A good songwriter is attentive and receptive to his surroundings.
Whether he’s overseas in Germany and the Netherlands, in his hometown of Austin, Texas, or in State College (where he is a welcomed face) count on Danny Schmidt’s writing to be informed by the area milieu.
Schmidt will stop by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County as part of the Untangled Strings Concert Series, and in support of his newest album, “Owls.”
Released on Schmidt’s own import label, Live Once Records, “Owls” is rich with character sketches of common people and their concerns. The natural world is both friend and foe. Protagonists cultivate, destroy and mend relationships. Questions about life, death and self simply yield more questions.
Schmidt’s tales are evocative and cinematic; it’s only fitting this auteur counts filmmakers like the Cohen Brothers and novelists such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ken Kesey among his influences.
Meanwhile, Schmidt’s backing band allows the singer’s guitar and husky voice to take center stage, with tasteful musical accents that give each of the “Owls” songs a distinct feel. Moaning string instruments mark “A Bad Year For Cane,” hand percussion slinks along the edges of the samba noir “Girl With the Lantern Eyes,” and a warm gospel organ is a bittersweet complement to “The Guns & The Crazy Ones.”
“It’s a tricky balancing act between holding tight to a particular vision and intention while keeping open enough to allow spontaneous inspiration to take control of a song,” Schmidt said of his composition technique. “Trial and error certainly has a role in that process, as does lots of conversation.”
Thought Schmidt recently broke down “Owls” track-by-track for the website Insurgent Country, he welcomes listeners to form their own interpretations of his lyrics.
“I love it when people bring their own associations, experiences and spins into my songs,” Schmidt remarked. “I don’t have any attachment to folks interpreting the songs the same way I do.”
Concurrently, Schmidt hopes his songs spark discussion and debate. When “Owls” treads into social issues — gun violence on “The Guns & The Crazy Ones” and threats against the environment on “Soon This Earth Shall Swallow” — his tone is never accusatory or harsh. Instead, Schmidt maintained, topical songs are “me trying to wrap my own head around the issues more than telling someone else how they should wrap their own head.
“I don’t consider the perspective in my writing to be overtly political in nature,” he added. “They’re not trying to preach a viewpoint, advocate for any particular actions, or dictate to anyone else how they need to think or behave. More than anything, the topical songs are personal and emotional in nature ... they’re me just simply stating my feelings about how I feel around a certain issue, and my thoughts and viewpoint on how I see things ... My greatest hope is that those songs might stimulate thought in the listener, or help them articulate their own swirling thoughts.”
Though “Owls” is his ninth release, Schmidt — who has performed professionally since the mid-1990s — considers it a fine starting point for new fans getting acclimated with his discography.
“It features the kind of writing and complexity that I enjoy the best,” Schmidt said.