Five questions with: Dan Tedesco

Dan Tedesco w/ Jason Walsmith

The Mill — Saturday, Dec. 15 at 8 p.m.

Dan Tedesco performs this weekend at The Mill. — video still

Born in the Chicago suburbs, guitarist Dan Tedesco made his way to Iowa several years ago, landing in Des Moines and becoming a key contributor to the Iowa music scene. But his art keeps pulling him away. Ever the rambler, Tedesco wrapped his on-the-road experiences into a film called Chasing the Lightning (which screened at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids last year).

Tedesco asserts in his bio that, “My story is … that I have no story.” Certainly, the healthy suburban life he describes his childhood to be is far from the inspiration that most musicians claim. If there’s a lightning he’s chasing on the road, it’s story. He carries stories far and wide in his tunes, letting his skillful songwriting illuminate the experiences and places he encounters along his journey.

Eastern Iowa gets its next taste of Dan Tedesco when he comes through Iowa City on Saturday, Dec. 15. He’ll be at The Mill with Jason Walsmith of the Nadas. Show is at 8 p.m.; tickets are $10-12.

Do you generally find that listening within your own stylistic milieu or outside your genre comfort zone best drives your creativity? What one piece of music released in 2018 was most inspiring to you?

I definitely do not spend very much time listening to music within my own genre-base. I’m always looking for ways to bring in new sounds, news ideas and cross-pollinate genres/styles. That doesn’t really work if you’re not actively listening, or exploring, outside of your familiar space.

A few examples of those outside-the-box influences in 2018 would be John Scofield’s newest release, Combo 66, or something that’s not even music-related such as the final season of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. I often find tremendous inspiration via storytelling outside of the music world.

The more I listen to Iowa folk and blues music, the more cohesion I hear in it. How would you define the Iowa sound, and how do you feel you fit within it?

Man, I’m not sure if I’m totally qualified to put an accurate description on the Iowa sound. I’ve only been a part of the scene for around four years, and have spent a lot of that time outside of the state. What I can say, is that years ago, in Chicago, a fan had told me I had to go to Iowa. I had to play there. I think he mentioned the Yacht Club in Iowa City, if memory serves me well.

He was right. I can speak more on the fact that there is a very welcoming, excited and supportive music community throughout Iowa; both on and off of the stage. More so than a particular sound, so to speak, I’ve found that to be the most encouraging and notable aspect of the scene, overall.

You spend a lot of time on the road, even documenting and discussing the touring life in Chasing the Lightning — how does spending a large portion of your life in flux reveal itself in the music? How does it affect your writing process?


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I think you can hear it in the storytelling, both musically and lyrically. I put out an album in 2014 entitled Death In the Valley, which was a commentary on life post the great recession. While writing the bulk of the album, I was touring a lot through Texas and parts of the southwest. As a result, many of those stories are based in the rural spaces I traveled through between larger cities.

The sonic choices were those of ambient pedal steel, touches of fiddle and organ. Reverbs were employed to open up the tracks and add a degree of depth. Very much a sonic representation of that physical world. I think anyone who travels heavily, for longer than a few days or a week at a time, will tell you, there’s no escaping it. Those experiences and places, just the sheer time away from your home, seeps into you. It’s pretty wild.

What’s your favorite technique for recentering yourself when the world gets wild — either on the road or just in the midst of uncertain times?

Songwriting. That’s my therapy.

You played other instruments as a kid before latching onto guitar. Do you ever feel a musical idea brewing and know that it’s not for guitar? Given infinite time, what’s the one instrument you’d love to learn?

Absolutely. My secondary instrument is piano, which is perhaps my favorite instrument to write on. You have an orchestra at your fingertips; with both melody and harmony very accessible. To that point, I often times do find a musical idea that screams for the piano. I’d say in the last six months the majority of my writing has been on piano, either because the songs called for it or because I just happened be spending a particularly heavy amount of time playing, and the ideas surfaced as a result.

What instrument would I love to learn? Simple — the drums.

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