5 questions with Anthony D’Amato

Photo by Bianca Bourgeois

Singer-songwriter Anthony D’Amato recorded his 2010 album Down Wires in his bedroom at college and, despite the record’s humble origins, it and its successors have been called brilliant, soulful, “jauntily fatalistic” and other wonderful things by critics and press. D’amato has recorded with members of Bon Iver, Megafaun and Josh Ritter’s band, putting out songs that are at once weighty and fun — pop-savvy tracks with serious teeth.

While currently working on a follow-up to 2014’s The Shipwreck From The Shore, D’Amato is also on tour and will make a stop at The Grey Eagle Friday, Nov. 13. David Wax Museum headlines. 9 p.m., $10 advance/$12 day of show.

Xpress: Thanks to Wikipedia, I know you’re just about to finish your 27th year. Did anything dramatic happen?

Anthony D’Amato: It’s been a pretty amazing 27th year! I saw more of the world than I ever dreamed I’d get to (I played shows in 12 countries on three continents this year alone) and met some incredible people along the way. I broke my finger in August, which seemed like a curse at the time, but actually proved to be a bit of a blessing in disguise because it forced me to take a little break from shows. When I slowed down and spent some time at home, a lot of the material for the next record that I’d been stuck on finally started to shake out.

It’s been over a year since The Shipwreck From The Shore came out. With plenty of time to tour, perform and hone those songs, in retrospect is there anything you’d wish you’d done differently on the album?

I’m still really proud of that album and how it came together. I always try to think of my records as a snapshot of where I am at a certain point in time, so in that regard I don’t ever really look back and think about things I would do differently. I hear it and am reminded of who and where I was at that time and how far I’ve come to be the person I am today. I’m sure that’ll keep happening with every album I record.

It sounds like that collection of songs was altered and more fully realized by collaborations with the other musicians on the album. Is it hard to let go of a song’s original intent? And would you consider collaborating on songwriting, too?

The thing that worked about it is that I never had to let go of a song’s original intent. The collaborations in the studio actually helped me better execute the intent. Everybody involved heard my acoustic demos and fleshed them differently in their heads, so when we all got together at the Great North Sound Society, in Maine to record, we talked through the different possibilities for each track and I realized there were all these colors and textures I’d never imagined that could help convey the feelings I was chasing. It was like I had a bunch of pencil sketches and then one person imagined finishing them with oil paints and another with watercolors and another with just ink. Sometimes the answer was what I’d planned all along, sometimes it was something surprising and new, and sometimes it was combining several of those things together.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m recording my new album with Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, First Aid Kit) and some wonderful Omaha musicians from Bright Eyes/The Faint/Cursive. I’m thrilled about how it’s all coming together and can’t wait to get these songs out into the world next year.

Can you tell me a little bit about your time working with Paul Muldoon? How did studying with a poet give you a different perspective on songwriting?

I worked up an independent study with Paul that was focused on songwriting, so basically every so often, when I had a new batch of songs, I’d send him all the lyrics and we’d get together and talk through them. He’d draw lines between images where he thought there was a strong thread or progression or mark up spots where the narrative suffered or lacked clarity. When I edit now, I try to look through the lyrics with his eye or imagine the conversation we’d have about them. He’d give me books of lyrics by Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen to read, which was inspiring stuff.

Are there other poets you’re a fan of? Who are you reading lately?

I’m a big Walt Whitman fan. If he were around today, he’d be a songwriter with a band. I like to read all sorts of stuff, especially history and biographies, though at the moment I’m reading William B. Helmreich’s The New York Nobody Knows. The author set out to basically walk every single block in New York. I think NYC is endlessly fascinating, so the book is a good fit for somebody like me who enjoys wandering and people watching.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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