I’ve long found the psychology of the “starving artist” to be most fascinating and profoundly respectable.
What makes them tick, their creative processes, their unique quirks and ideals that leads them to do what they do. The fact that it almost isn’t even a choice for them to do whatever is necessary to make time for their creative outlets, because it is crucial to their mental health, balance, and soul. Their day jobs are merely stepping stones to pay the bills and stay afloat amidst the rat race. Creating to them is like drinking water- it’s vital for survival.
One such artist who is beyond dedicated to his artistic craft is Huntington Beach-born and Montana-based folk pop songwriter, barber, skateboarder, and filmmaker Drew Danburry.
For nearly two decades, Danburry has toured independently and has released numerous records, EPs, and singles. The catch with Danburry, though, is that he is a servant of the art- and that’s it. He’s one of the rare breeds that truly and deeply believes in what he’s creating, and has no deep yearning for “making it.” There are mountains of respect (at least from me) to those who could care less about meaningless playlists, social media whoring, and phony ivory tower-types telling them what music is good and what’s not. They do it for themselves, and that’s enough- and it should be.
And you’ve got to love this from his Submit Hub bio: “He’s released over 400 songs on over 20 albums/13 EPs and played 800 + shows worldwide. 2 Daytrotter sessions, 3 performances at Pop Montreal, 1 at Pygmalion Music Festival and being part of the 20th Anniversary Block Party of Kilby Court with Death Cab for Cutie are just a tiny drop in the big whole bunch of really impressive and super important things that you should totally be impressed by because he’s super important and impressive.”
It was Danburry’s new single “When/Mercury Is In Retrograde/Again, For Winter Nights” that caught our ear initially. In diving in to Danburry’s work, I found myself impressed with the extent of his art, which is not limited to music. As a SoCal native, Danburry is a longtime skateboarder who made his own documentary, Skateboarding Is Not Tony Hawk Pro Skater. He’s also an career barber, who owned his own barber shop in Provo, Utah, before shipping north a bit to Montana.
We had the chance to chat with Danburry about all of this and more.
So where did you grow up, and what got you into playing and writing music?
First off, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’m really pumped about starting this cassette label Telos Tapes and for the releases we’re putting out. It feels great to be able to curate musical releases. To actually answer your question, I grew up in Huntington Beach, California, and I played in band since 5th grade. I pretty much always made music for fun. It wasn’t till college when I really started focusing on it a little more. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to identify how important it is for my own personal happiness to be creative- to have an outlet. Whether with music, or film, or whatever.
Do you have a specific atmosphere or pastime that aides in your songwriting process, or does it often just happen sporadically?
I generally just get ideas all the time and document them on a little digital recorder. Then I’ll go back a few months later and delete or keep ideas depending on how I feel about them objectively after having not heard them for so long. That’s something I started doing ten years ago, now that I’ve found to be really effective. Document all ideas and then filter them later when I’m not as close to them. Otherwise you end up spending lots of time being excited about a mediocre melody because you came up with some cool words you want to use.
So it was your new single “When/Mercury Is In Retrograde/Again, For Winter Nights” that caught our ear. What’s the inspiration and influence behind this track?
I got rid of social media years ago. It still feels like I’m dead in a lot of ways. There are a lot of people I don’t know how to contact anymore, but I miss and love them. I had a lot of things to work through mentally, and I wanted to get myself right. It’s hard to do inside the echo chamber and noise of the internet. But overall, I did a lot of reading and soul searching and coming to grips with who I am at my core. What things I can change and what things I can learn to accept and live with. And what things I want out of life. I also wanted to write a message to the universe and let it know I’m ready for things to be good. I can handle it. Sometimes we think we can handle good things happening to us but we really can’t. It’s hard to explain, I guess?
Can fans expect to see it on an upcoming EP or LP?
So basically, the aforementioned track is one of the B-sides from the cassette tape only release of “Icarus Phoenix” on Telos Tapes. You can get the B-sides everywhere, but the A-sides were so special I wanted to make sure they were presented in a way that didn’t allow for the usual lack of respect music gets. I wanted to set boundaries to the album, because it is so important to me. I didn’t want it to “just get added to a Spotify playlist and be forgotten”. That’s kind of how and why Telos Tapes was formed in the first place, some friends and I wanted to release music on our terms. When a person sits down to listen to an album, it’s an act of commitment on behalf of the listener and when the album delivers, it’s a meeting of two minds. I don’t see that happening when things get thrown on a playlist online or as background music in a barber shop. We wanted to draw a line in the sand and demand a level of respect as artists. We know not everyone is willing to listen to a cassette and that’s okay, our music isn’t for everyone. But for those people that find us and recognize the kind of quality and care we’re putting into what we’re doing might find something that changes their life. Rather than another catchy background tune.
Where was it recorded, and where do you do most of your recording?
I recorded the Icarus Phoenix album (and the B-sides) over the span of three days at June Audio in Provo, Utah. Jed Jones produced it, and I can’t overstate enough how vital he was to the whole process. I generally spend months tracking everything I possibly can in Garage Band at home. Guitars, percussion, weird noise collages, vocals, saxophone, flute, harmonica. Pretty much everything I can think of. Then I take it into a studio and we record drums, bass, lead vocals and whatever else we can in the time allotted. I don’t have money to track in a nice studio for months. But I think recording drums, and lead vocals in a nice studio makes a big difference. So we recorded twenty some odd songs in three days, and I’m actually about to do it again in a couple weeks for a follow up album.
So you’ve had quite a career in music releasing numerous albums/EPS, touring all over the world etc. What is one or two of your proudest/most memorable moments in your career so far?
I think the only thing I’m proud of is how hard I’ve worked. It’s been so much work, and it’s insane to think what you can do with a regular daily amount of effort. In any capacity, really. I’ve spent most of my life skateboarding as well, and just doing something every day makes such a big difference in the long run. Being consistent about it is vital. Whether it’s barbering, skateboarding, music, reading, pushups. Anything, really. The internet is just such a black hole and it feels pointless to try and make a dent in it. So doing it for myself and for any others to happen to come across it is mentally where it’s at for me. I’m not knocking people who look at music as a business. But for me, it’s just about art. Sharing. Connecting. Etc. Being able to have shared a moment with someone in person or via a song I’ve written is such a huge honor. I don’t take it lightly.
Do you still own your own barber shop in Provo, Utah, and what made you want to pick up the shears?
I do not, actually. I moved to Montana a few years ago, and have been hiding out up here recuperating. I do not miss Utah Valley, and I do not miss owning my own business. Between the two of them, I ended up having to mentally detox for a solid year or two. I work at someone else’s barber shop and it’s really wonderful not having to deal with customer service as an owner. Anyone who works in customer service already understands, but those who don’t…well, it’s hard to explain, but it’s really dehumanizing. Or at least, it can be. I won’t go on a tangent about it. I’m extremely grateful for where I’m at right now. The best advice I can give any artist is to find a job you’re good at, that you don’t care about. It pays the bills, (and you do a good job – I can’t reiterate that enough) but then you have time to do what you love on the side. It’s too stressful trying to eat with art and more often than not it ruins the artistic process. Because you’re so focused on making something that will help you eat rather than making something that will help you cope with life. It turns the thing you love into a job. It ruins it.
As a long-time skateboarder myself, I see you released a skateboarding documentary called Skateboarding Is Not Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Can you talk about that and how it came to life?
Basically, I was in college, I had spent the summer reading a ton about sociology and having grown up skateboarding in Huntington Beach in the 90’s, I became really fascinated with the social exchange between skateboarders and the people who were kicking them out. I had so many experiences with it growing up that it had shaped who I was and how I saw authority figures in many ways. I had janitors run over my skateboard with a tractor, I had seen adults and teenagers square off and get in each other’s faces. I had witnessed SO MANY altercations that I wanted to just understand it better. So I basically talked to everybody I could. I talked to professors, sociologists, skateboarders, police officers, business owners, school janitors, and even Kevin Bacon’s dad. (Side note: Kevin Bacon’s dad helped design Love Park and was a huge advocate for skateboarding before he died). It’s fascinating how a “thing” or an “idea” can consistently be viewed in diametric opposition and can cause constant and regular discord. Skateboarding, pandemics, wearing masks, politics, EVERYTHING. I don’t get tired of it.
So anyways, I basically just starved myself in college and borrowed mini-dv cameras and threw together a documentary about the social elements of skateboarding. It was so much fun and so much work and so few people have seen it. Pretty much just like music. Starve. Create. Fly low under the radar. Ha ha.
Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process? (or perhaps neither)
I know these are hard times for a lot of people. And the pandemic certainly has complicated my life in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of problem solving required for a lot of variable outcomes and it can cause a lot of anxiety. For example, we’re two weeks away from the school year and we still don’t even know if our child has a school to go to. (Our school district here in Montana still hasn’t decided what they are doing). BUT, I’m also extremely grateful that we’ve been able to eat and survive and in general, we’re doing real good. As an introvert, I have absolutely LOVED the pandemic shutdown. It’s been so enjoyable to stay home and just work on music and art and film and be creative. It’s been amazing. I’ve loved it. Thankfully, we had some savings set aside (I don’t think I ever really stopped starving and creating so I ended up saving a little here and there) so we were lucky. It’s extremely sad and upsetting for the people who haven’t had the help or resources that others have had. Tough times to be living in.
Have you picked up any new hobbies throughout it or tapped into other creative endeavors?
I picked up hand-drawn animation a couple years ago and it’s a big time commitment. So I’ve been doing a lot of that as well as music and skateboarding, etc. My son is also at an age where he still likes me so I try and spend a lot of time with him so we have a relationship and he knows I love him.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
That’s tough because I think most people function in one social group and stick to it but I’ve always been interested in lots of things and tend to bounce between groups. Since high school, I’ve never felt like I had a group. I’ve always done most everything on my own. Being introverted probably doesn’t help either. But I’ve always been friends with all sorts of people while never feeling like I was in their group so to speak. Photography, filmmaking, skateboarding, and music all played a huge role in my life but I never spent enough time at the skatepark or the local venue to have it be my social network of friends. It’s like every group requires you to put in a certain amount of time in order to be accepted. But I had too many interests to stick to just one thing.
Also, I was raised Mormon and left that church a while ago now. But being raised Mormon and being a skateboarder always threw people for a loop (at least in the 90s). I think because I have so many different outlets I interact with a wide variety of people but never see myself as any of those things. Most people identify as being a “skateboarder” or a “musician” or “filmmaker” or whatever. But I’m all of them and none of them. I really like Dungeons and Dragons as well as Magic the Gathering.
What can fans expect from Drew Danburry to close out the year?
Other than launching this Telos Tapes cassette label? I’ve got some films I’m gonna be releasing on my YouTube channel (Drew Danburry). Two cassette releases come out September 8th on Telos Tapes. What can anybody expect to close out this year? Mass mayhem and riots? Economic meltdown? Russian takeover? Post election chaos? I feel like it’s the beginning of the end, we’re gearing up for something but we don’t know what…I keep imagining I’m slow dancing with Anne Hathaway and she says, “There’s a storm coming,” and then she whispers in my ear that “You and your friends better batten down the hatches cause when it hits you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us”.
And then I think, “Well, what would Batman do?”