Daniel Isaiah: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyor of: Honest truths in quiet introspection
File next to: Jeremy Fisher, Dan Mangan, Tallest Man on Earth
Playing: Friday (April 24) @ Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton St.

There’s something quite wonderful about the journey you take alongside musicians. They expose their experiences and lessons learned without asking for a return. We get the choice to either accept or reject. It’s a powerful position to be in as a listener, yet when listening to Montreal’s Daniel Isaiah, it feels like a very fragile responsibility. It’s almost as if it’s just the two of you alone in a room together as he sings. He offers what he knows as the lyrics skips like stones across your mind. Primarily folk influenced, his music feels earthy and without ego.

Daniel Isaiah has recently released his second album, Come Into Gone. It’s a beautiful listen with a great balance of lightheartedness and hushed self-examination. The first track released on the album, “Heaven is on Fire,” is a fun and catchy funk-inspired tune that I couldn’t get out of my head. The album was recorded mostly live over a few short sessions which adds a lot of fluidity throughout.

Come Into Gone was recorded in a pretty short amount of time — two three-day sessions, right? What effect do you think that had on the overall feel of the album?

Well, we recorded drums and bass and guitars and piano in two sessions, but there was a lot of overdubbing later. But because the same musicians play on all of the songs, and because a lot of it was recorded live, the album feels consistent.

You composed much of this album on the piano instead of your guitar. What was your inspiration for changing it up?

When you play an instrument for a long time — like me with the guitar — you develop habits. Your fingers tend to land on the same chords. By switching to piano, I was able to break some of my patterns. I don’t think I would have found the chord progression for “Information Blues” on guitar, for instance.

In all the time you’ve spent abroad, have there been any cities that have had a big influence on you musically?

My musical influences are American, for the most part. I mean the United States. The diversity of musical styles that have come out of that country over the last 100 years is incredible. You could spend many lifetimes trying to absorb it all.

I feel like there’s a distinct quality about much of the music from people in Montreal. It’s like an airy honesty. How do you think being from Montreal influences the music you make?

I’m not sure. But Montreal is full of musicians. I know at least 50 musicians living within six or seven blocks of my apartment. And I’ve been listening to them over the years, and going to their shows and watching them play and asking them questions — and collaborating with them too. And they’ve influenced me in all kinds of ways.

Did you find writing this album was a smooth process?

Pretty much. “Tug of War” was a bit of a headache, though. Not the song, but the recording. We recorded several versions before landing on the one that’s on the album. Also there were a few potentially good songs that I couldn’t seem to finish.

What do you do when you get stuck in your writing? How do you overcome that mental block?

I just take a break and come back to it later. Usually a path opens up. Or it doesn’t and I have to let go and move on.

What’s your favourite song on Come Into Gone, and why?

I like “Tug of War” a lot. It’s hard to say why. You just know intuitively when something is working.

Whose music has been getting you really excited lately?

This past winter I got really into Bach’s fugues for organ. Exquisite music.

Since you’re from Montreal, I have to ask an expert — in the smoked meat game, is Schwartz’s still top dog?

Nah, everyone is switching to falafel.

— Interview by Raina Hersh