The hearty voice and soothing tempo of songwriter Dan Hubbard sounds like sitting around a crackling fire under the stars. The unmistakable twang of bluegrass guitar meets softer acoustic undertones in Hubbard’s music in a revived Americana style is evident. His authentic lyrics ring true across generations, telling stories of love, loss, and life, and his powerful message hits straight home in every song. Hubbard is the epitome of the American songwriter wrapped up with vocal and instrumental talent.
Hubbard, an Illinois native, picked up the guitar when he was 15 and hasn’t put it down since. Lyrics effortlessly followed his fingers as he grew as a guitarist and artist. It only takes a brief listen to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into each of his songs, something often lost with other powerful vocalists. Hubbard’s guitar is a staple element of his music—distinguishable and unique. Each note rings through clearly and accompanies the story he tells through his song.
His instrumentation is effortlessly accompanied by strong yet soothing vocals. Hubbard’s voice alone is an instrument, ebbing and flowing with the build of his melody. His deep tones cause an echo sensation in the chest while his words themselves seem to dance continuously across eardrums. There’s something authentically raw about his sound. His voice is emblematic of a Crunch bar, chocolatey with brief interruptions of texture.
It would be a disservice to categorize Hubbard under any one genre. Though his music commonly intertwines with bluegrass across several elements, he keeps an open mind about his craft. Hubbard maintains an aura of rock n’ roll, occasionally incorporating a strong piano sound akin to Elton John, as well as eluding to folk legends like Woodie Guthrie with his use of harmonica.
It’s clear that Hubbard takes great pride in the quality of his word, and he has a resume to show it. In 2016, he worked with 3-time Grammy nominee Ken Coomer to produce his self-titled album, Dan Hubbard. Coomer and Hubbard work beautifully together, Hubbard with his incredibly diverse sound, and Coomer with his vast experience working with artist all over the world.
Hubbard’s most recent single, “Hotshot” released on June 26th, tells a tale fit for a ballad. Distinctly more mellow than much of his other music, “Hotshot” is an entire love story encapsulated in a single song. Hubbard sings about two young lovebirds planning their futures, that is until “some hotshot” comes along and dismantles everything. Featuring melodic spoken word atop prominent and raw guitar, Hubbard captures the essence of artists like John Mellencamp, Tyler Childers, and something uniquely individual. “Hotshot’s” subtle sprinkling of echo and synth gives it a mystical feel, all while retaining traditional roots. He tells a story with both words and instrumentation. “Hotshot” is everything you would expect to hear in a movie soundtrack as the two main characters love story is montaged on screen.
Hubbard’s music gives us the capacity to step back and examine our lives from a different perspective. Between asking the hard questions and considering things beyond ourselves, Hubbard’s lyrics come through like poetry, resonating with both power and grace. He speaks directly to the listener, making both an appeal for broader consideration, and a powerful call for introspection. Hubbard naturally brings peace with his words, his sound, and his aura.
We had the chance to chat with Hubbard about the single and much more.
Did you know from a young age you’d pursue a life of music?
I had a casual interest in music growing up, like a lot of kids. I loved singing into the vacuum handle when I was cleaning my room, and I sang in front of my class on talent days, but I never saw myself pursuing music when I grew up. When I was 9 my older brother, Erik, died from brain cancer. I think the pain and trauma from that was the catalyst for me finally focusing on music. I was 15 when I started to learn guitar, and it became a huge release for me. Writing was a way for me to process his death. On top of that, my oldest brother, D.J., was a songwriter before me. I really looked up to him, and it was important for me to see that it could be done. He didn’t pursue it as a career, but he made me believe that I could.
How might you describe your style? Do you attribute your sound to any specific genres?
I love many different genres, so it’s hard for me to pinpoint one. I love to change it up, because it keeps me engaged – sometimes I’m blues rock, sometimes Americana, sometimes folk, soul, etc…
If I had to pick one artist that I’ve always admired and tried to emulate in some way it would be Tom Petty.
It was your single “Hotshot” that caught our ear. What’s the inspiration and influence behind this track?
It’s a story about a love triangle. The other day a fan asked me, “Which person are you in the story?” All I’ll tell you is that I have some regrets, and sometimes they manifest themselves in song.
Is it going to be/is it part of an EP or LP?
No, just a single.
What might you hope fans take away from “Hotshot?”
I just hope it’s a good listen. There’s a lot going on sonically, and in terms of story. It requires the listeners attention, which is one of the reasons I wanted to release it on its own, as a single. And if you’ve ever been involved in a love triangle, or any romantic relationship that went south, then this should hit home.
Where did you record the song?
The Music Orphanage in Marseilles, IL. It’s my lead guitar player – Matthew Pittman’s home studio. He produced it, and he’s brilliant.
What’s your songwriting process like?
I write songs in bunches these days, and typically music first. So I’ll collect music ideas over time using voice memos, and eventually I’ll go back and listen to them all and see what’s worth making into a song.
Are you big on collecting music gear like guitars? What have been/are some of your favorite guitars?
I’m not a huge collector. Everything I have I use. And I have a great collection of acoustic guitars that I take to every show – Martin D18, Gibson J45, and a Taylor 12 string that helps set my performances apart from a lot of other artists. You just don’t see a lot of people playing 12 strings. That guitar plays a big role in “Hotshot.”
Has quarantine downtime inspired any new projects for you?
Yes, I wrote another bunch of tunes:) So I have 15 songs or so that could be used for a new album someday. But my process for the last couple albums has been to write enough material for 2 albums, and then pick the very best from the bunch with the help of a producer in order to hopefully make one great album. I think it’s the best way to ensure that I’m consistently putting out quality stuff. So, I still have a lot of work to do.
Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process? (or perhaps neither)
I have honestly been grateful for the time to reset. It’s hard to be creative when you are constantly preparing for the next show.
What might the latter half of the year have in store for Dan Hubbard?
I’ve actually been loving performing live stream shows from my basement, so I will hopefully do a few more of those. In December I’m scheduled to go on tour with The Nielsen Trust (featuring Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick), but who knows if that will still happen. There’s no telling where our industry is headed right now, but I think some exciting new opportunities will arise from what seems like a bleak situation.