by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter
GSC sat down with up and coming artist Dan Harrison to talk about his transition from the Northeast to the South, guitar gods, and defining his own sound!
Dan Reifsnyder: How would you describe your music?
Dan Harrison: I would describe it as “Anthemic Country music”. I grew up a Rock and Blues guy, listened to a lot of hip-hop and pop too. I even played Jazz in high school! Because of growing up in Philly, I didn’t listen to a lot of country aside from some Cash and Shania Twain, courtesy of my parents. I didn’t realize until later that there is a pretty strong country market outside the city…
DR: Yeah! In Lancaster and stuff.
DH: Right! Even though Philly has a major Country radio station I wasn’t exposed to it a lot. So I was initially inspired to take up music by Rock, which both of my parents were very into. The guitar work for sure – I was more into guitar than singing at certain points early on. Then when I got into college – this was in 2011 when Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, they were all coming up – things changed. The music coming out of Nashville at that time drew me in because it had a modern, Pop/Rock radio sound, but the lyrics were tight. One of the things that tended to miss for me in Rock was the lyrics – not that they weren’t good, not that they weren’t classic – but what are they really saying? Aside from guys like Springsteen, Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp – those guys are poets, in a way that a lot of guys in Nashville are influenced by them. But coming down to North Carolina where I went to school and getting immersed in it, and hearing the influence of that sound that I grew up with in conjunction with really cool lyrics – saying amazing stuff in amazing ways, that was a game changer. I just never thought songs could be that doubly impactful. I wanted to do music for as long as I can remember, and especially since picking up guitar at 11, I just didn’t know what kind of sound or where I fit. And then once I got to college and heard the radio/what my friends listened to, I thought “If I’m ever gonna do it, it’s gonna be like that.” I majored in music for a hot second – it didn’t work out for a bunch of reasons – but I still did music on my own. I had a cover band with some buddies, and did a little bit of writing on my own and continued to practice. In hindsight, I wish I did more, but I had a great college experience and it’s obviously the basis for a lot of my material – certainly my first single (Nowhere Bar) that’s out right now.
So, that was a long winded explanation, but basically I’m trying to capture that radio friendly hooky melody and energy and vibe, but also with a high level of musicianship and lyrics that mean something. I want to be progressing Country music sonically and lyrically. I love the traditional stuff now, but the great thing about Country I think is that it’s evolved to be like Rock in that there are sub genres. It allows space for guys like me, and I’m just trying to push the boundary forward based on my mix of influences.
DR: So that was probably an interesting experience coming from Philly to the South. How did you like it?
DH: I fell in love with the South, and much of the way of life down here; I’ve never felt like a true outsider. I think life and music is about finding what makes you unique and developing that, balancing “fitting in” with “standing out”. I’m not trying to be someone I’m not – I’m not gonna wear a cowboy hat. But I do want to be able as an artist to demonstrate why Country music is special to me, and to add something worthy to the conversation that can last. I really try not to compare myself; it’s hard in this town, but at the end of the day there will only ever be one me. So I’m working every day on becoming the best me, as a singer, player, writer, performer, and person, and create that space. But art isn’t created in a vacuum – someone told me early on when I moved here that “Music is a mission, not a competition.”
DR: That’s nice. I like that!
DH: Right! I’m just trying to add to this tapestry of music history that goes all the way back to Blues, beyond Country. I want to be a part of that constellation.
DR: What are some of your goals?
DH: This whole past year in town I’ve been establishing myself, getting comfortable, and writing; I’ve also played a lot of great rounds and shows. While I will always have a focus on writing, this year is really about starting to put my brand out there in a couple key ways. First, by releasing some great music and expanding my social media. Second, focusing on performing even more and developing the right chops as an artist, beyond just doing covers somewhere (thought that helps, and pays!). Third, establishing relationships, especially with publishers, hopefully getting to write with their writers and artists. I love working with people in this town.
DR: Relationships are super important. What a lot of people don’t realize – and you obviously do – is that when people hit town initially it’s all about getting the cut. But people don’t realize relationships are what get you the cut 9 times out of 10. So it’s really a much bigger deal.
DH: Yeah! So I’m trying to get in to that area; no matter who you are it just takes time. Sheree has been incredibly helpful with opening doors as they come and I can’t thank her enough.
DR: She’s awesome! So tell me about your single!
DH: It’s called Nowhere Bar, it’s a song that I’m really proud of. I started it before I moved here; I knew it had potential, but there was something missing. I ended up meeting a buddy of mine – Andrew Capra – he’s an excellent songwriter/singer/session vocalist/producer himself, through a random fraternity connection. One of my first nights in town I met him, we hit it off, got tea, and decided to write. I brought him the song in our first session, and he helped me take it to the next level. We tweaked the way the hook landed, a lot of common sense songwriting stuff that now I take for granted. He ended up introducing me to Josh Gleave, who is my amazing producer – they both helped me with the record immensely, it would not be what it is without them. It’s a song that’s a composite of real experiences, definitely nostalgic. It’s just the start, but I really like it and I’ve gotten some pretty good feedback on it. I just checked the streams before I came in – it’s been out a little less than 3 weeks and we’re almost at 6,000!
DR: So that’s $1.50 in royalties?
DH: * laugh * something like that. If we can hit 10,000 before I release my next single, I’ll be happy. It’s doing well for not being on any major-level playlists or radio, but I’m still trying to get it out to whoever/wherever I can. It definitely sets a standard for the kind of anthemic stuff I was talking about, the guitar work, lyrics that tell a story that hits you. I can’t wait to put out more stuff and continue to evolve.
DR: So you’re a guitar player – you played all the guitar tracks on your stuff. Who are your guitar influences?
DH: Non-Country, I’d say my 3 biggest guys are Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Brian May. Queen is probably my favorite band of all time – it’s between them and Van Halen. You want to talk about lyrics that don’t make any sense! But Brian May is so underrated as a player in terms of what he did in the studio. The sounds he created are so unique. I liked a lot of the shredder guys too like Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci when I first started playing. Since I went to college and have been here, I’d say Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Vince Gil, and Brent Mason have become significant influences. I met Brent recently and I’m hoping to take a lesson with him soon. Mark Knopfler is an influence too, I love his stuff especially as I’ve grown up. John Mayer too – I’d say he’s my single biggest overall influence. He’s an awesome writer, incredible player, and amazing singer; he’s got the entire deal as an artist, musician and personality. It’s interesting because I see a lot of overlap between the players and techniques – obviously guitar is guitar, but it all really comes from the Blues. Country, Rock, Jazz, everything – it all goes back to Blues. It’s a mix of people and experiences that’s grown and evolved over time.
DR: So as an artist, your influences are John Mayer, obviously. Who else?
DH: Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Eric Church, Keith Urban. Keith is someone I look up to since he痴 also someone who was able to come into country music as an outsider and create his own approach and sound that helped evolve the genre; he didn稚 just try to be someone he wasn稚. And he痴 such a unique player and singer. Sam Hunt too – I like his vibe and the way he approaches songwriting. Florida Georgia Line’s first album was also a huge influence, as well as early Jake Owen and Zac Brown. Brad Paisley was the first Country concert I’ve ever been to – he’s an amazing player. He just rips! It’s definitely a lot of guitar-based guys for sure.
DR: What are some songs you wish you’d written?
DH: Springsteen by Eric Church. If I had to pinpoint a specific song that drew me into Country music, it was probably that song. As someone not originally from the south, it showed me that I could relate to the life experience; also because of the nostalgia I have for Springsteen growing up, and listening to him in the car with my dad. Most importantly it showed me that a great song, great music, is simply that, and you can’t help but be affected by it. I do also wish I wrote Born To Run, by The Boss himself!
DR: I think it’s illegal not to listen to Springsteen being from the Philly area
DH: I think you’re right! Some more recent (country, mainly) songs I wish I wrote are I Don’t Know About You performed by Chris Lane. That’s such a simple but killer “flip” hook, and I think they executed it pretty well. Also, Dirt performed by Florida Georgia Line, Whiskey Glasses performed by Morgan Wallen, Somebody To Thank performed by Logan Mize, We Were Us performed by Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert. There’s quite a few but that’s a solid sampling. To me, though, probably the perfect modern Country song is Cop Car (written by Sam Hunt, Zach Crowell, and Matt Jenkins, and cut by both Sam and Keith). To my knowledge it was a real experience Sam had, and that’s the best and most powerful kind of art; something that you can take from your real life and frame it in a simple way that people can still relate to it, that extends beyond its particular circumstances to something universal. The kind of songs I want to write come from my experience, have a really profound message with a big, epic yet intimate sound. Love songs like Cop Car or Springsteen, and life songs like Dirt, Backseat Driver performed by Robert Counts (also cut by William Michael Morgan), The House That Built Me performed by Miranda Lambert, or Wheels performed by Steven Moakler. You get the idea.
DR: There’s a lot of songs that are bouncy and catchy and we don’t realize what the writer’s intent was.
DH: That’s what makes them great because you can listen to them again and get another layer of meaning. My favorite movies I can go back and watch, because you notice new things and it’s fresh every time. One of the big things I’ve learned being in Nashville is that a single song is its own universe. That said, I’d love to do a record someday that’s as close to a concept record as you can get in country, like they used to do in Classic Rock, but rooted in my experience. I think the music that has come the closest recently is Sam Hunt’s debut Montevallo, because it’s a lot of it is ‘personal’ concept album of his life. Every song stands on its own but forms a cohesive, greater whole as a record. I think it’s one of the best debut albums in any genre of recent memory.
DR: So how did you get hooked up with GSC?
DH: I was working with a voice coach before I moved here, Robin Earl – she’s great. Before I moved here, she connected me with Sheree – I talked with her over the phone when I was still back in Philly and she said “You gotta get down here!” I moved down, and started meeting with her right away. She’s been a Godsend. I can’t say enough about what she’s done for me. Wherever I get in this industry won’t be without her, no doubt.
DR: She’s a big cheerleader for sure!
DH: I try to tell all my friends about her that aren’t GSC members, but really should be. You don’t believe in something like this until you’re part of it and she changes your life in one session. So I’m super thankful for GSC. It’s been a huge part of my career so far and I hope it will continue to be – I’ve met a lot of my co-writers and friends through it.
DR: So where can people find your song, Nowhere Bar?
DH: It’s on Spotfiy, Apple Music, Tidal, everywhere you can stream!