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Dan Reeder: Making Music from Scratch

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Dan Reeder: Making Music from Scratch

Music

Dan Reeder: Making Music from Scratch

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

The singer and songwriter John Prine says that when he's out on the tour bus, between his gigs he often listens to demo recordings sent along by aspiring musicians. Most of them are pretty bad, he says. But one disc he received a while back really caught his ear. It was buy a do-it-yourselfer named Dan Reeder. Reeder writes the songs, builds instruments, records all the instruments and vocal parts. He even does the album artwork with help from his family. John Prine liked the music so much he's now releasing Reeder's work on his Oh Boy record label. The CD, Sweetheart, is coming out this coming Tuesday.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DAN REEDER (Musician): (Singing) I drink beer to improve my mind, end the war, help mankind through these dark and trying times. Hey, batter, batter, batter. Hey, batter, hey.

ADAMS: Dan Reeder is now on tour in Canada along with John Prine, and he joins us from the road in Halifax, Nova Scotia and the studios of the CBC. Welcome, Mr. Reeder.

Mr. REEDER: Hello.

ADAMS: How you doing up there?

Mr. REEDER: I'm doing real good.

ADAMS: This is really your second CD. John Prine said he thought the good reviews of the first one might have scared you a little bit and that you would have a tough time with what they call the sophomore effort. Is that possible?

Mr. REEDER: There's a lot of effort in the second one. The second one was very difficult. The first one I made, there was nobody looking. I was in my studio, pretty much playing, having fun, not expecting anything to come of it. And the second one, well, you had John Prine who's going to be listening to it. It was no longer, you know, it's not like the first one where it was like, doe-dee-doe-dee-doe. I'll play this for my wife. I think I'll play this for my friends. It was going to be listened to.

There's a little bit of a dilemma there, but I think I got through it. I would have rather actually skipped over the second one and gone straight to the third one, but unfortunately you can't do that.

ADAMS: Well, if you did that, that would deny the world cut one, which is Waiting for My Cappuccino.

Mr. REEDER: Oh yeah.

ADAMS: Which I just think is great. I got to say that.

(Soundbite of song Waiting for My Cappuccino)

Mr. REEDER: (Singing) I've been waiting for my cappuccino since 1969 and I'm beginning to suspect that the waitress forgot me. That guy over there has only been here for a year and he just got dinner for his whole family. If I were Jesus I'd command this dump to wither, board up its doors and windows forever.

Mr. REEDER: Okay. I'm an artist. I paint pictures. You paint a picture, you have to look and think, is this thing doing something? It is working? If you start thinking, is somebody going to be offended by that, or does that look too sloppy or duh-duh-duh-duh, you've killed yourself already. For example, the second cut is instrumental. It's very sloppy. I could have played it better, technically better, but I knew that I couldn't play it actually better and I'm sure it would have made it worse. And so I went, I'm going to go with the first one.

ADAMS: So the first cut, you just did it?

Mr. REEDER: Yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. REEDER: If it's sloppy and if people are saying, you know, this kid can't play the guitar or that guy's making a mess on the harmonica, you have to put up with that. But if it's got the certain feel that you want, then even if it's a mess, you have to go with it.

ADAMS: As long as we're doing number one and number two, let's go to cut three.

Mr. REEDER: Okay.

ADAMS: You'll Never Surf Again. I got a couple of questions about this.

Mr. REEDER: Okay.

ADAMS: This is just sort of - you have to do this one deadpan, right?

Mr. REEDER: Yeah, it's deadpan. It's a little, you know, it's a little bit of a joke. I come from Southern California and to be told you'll never surf again is pretty much a death sentence.

(Soundbite of song You'll Never Surf Again)

Mr. REEDER: (Singing) I went to the doctor and the doctor said, sit down, I got some bad news. Said put your pants back on and tie up those shoes. Well, I braced myself for the worst. I knew this could mean the end. He said, you'll never, ever, ever surf again. Never surf again.

Mr. REEDER: I had been sick and if my wife hadn't taken me to the emergency room when she did, I probably would have just died. I'd had chicken pox when I was about 40 or something, and then some kind of an infection in my guts and it just about did me in. And I wrote - somehow I got better and I wrote the song.

ADAMS: Oh, when the doctor said you'll never surf again.

Mr. REEDER: Well, they never told me that, of course, but it was that feeling, you know, where you go, call it a near death experience. I don't know.

ADAMS: Well, at least you got a song out of it.

Mr. REEDER: I got a song, yeah, I got a song out of the deal.

(Soundbite of song You'll Never Surf Again)

Mr. REEDER: (Singing) My dream of (unintelligible) and pipeline and (unintelligible). My one second to the next just faded away. And nothing you can do when the (unintelligible). I'll never, ever, ever surf again. I'll never surf again.

ADAMS: I mentioned that you make some of your own instruments, and when I read the back of the CD I see things like trash fiddle and paper banjo.

Mr. REEDER: Yeah. A paper banjo, well, it happened like this. A friend of mine who paints watercolors brought me by some very, very expensive, very heavy watercolor paper. It's like 700 grams per square meter.

ADAMS: Sure.

Mr. REEDER: It's - you hold it out, it's like plywood. And I looked at the stuff and I thought, damn, you know, if I paint a picture on that I'll probably make a mess of it. I would - it's - I didn't want to waste it, but I thought it would make a good banjo head. So I cut some plywood out pretty much like in the shape of a tennis racket. So I made banjos out of that, fretless banjos with three strings, just acoustic guitar strings.

ADAMS: Mm-hmm. We can hear this paper banjo sound on this song you have called Bach is Dead and Gone.

Mr. REEDER: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song Bach is Dead and Gone)

Mr. REEDER: (Singing) He don't go to parties and he's never home. He don't answer e-mails and he don't come to the phone. And you'd see why if you saw him. He's just a pile of bones. Bach is dead and gone.

Mr. REEDER: You know, I live in Germany and in Germany almost any church you go into, they're going to be playing Bach. They play Bach and play Bach and play Bach and Bach is like holy material there, which, okay, you know, he did write a lot of church music and he - of course he's good.

ADAMS: He's good.

Mr. REEDER: The guy was good.

ADAMS: You got to give him that, right?

Mr. REEDER: You to give him that. But at some point I felt like telling the world that the guy is dead, you know? It's time to move on. He was good, but let it go.

(Soundbite of song Bach is Dead and Gone)

Mr. REEDER: (Singing) While he was still living he was one fast gun. I said let's write some motets. He was already done. But you can't mourn forever. Forever's just no fun. Bach is dead and gone.

(Speaking) Of course it's a little bit of a joke. I love Bach, but come on, you guys.

ADAMS: Now, how did you get from Southern California and, you know, surf, at least on the horizon there for you, and Nuremburg, Germany, I believe you live, right?

Mr. REEDER: Yeah. I was going to Cal State Fullerton and studying art and met my wife there and she had to go back to Germany because of visa problems and said I should come here. And I talked to my professors and they all said, yeah, go. Go to Europe. Six months in Europe is better than a year at this university for art student. And I just never came back. And now I've got three kids who play soccer and speak German.

ADAMS: That's great.

(Soundbite of song Just Leave Me Alone Today)

Mr. REEDER: (Singing) I don't want to be on no TV show, if you know what I mean. Just leave me alone today. I don't want to be on no radio, if you know what I mean.

ADAMS: I should ask you this because you have a song called, Just Leave Me Alone Today and...

Mr. REEDER: Yeah.

ADAMS: ...and which says, I don't want to be on the radio.

Mr. REEDER: No, I can tell you exactly why I wrote that song. There were guys from a TV crew and they came and they wanted to do a film about me. I went, all right. You know, you can't turn them down because it's TV and TV is important and TV is big time and TV a lot of people look at it and it's supposed to be - okay, they come to your house. They move the furniture around. They move pictures around. They tell your kids what to do. They...

ADAMS: Oh, yeah.

Mr. REEDER: They want you to do it three times in a row just the same so they can cut it and make it look like this and that. And you just - it's annoying.

ADAMS: Oh, so I'm just a minor intrusion here.

Mr. REEDER: You're a minor intrusion. You're fun.

ADAMS: Well, I appreciate that. I appreciate hearing that. Dan Reeder, his new CD, Sweetheart, is released on Tuesday. He joined us from the studios of the CBC in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Thank you very much, Mr. Reeder.

Mr. REEDER: Thank you.

ADAMS: You can hear more music from Dan Reeder at our website, NPR.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen returns next week. I'm Noah Adams.

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