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Daniel Knox is a singer/ songwriter/ composer who taught himself piano in hotel lobbies and bars, also honing his singing voice as he wandered the empty streets of downtown Chicago at night. While he eventually pursued expressing himself through music, it was the result of his lifelong love of cinema. This also lead him to the excellent Music Box Theatre, where he worked for many years as a projectionist, a craft he takes great pride in. It was a pleasure spending an afternoon talking with Daniel, so please read on as we discuss these matters, how his approach to songwriting has evolved, his thoughts on Mr. Rogers, and what David Lynch had for dinner one night in 2007. As always, we also discussed coffee.

Hi Daniel, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Can we start with you just telling us a bit about what you do?

I’m a singer/songwriter/composer. I’ve worked as a projectionist for some years. I’ve been writing songs since 2007. I don’t like to say too much about my songs, but people tend to find them pretty dark. I find them to be light in spirit.

Daniel Knox

Daniel Knox, photo by Patrick Burke.

You mentioned to me earlier that as a kid, cinema was a big part of your life. Were you also a music fan growing up? Did you start learning piano as a kid?

When I was young I would listen to a lot of music, mostly things my grandfather would tape and send to me, but also movie soundtracks were where I heard most of the music I listened to. I liked Vanilla Ice as much as the next kid but I didn’t listen to or connect with the stuff that was on the radio. I didn’t have a curiosity about bands or music outside of the movies I was watching. I never felt like playing music was something that was accessible to me. It felt like painting or something you had to go to school for many, many years for. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I ever sat down at a piano to play anything. That was at the Hilton Ballroom here in Chicago and I had a knack for it right away. One of the best aspects of my education as a musician was the lack of interference of anyone encouraging or critiquing me. At a certain point when you’re playing hotel lobbies and hotel bars, eventually they stop kicking you out, and that’s when I realized that maybe I was okay. I took one lesson with some old lady and she was trying to show me how to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ with the metronome on, but that didn't work out.

I think you do a pretty great job. I started taking lessons when I was young and I can still fake it a bit, but I can’t sight read anymore. I really appreciate the level of your compositions and I’m amazed to learn that you’re not sight reading.

Well, some of what I’m doing is just faking confidence. There was nobody to tell me I was doing it wrong, so I found my own right way to do it. I can’t sit down and play Rachmaninoff for you, but I could probably play the gist of it. The funny thing is when I started playing, I played busy, ornate sort of stuff. I was really good at it and developed a style, but when I learned to sing along with my playing, it really slowed down everything. It was like trying to play piano with 3 hands and juggle at the same time, but I lost that initial style. I had to go back to playing block chords and work my way up. I don’t use my pinky finger on my left hand, all my chords are inverted by one. 

Based on what you just said about starting to write in 2007, had you sang before then?

I used to walk around downtown at night taking pictures and daydreaming.  I started walking around in the financial district because it was so empty at night and I could sing down there. I don’t know how I figured it out, but I knew I had a voice. On the early recordings I made, I’m unconsciously doing Judy Garland voice with a big vibrato, really showy. I had this thing I was trying out and over using it. I learned how to belt things out downtown. On LaSalle Street, where they shot The Dark Knight, your voice echoes off all the buildings and it’s beautiful if you’re down there by yourself singing really loud. Then someone would walk by and I’d get real quiet. But I’m still self conscious about singing and have a hard time singing without a piano to hide behind. 

Do you enjoy playing live or do you prefer writing and recording in the studio?

If I had to pick one, it would be writing and recording. That’s my first love. I put a lot of work into my records. Some people really love performing and that’s their main thing and I get it. I love going on tour. Especially overseas where they shut the fuck up and listen.

I saw something you posted on Instagram where everyone was posting anniversaries of tours and whatnot, and you shared a tour with The Handsome Family. Was that a year, 2 years ago?

I’ve done a few tours with them. 

I’m a huge fan of theirs and I wasn't aware there was a relationship. It clicked immediately, totally made sense. The sense of humor in the lyrics, the darkness…

They’re wonderful people. I was a fan before I ever met them and toured with them. I sent the demo version of my first record to them. They had this thing on their website that said “Don’t send us your music because it will just end up under our couch cushions” but I sent it anyway and she wrote me back a nice letter and told me she liked my music. It wasn’t until several years later that we ended up touring together. And Brett actually sang on one of my records. He sang on the song 'Blue Car'

'Blue Car'

Any memories from touring you'd like to share? 

My two favorite places to tour are England and Portugal where I am usually received really well. The English and the Portuguese both have their own sense of sadness and cozy up to sadness in different ways that my music is complementary to in their respective cultures. The English are a little more private about their sadness whereas the Portuguese are very open about it. It makes for a very interesting contrast when I’m on tour over there. I actually was able to take my daughter on tour with me last year and we drove around together and did 25 different dates over there. It was amazing. It was nice for her to get to see me do what I do and to see a good night and a bad night. It was funny, the first show we did was in Portugal there were a few thousand people at this show and she was like “what the fuck is going on?”  I said “Don’t worry, we’ll be playing for 20 people someplace else."

Did she enjoy it? 

Yeah, we had an amazing time. She was 21 at the time and to get to spend that much time with your grownup kid is pretty rare for people and to be able to share that with her was really nice.

When did you start making records and how did you find yourself in a place to release something? 

The first records I made were CDs I burned for my friend John Atwood, who has done most of the cover art for me over the years. I initially wanted to make films but they weren’t very good. I realized you don’t need permission or money to make music so I bought a Boss BR-8 8-track recorder and got more serious about recording. The thing recorded on Zip disks so I don’t have the masters for the record anymore. I eventually cobbled something together and it was my first record, Disaster. I actually finished the CD version of that because I was invited to play at this concert in London because this guy David Coulter saw me play organ in front of David Lynch at The Music Box. That led to me playing that show and that’s where I met The Handsome Family in person because they were on the same bill. That was a shock to my system going from burning CDs for my friend to all of a sudden being on stage in London with some of my favorite artists. I came back from that thinking my career has started now and it’s just going to be a gravy train from here on out and of course it wasn’t. It took me a while to make my next record. I used all the money I made on that tour to buy Pro Tools and then I had to learn it for 2 years, so the record didn’t come out for another 2 or 3 years. When I listen to my second record Evryman For Himself, I always hear myself learning Pro Tools. Before that, I had made recordings on a tape deck on an old boom box I had where you would just keep swapping the tape back and forth which eventually built up that really high hiss sound. That was really just me learning how to layer things and make arrangements.

Your excellent recent record Won't You Take Me With You was recorded by Greg Norman at Electrical Audio. Are you still using Pro Tools in a studio like that or are you recording to tape?

I still use Pro Tools a lot and record a lot of demos. I wouldn’t say that I’m an engineer but I know how to record myself and my strength is in editing. I’m good at obsessing over my vocals and Pro Tools is good for correcting those little details but it’s only as good as you are as an engineer, which I am not.  The recent records I’ve done with Greg at Electrical Audio, we track a lot of basic stuff there. Then I come home and my co-producer Josh tracks guitar with me.

I’ve probably known Greg for about 20 years. I think he’s a great guy, and an incredible engineer working at arguably one of the best studios in the country. 

The combination of his humor, humility and expertise about things is pretty unique. You won’t meet a lot of people with that perfect recipe of those ingredients. He's one of my favorite people, too.

Did you ever hear the band The Bitter Tears that he was in? 

I did a show with The Bitter Tears. The release party for my second record was with The Bitter Tears, and they were phenomenal.

I'd like to talk about some of the collaborations you’ve done. How did you end up recording with Nina Nastasia?

Somebody put me on a bill with her which was a dream come true for me. I didn’t really know her, but she did come to see me once in New York at my invitation, which blew me away. She said hi to me after the show and I don’t really get flustered around people but I really think of her as one of my musical heroes. Those two occasions were all I knew her from and when I did Chasescene, which is a breakup record, I wanted there to be a male and female voice and I was blown away that she agreed to do it. 

What are some of the other collaborators that you’ve had the opportunity to work with? 

Jarvis Cocker is definitely up there. I met him in London and ended up singing backup on his record Further Complications. He heard a song where I sang falsetto on my record and was like “oh he can sing all the high parts." If you listen to his record there’s all these really, really high parts and one low part that I’m singing backup on. We did that at Electrical Audio which is part of how I ended up recording there more regularly. Then, I asked him to sing with me and we kept missing each other until I ended up in London where he agreed to do it and he was just perfect.

I think that something you and I have in common is a love for David Lynch. I think the only time I’ve spoken with you in person was at the David Lynch retrospective at The Music Box maybe 4 or 5 years ago. You played organ while David read a poem at the Chicago premier of Inland Empire. How did that come to be?

I’ve been a David Lynch fan since I was 14, when they started playing Twin Peaks on Bravo (I didn’t catch it in its initial run). The thing at The Music Box happened because he was on tour self-distributing Inland Empire, which I now own a 35mm print of, by the way. They were looking for people to play music. He’d had a violinist in one city but he wanted something different so I was like “Let me play the organ." I was like “Please let me play a piece of music and see what they say” and... they said yes. That night was amazing. I thought I would be more flustered to meet him but really wasn’t. He talked with his hands, he talked real slow, we had dinner together. He had the ravioli and during the dinner he got a call from Justin Theroux, and Justin had just sold a script to Miramax (I Think it was Tropic Thunder) and David told him to watch out. There are a million things I should have asked him, but it was really nice just to be there having a conversation. It felt like we were just 2 people doing a premiere together. After the second show, The Music Box told me I could play if I agreed to go up and finish projecting the rest of the movie.

I was out of town when that happened and I remember being really bummed because it was the first opportunity that ever presented itself for me to be in the same room as David Lynch. Did you happen to eat at Francesca's? 

Was the restaurant upstairs? I don’t think it was Francesca's because that was the place a couple blocks away across from the comic book store a little further down Clark. This was literally across the street from Wrigley Field. It was a second floor restaurant.

Was that the only time he made an appearance at The Music Box? 

Yes. Unless he did before I worked there, but I had worked there since 2002. 

I was told this story that may be bullshit, but supposedly he was eating dinner before this thing he had to do at The Music Box, and he went out front and smoked a cigarette and was the sole witness of a pedestrian getting hit by a car. And as a result, he had to talk to the police and was late for this appearance he was making at The Music Box. 

Uhhh, no. I mean, I would believe it if you told me that about David Lynch, but I was there and we finished our dinner and hurried back in time. 

I’m both disappointed and relieved at the same time. 

Unfortunately this isn't cited anywhere, but my David Lynch retrospective was the largest retrospective of his film and television work shown anywhere. I’ll put that to the test. It was an obsessively complete thing. Any time he picked up a camera or put his name on something as director, it was included. I showed Fire Walk With Me with the missing pieces and the pilot episode, which rarely gets shown. That was the Chicago premier of the documentary Blue Velvet Revisited, which was really hard to see at the time. The freedom they gave me to put that together the way I did, was truly remarkable. We transformed the place. 

I found an ear in the lobby.

On the Blue Velvet night, yeah. We went really far with it. The big thing was getting those rugs to go down the aisles with those zigzag patterns. It was a beautiful thing. 

Was David aware of this happening? 

He was and he wished us well and said good luck to us. They asked him about it in the Tribune article and he was pleased with what we were doing. 

David Lynch

Let's pivot to Half Heartthe record of music from Twin Peaks that you made. I’m a huge fan of the original music, but I really loved your interpretations of everything. It’s just so well made. 

So, that came at a time when I’d made this 4-Track album called I Had A Wonderful Time which was a big departure for me. I was trying to take a break with songwriting and step into something new. I felt another way to do that was to step into the material of someone else that I hadn’t written. I felt I couldn’t take my time with it or I would talk myself out of it. I needed it to be a visceral reaction to what it sounds like when I play that music and not question it too much. When you’re playing a version of something that you love, your tendency is to be reverent to it in a way that is an obstruction to finding your own voice. So I recorded the Twin Peaks record really fast not too far from when I recorded the Mister Rogers record that I made. I made the Twin Peaks record with Joshua Fitzgerald Klocek, who is a co-producer on most stuff I do now and we both loved that music so much and found our own sound in it. I’m really proud of how that turned out. We didn’t want to do a tribute record and “dress it up”. It’s such a fine line and you can only really walk that line if you’re not overthinking it and you just keep walking. Some people, when they’re doing cover songs try to do it in some kind of contrast to the original where they feel they have to put their stamp on it and make it drastically different, but I just wanted to live inside of those songs and hear what my voice sounds like in that world. To me, you have to bring those sonic elements that are inherently part of the character of it. You have to bring them with you, you can’t pretend like they’re not there. For me to do that music and put too much of my own spin on it would have felt like a crime. I think that what we accomplished feels like the radio signal from that world crossed through my world and came out the other side. I’m proud of how it came together. 

Daniel Knox Half Heart

Just curious, do you think there will ever be an LP pressing of that? 

Man, you know, vinyl is such an expensive endeavor. I would really like to do that one day with both the Twin Peaks and Mister Rogers records. I put them on cassette because I feel like they were already outliers and I definitely think of them as being a duo because they’re both covers records made in the same year. I think David Lynch and Fred Rogers have a lot in common. The way that they present themselves to the world and the way they both have a very distinct imagination and the character of what they do is very much in their own voice. I feel like putting both those records on cassette is a nod to the way I first heard their music. The first time I heard music from Twin Peaks was the Fire Walk With Me cassette soundtrack. This guy Steven Miller has a blog and goes into every detail. You open up the cassette and it has this beautiful design and the same with Mister Rogers, I had those songs on tape. 

Are you familiar with the Chicago band Zelienople? They've played sporadically in the past as The Chevrons, doing songs from David Lynch stuff and leaning heavily on Twin Peaks. A few years ago a coffee friend from California got in touch with me and had this idea about collaborating on a coffee called Laura Palmer. The idea was it would be like an Arnold Palmer with cherry and coffee instead of lemonade and tea. We had our fingers crossed we wouldn’t get sued. We took the green coffee before roasting it and infused it with this cherry brandy. It took on the cherry flavor but the booze burns off during roasting and there was no alcohol flavor to it at all. 

Somebody mentioned this to me but it was sold out. 

It sold out quickly, but we did a release thing at Reed’s Local and had the Chevrons perform. My wife, with some persuasion, agreed to sing 2 songs as Julee Cruise. She did 'The Nightingale' and 'Falling'. This was going to be an annual thing and then Covid hit, but I’m hoping to do it again. It came with an MP3 download code of Twin Peaks inspired music, and I'd like each edition to have its own Bandcamp download.

That’s a great idea. If you have any more of that Laura Palmer coffee, I’ll definitely have some of that, but I doubt you have any left. What do you think of the David Lynch signature cup? 

I don’t like coffee as dark as he seems to like coffee. He’s going the almost burnt route, from my understanding. You’re talking about a guy that wakes up at 3am and drinks dark coffee and smokes cigarettes and is almost 80. [laughter] A dream of mine has always been to give him a bag of coffee. Having a minute interaction with him would just blow my mind. Someone told me if you write him a letter and send it via snail mail to his TM foundation, he’ll possibly respond, but not to email. But I have no basis for thinking that’s true especially after the Francesca's story got blown out of the water.

I saw you posted something the other day where you said you were working on something new. Without giving anything away, do you want to talk about that a little? 

I don’t want to give too much away about that. With Won't You Take Me With You, I really looked back but also took a bigger step forward than I have with other things. This new record is feeling like a complete step forward. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m only 30% there right now and I have some other things that are going to come out before that. It probably isn’t coming out until the end of the year or next year. Oddly, the pandemic period was a weirdly fruitful period for me and I think part of that was the fear and pain of idleness giving me no other option than to keep making things and charge ahead. But, that has been a bit of a revelation for me because Chasescene and the albums that preceded it were products of a lot of meticulous arrangement and perfectionism that was ultimately a bit problematic for me. Maybe not problematic, but unproductive. 

With Won’t You Take Me With You and this new thing you’re working on, are you putting the arrangements together? 

I write the string arrangements myself but I do it in a weird way. I’m very fortunate to work with a guy named Jim Cooper who is in The Detholz! and Baby Teeth. He’s introduced me to a lot of amazing musicians. Basically when I’m writing parts for strings, what I tend to do is put Post-It notes on my piano or keyboard where the ranges of those instruments are. Then I’ll play the parts by singing or playing a synth version and send it to Jim and he will orchestrate it and send it back to me. We’ll have discussions like “you have a viola doing this and ordinarily a violin does this, is that what you wanted to do?” He helps interpret my intentions with it but he really respects my arrangements and he likes how that turns out. It’s been a great and rewarding process and I’ve learned so much by doing that with him. He’s worked on the strings on all of my records since the beginning. I’m no Mozart or anything but I know what I want to hear. It’s nice working with Jim because he knows and likes what I want to hear.

'Fall Apart'

So, you’ve scored some films?

Yeah, a few things here and there. I’ve scored some Chris Hefner films, some theater, and a few shorts. That’s something I’d like to do more of. 

You mentioned earlier you were really into soundtracks and I’m into all that, beyond David Lynch. I’m a sucker for a good horror film soundtrack. John Carpenter, Goblin, Fabio Frizzi, all that stuff.  

I just joined the Terror Vision record club and there’s all these amazing soundtracks that they put on vinyl that I’ve been getting from them. I love that stuff. They did the Unsolved Mysteries music and I love that music almost as much as I love the Twin Peaks music. The last one I got was Video Violence which was amazing. I’ve never seen the movie and I may never watch it but the soundtrack is terrific. 

Do you want to talk a bit more about Won’t You Take Me With You?

Yeah, that record is unique for me because most of the time, by the time I have a record, I’ve been working on the songs for over a year. On this, I wrote, recorded, mixed, and mastered the whole thing in about six weeks, which felt like a fucking miracle to me. I went from being depressed and listless at the start of the pandemic to finding the resources to make this thing. It really just kind of came out and I’ve never done that, not that quickly. I credit the Mister Rogers and Twin Peaks records for preparing me for that because we were working very quickly, but a huge part of it has been working with my co-producer Joshua Fitzgerald Klocek. Working with him has changed how I approach music in a lot of ways. When I met him, he had been a fan of my music from before, and he has this great index in his brain of every idea I’m throwing out. What happens is I’ll get to a point where I feel it’s not happening or I don’t have anything and he’ll respond to me by telling me seven things that I’ve sent him over the last few weeks. “These ones are good, these aren’t, let’s work on this.” Just having that extra voice and perspective in every aspect. He’s not in the room with me writing but more like he’s knocking on the door saying “How’s it going in there?” The value of that is immeasurable. He also plays guitar and his playing is amazing. It’s funny because when I met him he said he played guitar and I said “I’m a piano guy. I’m not into guitar”, but when he started showing me what he does, it’s perfect for my music. He can do everything but he also creates these spaces. It’s not just straight up guitar playing, it’s something otherworldly and unique, and it’s really broadened the world my songs can inhabit. Just knowing that extra space is available is like finding an extra room in your house. It’s been a beautiful experience, especially this last record. We were both like “Holy shit, we just made a record in six weeks.” It felt like we could do anything. That’s why I’m so excited about the record we’re making now because it’s such an amazing place to start on a project. I was working on Chasescene for ten years. There were versions of that record that had entirely different songs. Only three songs on it were from the very beginning when I started writing it. I really overdid it in a lot of ways. It was a monumental thing for me to finish that because there were times I thought I’d never finish it. Joshua helped me finish that record. We produced that record together. He plays on almost every song on Won’t You Take Me With You. It was a joy to make in a time where there was not a lot of joy to be found. 

Daniel Knox Won't You Take Me With You

So you feel like these two covers records reset you and skewed your old approach to making original music? 

Yeah, I had a very specific way I wanted my listeners to encounter my recordings. That’s still true, but I wasn’t allowing for their objective experience to be what it was. I felt like I needed--this is what I hear when I listen to my first three records and I’m very proud of them--I had such a specific vision for how those songs were made and to be heard that there were spontaneous things that weren’t allowed to happen. The Disaster Trilogy: Disaster, Evry Man For Himself, and Chasescene, they’re one man speaking and singing a soliloquy or a statement. That’s fine but you can’t keep doing that. You have to have abstraction. You have to have room for things to be interpreted differently. When I started to tour more regularly, people would come up to me and tell me what my songs meant to them or they would write to me about it. Their interpretation would be so wildly different from my intention that it really freed me up to think “You can’t project the perfect image in the listener’s mind, you have to leave space for them to find themselves in your work." It’s not that my early music doesn’t do that, it’s just that I became so paranoid about it being received one way or another that I didn’t allow for things that I’m now enjoying making room for. 

It sounds like the same mindset as someone you enjoyed some ravioli with. “I refuse to dictate your interpretation of this." 

I don’t like to over-clarify those things and I tell stories about my songs on stage. It’s not so much that I use my moments in between songs on stage to try to bring out some kind of truth behind it all, it’s more like threading the songs together and making them hold hands with each other. 

I have one more music related question. To be fair, since we spoke so much about David, I feel we should talk about Fred a little bit. What made you want to make a record of Mister Rogers cover songs? 

So, there’s a few things at play there. I found myself with a budget to make something that I couldn’t stack too high and I knew that material would be good for solo, except for the song I sing with Kit Shields, she was wonderful. I’ve always loved Fred’s music. On Chasescene and I Had A Wonderful Time, I was singing about a lot of difficult, personal things. It was raw, and in a lot of cases mean. I felt like I needed something to bring me back a little bit. Those songs are so direct and real. One of the things I love about Fred Rogers’ songs is that they don’t sugar coat anything. When you’re talking about pain, shame, sadness, and love, there are all these complex feelings, especially when you’re talking about them to a child. You do such a disservice by avoiding things. As a little kid, I really appreciated that his music didn’t do that and that he let you know it was okay to maybe wish bad on somebody. It doesn’t make you a bad person, everybody does it. It doesn’t make you weak to be vulnerable. Everybody is vulnerable. That stuff is really potent and complex, but he puts it together so simply. Most kid's music is about pizza and little brothers. He’s singing about how it feels to be jealous or to feel weak when you want to be strong. I think that stuff is universal and as a songwriter, I believe Fred Rogers is up there with Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter. Everything about his songwriting is brilliantly said and  the music is beautiful. It was a joy to get into that and it honestly just made me feel better. One of my favorite Mister Rogers episodes is when the mailman Mister McFeely comes over and says “Hey there’s a new shopping center, do you want to go take a look with me” and so these two grown men go to this shopping center. There’s a lot of people walking around and they take a ride up the escalator together. As they’re doing it, they’re describing what they’re doing. They’re telling you how it works and that it’s safe. It’s so beautiful to take such a basic thing and give it meaning and talk about the ritual of it. I love that attitude about things. 

Daniel Knox You Are My Friend

That’s all fascinating to me because I'm sure you know that was a Pittsburgh based production as was Dawn of the Dead which is a social commentary on shopping malls. I think where it was filmed was in one of the first big malls? I can’t remember the name of the suburb. Maybe I'm trying too hard to somehow tie Fred Rogers and George Romero together. 

I have a documentary recommendation for you called Jasper Mall. Fantastic, really worth watching. It’s about a mall in Jasper, Alabama that used to be bustling and how it stays afloat. It’s basically a year in the life of a mall. 

Have you ever worked in a mall? 

I’ve never worked in a mall, but I wrote a song about a mall. I spent a lot of time in the mall I wrote the song about in Springfield, Illinois. 

When I was a teenager, I worked in place in the mall called Thingsville. It was a half-assed knockoff of Spencer's Gifts or something. This would have been the early 90’s. Working in a mall is kind of fascinating in a weird way. 

So, you were a projectionist at The Music Box, how did Covid affect that? 

I was one of many people they had to lay off because it was just what was happening. They were great. They kept paying us for a long time and I really hope I can go back to work there at some point. I love that place and since the first time I saw Crumb there in the early 90’s as a kid because it had David Lynch’s name on it, I had my step-dad drive me here just to see that. The fact I was able to work there and be a part of it and contribute with my meager curatorial input on minor things like the Lynch retrospective and midnight screenings. It was just too good to be true. 

How did you do it? 

It started out because I was looking for a job. I came to Chicago to go to film school and once I realized in order to make films, you have to work with a bunch of people you don’t like and you have to raise a bunch of money, I thought “Fuck that, I’ll write songs.” But I needed to get a job if I wasn’t going to be in school so I worked a bunch of bullshit jobs for a while. I applied at The Admiral in their sex shop video store and at The Music Box for a concession job and I got both. Luckily, I hopefully chose the right path in life and took the Music Box job. I worked at the concession stand for about a year and then this fellow named Sea Bass who was the head projectionist at the time, asked me if I wanted to work up there because he was going to leave. He taught me how to do it but I learned from six different people who all had wildly different interpretations of how to project. They all had their own tricks. Slowly, I learned and got the hang of it and got to be part of some really amazing events. I got to meet some amazing people and have a relationship with movies that was beyond anything I could have hoped for. Some of the most magical times of my life were just showing movies, not even watching them, but getting it just right. I think there’s an experience that movie-goers can have that they don’t even know for sure that they’re having, but it’s intuitive. The way the lights dim, the curtain raises, you get the picture on screen just right, the volume is just right, and you really create this sense of immersion for people. It’s so beautiful and when you can be responsible for that, there’s a pride in that that’s really hard to describe. I guess it would be similar to the pride that a director would have. That’s something really special. 

I’m curious about the different projection styles that you mentioned.

Well, there’s not so much a different style in projecting because that is a craft and, like any craft, you’re good or bad at it. You get it right or you get it wrong. I think in terms of presentation, however, there are different styles. I think about the presentation as if I were sitting out there and how it would feel. One of the things I really liked to do was time the overture of 2001 in 70mm. I had it written down on a sheet probably still in the booth there. 2001 starts and there’s nothing on the screen and then immediately the music starts so what I do is leave all the lights on and then you hear the first strains of the overture and everyone is like “What’s going on, why are the lights on?” You time it so over the course of a minute, the house lights slowly start to dim and people realize “This is happening.” But the curtain is still down and then there’s this one discordant strain that lasts for exactly 27 seconds and 27 seconds is exactly how long it takes for the curtain to go from all the way down to all the way up. As the curtain is pulling up, it sounds like it’s pulling the strings that you’re hearing. If you get it just right, it’s so beautiful to be in the audience for that and then it’s dark for a while and all of a sudden that blue MGM logo pops up on the screen so bright and so vivid, and you’re in the movie. It sounds like such a small thing, but it really goes a long way to making peoples’ experience of that movie special and unique. 

For festivals, would you be the projectionist for that or would they have their own people? 

I was a staff projectionist. I was there for everything. I did everything from when a guest speaker came to when someone would rent the theater out. 

Did you do the Danzig movie? 

Daniel: [laughs]  Yeah, I was there for that.

Alright, it's coffee time. How do you make coffee at home? 

Drip machine or I get it at the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru. I don’t like really acidic or overly dark coffee unless I’m having something sweet. I really like the contrast between pie or ice cream with rigidly dark coffee. I’m not a fan of espresso. I’ll have a latte if that’s what someone’s making but it’s a real pain in the ass when I go to Europe because you just can’t find drip coffee any-fuckin-where. Especially in Italy. They haven’t even heard of it. 

That’s why the Americano exists. In WWII, US troops over in Europe just wanted drip coffee but Europe just didn’t get it. So, what they came up with was putting a shot of espresso in hot water.

That’s interesting. I always thought of it as an insult. 

It may very well be [Laughter].

The other thing they don’t really have over there is cold brew. That may have changed in the last few years though. 

The last question I always ask people is if they’ve heard any good jokes lately. 

Shit. I don’t have a memory for jokes. I don’t know what it is. I wish I had one for you. I can remember who was in what movie and in roughly what year, but I’ve got no capacity for memorizing jokes. There’s some things I don’t retain like jokes and cooking. I don’t have any space in my memory bank for it. I’m not a particularly funny person anyway. Maybe I am to some people. People say that I am at my concerts but I don’t go there thinking up jokes or anything. It’s easier to get people to listen to your sad songs if you’ve got something funny to say. You don’t just walk up to a bunch of strangers and start crying. 

Many Thanks to Daniel for the wonderful conversation! Do yourself a favor and check out his Bandcamp page. Also Check out his fantastic new collaboration with Nick Jones; Coinhammer.

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