Dan Lotti: Hello.
Zibby: I'm here with Dan Lotti, singer-songwriter from Dangermuffin, who’s going to answer a few questions about his amazing talents.
Dan: I'd love to.
Zibby: How and when did you start songwriting?
Dan: I was very young when I started. When I was three years old, we had this old piano in part of our house. I picked out “We Three Kings” way back in the day, out of the blue. My parents were like, “Oh, my god. How is this three-year-old picking out this thing?” When I was in elementary school, I did the musicals. I was really into that. I started writing songs when I was in freshman year of high school, had a grunge rock band. I loved it. I always enjoyed writing and creating. It was definitely my outlet, kept me grounded.
Zibby: When you're writing the lyrics, do you have a sense of the melody of the music that you're going to want to go with it?
Dan: I do. For me and my process, it starts with the melody. Oftentimes it’ll be in my quietest moments, I hear it in my head. I'm about to fall asleep and I literally hear something. No matter how tired I am, I have to jump up and pick up my phone or whatever and record it. Otherwise, sometimes I don't do that and they're gone forever. For me and my process, it starts with the melody and what I hear. Then usually the lyrics are the final stamp of the song.
Zibby: When you're writing the lyrics, how do you do that? Are you sitting at a desk with a pencil scribbling? Are you at your computer? Do you do it on the road while you're touring?
Dan: Usually at home I’ll put the lyrics together. I use the computer. I think that's fine. A lot of it for me starts with free-form writing, object writing. If I have a title for a song, I’ll start to write stuff about whatever any given topic is and free form and see what starts to come up. Some things start to, and just whittle it down from there. That's my process with it.
Zibby: Unlike other songwriters, most of your songs are not about love and relationships only, but about spirituality, moments in the everyday. Is this intentional? Did you decide on this as a major theme? How did that come about?
Dan: It’s really inspirational for me. If you listen the early albums of Dangermuffin, it’s a little more alt-country, almost like Americana where we’re talkin’ a little more about drinkin’ and stuff like that and doin’ our own thing. There was still an element of making your own path in life. That’s always what it’s been for me. I never felt right about going in a scripted way with life. Music was always my out and the path for me in that regard. As the years progressed and the more I studied, I get really inspired by these topics.
To be able to take it and be inspired enough to put it into a song, and then to step out on the stage and play it every night, and meet awesome people every night that reach out and say how much it means to them -- we may not be the biggest band in the world, but I feel like we’re making a difference because of that. Every little bit no matter how big or small, it helps. Obviously, the world needs that right now. I need it. It’s for me. It’s a healing experience for me every time that I sing and perform these songs. I’ll keep rambling about it. We’ll be in the van cooped up in traffic. Everybody's a little snippy. Once we start playin’ music, it’s this healing process. I think it starts with me. It saved my life. Music definitely saved my life.
Zibby: How so?
Dan: When I younger, I didn’t like school. I didn’t care for it. I rebelled a lot. I got in some trouble when I was young. Then I had some older friends of the family, they started pushing me in this direction of music. That's where my attention went, started playing guitar. I had these friends in the neighborhood. I would get my amp and guitar on a little dolly. I’d wheel it down to the other end of the neighborhood. We’d jam in the garage. It was the greatest thing. It really brought my attention to that and something constructive and, again, healing. I've been workin’ with it for a while in my life.
There were definitely points, like when I first moved to South Carolina, where I wasn’t playing music. It literally felt like something was missing in my life. I wasn’t clicking. I was off. Then I was like, “I need to be playing music more again.” Once I did, it was floodgates, friends galore, everybody that I'm connecting with. Literally, it was like that. I'm constantly reminded of how much of a role it’s supposed to play in my life, for better or for worse.
Zibby: Luckily, it benefits everybody else.
Dan: I do. It’s a spiritual path, spiritual work for me. It’s given me a lot of time to study things in my own way and read books. I'm very inspired by yogic study. Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, was big for me. It was about 2009 I really started to get into a daily meditation practice with the yoga, the stretching. Slowly and surely, I stopped drinking. It’s been five years since I even had one drink. I don’t think about it. I'm more thinking about really feeling everything. The more that I can get into that and get into that process, it seems like the more I hear the songs in my head, the more that it manifests in my life. It’s this very slow growth, very beautiful process.
Zibby: If you don’t mind, I'm going to read a few of your lyrics from “Ode to my Heritage.” Then maybe you could talk about how you came up with this song or what brought it on. I'm going to butcher this compared to your beautiful singing of it. I’ll give it a shot.
“Pulls me forward, feels so strong. Ode to my heritage, wherever I'm from.
Makes me wonder where they’ve gone. Ode to my heritage, wherever I'm from.
Rising, falling, on the tip of my tongue. Ode to my heritage, wherever I'm from.
Now I'm grievous under their thumb. Ode to my heritage, wherever I'm from.”
It goes on from there. Tell me more about this particular song.
Dan: “Ode to my Heritage” is the pinnacle of the album. That’s the title track of the record. A lot of it is about reconnecting with the past in such a way that it’s empowering for people. There's been a disconnect with some of the more natural energies. If you listen to any Dangermuffin album, it’s always about the ocean, and the sun, and the wind, and all these elemental things that everybody can relate with. That's our heritage a little bit, getting back to that, the sense of connection and purpose and communication with it. A lot of that album was inspired by my wife’s work, her practice of being an herbal medicinal practitioner and watching her grow and learning about all these older principles that are really hanging on by a thread. To see her embracing it, and learning it, and training, and apprenticing, and bringing it back, it’s such a rich tradition that's there.
That is indicative of all these older traditions and religions, not really religions, but a lot of indigenous people, indigenous practice. We’ve been into Peru a couple times. We’re actually going in a week and half, which we’re super excited about, as you can imagine. We feel very drawn to this place. We feel like there's so much to be said for connecting with your roots and your past and your heritage. It’s not just that. It’s also for every single race of people, connecting with their land. Every single thing is a piece of the puzzle. We can all put it together and take a big step forward as humanity. That was my hope for the album, was to wake up to the possibility that there is more than likely a lot that's happened that we’re not readily educated about, that's potentially suppressed, maybe not directly, maybe directly. It’s more about realizing that and empowerment.
Zibby: You mentioned your wife and Dancing Sage Apothecary. We have lots of tea in our house all the time.
Dan: We drink it every day. It’s the best.
Zibby: How does it work with you travelling all the time, having to leave your wife and going on tour? You guys travel more than anybody. Your tour schedule is crazy. It’s so impressive.
Dan: We do about 150 shows a year, which is a lot. It doesn't get easier leaving my home. It’s the opposite. It gets harder. That's not easy to do. She’s always been very supportive of me from day one with what we’re doing. We have a very deep, intellectual connection, bond, where she totally understands what the work is to me and what I'm here to do from a spiritual perspective. That keeps us going and keeps the focus where it needs to be. It’s not easy though. It’s a balance with everything. We had a pretty chill winter, which was nice. I was able to be home a lot with her and my two dogs. We have a Catahoula Hound and a Redtick Coonhound that, they're sweet, we love. It’s family. Might be harder to leave them sometimes because they don't understand. They hear zippers, then they're like, “Where you goin?” They know I'm always comin’ back.
Zibby: Do you have any advice to any aspiring songwriters out there, or any type of writers in general?
Dan: Absolutely. The idea of following your heart, if you're doin’ what you love and your heart’s in the right place with it, you just keep doin’ it. Everything that comes along, all the challenges are there for you to experience and for them to be the catalyst for you to sharpen your axe as you go along the way. Do it for yourself. Never do it for anybody else. It’s always about your healing and your process. Once you put the impetus on that and go into the darkness and keep pushing one foot in front of the other, then you will inevitably make progress. That would be my advice. Do what you love. It’s like that. The rest will follow. It creates abundance in your life when you do that. If you're not in it for right reasons, it’ll reveal it to you, the artistic path. It’s a purification almost.
Zibby: Have you ever thought about writing anything other than music?
Dan: I have. I've thought about that. I definitely would have a lot to say if I wrote a book. For right now, I have x amount of energy to put toward the creative process. I'm more about staying as streamlined as I can to make sure I'm hearing the songs as they come in and developing them in a responsible way. Sometimes I feel like if I did that, it would scatter my energy a little bit. I want to stay focused with my work right now with what I'm doing. In the future as I log a few more miles, I would love to do that. I definitely think I could write a few books. [laughs]
Zibby: What is your hope for the future? I know you've been so successful. You have six albums, touring everywhere. You're on Sirius XM radio. What's your fantasy for where Dangermuffin is headed in the next couple years or ten years?
Dan: I want to stay open to it. I don't want to put an expectation on it. That's actually the thing that crushes your artistry, if you put an expectation on where you think you should be and you don’t meet it. Then you're going to go through all the rigmarole of your thoughts. I try to stay away from expectation and just stay open to whatever it is. I really feel like the path that we’re on, the people that we’re reaching, and the family that we’re growing, it’s all that I want. I don’t think you can go in with, “It need to be this or else.” It’s going to be what it’s going to be. It’s important to be able to feel that pace with it, and connect with it, and realize that there's so much for you to learn in any given moment. I feel like where we are right now is it’s a beautiful, slow, unfolding of the music and the way it’s reaching people. It’s never one type of person that gets it. It’s all different walks of life that come into the same room for any given night.
We’re not this huge god-like rock band. That's okay. It’s not about that. That's what I'm saying. A lot of people, they will put the bar so high. It’s more about being in the moment with it, and connecting, and seeing the beauty in the gig where there's five people there. You don't know what that person has been through. You connect with them. We did this gig in Ohio last year, for example. This guy’s like, “I drove here from Canada to see you guys play. I listened to your album Olly Oxen Free all the time after my father passed away. It helped me so much. You don’t know what you've done for me.” That's the highest honor that you can ever ask for as a musician, as a songwriter, as an artist, to have what you create help someone that you would never meet. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful the way that music works like that. It’s beautiful how art works like that. It’s better than words. It’s better than speech. It’s the universal language, all that art.
Everybody is an artist. It’s all about your inner child coming out to play and how to nurture that. I got into this book. One of the things they say is that each morning you wake up and you write three pages. Just write three pages. It could be however you want to do it, real pages, computer, whatever, of your free-form thoughts. Even if it’s “I don't have anything to write about,” then you just write that down. Give it a couple minutes. It turns out to be like you start pouring it out onto the page. You start workin’ all this stuff out with yourself. It’s incredible. When I started doin’ that many years ago, it really spawned the writing process quite a bit.
One of the things they say to do is go on artist dates with just yourself, not anybody else, not your dog. Go somewhere that you have no reason to go to, no one to meet, nothing to do, no errand to run. Just go somewhere. You sit. You observe. How much that can be stimulated for your artistry is great. I did that when I wrote the lyrics for “Moonscapes.” I had a friend of ours drop me off on this island that was in the middle of the marsh. It was just me. I sat out there with my guitar. That's where a lot of the stuff for that song was written. It stimulates it. Then it builds on itself. It’s really interesting. That's a great book.
Zibby: When you’ve produced all this and you hear it, when you hear people sing back to you the lyrics that you've brainstormed on one of these jaunts, what does that feel like to you to hear it?
Dan: It feels like family. That's what it feels like to me for sure. It feels like a common vibration that people of all different walks of life are pickin’ up on. It’s incredibly flattering. It’s such a blessing. We were created. That’s not where creation ends. We’re supposed to continue to create and be an extension of creation. To be able to do that and to have it be something that is resonating with people is beautiful. It’s reinforcing, obviously, when that happens. Hasn’t always been like that. We’ve played to many, many rooms of very few people, sometimes to nobody. You keep doin’ what you love. It’s all worth it.
Zibby: Thank you for your time. That was awesome.
Dan: Thank you, Zibby. That was a good interview.
Zibby: Thanks. You were great too.
Zibby: Here is Dangermuffin’s song “Ode to my Heritage” from the Heritage album.
[“Ode to my Heritage” - Dangermuffin]