Band: IMC presents Dan Bern
Date: Monday, Nov. 2 at 8 p.m.
Venue: Satori Coffee, 5460 Old Shell Road, www.satori-coffee.com
Tickets: $5 donation; free admission for USA students
From his discography alone, Dan Bern could be considered one of the most prolific songwriters in modern times. Since 1997, he has released 24 albums, the most recent being “Hoody.” Bern’s name may be obscure to some, but many may recognize his music.
In addition to his albums, Bern has contributed music to movies such as “Walk Hard” and “Get Him to the Greek” and a variety of television shows. When he isn’t writing music, Bern is writing prose, painting and raising his daughter. The University of South Alabama Independent Music Collective is hosting Bern for an intimate evening performance in West Mobile. Bern allowed Lagniappe inside his mind to see what drives his epic work ethic.
Stephen Centanni: Almost every year since 1996, you’ve had some sort of release. These days, releasing more than one album a year is pretty common. Back then, it didn’t matter if it was full-length or an EP, it was one release every two or more years. What kind of reaction did you get in those days when you were pumping out one or two albums per year?
Dan Bern: I never really set out to break any speed records, you know. I think it’s just something that just happened. You make a record, you tour it for a little while and you’re on to the next one. At that time, I didn’t have a family. Oftentimes I didn’t even have an apartment. I was just touring all the time. It was all that I was doing and thinking about, and I had so many songs.
Centanni: You’re a songwriter, a painter and a novelist. With all the material you have coming out in all three worlds, what’s your workday like? Do you designate days for projects or do you mix and match?
Bern: Kinda, yeah. These days, if I have a project — like a songwriting project for somebody else, (for) a TV show or something like that — it takes priority, because somebody’s sitting there waiting for songs. After that, it’s whatever I can fit in. I’ve got a big painting project I’ve taken on. When I’m home, I spend a lot of time with my kid, too. When she’s at school, I’m racing through the day to try and get some things done. When she’s home, we do other stuff.
Centanni: As far as comparisons, I’ve noticed your name has been synonymous with Bob Dylan’s since early in your career. Does that ever get old to you?
Bern: Oh, sure! I don’t know if you saw this thing I just wrote in Salon. Way back when, I was writing for this publication called Song Talk. I would do these funny little, oftentimes fake interviews or fake stories with this or that person. It was combinations of people I was meeting in the songwriting world, like publishers and managers and songwriters. One time, I happened to write a fake interview with (Bob Dylan’s) mom, where she said she wrote all his songs. I thought it was funny and whatnot. Then, I just discovered a few weeks ago he had seen this way back when, and he had written this scathing letter about me. I wrote a piece (in Salon) explaining that, which hopefully will put some of that to rest, but you never know.
Centanni: To me, “Americana” has become one of the most overused labels. It’s evolved from something that used to be a little more specific into something that’s extremely broad. You represent what I always considered true Americana. With that said, what do you think of what the critics and the industry consider Americana these days?
Bern: That’s an interesting subject, and we could talk for hours just on that. I never heard the term until I was in Europe some years ago. Then, I saw the term and I thought, “Whoa, that’s a weird thing to be lumped in.” When I started, I was a folk singer, then I was a singer-songwriter. Now, it’s Americana.
People seem to like labels. They always have. I almost feel like my job is to ignore and not pay any attention to that and do whatever feels right. I feel like on my new record I’ve been able to synthesize the three main strands that have been running through my music since I started. It’s rock ‘n’ roll, folk and old country. That’s all in there. If that’s now called Americana this year, then that’s what people will call it.
Centanni: The latest album is “Hoody,” and I love the song “Welcome” for its concept. The disillusionment with the American dream was a big topic for early 20th century writers. I think there has been a revival of this concept in recent years. This song backs up this personal theory. What was the inspiration behind this song?
Bern: Well, I supposed it was just another in that long line of those crazy, random, desperate acts of shootings. Every time the response is the same thing. One side sees it as evidence for this, and one side sees it as evidence to keep pushing this way.
You know how you go bowling, and if you’re serious about bowling, then you got your locker with your ball there and your shoes there, and you keep them there? If you don’t own those things, then you go there and rent a ball and shoes. Then you put them back.
I feel for the most part, especially if you live in the city, you don’t need to be carrying guns around, especially when people are doing this stuff. Remember back in junior high, if people abused privileges, everyone lost them a little bit? It seems so common sense. Every time I bring my kid to school, I get this bad feeling, and I don’t think we should be living like that.
Centanni: In addition to the album, you’ve got a book (“10,000 Crappy Songs and Other Tales of Detection”), which comes with 22 songs, of course. There’s one about a failed songwriter turned private eye. Do we have a personal fantasy here?
Bern: (laughing) Yeah, I think every time I write something, or long-form prose, then it comes out of some sort of frustration. I exorcise it a little bit by pouring myself into that. It was really fun to do. When I was done, I had all these song titles that were mentioned in it. I thought it would be fun to actually write all those songs. Once I did that, things felt complete. It was probably born out of feeling frustrated and probably a fantasy of, quitting and becoming a detective.
Centanni: One thing I didn’t know until recently is that you had a hand in writing the songs that were sung by the character Dewey Cox in the film “Walk Hard.” I always thought those songs were great. How did you get involved with that?
Bern: I knew the director going back to his first film, which was called “Zero Effect.” It came out about 10 years ago and had Ben Stiller and a couple of other big stars I can’t remember right this second. He used one of my songs off my first or second record for the end titles. We stayed close and became friends. When he was fishing for songs for “Walk Hard,” I was one of the people he talked to.
I don’t know if it was just the right moment in my life, but I just really jumped into it. For a couple of years, I was just interested in writing Dewey Cox songs. I thought me and Dewey kind of merged for a while, and it was hard to stop writing Dewey Cox songs when they were done making the movie. It was a lot of fun. It got my appetite up for doing more, which is why I ended up coming back to Los Angeles about that time. I did some songs for “Get Him to the Greek.” Now I’ve been doing a whole bunch of songs for an animated show on Amazon called “Stinky & Dirty.”
Centanni: That’s one project. What else are you working on?
Bern: That’s the main one I’ve been doing this fall. I did their theme song last year and it went well. Then, they got picked up for doing a whole season of episodes. They want me to do a song for each episode. So, that’s winding down. The way these things work, now, they’ll go and animate the whole thing. I think next fall is when those shows will start popping up. I have a whole other record in the can. It’s kind of a country record that I might release next year. I’ve also been doing these paintings that I call “Portraits of People You Might Know.” I have 50 and I think when I get to 100, then I’ll mount a show or something.