Interview: Dan Bern

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Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Over the last two decades, prolific songcrafter Dan Bern has had a varied and storied career–releasing two dozen albums, EPs, and live recordings which showcase his talents as a band member, solo artist, and composer. His latest record, Hoody, released in September, is a shining collection of poignancy and perspective which has been called his best yet.

Hoody was really fun and fast to make,” recalls Bern.  “The record I made just before that one was called Drifter, made in the fairly typical way that people make records nowadays; you lay your stuff down and then you work on those tracks forever, then you fly the tracks around and get people to play on them, and one guy may be over here and another guy is way over there.  Maybe in a reaction to that, we just got people who wanted to play in a room to bang out the songs.  It was fast and it was really fun.  I can’t imagine making a record any other way moving forward.”

Bern’s prowess shines on tracks like the autobiographical “Merle, Hank, and Johnny”, inspired by his upbringing in Iowa farm country. “Looking back, it was timeless.  You grow up and you circle back around to what you grew up with, what was on the radio,” he explains; song “Welcome” is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on our culture of consumerism and information overload. “Daily we’re faced with horrific news from one place or another. I was trying to take a step back and put it all in perspective, how crazy it all is,” says Bern.  “I used to make a lot of pronouncements, I used to talk a lot.  Now, I kind of feel like my music is the best thing I could offer, so hopefully people will take something from it.”

Bern’s music has been shaped not only by his upbringing, his observations, and his opinions, but also by Lulu, his young daughter.  “I think fatherhood changed my music a lot.  In addition to what I was doing, I started making a bunch of kid stuff, as a natural extension of the songs I was singing to her and making up for her and with her.  I think it probably seeps into everything else I do,” Bern says, and adds that being a dad has also smoothed his edges:  “When I first started recording and touring, I had a pretty good edge to me, to the point where I was getting kicked out of folk festivals left and right. There are still some that don’t want me back to this day because of the stuff I was singing.  I felt pretty self-righteous about it and people were like ‘what about our kids?’ and I was like ‘yeah, they hear worse than that on t.v.’  I feel like I never really used words gratuitously, I was just using the words that mean what they meant.  Like everything, it bites you in the rear-end.  Life is long, and if you keep doing something long enough, you’ll find different ways of doing things.”

For now, he is taking life as it comes, making the most of the fantastic opportunities that present themselves, and tearing up the highways to being his music to the masses.  “I’m covering a lot of the country and a little bit of Canada, I’m trying to cover the geography.  Some new projects have been knocking at my door that I’m excited about,” reveals Bern.  “I’m just glad that people seem to like this record; after all this time of doing it, there’s still interest in what I’m doing, and I’m appreciative.”

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Susan Hubbard

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