Sunday, May 9, 2010


You have herd his music all over the place; from episodes of Grey's Anatomy to HBO to Google to ads for Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign. Dan Romer is on the fast track to being one of the most sought out producers and musicians in the business. If the name sounds familiar, he fronted one of my favorite bands to emerge of the last ten years - the now defunct - Fireflies. Romer is also the man behind the deck and onstage for acts like Ingrid Michelson, Jenny Owen Youngs, Glory at Sea and many others. As discussed in various On The Road entries by contributing writer, Elliot Jacobson, Dan is a key part to the acts he plays with. As fellow contributing writer Bill Reese would say "Dan is a fucking genius." As Romer preps a solo record, more work with Ingrid and Jenny and his various other acts, I had the opportunity to find a few moments with him as we chatted about his career and where it is going. Take a look at my interview with a person, who will be the most important person in the business over the next few years.

What can you tell us about your solo material?

One thing that's important about this album is that I have no true plans for it. Every single album I've made before this one, be it for the band I used to front, Fire Flies, or for any of the artists I've produced, I've hoped to become a successful, popular record. I don't think I'll be doing any promotion on this piece of music, or playing many shows, so this album is honestly being made for no commercial purpose. It's gonna be downloadable for free. So there's some shackles that used to be there that aren't anymore.

Musically, the three new influences I'm drawing from most are New Orleans brass band music, Eastern European folk music, and classic motown. What this means for me is three drummers simultaneously on most songs, lots of horns and accordions, and less guitars. My musical brother, Chris Kuffner, is co-producing it with me. He's a brilliant musician who has helped me on every record I've worked on since I met him. He also co-produced Ingrid's first record, Girls and Boys, and just finished up Shira Goldberg's first album (it's awesome).

The other three musicians guiding me through this maze of artistic confusion are Adam Christgau, Seth Faulk and Elliot Jacobson. All drummers. Go figure.

I have always been curious to know who your influences are, due to the fact that your style is much like David Bowie fronting the Flaming Lips. Who are the artists that you admire?

I feel like I could rattle of 100s of names, but I'll give a little timeline instead.

10 years old: Obsessed with The Who's “Tommy”
12: Loved Alanis Morisette's “Jagged Little Pill”
13: Decided Alanis sucked and only listened to Nirvana and the Pumpkins. Told people I liked The Pixies, but didn't listen to them.
14: Ska and Floyd
15: Bob Dylan, Magnetic Fields and Belle and Sebastian
16: Neil Young, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, Dr. Octagon
17: Tom Waits, David Bowie, Flaming Lips
18: Radiohead, Digital Underground, Fiona Apple, Kate Bush
19: Alanis Morisette
20: Started actually listening to The Pixies.
21: Stopped listening to music (sad, but true, The Pixies only got a year.)

You are a hell of a live performer, when you showcase your solo music, will it just be you on stage or will you be joined by a band?

Thanks dude! Our personnel has been tweeted by Bess, so I feel like it's not really a secret. So.... we'll have three drummers, one with a bass drum and two with snares, which are the aforementioned Seth, Elliot and Adam. Chris Kuffner will mostly stay firmly on bass, and then the whole line up from the band The Age Of Rockets are going to jump from instrument to instrument. Adam is in that band, as are Bess Rogers, Saul Simon-Macwilliams and Andrew Futral. And I'm sure many backup vocals will happen, expected or unexpected (Bill Reese?).

How will your solo material differ from what you have done with Fireflies, Ingrid Michaelson and Jenny Owen Youngs?

An simpler question might be “what will it have in common?” The song forms will be similar, but the instrumentation will be totally different, as will the vocal approach. To be honest though, the two subjects I still can't stop writing about are the end of the world and “the darkness.” Aliens are mostly off the table now.

You have found yourself as a musical renaissance man; acting as musician, songwriter, producer, front man, backing man, go to man. What job do you prefer and why?

My favorite part of music is when you have every instrument more or less tracked, except maybe the vocals, and you have to figure out what the song 'wants'. That's when you say “What if there was a mellotron string playing one note over this whole section?” or “Wouldn't that guitar sound better backwards for a second?” I love putting little sonic decorations on things.

Your music can recently been herd in a commercial for Google, how did that come about?

I co-composed the score for the film “Glory at Sea” with Benh Zeitlin, who also directed the movie. Somehow the ad agency working for Google got their hands on this music, probably since different parts of the score were used on several last minute Obama commercials, and there it was.

The name of your company is called “Drawing Number One,” what does this title signify?

Drawing Number One is a reference to the book The Little Prince. “My Drawing Number One” is the first drawing the fictional author in the book draws when he's six years old. It's an elephant inside of a snake from the outside. I have a bunch of Little Prince references in my endeavors: my record label was Asteroid B-612 Records, and Fire Flies was originally called The Baobabs. It's quite possibly my favorite book.

Is it odd going on stage with Ingrid and playing with her after you already established yourself in a band or as a performer on your own?

Not at all! No matter what you're doing on stage, the whole point is to have a really great time, and hopefully make something really beautiful out of it. I love playing with every artist I play with, and when you're onstage with them, you ARE essentially that artist. I feel it's worth pointing out though, compared to the success Ingrid has achieved, Fire Flies were a relatively unknown band outside of NYC.

Elliot Jacobson is a contributing writer to this site. He dishes out info on what it is like to be on the road with Ingrid and her crew. What is it like to be on the road with Elliot?

Oh man, you guys, I love Elliot Jacobson, though! I end up spending most of my time with Elliot, since we both love hunting down starbuckses (correct pluralization?), hunting for weird drums and eating as much protein and fiber as possible. Elliot's really health conscious, so just being around him and watching keeps me feeling better. If I drink way too much whiskey, he forces me to drink three bottles of water before going to sleep. He's also one of the best musicians I've ever met in my life, and one of the funniest people I've ever known. If you have the pleasure of meeting him, ask him to sing you his original composition “Pizza Date.”

When can we expect your first batch of solo material? What will you call it?

We're hoping for it to be done around May. Fingers crossed. There IS a working title, but it's not firmly set enough for me to announce it yet. I will say that the working title ends in an ellipsis.

If there was anyone you would love to work with, whom would it be and why?

I'd be nervous work with a hero of mine like Tom Waits or David Byrne, since I feel like I would just sit there too humbled to comment. What contributions could I possibly make to the people who taught me everything I know? But if they came calling, I'd say yes in a second. My real dream is to produce some sort of super talented top 40 artist, say Beyonce or Hayley from Paramore, who wanted to make a life change and start making some less directly commercial, artier sounding stuff. For reals, can you picture Hayley singing over just a floor tom and some mellotron flutes? My heart hurts just thinking about it.

Special thanks to Dan Romer and Bill Reese for the interview!