Boulder, Colorado is home to Daniel Rodriguez – the esoteric sound of a modern folk artisan.
One of Boulder, Colorado’s best exports is its music scene. Among its adopted native sons is Daniel Rodriguez. Founding (and former) member of folk ensemble Elephant Revival and now a solo act on the verge a major label release with BMG Music and a tour alongside folk/pop icons, The Lumineers.
Daniel grew up the youngest of three siblings of a single-parent household within the shady, backwoods respite of a New England suburb. The local high school was best known for its football team and its agri-science department. Suffice to say if you weren’t into wearing shoulder pads or milking cows there wasn’t much to do other than sit on stone walls or play basketball in the driveway.
The quiet surrounds and typically “boring” environment of a semi-rural hometown is a conundrum many adolescents face, and such was the case for Daniel Rodriguez, long before the distractions of YouTube and social media became common. Hence, Daniel found entertainment – and escape – by discovering his passion, and future career, music.
Millions of teenagers every year take up the guitar with dreams of becoming a rock star, only a handful commit their life to it and land a solo record deal 25 years later. Again, enter Daniel Rodriguez.
The 38-year-old man behind the music is a magnetic individual – standing 6’5” tall with lanky features and a face etched with masculine sharpness yet softened by empathetic subtlety. His dark, brown eyes contain wisdom beyond their years and a brilliantly wide and disarming smile broadcasts welcome and familiarity.
Rodriguez’s music itself similarly broadcasts welcome and familiarity. The arrangements take root in simple folk sensibility while offering the rich complexity of esoteric lyrics and modern pop-friendly harmonies.
That through-line exists in the writing Rodriguez brought to Elephant Revival and continues, with an evolved sophistication, in his solo art. Discussing love and loss, hopes and dreams and the paradigms of a life that can bring you abroad, fetch you home and sometimes leave you stranded roadside next to a burning vehicle.
Fans of Rodriguez’s work are ardent: lyrics tattooed on skin, earnest covers on YouTube, and adoration and accolades at live shows. He says such acts are the “greatest honor” of his life as a musician and inspires him ever more to bring his music to the world.
As he’s matured into life as a solo artist, grappling with the changes and pangs of “going it alone” and the opportunities that come with it, Rodriguez is stoic and hopeful, saying, “I’ve always wanted to record a solo record and to take my music to as many people as possible.”
As he prepares to go on tour with one of the world’s biggest bands, later this year, those dreams are seemingly destined to become reality.
Q&A – Daniel Rodriguez Music
We caught up with Daniel Rodriguez this week in support of our overarching coverage of the arts scene in Colorado, to gain more insight into what makes this new-age folk traditionalist tick, why he loves Colorado, and why he only plays hand-made, custom guitars.
AF | How did you discover your love of music, guitar and singing?
My earliest recognition of jamming was when my brother, sister and I pulled out the pots and pans and had a drum circle, probably age of two or three. My next poignant memory was in elementary school, when a first nations drum and chant group came and played for the school. I was strongly affected by that. Then when I was twelve, I discovered the Beatles. I had heard their music before, obviously, but my dad had a box set of theirs, and every time I visited him I would dive in and really listen.
I was also into the contemporary music of my youth, mid ‘90s grunge. It was then, age thirteen, my mom gifted me an electric guitar and a small tube amp. I still feel bad that I put my brother and sister through that. I just couldn’t put the guitar down. Still haven’t till this day.
AF | What drew you to the folk genre?
When I started dissecting all song-based genres, I realized folk music was at the core. Obviously, every culture has their inherent folk music, but the song forms that come out of our popular music stems back to Ireland and Scotland. Punk music stripped down to an acoustic scenario is a basic folk song. The Beatles, Tom Petty, etc… it all is folk songs with elaborate and loud productions. You can’t plug an amp in when you’re on a walk-about in the forest, or at a bonfire on the beach. You need an electric grid to turn up.
When I was first starting, I worked at an Irish pub, and the owner was from the old country and knew all the old folk ballads of Ireland. I would back him up on guitar and try my luck at singing harmony. Many Guinness were had, and many songs were sang. But it wasn’t until I first really heard – and listened – to Bob Dylan, then my world changed.
AF | How did Elephant Revival happen / originate?
The first ones to meet were Bonnie and I, at an open mic night that I was hosting. I just knew I was destined to hang and sing with her for more than just a night. But I had to move out west in order to do that, and that’s where everybody else was. We were all in about the same place in our young lives, not willing to back down from a dream of playing music.
We were all dedicated to it and were making personal sacrifices to make it happen. For me, it was learning to live without a dime. A friend gave me an old, rusted out truck, and I lived in the back of it for about a year. Bonnie and I had made some demos back east where I grew up, and as Elephant was trying to get gigs, we would use those demos to score bookings. We all then decided to move to a small town above Boulder, CO and start what would become Elephant Revival.
AF | Why Boulder?
When I was ten or eleven my dad moved to New Mexico, and my brother, sister and I would go stay with him periodically. My first time out west, it was like I landed on some different planet. I was shocked, overjoyed and sometimes frightened at the dramatic landscapes. I really fell in love with the west around those times. We would drive north and camp in Colorado from time to time. So when my musical path was giving me signals to move out west, it was very easy to abide.
AF | What is it about the Boulder arts and culture scene that compels you?
The music scene is very supportive out here. There are droves of folks who love experiencing live music, and accessible professionals who end up being somewhat of mentors to the younger musicians. It’s not like some other cities where bands and artists can be somewhat competitive. As far as big inspirations though, it’s really the Flatirons that’s the biggest centerpiece. Every time I see those Flatirons I feel like I’ve arrived in some mystical alternate universe. The healing arts are largely supported out here as well, it’s a great aspect of Boulder.
AF | Any favorite venues or shops or businesses that you frequent or love in Boulder? Say a Top 5?
I love catching shows at the Fox Theater or the Boulder Theater. Getting a meal at the Bramble and Hare. Buying a bunch of books at the Boulder Book Store. Getting coffee and a poetry book at Trident or Innisfree. Buying some arts and crafts at an art collective called Boulder Arts and Crafts, or a boutique-wooden puzzle at Liberty Puzzles. Just walking up and down Pearl Street on a warm day is loads of fun. There are a couple spots that I hesitate to share because the secret of them is what makes them special!
AF | Back to music – how is life as a solo act (Daniel Rodriguez) compare to being in a band (Elephant Revival)?
It’s both challenging and liberating just as being in Elephant Revival is, but in almost the opposite ways. It’s liberating now because there’s no latency on when I can express a song that I’ve written. I can play something or record something whenever I choose. I didn’t have that luxury in Elephant Revival because every one in the band was itching to have a song or three heard, and rightly so.
Now I can make creative decisions thoughtfully but quickly without running an idea through a gauntlet of opinions. I mostly bounce things off of one person in this project, my bandmate and producer, Darren Garvey. We are not afraid to agree or disagree with each-other. It was challenging in ER to have an opinion because the social climate was fragile. If there was a creative suggestion someone might have, the other person might think it was an insult to their masterpiece. Every band I know that starts out young has this dynamic, so it’s not anything unique.
AF | What’s the biggest change?
The challenge now is visibility. Elephant Revival was getting very popular there towards the end. We were headlining Red Rocks and filling clubs and theaters that we really enjoyed playing. Our first time overseas was very successful. There’s a solid fan base there that loves the art we were making. The challenge now is starting over from scratch. Coming from being well received to wondering if there will be anyone out there in the audience to receive. Most people don’t associate me with the songs I wrote for ER. For them that’s an Elephant Revival song. They might not even know my name as I’m finding out. On all my songs Bonnie sang parallel harmony throughout the whole song. To the listener it may have been her song as much as it was mine.
Other challenges are that Elephant Revival had built a strong team. All the challenges that you can face on the road were buffered by a team of wonderful individuals. Those challenges now lean solely on me. It’s definitely humbling. Good honest and very hard work.
AF | Do you expect that Elephant Revival will continue to play / reunite occasionally for shows, special events? Or is there any plan for future album work with them?
I do believe that other members are planning to play as Elephant Revival. They are planning on carrying on without me. They have meetings and such that I am not a part of, so you’d have to interview one of them to know for sure.
AF | Where is Daniel Rodriguez music in five years?
That’s a good question. I know that whatever it sounds like it will reflect all the experiences that I’ll have from now until then. I have many songs that i’ve written over the years that never saw the light of day, and I am writing almost every day, so there won’t be a shortage of material.
AF | You’re scheduled to tour with the Lumineers this summer. What’s the status of that RE: Covid-19?
The tour is still on the calendar. My hope is that it’s all safe and sound and by then people could really use some live music.
AF | How did The Lumineers opportunity come about and where does it rank on your list of career accomplishments?
I have met Wesley Schultz a couple times in passing over the years, but we sat next to each other at a mutual friends show at Red Rocks about a year or more ago. He bought me a beer, we shared stories, and exchanged numbers. We started texting each other music that we were listening to currently. I had just released an EP and sent him a link. Turns out he really dug it. Enough to invite me out on part of their world tour. I admire his artistry, his voice, his ability to connect to the human drama, and bring thousands upon thousands of people under his tent as he expresses it. It’s a huge honor to be invited on the tour.
AF | What can fans expect from Daniel Rodriguez musically (new songs/albums/livestreams/tours/events, etc) in 2020?
It seems there’s a lot we can’t expect about 2020. We’ve had a very dynamic and chaotic start to 2020. But I will certainly continue to put out new music. I can’t stop writing it, and there’s no reason to not put it out. I have a full length album that’s ready to be released, and am going to release it under a great record label. The record is called “Sojourn of a Burning Sun”. I love the sound we got on it. Darren Garvey produced it and he knocked it outta the park. There’s eleven new songs on it.
AF | We’ve seen some fans of yours covering your songs and even tattooing your lyrics on their skin. What does all that mean to you?
It’s really the greatest honor to see that; very humbling and also really fun. It’s especially great to see and hear someone perform a song that I wrote and take it in an unexpected direction. I love that about creativity and music and that keeps me inspired to continue to make music and bring it out into the world.
AF | Lastly tell us about your choice of guitars. They look and sound beautiful.
I own a handful of guitars, but the ones I play the most are ones that two different friends made for me. One is called a Singing Mountain Guitar made by George Dunham. It’s inspired by the J45 but with customized specs. The other is a Bowerman dreadnaught guitar made by Jayson Bowerman. He made me another guitar prior to this but it was destroyed in a bus fire while on tour.
AF | Any thanks?
Surely I would like to thank everyone who continues to listen to what I’m putting out. There’s lots more of it! Stay tuned!
More Artistic Fuel
James C. Sullivan is a guitarist, singer and long-time journalist having worked at publications including Snowboarder Magazine and USA Today. He recently returned to his roots in New England after a decade in California because cold winters and cloudy days inspire more creativity.