The Postman of Heartache: Arthur vs. Daniel Romano

photo: Derek Branscombe

Dan Romano has been a fixture on the Canadian touring circuit for almost a decade now.  Most well known for his indie efforts with Attack in Black and as  the touring guitarist for City in Colour, Romano has recently traded in his converse for a pair of boots and a couple of real sad songs. Now on his second throwback country record, Arthur was able to catch him for a few minutes between band practices.

Why is country music, as an aesthetic, resurfacing right now? By that I mean the whole package; name embossed fret boards, cowboy hats and rose shouldered button-up shirts, is it nostalgia? Is it retro chic?

DR: As far as I am concerned it is not retro-chic. I would say it’s an homage slash carrying on a tradition. I am sure some people feel retro-chic about it.

Along the same lines, your latest album was recorded on two-inch tape, is that correct?

DR: Yes

Theres a push toward analog in an industry increasingly dominated by digital culture. Now the stock answer is that it just sounds better. Does it just sound better or is there something else going on?

DR: To be honest it is more of a pain in the ass for me because I did alot of it without anyone else around, not even an engineer. So I had to hit play on the tape machine then run into the next room and play guitar and if I screwed it up I had to do it over and over again. I enjoy the process better, personally, I understand it more. It makes sense to me. I still mix digitally because it is easier. I don’t have enough or good enough outboard gear to do a full mix without running a bunch of things into one thing. So I find it much easier to mix in the box

The reason I ask you that is because on Nick Ferrio’s webpage, the album that you just helped produce he says that the album was recorded “the way that it used to be”. Is the process of recording anolog, do you feel that the sound quality reflects an older time period?

DR: It’s hard to say, I find it very difficult to get those sounds without questioning  whether people will take well to it. I’ve gotten some sounds like that, I try to mix a modern twist onto authentic sounds. I did recently read this article, I don’t know if it’s true or not, about how the record industry, or labels I guess, in the 80’s purposely started making vinyl sound bad in order to push the CD in. Which obviously didn’t work.

Would you be surprised if that was true

DR: I don’t know what the hell those guys get up to. I wouldn’t be surprised. Its a weird move. When you got a new thing that you are passionate about and think it is the next big thing people will do what they have to I guess.

Your current backing band is “The Trilliums”. Do you identify as an Ontario artist, is there such a thing?

DR: I suppose I do. I am from here and enjoy living here. I don’t know if it is a thing that alot of people share qualities in or whatever, but I just thought it was an appropriate name.

Why is it appropriate?

DR: Uhh it’s a nice flower. (laughs) They are all cute and young and stuff.

As a writer of country music, the lyrical side of your music contains its fair share of loves lost and lonesomeness. I believe in one song you refer to the fact that your lady is not around and you don’t have any friends or even a phone to call someone with. Do you foresee a time where music, or country music, will stop being relevant as a romantic, cathartic tool?

DR: No, that’s why it is still relevant. I mean, obviously new pop country has totally dropped the ball on that whole side of the formula. But, that is the most important part of country, it is the cheating and drinking songs. Like the sad, impossible love song and things like this. That doesn’t exist in new country and that’s why it sucks so much.

What do you think it is about country music in particular?

DR: The starkness. The straight forward telling it like it is sort of quality of the songwriting that has been lost. That is the most appealing part other than the fact that you had to be a good singer to make it in country. You still do, that is the one thing they have stayed true to in the new horrible bastardization that is country music now. The problem is that you didn’t use to have to be attractive and now you do. That is the only real difference other than the fact that the songwriting has gone down the shitter.

If the country music play is a step backwards, like an homage as you said …

DR: It’s the righting of a wrong more than anything.

If that’s true and that’s not a bad thing, Where do you see yourself taking country music in the future?

DR: I don’t want to say back to the roots but I would say a proper modernization of the tradition in it’s proper way.

What does that mean?

DR: Not just making it pop music with a steel guitar. Not writing stupid, bad songs like stupid top 40 radio songs that don’t make any sense but like putting a fiddle or peddle steel on them to make them twangy. Staying true to the form. You know it is a form for a reason. Its just like bluegrass you can’t put peddle steel on bluegrass or it’s not bluegrass. There are rules and that is appealing to me. Thats why I might convert to judaism. I like the rules. I am very close to a jewish man these days and it is appealing to me. Country music and judaism go hand-in-hand in alot of ways you would never suspect.

George Jones is the “possum”, Walen Jennings is “way more”, ched atkins is “mr.Guitar”, Johnny Cash is the “Man in Black” what would your preferred country pseudonym be?

DR: I am the “postman of heartbreak”.

How did you receive that name?

DR: My artist friend John Clayour gave me that moniker.

Do you know the story behind it?

DR: I guess it is just delivering heartache songs (laughs)

Although right now we are talking about country music specifically. You are probably most known for your work with “Attack in Black” and “City and Colour”. Those bands would probably be pegged with the umbrella term of “Indie Rock” which is a culture that reflects an entirely different aesthetic from your current country project excepting some sadness crossovers. If both of these styles reflect an aspect of you why have you chosen to keep them separate?

DR: Attack in Black is an alumni at the moment. We incorporated elements from it but it was also a band of four people with four ideas so you can only get so much of your say in there and you have to negotiate and come up with something that everyone is happy with. City and Colour is a day job for me, I play guitar for money in that band. I enjoy it alot but it doesn’t get me going like the stuff I am passionate about.

And country music is what you are passionate about?

DR: It is.

Daniel Romano will be playing at the Spill Coffee bar (414 George St N) on Tuesday September 18th. Tickets $10 on sale at the venue.

listen to “I won’t let it…” off 2011’s “Sleep Beneath the Willow”