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Posted Jun 22nd, 2009 (12:45 pm) by Erika Dick

Full of infectious passion for life, quiet wisdom, and humble ambition, Dan Zimmerman graciously gave a bit of his time to share life stories and secret hopes with Inyourspeakers. Born in 1948 and raised by his Methodist preacher father, Zimmerman has lived an extraordinary life -- illustrating books at age 9, biking to visit cowboys, dropping out of school and traveling in an old VW van, being married by a Hindu swami, building his own home in the woods, fighting fire, recording with kindred souls, not to mention the past couple decades of painting and performing. Though his latest album was released in April, Zimmerman will not be taking a break; with plans upon plans up his sleeve, Dan pursues his art and music with unchecked enthusiasm. Read on for his take on discovery, creation, and the ongoing pilgrimage of life.

Inyourspeakers: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk with us! We really appreciate it.

DZ: Oh, it’s fine. It’s my pleasure.

IYS: Alright! Question time. Okay, so there’s one thing we definitely want to know about.

DZ: Okay! I’m ready.

IYS: Did you really have a three-legged dog?

DZ: [Laughs] Oh boy. Well a friend of mine did, the guy I used to travel with. We were pretty close, and since we rode around in this VW van a lot. I looked at him as my dog too. See, one time he jumped out of the car while we were driving, and he broke one leg. He got it fixed, but he still couldn’t use it.

IYS: Oh my!

DZ: He was a singular creature. [Laughs]

IYS: What was his name?

DZ: My friend called him Beast. [Laughs] But that was a very interesting time period. I’d like to write more about that some day.

IYS: Sounds like you’ve quite an adventurous life!

DZ: I have. My wife is really good at writing these things down; she’s working on writing a memoir. Whenever I get to writing, I always end up writing songs. I haven’t gotten to writing a memoir but I hope that I cover enough territory with my songs, so if I never write a memoir, they’ll have something to go on about me.

IYS: Your songs are your memoir.

DZ: Yeah. [Laughs] Yeah!

IYS: Speaking of songs, your latest album, Cosmic Patriot, was released pretty recently. It took awhile to produce. About six years, right?

DZ: It took so long because, really, Daniel Smith was very passionate about the project, and he also wanted to be involved with it personally, all the way through. But he also has his group, Denison, and he tours a lot. So we’d confer, and get something on, and then he’d travel some. And I’ve got to work too. I haven’t made it to a place where I can live off of music, so I work at a bookstore. Well anyway, so we kept picking away at it. And at one point we decided to redo a bunch of things. So it was a long project, but I’m glad with how it turned out.

IYS: So how do you like it there at Sounds Familyre?

DZ: I love those guys! It really feels like a family to me. We met them soon after we moved back to the East Coast. My wife is from the East Coast, but when we moved back here, we met Daniel and his family, and all the people at the label. That was way back in ’95. We’ve known them since way back then and have grown with the label, and got to know all the people with there.

IYS: Oh wonderful! So, in “An Afternoon with Dan Zimmerman,” you talk about art as a way for people to discover new things about themselves. What have you discovered about yourself while recording your record over the last six years?

DZ: Oh yeah, I learned a lot. I feel like I’ve grown as a writer. Even though I spent six years on Cosmic Patriot, I’m filled with enthusiasm about the things I’m writing now. Through the development of that album, I learned a lot about myself as a writer, and I’m excited about how it will affect my next project. That’s the way it’s always been. You learn something from one project, and the next project takes on a character of its own. I think that mainly in Cosmic Patriot, the openness of the songs is a result of something that happened during the course of that time period, where writing for me was a means of leaving the songs open to more participation from the listener.

IYS: Right! I like that. Now, you’re an artist too. You’ve said the most exciting part of painting is when the painting really starts to emerge. Does the same go for songwriting?

DZ: For me, songs emerge and become recognizable rather quickly. There’s this process where I keep writing until I procure a satisfying result. Songs usually come together quickly for me, but the development thereof takes longer. That’s the exciting part for me. When a song is finished, and there’s nothing more to add...well I’m always excited to see what’s next! [Laughs]

IYS: Keep on truckin’...

DZ: [Laughs] Yeah, I heard someone say that the creative process is like an ascending line. You see the piece emerging and revealing itself, but once the song’s done, then there’s always a bit of a descending line. You want to go back to where the material starts to reveal itself again.

IYS: I wanted to ask you a little more about your artwork. In the past years, you’ve begun displaying it behind you in your shows?

DZ: Yeah. I like to, but it’s a little bit tough to haul them. That said, I have done brought some of my paintings along to shows. On the other hand, I like the idea of slides. I’m working on some other ideas, but right now they’re still in my mind; I haven’t finished them yet. I see my art as a corollary to the music, a springboard for the imagination. I feel my relationship to the visual work as developed in the same way as the music. I’d like it to be more open to others. I’d like to make slides with details of the paintings -- just with parts of the paintings -- so it becomes abstracted, or something drawn from part of a painting. At a show I played recently, at the Mercury Lounge in New York, the images were projected on the band while we were playing. We were in the painting, playing music, and everything was related.


IYS: That’s so great! So do you have a favorite medium to work with?

DZ: I love paints. I love the loose stuff. I love oil paints because of the body and the ability to build up texture. And it stays wet. I love loose media; I love charcoal. I love stuff you can’t control very well. Stuff that surprises you.

IYS: Stuff that takes on a life of its own.

DZ: Yeah! You see something happening, and you respond to it. That’s the exciting place for me.

IYS: So, your “Muse” portraits to me are particularly intriguing.

DZ: Oh, the “Muse” portrait? You know, the reason why I picked that name is because a friend of mine gave me an idea. He said, “Could you give me some drawings of someone listening to music? Try to get images that depict the process of someone listening to music?” The music was going in, and coming out of the figure depicted therein. To me, the painting’s theme simply had to do with music combined with the contemplative process that someone goes though when listening to music. So I picked the word “muse” instead of a word like, say, “birth.” Later on when we were thinking about an image to go with the album, it struck me as being very personal, because I used my eyes for the image. The piece is also abstract, so it can relate to the material on the album. Going back a bit, I do think eyes are very important. I would like to continue to do more figurative drawings. I’ve been doing abstract art for a few years now, but I think I’d like to turn back to figurative imagery. Who knows where I’m going? [Laughs]

IYS: Who knows! [Laughs] So, on your Myspace it says “Songs, paintings, and the stuff of pilgrimage.” You mentioned earlier you don’t like the idea of something being “finished.” Does that mean you’re still moving along in your pilgrimage?

DZ: Oh yeah - I’m a seeker. And my music is seekers’ music. It’s not finished. It’s still unfolding.


IYS: Maybe filled with a bit of wanderlust.

DZ: Well, in a similar way to when I finish a painting, and there’s a bit of disappointment because it becomes an object rather than an abstract idea. I like the vitality of something that’s emerging. But that isn’t something you can hold onto forever. I feel the same way about my life. Every once in a while, I’ll get one of those “This is it!” moments, and then a little while later, I’ll go back to wondering about things again. I feel that’s normal though.


IYS: Definitely. Now, reflecting back a little, you’ve had the opportunity to play with a lot of musicians over the years. Any standout memories or people you’d like to play with again
?

DZ: I played with a band in Portland called Subterranean Cafe. It was a very dear group of people to me. I did get an opportunity to play with one of the guys recently in upstate New York. He has a club in Upper Jay, which is right near Lake Placid. I got to go up there with Tony Jones, my guitar player friend, and we played up there with Byron and his brother Scott. Anyway, they have a club called The Recovery Lounge. It was such a gas. [Laughs] I love playing with those guys. We are all just so excited about music. I love to play with people whose enthusiasm is infectious.

IYS: So who would you like to play music with now?

DZ: I would love to sing with Emmylou Harris or Gillian Welch. I’d also love to work with T Bone Burnett on a record. And of course, it’d be great to meet Dylan. I have this hope (now I haven’t searched this out) but my father’s from Duluth, MN. Everyone once awhile I think about trying to find out whether we’re related. But I’m afraid to do it because I’ll find out we’re not! [Laughs]

IYS: Keep the mystery alive.

DZ: [Laughs] Exactly.

IYS: So, you’ve always lived and worked in nature. Has nature been a great influence in your art and music?

DZ: It was huge! My dad would take us to ghost towns when I was a kid. We’d go up into the mountains all the time up by Yosemite. We ended up in the desert a lot. I loved the old Western films. We lived near the sets, and I’d ride my bike over to where they made movies all the time. I was really influenced by the West. Then when I went to college, I started a new era. The woman I married was from New Jersey, and as a result, I became bi-coastal. We finally moved back to New Jersey in ’95. That said, I haven’t related as much to New Jersey as I have the West.

Anyway, music drives a lot of my music and the love I have for (and I hope my next record will reflect this even more) that crisp, Western guitar


IYS: Cool! So, you’ve mentioned your next project a few times. You just barely released Cosmic Patriot! Is this new project just in its early stages?

DZ: It really only exists in my mind, although I have begun working on some songs with my guitar player. I haven’t talked with it about Daniel a lot yet. He’s always receptive though. I guess I’m just the kind of guy who’s always thinking about what’s next.

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