For this month's feature, we want to introduce you to Daniel Gum. Daniel is a multi-talented singer/songwriter and producer from Kansas City, KS. Daniel released an album titled "Thirteen" in October of 2020. We recently caught up with Daniel about his journey in music and the making of his record "Thirteen".
Tell us a little about yourself (where are you from, where are you based currently, what do you do outside of music)
I am a songwriter based in Kansas City, where I have spent the majority of my life. Outside of my music projects, I work a couple of part-time jobs, and before all social life came to a halt a year ago, I greatly enjoyed going out to the bar, seeing shows, skateboarding, and occasionally hitting the casino to play some black jack at the first $5 table that opened up.
How did you get started making music?
I first picked up the guitar seriously in 4th grade. My father was a musician as a hobby, and we always had a guitar and a piano around the house—and eventually drums for my older brothers. I think trying to learn guitar and piano in the early days was mostly motivated by my jealousy of my older brother, Bryan (who seemed very cool as a confident 8th grader rocking a cherry red Squier plastered with stickers). Plus, my dad made a deal with me that if I learned 6 chords on his guitar, he would buy me my own guitar for my birthday. I took him up on that! For the next several years, I struggled through every chord and song I learned, often swearing it off just to pick it back up a few months later. Once I was in 6th grade, I started writing songs. After a crushing breakup a few years later, songwriting became a necessity to be able to cope with my life.
What does your creative process consist of? Are you more of an individual writer or do you prefer collaboration?
Unfortunately my process is a shape-shifting mess at the moment. When I saved up and took a year off work a couple years ago, I attempted to treat writing as a full-time job. Sat myself down at about noon every day to work out songs—sometimes working for a few hours, and on good days working until I went back to bed. But for right now I write between everything (work, errands, etc.) when I can get a second to process anything. I love collaborating with people, but when it comes to my songs, for whatever reason, I have to work them out completely by myself. I often write autobiographically (and when I don’t, I am usually still revealing a great deal of myself) so everything feels very fragile. Outside input is usually too much to bear—already being too self-critical. Once the songs feel complete like with my last album, I am ready to take them to my long-time friend and producer, Mike Crawford, to touch them up and bring other musicians on board to make the songs the best they can be.
When it comes to playing bass in a band, producing other people’s records, or writing vocals for friends’ projects; I am a fiend for collaboration. I love going back and forth with people on ideas and figuring out how to best complement what everyone else is bringing to the table.
You released a record this year called “Thirteen”. What was the inspiration behind it? What did the process of seeing it come together look like?
The main inspiration and thread for this album was me exploring the ways I had tried to grow up too quickly—especially throughout my teenage years—I always wanted to be mature, disciplined, and stable. Part of that was due to my christian upbringing (being a pastor’s kid). Another part of it was due to the horrible anxiety disorders that plagued my early life. I felt a strong need to differentiate to myself what it was to be seen as an “old soul”.
I got out of high school and found myself surrounded by all these people—all the sudden, trying to grow up, become mature, get married, have kids, and it all felt like a joke! Like it was cosplay or something. Internally it felt like my teenage years began again—I started distancing myself from the religion I grew up in, my relationship with my girlfriend at the time began to disintegrate, I began to lose friends and siblings as they began to settle down and get married—I wanted to fuck my life up. And I realized I had missed the opportunity to make mistakes when it wouldn’t have really hurt me.
At the same time, I had discovered Elliott Smith for myself. I can vividly remember listening to "Either/Or" for the first time. The discovery marked a concerted change in direction for my songwriting. I had been obsessed with Sufjan Stevens and Saintseneca (one of my favorite bands) for years, but Elliott seemed to make songwriting even more integral. Like if I didn’t keep writing, I wasn’t going to do anything at all.
My friend Mike Crawford graciously offered to record a few of my songs after I told him how hard of a time I was having to self-produce a short EP. He recorded the 3 songs that became my EP “Moon” in the Fall of 2018. After we wrapped that project up, we decided that we really liked working with each other and that we should start on my full album in January.
I often beat myself up during our recording sessions because although I was working on my best work to date, nothing felt good enough. It wasn’t until about 3 or 4 months in that Mike reminded me “Who gets to do this? You need to enjoy this.” So I started enjoying it. Especially when I got to mixing the album, I was filled with gratitude—listening to everything we had worked so hard on, listening to the parts I had my friends play on the album. I was so proud of it. I put in hours upon hours into it, re-recorded my main vocals 2 to 3 times on several of the songs. Ended up cutting 1 song that didn’t really fit (aptly named “Love”). In addition to the album being an ode to my delayed adolescence, the title “Thirteen” was a reference in love to the Big Star song (and the beloved Elliott Smith cover). And for overkill, the fact that an album named “Thirteen” had 12 tracks felt perfect considering the themes of loss, incompletion, and regret that blanket the record.
The first song that caught my attention was “Blue Light”. What's the story behind that song?
I wrote that song in the Summer of 2018. I am not totally sure how it came about—I remember playing that main guitar part over and over. I was curious about writing songs in the style of some memoir essays I was reading at that time, so I began with the memory of my first real breakup.
The imagery of walking around my neighborhood in a daze and the cruelty of the "blue light" before nightfall. Then zooming out for the chorus, reflecting on a pattern of abandonment I felt growing up and still try to reconcile today. The second verse is the story of my dad, shortly after my breakup, taking me out for lunch and leveling with me in a way I never experienced before. He told me about first heartbreak and how he got through it. And for the final chorus of that song—going from isolation and pain to this vulnerable moment with my dad. I felt like the song needed to conclude on a more up sentiment: “Everyone who stayed held me through daybreak.”
I think my favorite aspect of this song was the concept that the first verse begins in this blue light descending into night, then being met in the middle of my darkness, and ending with the sun coming up. It was just enough concept to make me feel less self-conscious about an otherwise intimate story.
Are you currently working on any new music? Any plans of a next release?
Yes! I have a handful of songs that are guiding my next solo project. I am hoping to take some of the same themes from “Thirteen” but expand the scope as much as I can. The last album was almost purely introspective, writing about my personal life or about imagined characters/situations that echoed the sound of my life. But as I’m growing up, I want to write about higher stakes situations. I’m planning to start recording in the middle of the Summer with my same producer.
All time favorite artist/records/songs?
My favorite album of all time is "Either/Or" by Elliott Smith—it’s a perfect record. I’ve listened to it an ungodly amount of times. Big Star’s "#1 Record", Neil Young’s "Harvest", and Saintseneca’s "Dark Arc "were all major influences for my record and are beloved albums to me.
Lately I’ve been obsessed with "Lonely People" by America, the entire "Magical Mystery Tour" album, and lastly Tom Waits’ "Ol’ 55". I’ve never heard someone pull off a line like “Well, my time went so quickly / I went lickety-splitly” before. It’s blowing my mind!
For any inquiries regarding licensing Daniel's music, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.