Artist Interview: LA-based singer songwriter Doran Danoff

Doran Danoff is a talented singer songwriter. I found him on Tradiio a few months ago and wanted to learn a bit more about his story. Once you hear his sound, you’ll want to know more too.

1) When did you get your start in music? What originally motivated you?
Before I was ever a singer or even a musician I was into writing. Lots of poetry. All the time. Before I was a singer I was a pianist I started on piano lessons as a kid and totally fucking hated it. I used to sit down and make up my own songs on the piano. I liked to improvise. My mother is a singer. She was famous back in the ’60’s and ‘70s in Europe so I think I inherited the music from her. There was always music in the house. My grandmother lived with us. She was born in Yemen in like 1913 and came to Europe on a donkey. She used to sing all kinds of crazy old songs from Yemen and Africa. My mother used to sing all the time. My dad loved jazz…and the Beach Boys. That was my first tape. Surfin USA. When I was a teenager a close friend of mine taught me the 12 bar blues. That was like Pandora’s box opening up for me. After that it was like all blues all the time. And then jazz. And then funk and rock n roll. The first band I was ever in was a hip hop band called The Herbivores with the rapper Cadalack Ron. He just died. Very sad. That was high school shit. As I got more and more serious with piano I eventually returned to trying to study some Classical and more formal stuff like composing and arranging. It wasn’t until I was like 23 that I wrote my first song.

2) What are some of your key influences to your style?
Well the first music I ever listened to was gangster rap like Ice T and Body Count, and NWA and all the 90’s hip hop that was amazing like Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets and Guru and GrandPuba, Jeru The Damaja, Pharcyde, The Roots and stuff. After that it was a lot of hippie stuff. I was obsessed with The Doors. They were from LA like me and I always dug their psychedelic inspiration. I am pretty sure Jim Morrison inspired me to be a poet. Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan were probably my biggest early influences in terms of writing. Early folk influences from The Guthries, Donovan, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, and old string band music was an influence. After that it was strictly rock and folk from the ’60s and jam bands: all the classic shit like Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and of course The Beatles, like tons of Beatles… Beatles, Beatles, Beatles! And bands like The Grateful Dead were a huge influence on me in terms of seeing what music could really do to people and the way it could create a community and elevate people’s minds and psyches to a whole other plane. We were doing a lot of acid back then. Going to Dead shows and Phish and the like. It was all a very open, very inspiring time, reaching for a higher plane through music and poetry. When I finally got serious into piano I was gathering up tons of old vinyl, going crazy on the stride piano cats like Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and all the bebop cats. I was super deep into modern jazz like Miles and Mingus and Thelonious Monk and the funk stuff from Herbie Hancock and guys like Jimmy Smith on the B3 organ. As I got older I learned about other great songwriters like Harry Nilsson and Tom Waits and Dr. John and Nina Simone. I never really got into contemporary music or pop until I was older. I was very much in the old school music for a long time. Nowadays inspiration is coming from everywhere. Over the years I got very much into more modern music, electronics, dance music, experimental genres, orchestral music, etc. I really don’t set any limits to what inspires me. I am a music fanatic and listen to everything and draw it all into my own work.

3) Your track “The Ghost and the Scratch” is one of my favorites. Can you tell me how you wrote the song? How did you decide to incorporate the strings?

Thank you. It is the title track from my first full length record “The Ghost & The Scratch.” It’s hard to say how I wrote the song. It’s built off a pretty straightforward pentatonic folky melody. I think I came up with it walking home one night in Manhattan after working at a bar or something. The story is really about life and death and war and fear and the infinite cycle of the whole thing. Here is something I wrote about the record.

On “The Ghost & The Scratch” by Doran Danoff
It’s always a funny thing when people ask you about the music you write, what those lyrics are about, what that song title really means, why that style or that sound was used to capture that idea. In my mind, the answer to questions like that always seem trite and cliché. A song or a melody or even a poem can mean so much or so little to a different set of eyes or ears, so I have always avoided putting my work within the confines of some suffocating description. The songs that I wrote for this record represent a time in my life where I was coming out of a period deeply entrenched in classical, jazz and blues and was becoming increasingly interested in the world of American folk and rock. At the time, I was writing poetry and songs that had one foot in the words and symbolism of transcendentalist writers like Melville and Whitman and the other foot in the crushing real world rhyming and structural sensibility of songwriters like Dylan, Young, and Waits. The musical material was all ragtime and shanty-pirate folk mashed with Beethoven and John Lennon. It is the kind of musical quilt that I always wrap myself in– never too far from anything so as to always be close to everything. That was what would come out. It was never intentional. And the subject always seemed to draw from the same source. It was my reaction to watching a modern world around me start to implode by it’s own recklessness. Everyone’s race to the end of time seemed so absolutely focused and frightening and I had to shake myself out of total despair. This is no original thought. Kerouac wrote about it along with the rest of the Beats. Hip-hop and punk-rock was talking about it. It’s all around and it’s never really gonna’ change. “The Ghost & The Scratch” is a song about a town where the boys go off to war, and the old men watch. But the old men too were once themselves mere boys going off to war. Some of them made it and many did not. It’s about a cycle of life and loss. Of love and forgiveness. The Ghost is the spirit, of all things, of all life. The Scratch is that brief moment in time, that one improbable opening, to feel the pain of having lived and the joy of having loved, and the magic of knowing you had the chance…But really, it’s all up to you. Don’t believe a word I say.

Doran Danoff April 2011

4) How do you enjoy being involved with Tradiio? What’s it like on the artist side?

Yeah I am excited about a platform like Tradiio. I think having a community based radio station where listeners can really get behind an artist and have a stake in their music is a really cool concept. I am always just looking for new ways to get my music into the ears of new listeners. Having the support of a platform like Tradiio that is committed to giving independent artists a space to be heard, is really great for everyone. I look forward to making new fans and meeting new artists on Tradiio.

5) What projects are you currently working on?

Currently, I am about to release my new single called “YOUNG LOVE” this Friday Feb.19th. It’s a really fun song, a bit of a departure from the folkier sound on my last record. I am really excited to share it with everyone. The single is off of an upcoming EP for release later this year. I am also working on another side project with some friends in LA called LITTLE FORTUNE. It’s a bit more of an electro-pop vibe. We are about to drop our first single next month followed an EP later this year. I keep busy as a writer and producer working on my own records, other artists and various composition projects for Film and TV.

6) What other musicians are you listening to right now? Do you listen to other folk artists, or a mix?
So much! I listen to everything. Definitely other folk artists. I recently saw the Milk Carton Kids live. They are incredible. I have been into some of the elctro folk stuff going on with groups like Sylvan Esso and I am really into the group Son Lux. I recently discovered British pianist and singer Tom Odell who is dope. Also someone in the folk world who I have been following for years who I love is Icelandic singer/songwriter Olof Arnolds. She is amazing. Also a big fan of First Aid Kit and Sharon Van Etten, Michael Kiwanuka, Tallest Man On earth, and so many other folk artists.

7) What does your songwriting process look like?

Like madness! No just kidding. It looks like a lot of things. Sometimes it looks like a moose. Other times like an owl. Sometimes it’s naked in the shower or it’s in a crowded bar into my iPhone. sometimes it’s like an instantaneous lightning bolt, other times it’s like giving birth over 9 months. I am usually alone. I write all of my songs by myself. Usually at the piano…usually really late at night, or early in the morning, or in the afternoon, and also at dusk. The hardest thing a lot of times is to finish a song all the way. I have hundreds of half finished songs and ideas waiting to be finished…I better stop this interview so I can get back to it!

8) Is there anything you want our readers to know about you?

Go download my new single! Buy my records or steal them or get the from Napster (does that still exits!??). Just listen to my music if you want to. And share it with your friends. I am a totally independent artist so this is a real bedroom operation. Come to see some shows. I am playing at Hotel Cafe in Hollywood on Saturday 2/20 to celebrate the new release. I want your readers to know how much I love each and every one of them…except that weird one over there. I don’t like that one.

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