Artist Interview: Folk singer songwriter Darryl Rahn tells stories that sound good in the car

If you’re a fan of eloquent lyricism and quality guitar work, you should take a few minutes to learn about the exceptional songwriting of Darryl Rahn. We covered his work on the site a few times, so I decided to reach out to him for an interview. From the first hello of the conversation, I could tell that Rahn loves songwriting in his core. Every interaction came from a place of sincerity, which I really appreciate in a music industry that’s saturated with people who “perform” rather than speak the truth.

When Darryl Rahn writes, which is almost all the time, he’s seeking to tell you something you didn’t know how to express (like a comedian). Yet, when he records, Rahn explained, he wants the sound to feel warm and welcoming. “It should sound good in the car.” As someone who spent many years judging albums on a long work commute, this sentiment connected with me. Listening to Rahn’s music, it’s easy to hear that he has accomplished that goal with his songs like “Old Flame” and “Reason to Run” especially.

I was curious how Rahn became such an introspective songwriter, so I asked a bit about his background and experiences. All of the music teachers out there will appreciate that Rahn’s first songwriting came in fifth grade where a social studies teacher tasked him with writing a song about the Dust Bowl. He initially fell in love with the acoustic guitar, obsessing over talented performer like the Avett Brothers, who became a constant influence in his songwriting for years. Rahn played his first show at the tender age of 15, but he dismisses those early songs as “writing with no point.” As he matured in the high school years, he wanted his songs to have a deeper lyrical point; that is a characteristic that continues to define his music to this day.

In terms of other influences, Rahn credits the Avett Brothers’ Second Gleam specifically. Acoustic giants like Guster, Ben Kweller, John Mayer, and Michael Kiwanuka make the list. We connected on a shared love for the “stop what you’re doing” power of a writer and performer like Ray Lamontagne. We talked about how several of these artists share Rahn’s writing feature of giving songs “room to breath.” That is to say there’s a careful balancing in phrasing and playing that allows the listener to think about the song a bit more.

I had to ask about the songwriting process as well. How does Rahn create these songs with warmth and space that still manage to speak such relatable truth? He said something I’ve suspected of other artists but have never heard anyone say. “I am basically addicted to songwriting.” Then Rahn explained his process, a detailed year-long exploration of songs, themes, and ideas that find their way onto a spreadsheet and eventually into an end-of-year album. For Rahn it’s about “obsessively working on it, staying with it until I have a song.”

I asked about Rahn’s most played song, “Old Flame,” which is a fictional account of bumping into a former love interest. Although some elements of the song are based in reality, it was a fabricated account. That said, the recording of the song was very real, with a unique and interesting set up. Rahn sat in the middle of a room with his acoustic while two friends added electric guitar parts on either side. The vocals, drums, and bass were added later. The production included mics mounted up high to capture the resonance of the room. It certainly works, creating an closeness and warmth that gives Rahn’s music a standout quality in the folk scene.

We discussed touring and performing a bit. I love asking about dream gigs and Rahn gave a fantastic answer. He said he would like to be the tour opener for Gregory Alan Isakov. As Rahn explained, “it would be amazing to play with him and pick his brain.” There’s a humility that drips from Rahn’s persona. He truly respects the craft of songwriting and those who have gone before him in the folk tradition.

In that vein of humility, Rahn gave one of the best “humble brags” I’ve ever heard. When I asked him at the end of the interview what he wanted people to know about his music, he said, “I write too many songs.” Every year he overloads himself with music. This year there might even be enough to have a B-sides album. In that spirit, keep your eyes open on ETTG for Rahn’s upcoming single “Calexico” soon. His new album will either be out this fall or over the winter.

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