Dan Reeder’s new record demonstrates a unique and unusually wide-ranging creativity.
Folk musician Dan Reeder signed to John Prine’s Oh Boys Records label in early 2000 after sending him a burned CD filled with his own songs. Since then, Reeder has released three full albums — his self-titled debut album, Sweetheart, and This New Century — and toured with Prine in 2006. Now, Reeder is releasing a new EP, Nobody wants to be you, out November 10.
Filled with the same witty character and eclectic tactics, Nobody wants to be you displays Reeder’s many talents. He crafts his own instruments and does his own artwork for his albums. He even builds the computers he records with. Then there’s the offbeat homemade sounds the artist and his instruments produce and his signature quirky lyrics.
All that DIY creativity adds up to a truly original piece of work that blazes a nice trail into a new genre in the folk idiom. Recently, Reeder talked with C&I about his new EP and what’s next on his creative journey.
Cowboys & Indians: What do you hope your fans will get out of your new EP, Nobody wants to be you?
Dan Reeder: I hope they’ll enjoy it.
C&I: Do you have a song on the EP that you’re most proud of?
Reeder: Not really “proud.” I like Nobody wants to be you because I get to belt, which I usually don’t get to. I like the piano on “Bach,” straight from Bach’s Prelude in C. I like the guitar solo on “Kung Fu” [too].
C&I: You create your own instruments and your own recording computers. How does this play into your music? Do you base your songs around your instruments’ sounds, or do you create your instruments based on the sounds you want to portray?
Reeder: What a compliment! I’ll take it. Let me explain the instrument-making stuff: Anybody can build a guitar. Takes a little time, and you have to buy or make some special tools, but anybody can do it. A “good” guitar is something else. I have no idea how to make a good one. To me, it’s a miracle that companies like Gibson, Martin, and Taylor are able to make guitars that all have a characteristic sound. I never know what an instrument is going to sound like, but they always sound like something. It’s fun to try to use whatever sound the thing makes. I also spend about half of the time actually building the thing, and the other half making it playable — raising or lowering the string height, leveling the frets, etc.
C&I: How did you get into making your instruments and computers?
Reeder: I always built my own computers because they were cheaper that way. It’s also not all that hard. Fast and new is (and always was) expensive. My strategy was always to use stuff that was fast enough, but not anymore. Right now, you can build a computer that's fast enough to record music on for literally nothing. People throw them away. As for instruments, I built some dulcimers when I was still living in the US, so I knew how to bend wood, hammer in frets, and so on. As a kid, I built a lot of model airplanes, and I use a lot of that experience, too.
C&I: Do you have a favorite instrument that you’ve made? Or one that has been the most impactful on your music?
Reeder: I recently made a ukulele out of cardboard. The frets are 3-mm dowels. It works OK, but not a good as a “real” ukulele. I’ll probably never use it on a record. Why would I? What I’ve learned over the years is that nobody really cares if I made the instruments or not. If I were going to record a song with a guitar on it right now, I’d use my Gibson, and not one of the homemade ones. Sounds better. Has no weird little problems.
C&I: You also designed the album art for Nobody wants to be you. Where did you get inspiration for that?
Reeder: The cover is a print that I made several years ago. The title was Nitwit Reading His Horoscope. We used it as a cover because it was there, I guess.
C&I: How do you go about writing all of your clever and unique songs? Do you start with the melody or the lyrics first?
Reeder: I fiddle around ... play a progression or a bass line. Then I start singing the “lyrics” that, at first, are just placeholders. Either something better than the placeholder lyrics pops into my head, or not. There are also some strategies that I have learned while painting pictures. One is to try to paint something sweet and harmless. Those always end up being the nastiest things you can imagine. It’s like my inner monster won’t let me do it. Another is to just make fun of myself. Always works. I am ridiculous.
C&I: You’re signed to John Prine’s label, Oh Boy Records, and have toured with him four times. What was that like?
Reeder: I suffer from stage fright, so on tour, I’m always a little on edge (scared s---less). In the back of my mind is always the thought that, come 8 o'clock, I’m going to walk out onto a stage in front of 2,000 people and play an instrument that I can’t really play and sing my songs with my wacky voice. There are 2,000 of them and one of me. If they attack … It’s always gone well. They’ve always liked me. Still ...
C&I: With many achievements under your belt, like various visual art awards, three albums and an EP, handmade instruments, and a published book, what’s next?
Reeder: I bought an e-drum set. I’m working on that. I’ve been working on my piano-playing. I just bought a duduk, which I’m looking forward to learning to play. Mixing music is interesting. I’d like to get better at that. There are so many fun things to do.
C&I: Lastly, you’re based in Nuremberg, Germany, now. What are some of your favorite places there?
Reeder: Nuremberg is a great town. My favorite places are my studio and the pub around the corner.