It makes an impact on a listener when they listen to an artist page with a bunch of songs and every song is good. This is the reaction I had when first hearing Dave Elwert, and I've seen others voice the same opinion as well. From our vantage point at IMP, this guy sort of came out of nowhere and he was a powerhouse from day one. Earnest, understated, and straight-forward, he's a self-contained songwriting machine. His subject matter is observational along with being a story teller, and he communicates naturally thru his lyrics. It's nice to see an artist like this gaining acceptance in our community simply by shining and Dave won a Golden Kayak for Best Male Artist in his first year on the site. Meanwhile his first release off his new record Adventure has already cracked the Kayak Big 25 for his second Kayak hit. This is an artist who cares about what he puts out there, and has the tools and ability to make it happen. One senses we're only at the beginning of what Dave Elwert is gonna end up bringin'.
Scott: ok, first thing that strikes me about your music is that your various songs show a lot of versatility. Can you tell us about your musical background, how you got there, did you start in high school band or what, it must be pretty vast.
I started taking piano lessons when I was 4 years old, and
at age 15 I added percussion as my secondary instrument. For
a little while, I was doubled up on lessons, practicing, recitals,
etc. All of that combined with school was too much for me, so
I chose to put piano on the back burner and continued studying drums
through high school and college, where I majored in Music
Business. A lot of different music influenced me early on and
continues to today. My mom listened to a lot of Bruce
Springsteen, The Beach Boys, and Motown when I was growing up, so that
was some of the first music that I got into. In my junior
high and high school years, it was mostly rock and
alternative. Bands like Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine,
Our Lady Peace, Smashing Pumpkins, Silverchair, and many others were
what I blasted in my car stereo. College introduced me to an
even broader variety of music. Artists like Bruce Hornsby,
John Mayer, Kathleen Edwards, Josh Ritter, Paul Simon, Lettuce, Empire
Of The Sun, Passion Pit, Nickel Creek, Sigur Ros, Loney Dear, and so
many more. Country music didn't become part of my repertoire
until post-college. I never thought I would like country
music, but through the years of learning and performing so much of it
live, I have come to love and appreciate the artistry, story telling,
and technical intricacies within the genre. I went from
hating country music to loving it. To this day, I still
listen to a wide range of music. It just depends on how I'm
feeling at the moment.
Scott: Do you remember the first song you wrote, where you were at the time and what inspired you?
Dave: I wrote my first song around the age of 17. It was a song called "I Am Free". Simply put, it was a prayer. I don't remember what inspired it, but I do remember the overwhelming sense of peace that came from writing down my thoughts and putting them to a melody and chords. I was immediately hooked. At that moment, songwriting became my personal escape.
Scott: ok, you have a new record called Adventures. I've heard much of it and it is good! How is it different from the last one?
Dave: Thank you! I am super proud of ADVENTURES. It is the 4th album that I've released and I believe it is my best work yet. With each project, I learn something new and improve in one way or another. Anymore, that is my goal. We can strive all we want to be THE best, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to say with 100% confidence that I gave it MY best, and that's good enough for me. My album before ADVENTURES is "Boundary Waters" (Dec. 2012). The greatest difference from ADVENTURES is that it's an Americana Rock album. Even though I've released 4 albums now, in a lot of ways, "Boundary Waters" feels like my first real one. I can listen back to that album with no regrets. I wouldn't change a thing. Sure, there are imperfections, but that's okay. That makes it human.
Scott: You've said you record some of your songs in the back bedroom of your house. Describe your studio. How's the vibe there? :)
Dave: Yep, I recorded ADVENTURES in a really small spare bedroom. It's pretty cramped in there between the studio desk, 4 keyboards, a drumset, and PA system. Believe me, I would love to have more space. I used to rent a studio space when I lived in Anderson, IN. That's where I recorded "Boundary Waters" among several other projects for other artists. When my wife and I moved to Columbus, IN, I decided to get rid of that studio space and work out of the house. I'm on the road 150+ days a year anyway as a drummer, so it didn't make sense have a big studio space sitting empty for half the year. Truth is, if you know a little bit about sound, mic placement, and creative ways to manipulate a room, you can get a great sounding project out of a bedroom, basement, or even a garage. It has it's advantages. For example: If I had to drive to a studio to record, 1) It would cost more. 2) I would have to get dressed. Working from home means I can roll out of bed, go to my little cramped studio room, and get right to work. I have pictures of that room on my facebook page if anyone is interested.
Scott: One of the interesting tracks from Adventures is called 6 in Hell. Is that a personal song, what inspired it?
Dave: Yes, "In Hell" was originally inspired by a personal situation, but I wrote it for all of the other people out there who are having a similar experience. Most of us know what it feels like to be used by someone who calls themselves a "friend". Those people are pretenders. They get what they need from us, but don't return the favor when we need them most. They aren't friends. They are frauds. We give them the benefit of the doubt and we convince ourselves that it's just a phase, but when nothing changes, we're left bloodied and empty-handed in our own personal hell. I've learned several times over that life won't get better on it's own. It's up to us to change our situation. That's what this song is about. Realizing that a change needs to be made, taking the power back from our abusers, and moving forward.
Scott: I used to live out west so I checked out your new song Life Out West. Nice musical hook in that one, it's like a bit of a rock opera. I think that's my favorite of your songs that I've heard. The song reflects an emptiness, I've felt that myself, what's going on out there? :)
Dave: I went out west for the first time in 2009. A couple of friends and I drove straight thru from Indiana to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. It was the trip of a lifetime. I didn't know what to expect. I had been to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and had hiked to the top, and I thought THAT was amazing, but my buddy assured me that I was in for something special. The road trip is half the fun. I felt like I was seeing the country for the first time. Driving from the midwest, through the plains, and eventually hitting the Rocky Mountains is an experience. Ever since then, I've tried to take a trip out west every year. It's really THAT amazing! My personal favorite spot is one that most people wouldn't expect. Moab, Utah. The canyonlands of America. The desert. There is something about that country that soothes my soul. It's beautiful, humbling, silent... peaceful. I go there to reset. It's easy to get caught up in the day to day happenings at home. Jobs, bills, goals, drama, etc. Life can be really freakin' stressful. Our society tells us what a normal life looks like; by what age we should be settled down, when to have kids, what to wear, what to eat, what is cool, and what is not. It's funny cause I have a pop album, but kind of despise pop culture. I fantasize about taking my wife and leaving everything else in the world, driving across the country, and settling down in one of those vast expanses of land out west. We would spend our days soaking in the beauty, and while everyone else is worried about whether or not they're going to get that promotion to pay for their new car, house, boat, TV, clothes, or whatever, we would be at peace with what we have. With that said, I feel like it is important to contribute to our communities, and my best contribution (music) is one that would not be possible if I lived out in The Middle Of Nowhere, Utah. So for now, I will continue to visit my home away from home, reset, and come back to my community and write songs that hopefully can help us get from point A to point B in life.
Scott: Do you have high hopes for a musical career, that is, achieving some financial success with your music?
Dave: I'm always hopeful for more opportunities with music. It's my passion, so I want to take it as far as I can, however we all have to define "success" for ourselves. What's the end goal? My goal is to continue making music for a living by whatever means necessary. I don't want a real job. Been there, done that. Not for me. Now, I'm not famous, I'm not making millions (FAR from it), and I'm not playing in front of thousands of screaming fans night after night, but I'm getting by. I'm constantly on the road, busting my butt with some really talented friends who all just want to make good heartfelt music. It's not about the money. We just need enough to pay our bills and continue making music. That's the goal, and I'm doing it, so therefore I already consider myself to be "successful". Sure, I strive to be better, do more, and possibly reach new levels of success, but it's not going to take a record deal, fame, or fortune to keep me going.
Scott: Does it frustrate you that somebody as good as yourself is in a situation of indie obscurity while far inferior music is played on the mainstream?
Dave: Yes, somedays it does, but I have to remind myself what drives this industry. Unfortunately, music is only a small part of it. There is some really great music on the mainstream level and there is some really terrible music. Having good music isn't good enough for labels. It all comes down to dollars and cents. "Artists" don't need to be able to write songs, or play an instrument, or even know how to sing for that matter. Studios can make almost anyone sound good and those "artists" can fake it live. They cover up their lack of musical talent with light shows, dance moves, and cleavage. I would encourage any artist or creative to watch a documentary called "Press Pause Play". It addresses the issues that independent artists are facing in this day and age.
Scott: Was your music online in the days when mp3.com was all indie? Tell us about your path since you started putting music online.
Dave: Yes, some of my earlier music was. The internet is a powerful tool. You can get your music in front of people that would have never heard it otherwise. It's becoming harder and harder these days with the amount of independent music available, and with all of the various platforms for streaming (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, YouTube, etc etc). Fortunately, I don't rely on the songs I write to pay my mortgage. If I wasn't touring as a drummer and recording/producing other artists when I'm home, I would be in big trouble. More and more people are paying Apple Music and Spotify subscriptions instead of buying albums. On one hand, you want to have your music available to stream so people can listen and decide whether or not they want to buy it. However, there are a lot of people who will ONLY stream and never buy it. Even if they pay for a subscription to a streaming service like Spotify, that doesn't help the artist pay their bills. I recently took all of my music off of Spotify when I saw that I had thousands of streams with a total pay out of around $4. My payout per stream was $0.001 or less. Ridiculous. At this point, I've taken a more grass-roots approach to releasing music. I put it out on my online storefronts, tell my community, and if they like it, they will buy it and share it. Who knows... it may be a horrible idea, but for now, I can't in good conscience support a company that is cheapening the value of music.
Scott: Keyboards are a big part of your sound, do you write your songs on keys?
Dave: Yep. Keyboards are my melodic instrument of choice. Every song I write starts with just me and a keyboard.
Scott: Something we ask in all the spotlight interviews is if you've had any experiences of high strangeness like UFOs or ghosts or that sort of thing?
Dave: Can't say that I have. I used to watch a show as a kid called "Sightings" that was about UFO sightings. They supposedly happen more frequently out west, so even thought I'm not sure I believe in extraterrestrial life, there is a small part of me that would love to see a UFO on one of my backpacking trips out west.
Scott: You sing about a wolf in the woods, is that about something within you, or about a threat of something else dangerous and foreboding?
Dave: "Wolf In The Woods" was about the same type of person I described in "In Hell". The wolf doesn't care about who we are, whether or not we have families, or what kind of pain they might inflict on us. Hunger is what drives him, and there's nothing we can do to stop it. Our best defense is to stay out of his way. The song is a word of warning.