Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Next Bob Dylan?: Q & A with Anthony D'Amato '10

At age 22, Anthony D’Amato ‘10 is three albums and a New York Post feature further than your average college grad. Fresh out of Princeton, D’Amato immediately affirmed himself as perhaps one of the University’s most successful student musicians. Already he has shared a stage with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, and most recently received rave reviews from publications like The Star Ledger extolling his newest album, “Down Wires.” Street catches up with D’Amato as he talks about the album, college, and Bob Dylan.

Q: How would you describe your music? Do you have any strong musical influences?

A: I make folk music--sometimes I make it with acoustic guitars and banjos and sometimes I make it with electric guitars and a laptop, but I think it's all still folk music in its own way. I've been heavily influenced by the usual suspects (Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young) and younger artists like Josh Ritter, Joe Pug, and Jesse Malin.

Q: You've just graduated from Princeton. Looking back, can you describe your college experience in 3 words?

A: It went fast.

Q: Were you in any student groups on campus? Eating clubs?

A: I was in Terrace Club. I've always been a firm believer that Terrace is the future.

Q: How did you first get into writing music?

A: You can only spend so long learning other people's songs before you start to feel like 'I bet I could do this.' And then you do it and it's terrible and incredibly discouraging and you go back to learning other people's songs for a while. But then you get that feeling again, and so you try to write something else, and this time it's a little less terrible. Repeat infinitely.

Q: You seem to put a lot of emphasis into lyrics in your songs. What is the process of writing lyrics like?

A: It's a constant process. I'm always scribbling down ideas, writing down a million different variations of the same line until I find the exact right one. I'm very interested in the sounds of words, how certain words or phrases can interlock with each other. Sometimes if I have music and no lyrics I'll just sing gibberish until I find certain sounds I like or a certain pacing that feels right. Then I'll start to approach the words from there.

Q: What was your most memorable musical experience?

A: My most memorable musical experience was last year's Light of Day, which is an annual benefit show in Asbury Park for Parkinson's research. I opened the show, and later in the night Bruce Springsteen showed up as a special guest and performed an amazing set. At the end he had all of the night's performers come out to sing "Twist and Shout" and "Light of Day." Being onstage with him was an absolute thrill. At the time I was writing my thesis, in which I traced his music back to Puritan sermons from the 1600s, so I got to chat with him a bit about that backstage, too.

Q: Tell us a little bit about Down Wires- what are the concepts behind the album, where did you get inspiration from?

A: I was interested in writing from different perspectives on this record. A lot of times songs would start out with a character I'd invent or adapt, and then I'd try to write from their point of view. You inevitably filter everything through yourself and your own experiences, though. Inspiration comes from all over the place--certain phrases just plant themselves in my brain or I'll wake up with a melody in my head. I don't know exactly how it works but I'm thankful for it and try not to squander those moments when they happen.

Q: Is there a song on the album that is particularly meaningful to you?

A: They all are in their own way, but "One Good Time" is very special to me because Sam Roberts sings on it. Sam's a big star up in Canada, and I've been a huge fan of his since I was about 14. Last fall I got to open for him, and when it came time to make this record, I sent him some music. He dug the song and was kind enough to record some vocals up in Montreal and send them back to me. It's very exciting to have someone who's been such an inspiration over the years put his stamp on a piece of music I wrote.

Q: What was it like working with members from so many well-known bands like Mark Stepro (drummer for Ben Kweller) or Gabriel Gordon (guitarist for Natalie Merchant)?

A: Gabriel changed the whole arc of the record. I was thinking of making a low-key acoustic album, and once Gabriel got involved, it suddenly became this souped-up electric thing. Once that happened I knew we needed Mark in the mix. He stepped in and knocked his parts out in no-time flat. They're both unbelievable musicians who volunteered their time because they liked the music, and it was really an honor to just step back and watch them do their thing.

Q: Critics have compared you to both John Lennon and Bob Dylan. What do you make of that comparison? What's your opinion on those two artists?

A: It's obviously very flattering and I love both of those artists, but I feel like a Little Leaguer standing next to Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio when someone says something like that. My focus is making the music, and I hope that people get pleasure out of hearing the records and coming to the shows. That's my measure for success.

Q: What's the next step for you?

A: Well this record just came out, so I'll be playing a lot of shows in support of it. It's so much fun to play these new songs live and I can't wait to share them with everybody. My tonsils have to come out this week, which is going to knock me out of commission for a bit, but I'm hoping to come back and play a record release show at Princeton once I'm back on my feet.

To hear some of Anthony's music, check out:

-Lisa Han ‘13

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