out of nowhere. That’s what I can’t practice.
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