Daniel BachmanAt 24, Daniel Bachman is a young fingerstylist with an old musical soul. The Virginia-based guitarist is steeped in the music of the American Primitive players, and it’s clear he’s carefully studied both their stylistic antecedents and the traditions of his native South. Bachman synthesizes everything into a highly personal, mature style that belies his youthfulness.
Bachman’s impressive command of the steel-string, plus occasional forays into the worlds of banjo and sitar, can be heard on the flurry of singles, EPs, and albums he’s recorded in the last half-decade. His two recent full-length efforts, Orange County Serenade and Daniel Bachman, are testaments to the breadth of his musical knowledge and curiosity.
You grew up in a very musical household. What was that like?
Both of my grandfathers were professional musicians at one point. So was my dad, who started off playing in a Fred Neil-Tim Hardin vibe. I grew up with guitars all around the house and tunes constantly playing. It was definitely hard to get away from music at home. My dad typically has four guitars at any given time. He once played a 1969 D-18, and that’s now my main instrument. Come to think of it, most of the guitars I’ve ever owned have once belonged to my dad.
What are some of the less obvious influences on your playing?
I’m not religious, but I’m really into the heavy holiness gospel stuff by a lot of unknown musicians no one really cares about—a lot of the older camp-meeting stuff. The vibe of that music just hits me really hard. I listen to pretty much everything these days, including a lot of electronic music. Lately I’ve been checking out Laurie Spiegel, who was also a great guitar, lute, and banjo player. That electronic music actually works really well when applied to an open tuning, where you’re working with a very specific set of notes.
Which open tunings do you prefer?
Open C is really versatile in that you can tune the first string down a half-step [to Eb from E] for a C minor tuning or by another half-step [to D] for a sus tuning ... pretty drastically different sounds. With the first string at Eb it sounds very harsh and minor, but when it’s at E natural, it’s so bright—like a lovely, sunny day.
I’ve finally gotten into open G, which is a tuning that freaks out a lot of people because of the low D. I just kind of ignore the 6th string—I don’t even touch it. To me, open G is kind of a golden tuning, the most classic one there is.
Tell us about your compositional process.
I don’t have a full-time day job, so I treat writing as my 9-to-5 thing. This gives me the luxury of putting together songs I’m really proud of. In the past, I’ve been frustrated by tight deadlines and have admittedly put out things I’m now embarrassed by.
I’ll sit with a lick until it develops into a great A section. Then, I’ll think about how long I want the song to be, whether three minutes or 10, and
come up with the rest of the piece using a similar process. Working with open tunings, it’s easy to have lots of different chords at my disposal and to figure out how to put parts together in an organic way.
How does improvisation figure into your music?
In a sense, my writing process is all about improvising, pulling things left and right out of nowhere. Once I’ve finalized a tune, I stick to it pretty strictly, but maybe with some deviations in terms of chord voicings, dynamics, and tempo that change from night to night when I play it live. Basically, I’m just trying to write songs and play them as best I can.
How has your playing evolved over your last several years as a recording artist?
The other day I was talking to this dude about my playing when I realized that it has shifted a lot. I’ve always wanted to play slower, with more guts and emotion, but for years I could only blast through tunes. It was almost too hard to play slow, and I’m just now opening up to it. At the same time, I’m constantly listening to as much stuff as I can and trying to cop new ideas. I’m always trying to get just a little better.