Sometimes an artist comes along with the rare ability to translate intangible concepts into simple stories supported by accessible, captivating melodies. Danny Starr is one such artist and it seems he stumbled upon this gift at an age when most of us were still figuring out which pop punk band best summarised our angst (The Offspring right?… it had to be The Offspring “Oooh way oooh..yeeeeeah yeah heh heh“!)
I was lucky enough to have a chat with Danny (who is just as nice of a fellow as his music might imply) over a remote cup of coffee, about his most recent release and his personal approach to writing lyrics…
Tell me a little bit about what you’ve been up to recently…
Got a single which came out 23rd of July, called ‘Belong’, which is first single in over a year that I’m putting out. The process of it all has just been so kind of intertwined with Covid, I guess. The song’s all about how we as humans have such a need to belong to something.
The writing was definitely fuelled by a sense of feeling kind of a bit alone and lost. I had a breakup a few days before the first lockdown, which was a couple of days before my London headline shows, and then being thrown into isolation. I guess I hope that when people hear the song, they feel that however lost they feel, they’ve not been in that struggle alone.
I recorded the single with Nick Bennett, who’s a producer I was introduced to by a friend in between lockdowns. Working with him has been super fun. It’s been super fresh and making a new friend in the middle of the time when I’ve not really been meeting anyone has been great. He really brought out everything I wanted from the track. It’s just got this retro vibe, which I really wanted and the guitars and everything come through beautifully.
I think the production on that track sounds great…
Thanks! Nick is a magician on the desk.
Did you manage to get out and do any socially distanced gigs?
I did a pair of headline shows at Olso, which was a double sellout. I did like a matinee and an evening show. That was just amazing to have that after so long of not playing shows. It was just so much fun.
I’ve been doing a few co-writes with quite a lot of singer-songwriters that are kind of at my level as well, which has been super fun; just building a really nice group of people who are all creating together.
“This one’s particularly hard to share, I guess, just because it’s more of a presentation of something that I kind of struggled with all the time mentally, which is just a need to belong (…) I hope, people hear it and they get the feeling that they’ve felt that and they’re not alone in feeling that.”
Have you been able to meet up with them in person and write?
Now we have, yeah. Over Covid ‘proper’ it was over zoom and stuff. But now being able to have people over and go over to people’s places or meet people at gigs and be like, “Hey, let’s, let’s meet up and have a co-write”; it’s so nice to be able to reconnect with people in that way.
Before Covid, I was getting to a point where I was going to gigs and making those connections and then it was all kind of taken away. So it’s been, it’s been awesome.
I’ve put some stuff down and written a bunch of very exciting tracks, which are still waiting to be properly recorded including a bunch of duets with the people I wrote them with.
It’s kind of a new chapter for me in that sense. I’ve not done that much collab-ing in terms of writing. So I’m excited for that.
You just finished your first headline tour in March 2020, just before the first lockdown. Is that right?
My second headline tour actually, it was my second year. I think I went on the road in September before that and then, yeah, that second tour was literally just before. Literally a few days before the last lockdown.
So you did two tours in quite close succession, right? How was that transition for you: going from being so busy and things kind of starting to lift off then everything suddenly dissipating?
Yeah. At first it was, it was pretty shit. It was quite scary. ‘Cause you know how much effort and time and how much emotion we put into trying our best to get out music out there. You put in a lot. And yeah, you’re right, it kind of felt like it was starting to really pick up some pace and then…. yeah. It was upsetting!
Several other things were happening at the time as well that caused that first lockdown to be quite a traumatic period for me. But funnily enough, the result of us all being separated and not able to work with each other actually pushed me into a lot more opportunities. I’ve started doing a lot more remote work as a writer for example and some remote vocal work. It kind of unlocked a new avenue of my career, which I hadn’t quite explored yet.
So in a sense, I was much less busy with one thing, but it also kind of forced me to do something I should’ve been thinking about a while ago, something I’m now so passionate about. I love co-writing!
“… music and songwriting is basically my therapy. It’s something that completely helps me to understand what’s going on in my life.”
You touched a bit there on your experience of the first lockdown and the difficult events that were happening in your life at the time. Is it tough to write music with that kind of level of introspection?
Yeah. Well, I mean, this track’s a hundred percent my rawest, most personal exposure of what I was really going through at the time. But also in a funny sort of way, it’s not just what I was going through at the time; the idea kind of came at the end of 2019 which was before Covid, but it wasn’t written properly until first lockdown. This one’s particularly hard to share, I guess, just because it’s more of a presentation of something that I kind of struggled with all the time mentally, which is just a need to belong. Feeling lost and not necessarily always being so sure of a direction.
So yeah, it’s quite scary to share this one. When I’ve played at gigs, it’s been such a, such a moment of shared emotion which is also why I’m so excited to share it as well. I hope, people hear it and they, and they get the feeling that they’ve felt that and they’re not alone in feeling that. A feeling of such loneliness, you know? When I sang it at my last gig, everyone in the crowd was there and you know, and they were like “Wow that one really got to me”… “I really understand that”. That is something that means a lot to me because it was not just about how I felt over Covid, it’s about something I have to bottle all the time.
But I’m not alone in my fight, you know? So many people have to suppress those thoughts. And that’s, that’s why I think this one’s one of my most relatable.
There’s been a slow, positive move towards getting people to open up about mental health more. Do you think that music is a useful tool for encouraging people to open up and communicate about those things?
A hundred percent. I mean, for me, music and songwriting is basically my therapy.
It’s something that completely helps me to understand what’s going on in my life. I write about the really difficult times generally… also the good times, but mostly the most difficult ones. I think music is something that is so universal, so massive for so many generations and is constantly developing. I think because so many people rely on it to kind of soundtrack their life in a way.
The de-stigmatization of mental health in general has been insanely good over the last few years. It’s just amazing to see. There’s still a long way to go, but even just in the last two years there’s been progress and Covid has actually been a part of that. There;s so much on the TV all the time reminding people that if you feel awful, that is completely normal and not to try and deny it, but to know how to deal with it.
Being able to talk to my parents’ generation about the de-stigmatization of therapy and people who would have at one time thought that it was completely disgraceful to even consider going to therapy starting to do that now, it’s brilliant.
I really hope with my music, that I can help people through hard times because my music is what helps me through.
You started very young and you’re still reasonably young now. Though I think it’s fair to say you had a mature voice at a young age, do you ever look back on stuff that you’ve written in the past and wince a little bit?
All the time! I write songs about like the way I look back at things that have happened. I never ever write songs about things that are currently happening because like, I can’t really, I haven’t come to terms with them enough. It’s like I kinda sit on something and then once I’m kind of ready to deal with it, I’ll start unpacking it in my head. And that’s kind of where the songs come from. They’re sort of like a diary in a way. Writing out everything I’m thinking to come to some sort of understanding. There’s definitely a sense in those songs I wrote when I was younger, that the understanding I came to wasn’t necessarily complete, you know? *Chuckles*
The stuff I was writing about then, I’m now, as an adult, looking back and thinking, “ Wow, I really, really do get it; what was going on in that period.” Whether it’s like a messy relationship and I’m now so much more aware of everything that played into that. And it’s not just about the heartbreak and it’s not just about the frustration. It’s about my own journey as a maturing adult, growing from being a messy teenager, into being someone who can really navigate the adult world.
Although I look back and I wince, in a way it’s kind of nice that I’m going to have this catalog. I’m sure I’ll revisit some of those songs and write new songs about what it really means now. And I’m really excited to do that.
What’s the oldest song you’ve written that you still play?
‘Darling’, for sure. Which was the lead single on my first EP. That’s one I still sing at every gig because so many people come down and they know it really well and they love to sing along to that tune. It’s so amazing to have that moment with people at gigs.
I don’t wince at that one. It’s a bit soppy. It’s a bit lovey. But what it’s about and what it mean… I still think it’s one of my best choruses that I’ve written. I wrote that when I was like, I don’t know, 15 and it’s still hanging in there yet to be replaced.
The productions of the songs on your tracks are all full band arrangements in there. What I’ve seen of your live performances have all been solo. Have you, have you ever played with a full band live?
I have, yeah. When I was at school still, I had a bunch of my schoolmates together playing with me for about a year and a half.
We did a bunch of shows together and it was so much fun. I loved it. I loved every second of it. I miss playing with a band all the time. There was definitely an element of that coming to an end, just because of logistics when we left school. And then it being pretty hard to pull everyone together from different corners of the country.
Instead of kind of trying to piece together a new band at that point, I started playing solo shows again. With the new songs and how much deeper they ran with me, I really found a lot of joy in just standing up on my own and singing them; telling the story and letting people just really focus on the song and the words and kind of what it really means to me.
When I’m standing there and sharing it and hearing people really get it, that’s the magic moment for me. That’s what really, I love so much about it. There were definitely times playing with the band, where it was much more about the music and about getting people moving and dancing. I loved that but at that point I didn’t really see a way of me getting across that same connection as I can when I’m on my own. I’ve kind of just, I just, yeah, I’ve just stuck with it.
I have a Felix, who’s a really good friend of mine and a brilliant guitarist who steps into the studio when I need someone to play a bit of guitar, play some licks and stuff. And, you know, I was playing as a duo for a long time and that’s something we’re talking about rekindling now, because that still gives the space for the words, you know, and it really still gives space for people to connect on that level.
But, I mean, who knows down the line, maybe I will get a band together. But at the moment the shows are really working on my own and bands are logistically quite difficult!
To say the least! Thanks very much for taking the time to chat today. When’s your next show?
Tickets for October 15th are on sale. That’s definitely something to talk about. I’m super stoked for that show upstairs at The Grace (formerly Upstairs at The Garage)!