[INTERVIEW] It’s for His Friends His Stories are Sung: An Interview with Dan Hubbard
February 9, 2016
by Kyle Kapper, special to IWTAS
“You’re related to Dan, right? Dan Kapper? He was at my show last night. He’s been really good to me.”
That’s the voice of Dan Hubbard, veteran songwriter out of Central Illinois, asking me out of the blue about my cousin. It’s common for Hubbard to be on a first-name basis with his fans, he told me recently in a chat leading up to his album release show at Off Broadway on Friday, February 12.
Hubbard created his eponymous new album under the production helm of Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo) as well as under the counsel of Tom Petty’s production engineer, Ryan Ulyate. As he prepared to celebrate the release in St. Louis, Hubbard talked about what he’s learned from ten years in the business and what new sounds his fans can look forward to hearing from him.
Dan Hubbard: The new album is finally a chance to unveil some new music, a lot of fun songs to play live. That’s it more than anything. I’ve had great support in St. Louis, which has been awesome, so I’m just excited to give them some new music. They deserve it.
This album seems like a new direction for you.
Hubbard: The last album I made [Livin’ in the Heartland] was just a really personal…just kind of something I did for myself. I didn’t even know if I was going to release it, but I did. I decided that this time when I set up to make a record, I wanted to make something that a lot of people were going to enjoy, not just me. With every record I’ve done, it seems I’ve talked about myself and my feelings, and I wanted to get away from that and tell some stories from other people’s perspectives.
How did you decide whose stories you wanted to tell?
Hubbard: That’s a good question. It’s funny because Tom Petty’s producer for eight years now, a guy named Ryan Ulyate, was nice enough to meet with me. He talked to me all about Tom Petty, and he was like I think you need to focus more on writing stories the way Tom does, you know? Once I had that in my head, I’m looking around – for stories, obviously – and the first thing I found was my wife, who’s had a much harder, more interesting life than I have. That’s the track “She Gives It Everything.”
Then I started looking for stories that touched me. Like the last track is called “The Turning Point, “ and that was inspired by a kid in our town who was 22 and who was killed in a drunk driving accident. It really hit our community hard. He was a really good kid by all accounts and had a really bright future, and I knew the family. So it inspired all of these things to come out of me.
What was your experience like having Ken Coomer produce the record?
Hubbard: [Ken and I] connected through Tom Petty. He asked what I was into, and I told him my favorite record of all time is Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, and as soon as he heard that, he was like Man, we’ve gotta make this record. As far as him in the studio, he’s unbelievable. He’s so positive, which is something I needed for my first time working with a producer. I didn’t want somebody who was going to be a dickhead and wouldn’t be patient with me. He was great. He sees things I don’t see.
Sounds like Petty has been a longstanding influence for you.
Hubbard: When I was in 6th grade, I heard Wildflowers, and I listened to the whole record. In 6th grade. Petty has always struck me as someone who never wrote a bad song. All of his entire albums were good to me. I don’t listen to him nearly as much now, but if I’m really wanting to make a record like the one I just made, where I want there to be some catchy songs that a lot of people can relate to, then I go back into Petty mode because that’s where it’s at. Now I’m not saying we made a record that sounds anything like Wildflowers, but that’s what brought Ken and me together.
You’ve done your share of cross-country touring, but you also play a fair amount of local shows, which is always a point of contention between musicians: getting your name and music out there while still making yourself scarce.
Hubbard: The advice I was given when I first started playing professionally – which was almost ten years ago – was that I need to play wherever I can, whenever I can. And I remember being kind of disappointed in that answer at the time, but looking back, he was so right because you learn something new every time out. You learn that yeah, you can’t play every single night in the same bar because no one will come.
I feel like I have a good balance going. I have to make a living. It’s a full-time gig so I’ve gotta play enough to do that. I play a ton around Illinois, and I play so much that sometimes I don’t even have to tell anybody. I just show up and play and I get paid, but nobody really knows about it. But it would be great if I could to get to the point where I only had to play somewhere every six months, or even once a year and draw a great crowd, that would be nice. But it’s a combination. I’m getting more to the scarcity part of my career…hopefully. (laughs) But I feel like I still have so much to learn, so I still have tons of playing to do.
Do you have a favorite place to perform? And don’t feel obligated to say St. Louis.
Hubbard: I’ve gotta be honest that my favorite place to play is in my hometown (Bloomington) because these people have been watching me my whole career. They still come out to see me. They allow me truly to make a living here, and they’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve learned from Bloomington that playing shows is all about meeting people and making friends, and that truly is the best part of what I do. And then when I go to St. Louis, it’s like a second home. It’s like, “All my friends are here. Let’s play some music.”
Dan Hubbard CD Release
Friday, February 12, 2016
$10, 7 pm doors