If great music had a poster child, it's name would be Owen Danoff. On the artist's latest
release, Twelve Stories, it's hard to understand why so many record companies are
forfeiting signing great artist like Owen so they can relearn what sells. This guy is by far
one of the purest male vocalists I've heard in the indie music circuit, and I couldn't
imagine how anyone wouldn't like Owen's voice.
Twelve Stories starts off strong with the amazing songwriting, music, and vocal
performance that brings to life, Hometown Headstone. This is the song I foreknew and
heard 14 years ago when I left my small hometown in Illinois for the opportunity available
to me in Atlanta. What a great recording! Everything is in the right place and really makes
a strong case for "Song of the Year" honors in just about any songwriting contest.
Sonically, the song (really, the entire album) is well mixed. The right compression on the
vocals and instruments really does make the record come to life and I'd love to share this
song on The Miews podcast some day.
Other songs on this album that I really felt a connection with include: I Wish I Knew Better,
Alone Life, Hollywood, Abandon Ship, and Nowhereland. All of these songs hit home for
me, but Hollywood struck a nerve. Anyone who has dealt with the smoke and mirrors of
"Tinsel Town" have felt the same things Owen expresses in this song. I'd absolutely
encourage you (the reader) to support Owen Danoff by visiting his Bandcamp page and
buying "Twelve Stories" at http://owendanoff.bandcamp.com/album/twelve-stories
Connect with Owen Danoff on social media at www.facebook.com/owendanoff
I can always gauge how good an album is by my friend’s reactions when I have it as background music playing in my car. Usually it’s tuned out when the conversation starts, but D.C. singer/songwriter Owen Danoff’s first full-length album, Twelve Stories, received several queries of “who is this? I really like it.” As many times as I’ve listened to this album, it never fails to accomplish what I look for in a remarkable piece of work: it has guts, it has elegance and I can relate to the themes and emotions conveyed by the songwriter.
Funded through a Kickstarter campaign whose top supporter was actor Nathan Fillion (Castle, Serenity, Firefly), and with an abundance of guest musicians including Rami Jaffee (the Wallflowers, Foo Fighters),Twelve Stories is a thoughtful, refined musical masterpiece. Each track tells a story, whether it be a quiet road trip allowing pause for self-reflection or an ode to the City of Angels, the songs flow organically from the album’s opening monologue to it’s conclusion.
“Never Been Kissed” was the first single released and one of the most requested songs at Danoff’s live shows. It’s a fun, catchy tune you can’t help but sing along to and really, who wouldn’t want to be this girl: “They can call me crazy, another hopeless fool, but they’ve never been kissed, they’ve never been kissed by you.” One of my favorite personal touches is the little laughs Danoff subtly injects into a few of these songs. They add personality and a human element to punctuate the lyric.
“I Wish I Knew Better” is an honest, bittersweet song and one of my favorites for the images it conveys such as “the ghost of the smell of perfume” or the recording Danoff made on his phone of a slowly falling rain shower and people talking on the streets of the West Village which was then used as the tune’s intro. Danoff wrote this “completely intellectually within three hours while sitting in my friend’s apartment.” The final verse hits a nerve every time I hear it because it’s just so relatable: “this time tomorrow, I’ll be away, on the long roads that lie from NY to LA; chasing a lover that I can’t get to stay, and I wish I knew better. This time tomorrow, I’ll be so far, from the memories we made between people and cars, but people don’t change, they just change where they are. And I wish I knew better than that.”
Twelve Stories is an inspirational and compelling volume of work; overwhelmingly romantic, at times lonely, wildly cathartic and timeless. John Mayer once said, “life is a beautiful thing. Pack a bag, make a playlist. Watch the world. Don’t speak. Just listen.” So include this album in your playlist, get in your car, put on the CD, watch the world go by and don’t speak, just listen.
There were several reasons D.C. singer/songwriter/ WAMA nominee/ 2012-2013 Strathmore Artist in Residence Owen Danoff listed as to why his album release show at Virginia’s Jammin’ Java on Sunday night would be amazing. They included the fact that it would be his first full band show of the year (he’s been playing solo shows so far), Pittsburgh’s Joy Ike would be opening, the venue is kick-ass and also, for sci-fi buffs like us, it was Star Wars Day (if The Imperial March was played half-way through the set, I was totally going to be geeking out). From full-on electric rock tunes to unplugged traditional ballads, the show was, in a word, exhilarating, not only for Danoff’s poetic lyrics and the incredible talent he had joining him on stage, but for the powerful and awe-inspiring way Danoff connects with his audience.
Hailing from a legendary family (dad Bill Danoff was a founding member of the Starland Vocal Band in the late 1970s, winning a Grammy for “Afternoon Delight” and co-writing John Denver’s hit song “Take Me Home Country Roads”), Danoff didn’t become serious about music until his mid-teens. “I think that I wanted to play music [as a career] right around the time that I realized I had to have a job and I knew it worked for my dad and seemed like the most appealing option. I eventually grew into loving it more than when I first thought about it.”
Danoff moved to Boston to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music (John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge, Gillian Welch and Quincy Jones are all alumni) studying songwriting, composition and bass. Danoff worked on his first EP, Icarus, at this time as part of a school project in collaboration with the music production engineer students. “Their final project was to record a three song demo, so we recorded “Abandon Ship” and “See This Through” (which were reworked on Danoff’s current album, Twelve Stories). The original version of “Abandon Ship” was a big production and I was very proud of writing all of the string parts myself, but I felt it was a little too epic for what I wanted to do this time around.”
Danoff moved back to D.C. after college and only planned to stay through the summer before moving to L.A., but through going to events with his dad while he was growing up, Danoff started to meet people in the D.C. music scene and realized it might be a smarter idea to stick around a bit longer. “I wanted to establish myself here, independently of my dad, but using these introductions. I wanted to have a foundation here before I moved somewhere else. I like how small the music scene here feels sometimes. I’ve played as a backup musician to several different artists here and everyone helps each other out, there’s a real feeling of community here,” Danoff says.
Twelve Stories started off after Danoff was making plans to collaborate with a friend of his. “We both had all of these songs we hadn’t recorded yet and one day he called to say he really needed to record his songs before doing anything else and I had been thinking along the same lines, so I decided it was time to record my songs, too.”
Danoff began a Kickstarter campaign to fund his album and found an unlikely backer in actor Nathan Fillion (Castle, Waitress, Firefly). “We met through a mutual friend in L.A. and were at his house one day. My friend handed me a guitar and asked me to play something, so I played “Abandon Ship” and Nathan filmed it on his iPhone. He was so nice and supportive from the get-go, but it was a huge surprise when he put the Kickstarter funding over the edge.”
Finding his title inspiration from J.D. Salinger’s book, Nine Stories, Danoff’s album is a beautifully cohesive collection of newer and older tunes. “There were a few songs that I felt had to be recorded for this album,” explains Danoff. “”Never Been Kissed” was one because every time I played it at a show, someone would come up and ask me where they could find it. “Amsterdam” and “Hometown Headstone” were important to me and I really wanted to record them, then “See This Through” and “Abandon Ship” I wanted to re-do.”
Danoff recruited fifteen musicians and vocalists to assist him on this album, including long-time colleagues Mike Squillante (guitar, bass), Adrian Godat (guitar), Miles Nasta and Isabelle De Leon (drums), as well as a special guest appearance by Foo Fighters/Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffee.
“Hometown Headstone” came about from the huge chunk of time Danoff spends driving to and from gigs (when we met to do this interview, he had just returned from playing a show outside of Philly). “I think for me, when you’re driving, it’s a reflective time because you can’t really focus on anything else, but what you’re doing is really boring, so your mind can wander. It’s a reflection without a whole lot of emotion, which is really interesting to me.”
“Amsterdam” and “I Wish I Knew Better” both won honorable mentions in the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest and Danoff explains he wrote “Amsterdam” after a friend of his who was in the Marines passed away. “A month later I was scheduled to go to Europe with some friends. I went to his funeral with a change of clothes in the car and then went straight to the airport. I wanted to write about it, but didn’t want it to be too heavy-handed; I wanted to pay tribute in a respectful way. Amsterdam was the third place we visited and throughout the entire trip I’d been playing the guitar part that became the melody for that song.”
“See This Through”, with it’s electric riffs and vintage sound, stands out from the other tracks and I mention to Danoff that it reminds me of a song you would hear in the climatic scene of a Quentin Tarantino film, to which Danoff smiles and tells me that was exactly what he was going for. I mean exactly as in I’m either very intuitive or scarily psychic. “I wasn’t thinking about that, but my friend’s dad suggested it before we recorded the album, so I called my band and told them we needed to record it Tarantino[esque].”
Danoff recently wrapped up a mini-tour of the South, including stops in Nashville and Georgia where he played the open mic at the famed Eddie’s Attic. “At the end of the night they call back three finalists and there’s like a shootout where there’s only one winner. John Mayer and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland have won in the past. I got to the finals and then I froze up, but it’s one of the coolest venues I’ve ever played. I like to play venues where people listen and are really into the music.”
Musician Jon Carroll, who performed with Danoff’s dad in the Starland Vocal Band, had this to say: “I’ve known Owen to be, even as a child, extremely thoughtful and circumspect, with his nose always in a book. It wasn’t until his high school years that I noticed how resolute and focused he had become as a writer and musician, as if he’d known that all along and it was high time everyone else cottoned to the concept. One oughtn’t be surprised, but in light of his humility, irony oriented humor and kind demeanor, it’s quite astounding to see how applied and devoted he’s been from the start; to the work, the craft, the entire process. Despite this being his first full-length album release, it-in so many ways-feels, sounds and comes across as something more mature. It’s a bit uncanny, as most artists prove to be.”
Hoping to one day play such venues as World Cafe Live or Mountain Stage, Danoff is next relocating to New York City for the summer and will continue to showcase his talents there until his travels take him elsewhere, or as a verse in “I Wish I Knew Better” goes: “this time tomorrow, I’ll be so far; from the memories we made between people and cars, but people don’t change they just change where they are.”
There are few artists in our lifetime who can carve out perfection to create brilliant pieces of work. Owen Danoff is one such artist and thankfully for us here in D.C., we won’t have to wait too long for an encore.
Owen Danoff is a singer-songwriter who has a roadmap laid out in front of him. He knows where he wants to go, has a plan of how he wants to get there, and has a support system ready to encourage him along the way.
With the impending release show for his first full-length album, “Twelve Stories,” atJammin’ Java on May 4, Danoff is eager to use this collection of songs as a springboard to the next level of his musical career.
After a stint as a Strathmore Artist in Residence and a successful Kickstarter campaign in June 2013, Danoff exceeded his intended monetary goal and now finds himself overwhelmed by the support he’s received for not just “Twelve Stories” but for his songwriting endeavors as well.
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Danoff was brought up in a musical family. His dad is songwriter Bill Danoff of the Starland Vocal Band. So clearly, music runs in the kid’s blood. At the age of 15, Danoff wrote and self-produced his first original song and subsequent recording on the same day his dad first gave him an audio recorder. But he didn’t always know he wanted to pursue music as a career.
After high school, Danoff enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“As soon as college came around, everything sort of like flipped,” Danoff said. “I think I realized that I needed a job at some point in my life and I didn’t really know what I wanted.” What he did know, though, is that he enjoyed music. Plus — a career in music did end up working out for his dad.
“I decided to experiment, like get a little better and see how I felt about it,” he said.” I like fell in love and wanted to actually do it, not just because I thought it might work.”
At Berkelee, Danoff decided to enroll as a Film Score Writing student with his primary instrument being bass. Why bass and not piano or guitar? In his younger years, he played a little clarinet and learned piano as well as a bit of guitar but it all goes back to a decision he made in middle school.
“All my friends in middle school were playing guitar so I was like ‘I should probably play bass so I won’t be useless’.”
Now that he’s graduated, Danoff’s looking to see how far his original songs will take him. They’re personal and mean a lot to him.
“I think at the root of everything [on this album] you can find insecurity and a fear of the future,” he confessed.
“Twelve Stories” features an assortment of original music Danoff composed over the course of his songwriting efforts thus far and features a majority his old favorites. In fact, only one or two new songs were written fresh for the album. The rest of the songs were selected for this particular release because Danoff felt he wanted to do justice, in the studio, to the songs he wanted to be able to perform live the most.
The official release show for “Twelve Stories” will be a hometown affair at Jammin’ Java that just so happens to also fall on one of Danoff’s favorite holidays. As a self-professed “huge, gigantic Star Wars fan,” he couldn’t be happier about that fact that May 4 — aka Star Wars Day — coincides with his release show date.
"He's got great songs, he sings like the best of 'em - what's not to like?"
An unlikely combination of frank and downcast lyrics about love gone terribly awry delivered over bright folk pop melodies punctuates Owen Danoff’s latest EP release. Songs like “Have I Ever Fallen” are delivered with sneaky gravitas akin to the emotional crescendo and decrescendo of the most potent of carnival amusements. Danoff is a nimble guitarist as well, his melodies the stuff of ear-worming relaxation. With this top-notch contribution to the local scene, Danoff is worthy of attention. -MD
We had plans to be at Rockwood Music Hall last night for two sets, 5pm and 7pm. Under normal circumstances, we’d have stayed for the set in between no matter who it was, or at the very least checked them out in advance. That wasn’t our original plan. Considering the early set time, my thought was to have dinner from 6-7pm and return.
A few hours before heading down for the early set, I decided to click through from the Rockwood site to at least know who/what I was missing. Needless to say, our plans changed once I did.
Owen Danoff is a singer/songwriter (last night he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar). The site linked to his name is not what Rockwood linked to. They linked to an event page promoting the show on Facebook, where I then clicked through to Owen’s band page and listened to everything on there.
It had a country feel to it, with a nice full-band sound.
Instead of appearing with a full band, Owen had one other person on stage, playing guitar and singing some harmony with him. It worked very well, but the sound/feel last night was noticeably different from what I was expecting.
It was completely captivating, on every song, so Owen can hold his own with or without a full band.
Owen is all of 21-years-old (at least for another month). His songwriting is fantastic (which never ceases to amaze me in someone so young). His lyrics flow so naturally. To me, that means that he either works incredibly hard to make it sound/feel so effortless, or he’s one of those rare people who is a vessel to some very deep well of ideas and their better expressions.
He has an excellent voice. He played the acoustic guitar very well, mixing rhythm with finger picking, with a few licks thrown in for good measure.
I’m following him on Twitter now and I’ve “Liked” his band page on Facebook, so we’ll be sure to catch him when he’s next in town. He’s currently based in Washington, DC, and this was his second show in NYC.
Adrien Godat accompanied Owen on acoustic guitar and sang some harmony (no good individual link). Adrien did a fine job, occasionally pulling off very nice leads on the acoustic guitar. He sounded very good singing with Owen at times.
That said, I felt that his real abilities were held back by either nerves, or the desire to not step on Owen’s performance (which if I’m correct, was an error in judgment). He often sang too softly, or seemed to give up on a line. When he sang, he sang well and the two sounded really good together.
Only after the show did we find out that Owen’s talents have deep roots. We chatted very briefly with his cousin and she told us that Owen’s dad is Bill Danoff. Whether it’s genetics, or growing up around a musical great (or more likely a combination of the two), it’s likely that Owen is well on his way to a successful career following in his father’s footsteps.
We will certainly be tracking him over the years.