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Daniel Day-Lewis spoke with poet, Eileen Myles in this 2002 interview. Photography by Terry Richardson.
 

Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.



Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.


Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.


Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.
 
  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Danielson Family, 1997

WITH BOB NICKAS
PHOTOGRAPHED BY TINA BARNEY




Danielson — Andrew, 14; David, 18; Megan, 21; Rachel, 23; Daniel, 25; and Chris, also 25 (a non-related but “honorary” member of the family) — is a Christian family that sings and plays some of the most wonderful music I’ve heard in a long time.  They’ve been compared to everyone from the Pixies and the Shaggs to Victoria Williams and Captain Beefheart, but Danielson soars and sails along on a higher plane of their own.  And although none of my friends can at first believe how deeply I’m into a group that sings about loving the Lord, once they’ve seen and heard Danielson play — in all-white doctor’s and nurse’s outfits! — they, too, become believers.  Now, it’s not often that I become obsessed with a group, but when I do, I’m a goner.  At least with Danielson’s totally charming and unbelievably catchy gospel/folk vibe I can be lost and saved at the same time.  Saved.  Even me.





Bob Nickas:  I’m totally in love with your music.
Daniel Smith:  Well, thank you.

BN:  To the point where I buy copies of your CD and send them to friends around the country, you know, to spread the word.  I also keep a picture handy in case I want to tell someone about you.  But now it’s all crumpled.  It’s been in my bag for two months.  
DS:  That’s great.

BN:  Now I’ve heard that you might be doing some shows without the family.
DS:  Well, this next album is going to be pretty much making the point that Danielson is the songs themselves.  And the line-up could easily ...

BN:  Danielson is the songs, as opposed to whoever is performing them?
DS:  As opposed to the people.  Yeah.  Of course, I can’t help but be involved.  But the next record is going to establish three different Danielson line-ups as kind of starting points.  One will be the family.  One will be Brother Danielson, which is myself on acoustic guitar.  And then Danielsonship will be more of a group, including the family.  Of course, they have their own lives, and they will be involved as long as they want.  It’s fun that we’re a family and that’s not going to go away, but I don’t want that to be the foundation, because it’s not.  The line-up is absolutely not what it rests on.  Now, I’m trying to really bring the songs to the forefront.

BN:  Can you tell me about Brother Danielson?
DS:  The premiere of Brother Danielson will be at the Purple Door festival in Pennsylvania, and it will especially be wonderful because I have a new outfit.  Brother Danielson is going to be myself and an 8-foot tree.  My body will be the trunk of the tree, and my face will be exposed, of course, and my arms will be out of the trunk and I will play my acoustic guitar. 

BN:  It’s an 8-foot tree?  And you’re going to be somehow up inside of it?
DS:  It will be about 8 foot, and I’ll be inside the trunk.  And it’s a fruit tree.

BN:  That’s amazing.  Where did that come from?
DS:  Well, I saw this great clip of, I think it was Parliament, back in the day.

BN:  George Clinton and “the Mothership!”
DS:  Yeah.  George Clinton came down in the space ship.  That was the greatest thing.  I love all that stuff.  And for some reason people aren’t real excited about all that right now.  I mean, with bands today it’s kind of like you just wear what you wear and that’s fine.

BN:  I think that’s over.  And people will certainly know it after your new show.  So are you bringing it to New York? 
DS:  Probably to Brownies.

BN:  You can’t put an 8-foot tree on the stage at Brownies.
DS:  Sure I can.

BN:  There’s a very low ceiling, last time I looked.
DS:  Oh, I’ll make it.

BN:  You’re going to hit your head.
DS:  I could set it down off the stage.  I could make it work.

BN:  It could be in the middle of the floor, with the audience all around the tree.  I’m going to have to get everybody to that show.  Don’t want anyone to miss that.
DS:  It should be very special.

BN:  So, can we start at the beginning?
DS:  Well, I had been in a group with a friend of mine, all through high school and early college, and we were just really experimenting with song ideas and song structure.  Kind of chopping it all up and all that.

BN:  I’d heard that it was totally different from what you do now.
DS:  It was, definitely, it was more in the noise direction.

BN:  Noise?
DS:  Yeah, kind of a wall of noise with a drum machine.

BN:  Really?  And influenced by anything in particular?
DS:  Big Black and things like that.  That’s when My Bloody Valentine was coming out with all kinds of interesting ideas.  I was interested in all that stuff.

BN:  That’s so completely opposite of what you do now.
DS:  Well, through that I got very interested in the basic songs, and the acoustic guitar, which has roots in our family because my dad is a folk/gospel songwriter.

BN:  Oh, right.
DS:  So our family grew up hearing him on the acoustic guitar every night, playing songs ...

BN:  Was this a musical family? 
DS:  No.  We were just trying to go to sleep.  This would be in the evening.

BN:  And how old were you all?
DS:  From as far back as I can remember.  So there’s definitely roots that I really wanted to explore.  And the acoustic guitar, for me, is pretty much the naked song.  Everything being revealed.  If it’s a really boring song, the acoustic guitar will reveal that.  If it’s a great song, it’s going to survive.

BN:  And then the family came in?
DS:  When I started to write these songs, I felt like the next step was to show them to my brothers and sisters.  I had this huge body of songs that I was just not doing anything with, and I really felt like I wanted to start messing with the family band. 
My brothers and sisters had all been in high school bands.  Rachel played flute and Patty played bells.  And my little brothers were playing drums in a marching band.  They’re both marching band brothers.

BN:  I like the way that time is kept with military drumming.  More bands should come from high school bands.
DS:  I think so.  I think that the marching band drummers are the greatest.

BN:  So what did your brothers and sisters think?
DS:  It just clicked.  It was really strange.

BN:  They all wanted to do it?
DS:  Yeah, and it ended up quickly becoming this project to perform at my college thesis show.  So then we started to have a purpose.

BN:  What were you studying?  And where?
DS:  Print making, at Rutgers.

BN:  So instead of showing art, you performed with a band?
DS:  No, I showed art work, but I wanted to include this performance, which was totally in line with all the pieces, this concept, and the songs themselves.  So we played at the opening, and it was just crazy.  I mean, people loved it.  It was just nuts.

BN:  Were you surprised?
DS:  Well, yeah, sure.  But I know we enjoyed it, and that’s kind of all I knew. 

BN:  Now, at this time you weren’t wearing your stage clothes?
DS:  No, the very first time we just dressed up in ties and dresses.  Later, we all had T-shirts with our names, and then hearts on our sleeves.  And we had antennae also.

BN:  Antennae?
DS:  We were receiving the blessings from the heavens.  We were being the vehicle.  And from there I realized that the next step was to wear the doctor’s/nurse’s uniforms.  That was the real truth.

BN:  Because you believe that the music is healing the listener.  
DS:  Right.

BN:  So you had this idea, and said, “We should wear these uniforms on stage.”  
DS:  Well, it was my idea.  I mean, I receive these songs, no doubt inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the ideas that go along with them.  And I’m always open to what my brothers and sisters have to say about things, absolutely, but at the same time there’s definitely this source.

BN:  And you’re this vehicle too.
DS:  I write all the songs essentially on my own.  And when I share them with my family I really try and keep my hands off as much as possible, to what they’re doing.

BN:  When I saw you play the in-store at Other Music, from the very first song everybody was smiling and laughing and having a good time.  And at the end of the show, everybody still had this happy, good feeling.  You could actually see it all around the room.
DS:  Well, I’ve said it before, but it really is a lot of teeth, just teeth everywhere.  And we just feed off that.

BN:  Is there something you want people to go away with after seeing you? 
DS:  Oh yeah.  It’s definitely about a kind of foundation of feeling.  But we’re giving credit to the Creator.  We’re giving credit to the Maker.  And even if people don’t walk away convinced, that’s not the point.  We’re not trying to convince anyone.  We’re trying to be an example.

BN:  I’ve actually said that your music makes the world a better place, although I don’t say that too often.  But can you talk about your example?
DS:  The TV image of everything is distorted, right?  So how would a TV image of the Creator be any less distorted?  If not more?  So instead of taking all the time and explaining and convincing, we’re interested in being.  Being the example.  Because the only thing that speaks now is action.  Words really don’t speak anymore.

BN:  I’m wondering if you ever get any bad reactions.  Because when I played your CD here in the office, one person got really upset.  He said it deranged him.  He said, “You’ve got to turn this off right now.”  He had a very strong reaction, to put it mildly.
DS:  That’s fine.  That’s not uncommon.  The first festival I played at, out in the midwest, somebody threatened to beat me up.

BN:  Why?
DS:  He just said that his girlfriend hated it.

BN:  Oh, that’s a perfectly good reason.
DS:  But that’s fine.  To be honest with you, I’m honored that no one’s bored.  Obviously, I can’t dwell on things like this.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the compliments and the negatives are kind of on the same level.  The compliments can be as destructive as what’s negative.  I think if you feed off it, you live off it.

BN:  I don’t know very much about Christian contemporary music, but I’m wondering about how you’re perceived.
DS:  That’s where the majority of the negative reviews have come from.

BN:  Really?
DS:  Yeah, absolutely.

BN:  Why is that?
DS:  That’s a good question.  To be honest with you, there’ve been no negative reviews from any of the other press.  Any negative reviews have come from Christian press, but I don’t put my faith in any of those things.

BN:  Are they suspicious of you? 
DS:  I’m sure some are suspicious.  But it’s generally been music criticism ...

BN:  Your music doesn’t sound like anything anyone else is doing right now.  It’s totally made its own space, its own world.  Between the lyrics and how your voice changes within the song, the layers of voices, the hand claps, the bells, the banjo ... It’s just so unlike anything I’ve heard in years.
DS:  That’s great.

BN:  But how do you explain their problem? 
DS:  I’ve heard that Danielson is the reason Christian music has a bad name.

BN:  I think Danielson is probably one of the only reasons that people outside of Christian music even know there is such a thing.
DS:  Yeah.

BN:  When I first tell people about you, they get this look in their eye — I can guess what they’re thinking — and I reassure them that you aren’t preaching from the stage.  I don’t want to offend you or anything ...
DS:  No, you’re not at all. 

BN:  ... but in Christian music is the stage supposed to be used for a sermon or something?  And you don’t do that?
DS:  First of all, we don’t take the platform of Christian music.  In my opinion, that term suggests it’s for a certain person, certain type of people, which is not true in our case.  Our music is for everyone.

BN:  The people who hear your music seem to get very caught up in it.  I mean, it really gets inside your head.  I know one person who was playing the CD — and he never does this — he played it every single day for a couple of weeks.  He would say, “I’ve got to have my Danielson fix.”
DS:  I feel bad for that person.

BN:  Oh, but he’s totally normal.  He’s my best friend ...
DS:  That’s very nice.  We appreciate that.

BN:  Do you mind if I ask you some specific things? 
DS:  I’m not sure I’ll answer them.

BN:  Okay, your record is called Tell Another Joke At The Ol’ Choppin’ Block, and there’s a picture of an ax embedded in a tree stump.  It seems violent, but it looks really friendly because of the colors — pink and lime green — the friendliest colors of an ax I’ve ever seen.
DS:  Yeah, that’s a friendly ax.

BN:  And there’s flowers all around it, but it seems so dark at the same time.
DS:  Well, this album is, no doubt, a puzzle. 

BN:  It’s a puzzle ...
DS:  Yeah, and I would say that all those songs and lyrics add up to the final song, to the final chorus.

BN:  When you all sing, “I believe, I believe.”
DS:  Right.  But I’m not trying to be mysterious, by any means.  That’s not the idea.  This album was written as an album, and all the songs lead up to the last one.  And the cover drawing is an illustration of that song, of where that takes you.  Because that song is no doubt a journey.  The truth is, the chopping block is probably five things all at once.  They’re symbols.  Everything on there is symbols.  And of course, symbols of the spirit.  Symbols of the journey of the spirit.  And the truth of the spirit.

BN:  I noticed in your liner notes that there’s an address to write away for a catalogue of “Great Comfort stuff.”  What’s that? 
DS:  Great Comfort stuff basically includes Danielson recordings, as well as Danny Goodies, which are handmade objects that I make.  All along the themes of the music. 

BN:  And what’s “Comfort Cream?”
DS:  That’s one of the Danny Goodies.

BN:  Is it a lotion?
DS:  Well, I’m working on it.  I’m working on it.  There are also Great Comfort pillowcases, which are handmade pillowcases with a handmade drawing on it, which, of course, give you the deepest of rest.

BN:  I’ll go for that.  Everyone thinks I’m joking, but when people ask if I go to a gym, if I work out, I say, “No, I’m into napping.”  Sleeping and napping are very underrated.
DS:  I’m also working on Feeling Perfume.  It’s a perfume that helps you to feel.

BN:  Feel what?
DS:  Feel, emotionally feel.

BN:  Do you think people are cut off from that?
DS:  I’m not going to make that judgment, but it’s being offered.  If you feel you could use a little more feeling, try the perfume, see if it works out.  I also have good eye blinders, which are blinders in the shape of hearts, for whatever your weakness may be.  So you can wear these ... because love conquers all.

BN:  One of the things I really liked was that your mom was at the shows and she had a scrapbook of Danielson Family photos and clippings.
DS:  Oh, yeah.

BN:  Now, I don’t want her to get fired from her job of selling CD’s and stuff, but she was so into showing everyone the book that all this merchandise was just sitting there.  Some friends of mine even totally forgot to buy CDs because they were really into looking at the scrapbook.
DS:  Oh, no!

BN:  So maybe she needs an assistant or something.  But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone’s mom showing the scrapbook of her kids’ band at their concert.
DS:  She’s our biggest fan, no doubt.  She’s number one, and dad’s the number two fan.  They come to all our shows.  And it just so happens to fit into the theme, but it wasn’t planned. 

BN:  What music are you listening to now that you like? 
DS:  I’ve been really enjoying a lot of the older folk music — Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie — really trying to understand what was going on there.  It’s just so special.  Such a sweetness to that music that I love.  But the truth is, I’m really trying to open up into those areas that I know nothing about.  So that’s exciting.

BN:  You know, sometimes when I have a few minutes before going out, I’ll want to hear a particular song of yours before I leave the house.
DS:  That’s crazy to me.  I mean, it’s great.

BN:  Crazy?
DS:  Not crazy, I just say it’s strange ...

BN:  It puts me in a certain feeling before I have to go out the door.  Someone else might have a beer before they head out.
DS:  So this is your beer?

BN:  Well, I don’t drink, but I do think you get a high off any music that makes you feel good.
DS:  Absolutely.

BN:  And it’s perfectly legal.  It’s a legal, over-the-counter, over-the-CD player high.
DS:  That’s what I always hoped for.  When you asked what the point of all this was, well, that’s the point.  We’re constantly just shaking our head saying, “It’s amazing.”  That really is what it’s about — we’re sharing something, and then from there, it’s out of our hands.  It’s up to the person, it’s up to the receiver. 

 
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Danielson Family by Tina Barney, 1997
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