Dayna Kurtz Thinks Of Music Like Antique Shopping

This month, musician Dayna Kurtz comes out with two new albums, American Standard and Secret Canon Vol. 1. This plan fits her style since she doesn't like to commit to any one genre. She even likens herself to a junk store sifter who finds beauty in things long lost. Kurtz sits down for a performance chat with guest host Viviana Hurtado.

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VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin will be back tomorrow.

Coming up, we will check out more of your tweets. That's our Muses and Metaphor series, celebrating National Poetry Month.

But first, if you're surviving a breakup, then you're going to want to listen to this musician.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME IN YOUR ARMS")

DAYNA KURTZ: (Singing) Take me in your arms before you take your love away.

HURTADO: That was Dayna Kurtz singing "Take Me in Your Arms," and she has not one, but two new albums, "American Standard" and "Secret Canon, Vol. 1."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME IN YOUR ARMS")

KURTZ: (Singing) Let me thrill again to your caress of yesterday.

HURTADO: Her voice, that voice, peels back layer after layer of emotion, passion, regret, grief - all the sides of love and loss, a little surprising coming from a strong, husky and sensuous voice. That's not the only thing that doesn't fit neatly into a category.

She's a Jersey Shore girl who has captivated worldwide audiences with her jazzy ballads. She's also a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, with a good measure of aching blues and smooth R&B. Dayna joins us from our New York studio.

Welcome to the show.

KURTZ: Hi. I'm glad to be here.

HURTADO: Glad to have you here, Dayna. First thing that comes up on your website is fundraising to get your fans to help produce your albums. Is that a sign of the times, both of the music industry and the economy?

KURTZ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's definitely come down to the fans. Almost everybody I know, their fans are now their record company, which is great. It's actually a really great development. It makes you feel very connected to people who buy your music in a way that you couldn't before.

HURTADO: But Dayna, is any of this connection - and, as you say, it's great - does having to do that much fundraising take you away from creating songs?

KURTZ: I mean, worrying about money takes me away from creating songs more than the actual fundraising. The fundraising is sort of - it's become sort of part of the communication with fans. They sort of know when you're making a record because, you know, you're hitting them up for preorders. So it's sort of part of the whole - you know, it's sort of part of the whole package now, whereas, before fan fundraising, I was - you know, I was still the person responsible for making the money, and it was just a whole lot of stress because I didn't really know how I was going to do it. It really depended on how well the last record went.

You know, if the last record sold a lot in Europe or, you know, I was playing theaters, I sort of came home with a pile of money and set it aside to pay off my bills and then, you know, for the next record.

HURTADO: Let's talk about "Secret Canon, Vol. 1." You dug up these songs. Tell us what inspired you to save them from oblivion.

KURTZ: You know, I'm a thrift shopper and an antiquer, you know, a junk store sifter. And it feels like the same for music. I like finding lost things that nobody else noticed were beautiful. And I feel a connection, in particular, with songwriters whose name never got known and who made beautiful work - sometimes just one perfect song.

And, you know, Frank Sinatra didn't cover it or Sarah Vaughn didn't cover it, and it's just sitting there as a B side or, you know - and when you pick up a record at the, you know, in a cutout bin or in a, you know, in the back of an old dusty junk shop and, you know, you're like, wow, this is cool. It was 1962. I've never heard of this label before. And you bring it home, and it's beautiful and, you know, there's a song on it that knocks you out. And it's just exciting to find.

HURTADO: A song that knocked me out is "Do I Love You," and it was written by the late R&B artist Floyd Dixon. Tell us why you connected to that song.

KURTZ: Sometimes it's a line that draws me in. The big differential for me is the lyrics, because a lot of - you know, a lot of lyricists were a little lazy. You know, they'd write 20 songs a day, sometimes, these guys. And the lyrics of that one were just - there was - what was the line? It was: I want you and I'll haunt you. And I'm, like, no. I don't think I heard that before. You know, please, come back to me - it was so mournful.

And I liked his story a lot. I like that he kind of disappeared from history and that not that many people knew him, but that he was such a big influence on Ray Charles, who was a big influence on me. So I kind of felt like I was digging back in the lineage.

HURTADO: Well, let's see if he can, quote, "reappear." Do you mind playing for us?

KURTZ: Not at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO I LOVE YOU?")

KURTZ: (Singing) Do I love you? Do I love you? You've often been told that I love you. Yes, I want you and I haunt you. Won't you come back home to me? Do you worry? Do you worry? If you do, I'll come running in a hurry. Yes, I'll hurry. Yes, I'll hurry home to you.

HURTADO: In a hurry or not, if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with musician Dayna Kurtz about one of her new albums, "Secret Canon Vol. 1."

Before you were happily married, you were in quote, "tortured and dysfunctional affairs." How has happiness made your music better or worse?

KURTZ: Writing felt easier - well, harder because I had to go through what I went through to write, you know, it's - I don't - I think I'm better just because of older. I don't know if it has anything to do with my love life. I think if I was single I'd still be a better writer, you know? I'd just be writing about different things. I mean I think that when you're in your 20s as a singer-songwriter you write, you tend to write fairly confessional stuff and the older you get the more literary you tend to get. You know, I sometimes write in character. I write as a writing exercise. I write, you know, what I feel like are short stories. It's just, you know, the whole nature of it has become different. And then I have a whole, I have a whole little mini genre of boring married ladies songs that, you know, I, you know, just sort of like this sort of like ennui kind of driven songs that I probably wouldn't have had if I was single.

HURTADO: It sounds like your next album.

KURTZ: It is, actually. We set those aside; they just didn't fit on "American Standard" at all. I've got a whole little mini genre.

HURTADO: And actually, that's where going next. We talked about "Secret Canon Vol. 1." You're also releasing "American Standard." Most times artists release one at a time. Why didn't you space it out?

KURTZ: I recorded "Do I Love You" while I was making "American Standard" because I'd collected all these songs and, you know, friends kept sending me stuff that they think I'd like and I, you know, one time we were just I was my voice was really warmed up. I had finished singing kind of a screamer and my voice was that great combination of worn down and warmed up. So it felt really supple, which is a great place to sing jazz and blues from. And so I kind of pulled this one out and, you know, and said hey guys, you know, follow me, and they just sort of jumped in and it was so beautiful that I was like we just got to make a record of all that stuff.

HURTADO: Your "American Standard" album has music that has its roots in American history. I hear folk music, 1950s, early rock 'n' roll, blues. Is this why you called it "American Standard?"

KURTZ: Yeah. That and American Standard was the brand of toilet in the bathroom at the recording studio.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HURTADO: Really?

KURTZ: And I liked the font - yeah. It was kind of a private joke and it was kind of a dumb idea because I didn't realize at the time I'd be putting out a record simultaneously of cover songs. So people think "American Standard" is, you know, they think standards when they see standards so it was kind of a dumb idea to call it that. I did want American in the title because my other records had some European influence in them and this one felt like my first truly American record. There wasn't any, you know, Italian street singing or French chanteuse stuff in there at all. It was all really, you know, it was all really Southern.

HURTADO: And from "American Standard," not Kohler standard, but "American Standard"...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Yeah.

HURTADO: ...can you play "Are You Dancing with Her Tonight?

KURTZ: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARE YOU DANCING WITH HER TONIGHT")

HURTADO: (Singing) I'm tired. So tired. I wish that I could get some rest. My baby says that he loves me but he doesn't love me the best. My baby says he still loves me but he doesn't love me the best. Are you dancing with her tonight? Are you holding her close and tight? Will you make love by candlelight like we used to do? Is she thankful for all she has? Is her heart beating hard and fast? Does she think that your love will last? Well, honey, me too.

You've said in an interview that you value simplicity and elegance in music and that this is oftentimes lost in younger artists. It's almost as if you want to say to anyone who is self-absorbed or maybe tweeting more than living you're just not that interesting.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: I'm more saying it to myself.

HURTADO: But is...

KURTZ: My younger self.

HURTADO: Maybe that was a little bit of me bleeding into that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HURTADO: Are you, you know, maybe you should be living more than tweeting. But is your criticism about the state of being all about me or our current culture that seeks to reward this behavior?

KURTZ: I don't know. I mean I feel like it's a phase of development, certainly for me, certainly. I don't know if I'd make a statement about everybody. It's just sort of, you know, you know, when I hear somebody in their 20s who was kind of going through that phase but is an amazing artist, like I just sort of look at them and go wow, I'm sort of not there anymore. I can't wait to hear what you sound like when you're 40. Of course, you know, when I'm 60 and they're 40 I might actually, you know, say oh gosh, I can't wait hear what you sound like when you're 60. But, you know, it just might be a matter of whether or not you feel like somebody's appear yet or a mature artist and I'm still trying to get there.

HURTADO: Musician Dayna Kurtz has two new albums, "American Standard" and "Secret Canon Vol. 1," available now.

Thank you for being on TELL ME MORE. And before you leave, can you play "Invocation" from "American Standard?" And tell us something about what inspired you to write this song.

KURTZ: This song I wrote at the start of a really mammoth writing session and it was literally an invocation to the muse. It was a bit of an apology for being such a, you know, lazy artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HURTADO: I can't wait to hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INVOCATION")

KURTZ: (Singing) Would even you know me since I've been away? I wake with my eyes closed and sleep through the day. But I'll open my heart and I'll learn how to pray, if mama, you'll let me come home. I snuck in to eat in the hours before dawn. I've stolen the apples that dropped on your lawn. My spirit, my pride and my innocence gone. Please, mama, let me come home oh, please mama, let me come home.

HURTADO: That was musician Dayna Kurtz and her song "Invocation" from her new album "American Standard."

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