Interview with Jeff Daniels

jeff daniels
Jeff Daniels

August 24, 2010

Interview by Scott Preston

Many of you know Jeff Daniels as an award winning actor, but he is also a damn fine singer/songwriter and guitar player. Jeff will be bringing his own unique style to the Southgate House in Newport, KY on Thursday August 26. 7pm doors, 8pm showtime.

Cincy Groove: Has music always been a part of your life or is it a recent development?

Jeff Daniels: Its always been a part. I moved to New York in 1976 and bought a guitar and took it with me. I figured I would be waiting for the phone to ring and in order to keep my sanity I thought I would learn to play. I would learn to play and write songs and put them in this notebook with no intention of anyone ever hearing them. It was a musical diary for me. I was more interested in writing the next song instead of playing a cover note for note. It was just something I enjoyed doing and later when I moved back to Michigan in the mid 1980’s I started a theater company. The whole time I’m doing these things I’m still learning and playing the guitar.

Cincy Groove: When did you perform on stage by yourself the first time?

Jeff Daniels: In about 2000 in an effort to raise money for the theater company they said why don’t we roll you out on stage with your guitar and we will sell tickets. It was absolutely terrifying, because it was the first time I had ever done something like that. As an actor there is a character or a filter you can hide behind. But when you are up there singing your own stuff without a band, it can be nerve racking. I wasn’t ready for the personal reveal of it all. The next year was a little better, and we ended up doing the shows on Christmas and New Years weeks. I would do 8-10 shows during those 2 weeks and we would raise a lot of money for the theater company. Eventually I ended up picking up an agent here in Michigan, Jim Fleming, who also handles Ani DiFranco. He told me that I could really do well going out and playing guitar. I told him I didn’t want to be William Shatner but he told me I write and play from a point of view that is universally understood. I really started going out and playing music more seriously in 2003-2004. I have played about 200 gigs so far, I looked it up the other day. Most of the shows were one offs, where I would have to book them 4-6 months ahead of time around my acting schedule. Now I have more time that I can carve out to perform music and I can tell the movie and TV people to not bother me.

Cincy Groove: I was looking at your tour schedule and you are pretty much solidly book through the end of the year.

Jeff Daniels: I have talked to a few musicians who told me they couldn’t believe how much I was playing. I really don’t think I’m playing too much at all. I mean I have been on Broadway for the last year and a half performing 8 shows a week. Including 2 on Wed and 2 on Saturday. You get Monday off thats it.

Cincy Groove: Now that first time you played out by yourself, what kind of response did you get?

Jeff Daniels: They were very supportive, but they could smell the fear. I remember I was sweating like a large man from the mid-west and about half way through the show I had a perspiration mark from my under arms to the top of my hip. I remember looking at it and saying to the audience, “George Clooney never sweats like this”. But you learn the more you play, I have been really working hard the last 10 years in particular. I have been taking lessons from Keb Mo, which has been helping greatly. You eventually want the players who have been out there a while to say ok he knows what he is doing. If you are going to go out there by yourself you really need to know how to play and not 3 chord it all night.

Cincy Groove: Who are some of your influences?

Jeff Daniels: Well, once I discovered the Delta Blues and how much fun it was to learn that, it really opened up the guitar for me. Artists who have influenced me include Lyle Lovett, Stevie Goodman, John Prine, Arlo Guthrie. Christine Lavin showed me it was ok to write funny songs. People like Lyle Lovett can only write the way he does. I think its every musicians goal to find that style that is only unique to you. With so many songs being written everyday, it can be a challenge to write something unique.

Cincy Groove: How has acting shaped your writing style or point of view?

Jeff Daniels: I have a point of view that is a little odd, that being one thing I have learned from acting, in particular comedy. I have worked with Woody Allen, Jim Carey, Robin Williams. If you gave each one of them a tomato and said do 2 minutes on it, each one would do a hysterical 2 minutes. But each actor would do it in such a way that is unique to them.

Cincy Groove: Have you had a chance to play on stage with anyone else?

Jeff Daniels: I played Portland, OR once and Keb Mo was also there. Keb called me and said he might come out and see me play. I jokingly said “Bring your guitar”, and wouldn’t you know it, he did. He ended up coming out and doing a couple songs with me. About the time I put out my 3rd cd Lyle Lovett was coming through Michigan. He had a songwriters tour going with John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Guy Clark. The four of them just sat there on stage and passed songs around. I had met Lyle on the couch of the Johnny Carson show back in the mid 80’s. I called Lyle and told him I was going to come up and watch the show. I played the same theater about 6 months before that. I was back stage chatting with Lyle in the hallway where they have photos up of everyone that has played there. Lyle saw my photo and said “You play?” and then asked if I wanted to sit in. Of course you have to say yes to something like that. Sure enough half way through the show Guy Clark hands me his guitar. It was quite nerve-racking, but when in doubt do comedy. So I did this song I wrote “Have a Good Life and Die”, which is about road rage. The audience loved it and I got the hell off the stage. For the encore Lyle came up to me and wanted me to come back out and do the song “William Shatner I can , Can’t to”. I have a photo of John Hiatt laughing so hard he is biting his hand. That was a real turning point for me musically. If you can go out there with those 3 artists watching along with 2,000 people, you can pretty much play under any situation. The fear of playing on stage literally disappeared after that.


Jeff Daniels tour dates
Aug 25 2010 Radio Radio Indianapolis, IN
Aug 26 2010 The Southgate House w/ Common Loon Newport, Kentucky
Aug 27 2010 3rd & Lindsley Nashville, TN
Aug 30 2010 Park Theatre Civic Centre North Vernon, IN
Sep 14 2010 S.P.A.C.E. Evanston, IL Find Tickets
Sep 15 2010 Turner Hall Ballroom Milwaukee, WI
Sep 16 2010 Grand Opera House Oshkosh, WI
Sep 17 2010 Grand Opera House Oshkosh, WI
Sep 18 2010 Frauenthal Theatre Muskegon, MI
Sep 19 2010 Lake Michigan College Mendel Center Benton Harbor, MI
Sep 21 2010 Ramsdell Theatre Manistee, Michigan
Sep 22 2010 Harbor Springs Performing Arts Center Harbor Springs, MI
Sep 23 2010 Arts Center Auditorium Sault Sainte Marie, MI
Sep 24 2010 Grand Hotel – Theatre Mackinac Island, MI
Oct 8 2010 The Whiting Auditorium Flint, MI
Oct 9 2010 Macomb Center Clinton Township, MI
Oct 13 2010 The Kent Stage Kent, OH
Oct 14 2010 The Barns at Wolf Trap Vienna, Virginia
Oct 15 2010 The Barn at Wolf Trap Vienna, VA
Oct 16 2010 Ram’s Head On Stage Annapolis, MD
Oct 17 2010 Sellersville Theater 1894 Sellersville, Pennsylvan Find Tickets
Oct 18 2010 City Winery New York, New York
Oct 20 2010 INFINITY HALL Norfolk, Connecticut
Oct 21 2010 Club Passim Cambridge, MA
Oct 22 2010 The Landing Scarborough, ME
Oct 23 2010 The Grand Auditorium Ellsworth, ME
Oct 25 2010 Fairfield Theatre-Stage One Fairfield, CT
Oct 27 2010 The Carolina Theatre Durham, NC
Oct 28 2010 McGlohan Theater at Spirit Square Center Charlotte, North Caro
Oct 29 2010 Charleston Music Hall Charleston, SC
Oct 30 2010 Smith’s Olde Bar Atlanta, GA
Nov 1 2010 The Old Rock House St. Louis, MO
Nov 2 2010 Crosstown Station Kansas City, MO
Nov 3 2010 Holland Performing Arts Center – 1200 Club – Enter the Haggis in Omaha, NE Omaha, Nebraska
Nov 5 2010 The Belly Up – Aspen Aspen, CO
Nov 6 2010 Daniels Hall @ Swallow Hill Music Denver, CO
Nov 9 2010 Fargo Theater Fargo, North Dako
Nov 10 2010 Cedar Cultural Center Minneapolis, MN
Nov 11 2010 Sacred Heart Music Center Duluth, Minnesota
Nov 12 2010 Heyde Center for the Arts Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Nov 13 2010 Majestic Theatre Madison, WI
Nov 19 2010 Latitude 62 Lodge Talkeetna, AK
Nov 20 2010 AK Center for the Performing Arts Anchorage, AK
Dec 3 2010 Gillioz Theatre Springfield, MO
Dec 4 2010 Leach Theater Rolla, MO
Jan 28 2011 Pollak Auditorium West Long Branch, NJ
Jan 29 2011 Weinberg Center for the Arts Frederick, MD
Jun 4 2011 Kirtland Center for the Performing Arts Roscommon, MI