Q&A With Danny Ross

If you've ever thought to yourself "they just don't make them like Joe Jackson anymore, do they?" (and it's totally reasonable that you would think that) then you might also be charmed by Danny Ross' classic pop ways.

Over the past few years, Ross has done well for himself. He's made some cute videos, he's had a few residencies at the Mercury Lounge and he really earned himself a record deal with music industry legend Danny Goldberg, who once managed some band called Nirvana and worked with that group Led Zeppelin.

Ross' debut album will be out next year, and he's playing a Christmas show at the Mercury Lounge on Saturday. But don't think hanging out with music industry legends has gone to his head -- he's still a total mensch good enough to answer a few of Nonstop Sound's questions and gamely accept some ribbing.

Nonstop Sound: Who in the world gave you a record deal? How did that happen?

Danny Ross: "Believe me, I asked myself the same question. Especially since Yoko-inspired primal scream bands/ interpretive dancers aren't exactly burning up the iTunes charts. Though you should hear our Nickelback cover. In all sincerity, I had the great privilege of developing a relationship with Danny Goldberg, an industry legend with a true artist-friendly philosophy, and we'll be releasing a record on his new Ammal Records in Spring 2012."

NS: How are things going with the album? Are you working with anyone? How’s close are you to being done?

DR: "Well, I'm working to finish over 20 new songs as we speak. What I'm interested in now is capturing the immediacy of the live show and recording our nine-piece band with horns in the '60s style – to carefully craft the songs, rehearse the guys, track it in three or four takes live and move on. Woody Allen's philosophy to write and direct a film every year definitely struck a chord. Productivity is king — the laws of statistics dictate you'll have a few keepers in time. The flip side is that many artists have issues with self-editing. The hope is to have a Darkness on the Edge of Town situation with the luxury of choosing the best material from many options."

NS: What direction is this thing heading, songwriting and production wise?

DR: "There's no question that the songs are rooted in five years of working the daily grind. In our daily routines and in the struggle to survive, how do you maintain relationships and find the humanity and urgency of existence? Certainly these songs are part of a longer tradition of working music, but they also speak specifically to the current mess we're living through. As for sound – we're shooting for live, energetic, mid-'60s-based songs in the R&B, soul and folk-rock traditions. Think Rubber Soul, The Byrds, The Band's self-titled record, Sam Cooke, even Elvis. Dark-sounding rhythm section, jangly guitars, rich harmonies and vocals, all with grit and authenticity."

NS: So you play with an honest-to-goodness Big Band. What made you decide to go in that direction? How do you keep a band like that on the payroll when you’re still in the up-and-coming category?

DR: "Big Band probably implies The Glenn Miller Orchestra or the Lindy Hop, but it's true, we do in fact have a large group. And that's only because my ears prefer a big rock 'n roll sound -- guitars, pianos, organs, horns, percussion, strings, reverb. Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Bruce Springsteen. That's why I'm very lucky to break even financially, but it's worth it. New York has some of the best musicians straight out of school, why not put them to work? How's that for a jobs plan, Newt? Paid for by the Committee to Forever Silence Danny Ross."

NS: So, you recently launched the Laid Off Tour. Uh, how did that come about?

DR: "As of last month I was actually laid off from my day job working for a U.S. congressman due to severe budget cuts from House leadership. I figured I could either stay home and mope, or go out on the road and use this platform to address the issues plaguing our millennial generation. In the process I ended up with stronger ties to friends and supporters with evolving perspectives, even if a few ideological folks didn't want to participate in the conversation. It's the job of artists to take risks and hold up a mirror, and unfortunately we haven't had too many role models lately."

NS: And now that you’ve been laid off, how have you been occupying your time when you’re not working on the record?

DR: If you're implying I've been sitting back, eating Puffed Cheetos watching Arrested Development DVDs while collecting government checks, sir, that would be wrong AND illegal... Does NBC give dental? My resume is attached as a .TXT file."

NS: You tend to go all out on your live shows. What do you have planned for the Mercury Lounge gig?

"So much, let's see – midgets dressed as reindeer, the live birthing of kittens, the ghost of '80s-era James Brown. Oh, and singing. I'll be singing."

(Danny Ross will play Mercury Lounge on Saturday, Dec. 10. Tickets are available here and you can visit his website here.)

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