Dan Tedesco Rules the Road | Q&A

In March 2008, Dan Tedesco met a good friend, perhaps the best friend he's had on tour.

Over the course of the 150,000 miles or so he has logged as a touring musician, Tedesco says his friend hasn't had any major issues. Sure, there was this one time when the alternator died out in western Wyoming. Thanks to a 24-hour mechanic, Tedesco's friend returned to the road. And while the wheels felt like they'd fall off when Tedesco rolled down a 6 or 7 percent downgrade outside of Asheville, N.C., some repairs helped his good friend continue to dutifully carry the Chicago musician across the country.

Seven times in the past year and a half, Tedesco has played concerts in Nebraska thanks to his friend, a 2001 conversion van. He praises venues and "some of the most loyal and best fans in the country" in Lincoln and Omaha, and he talks about the gratitude of a sound guy in Kearney whose name he remembers.

This Wednesday and Thursday, Tedesco comes back to Nebraska to play shows in Lincoln and Omaha respectively. On Wednesday, the roots/americana artist plays The Bourbon in Lincoln, and on Thursday, he continues on to Barley Street Tavern in Omaha. As Tedesco enjoyed a bit of a reprieve from the road after a concert in Fort Collins, Co., he gave a look back at his career so far, introduced his Ford E-150 van and explained what it's like to play a show in Kearney, Neb. Read on for more:

Hear Nebraska: Give me a synopsis of your music starting from when you began touring professionally.

Dan Tedesco: I started touring professionally in May 2006. I had been living out west, and I moved back to Chicago, which is where I’ve been based out of for the last seven years or so. 

I got things started playing by myself acoustically. I lined up a lot of smaller art festivals and other festivals around the general Midwest: Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana. I started doing everything I could in the city in that acoustic format and slowly began to develop the contacts around Chicago. I connected with musicians that would later turn in to guys that would play with me in my band full-time. I had grown up outside of Chicago, so I had a connection to some of my old friends, but a lot of them were all over the country. But I just started developing what I could do there; little by little, things grew into what they could. 

A year and a half or two years later, early 2008, I heard from a recording engineer out of Grand Rapids, Mich., who saw us play a show. That was the catalyst of making my first album, which was recorded in the summer of 2008. That was something that came out in spring 2009. That was called Staring at a Green Light. That was a full band with up to nine people at certain times, with a horn section. It was a big band, which as you can imagine was a logistical nightmare, so I played only a handful of shows in Chicago. 

When I started doing things outside of the city, from a regional touring perspective, I broke that band down to a power trio, a drummer and bass player. We toured pretty regularly, states like Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio. We went down to Missouri a little bit and up to Minnesota once and awhile. Our guitarist would come out when he could. That lasted through to early 2010. 

At that point, my bass player was ready to go in a different direction, so he announced he would be leaving. Before I replaced him, I started thinking about what I could do arrangement-wise. The guy on guitar had more freedom in his schedule. I picked up the keyboard, started doing some of the lower end with the left hand parts of the piano. We had a few rehearsals, then we did that through the better part of 2010, went into the studio to work with a producer out of Lexington, Ky., at Shangri-La. I was connected with him through a radio promoter. Duane (Lundy at Shangri-La) got wind of that album, and said, “I’d love to have a chance to work with you,” so we got ahold of him. I liked the chemistry, went down to Kentucky and recorded my current album. 

We did that over a period in September, the post-production carried through that year and the album was released in mid-March 2011. That came out, and right within that same time period, my guitar player realized that he needed to dedicate more time to being home and with his career. He would be leaving after the album release. 

So then again, instead of replacing him, I thought I’ve got this keyboard, this guitar, the bass amp I could use for my keyboard but I could also use for my guitar. It all came together with a switch where you can plug two amps into one, take my guitar and run it through both amps at the same time, giving you a good dynamic range. So I started experimenting with that. My drummer and I went through some songs, and this was a different take on the duo. We began playing a couple shows, and we toured behind Tracks on Fire in that format until the end of that year. 

At that point, my drummer was feeling some of the stresses, the challenges of touring. He also at the same time had another substantial offer for work. He ended up coming off the road with me. I was left with all this gear, and I thought about how maybe I could loop back into how I played acoustically starting out. So it’s not just the guy playing acoustic guitar, and it’s not a solo performer with looping pedals. I feel like that’s expected, because it’s done like that a lot. 

I was interested in the organic approach, to let the rawness of it be the foundation. I had tour dates that I had booked, and I wanted to see how this format would go. It went really well, right before the holidays in 2011. I did a run down to Texas, and got some good feedback. Through the winter and the early spring, people seemed to be gravitating toward me playing that style and the different instrumentations.

I was on tour with that format about 10, 11 months of the year. I was getting a strong response, much more so than I did with the band because it felt a little more different. It’s been extremely fulfilling and extremely challenging playing in this alter solo format. 

And I did go back in to record in the late fall/early winter of last year. We went back into the studio at Shangri-La. We went through them and cut it down to what we thought would be a solid record. Really hit it off with some of those guys. The record’s going to be called Death in the Valley, and I’m not sure the schedule or the release date. It’s currently being mastered and will be released sometime near the end of this year. I’m just wrapping up touring for the current record and developing some of these newer markets so that when this done, I’ve got a foundation of people to present it to.

HN: What’s your estimate for the number of miles you’ve logged as a touring musician?

DT: Wow. Let me think about that. I can tell you this: I bought my van in March 2008 with 55,000 miles on it. It currently has 208,000. I would say that probably 10 percent of that is just personal use. The better part is for touring, so that’s about 150,000 miles.

HN: What kind of van do you have, and how has it held up over time?

DT: My van has been very kind to me. It’s a 2001 Ford E-150 conversion van, and it’s been a good friend. That car hasn’t had any real major issues. I’ve heard the stories about transmissions dropping out. The most obnoxious bit that has happened is that the alternator died out in western Wyoming right as it was getting dark. It was a little sketchy, but there was a 24-hour mechanic who took care of the problem.

Other than that, just the normal wear-and-tear. One time, I was out in North Carolina out of Asheville. It’s a 6 or 7 percent downgrade out of the mountains, and it felt like one of the wheels would fall off. I had to repair it to keep it going, and I thought it’s not going to be cheap, but it’s not the car’s fault.

So I’ve been fortunate, and it’s carried me a long way very safely. Now that I’ve been touring by myself, I’m looking to sell it and moving down to something smaller, an SUV that will get better gas mileage. The thing about a van like that is I could be getting better gas mileage. But the van's been with me for a long time, so that will be bittersweet.

HN: Tell me what you’ve learned so far about Nebraska over the course of your stops here.

DT: What I’ve learned about Nebraska is that the music fans there are awesome. Some of my most loyal and best fans in the country have come from Lincoln and Omaha. The venues I’ve played have always been great. People just show some sincere interest in what I've been doing.

HN: Could you talk about your Kearney show in particular, for any Lincoln or Omaha musicians that might be considering playing out west, what's it like?

DT: The venue I played in Kearney is a really solid place, Cunningham's Journal. They have a wonderful sound system, their sound engineer Mark will call you a few days before so that when you show up, it's all ready to go. He’s a top-notch guy, and they also do a nice job taking care of the bands. As I understand it, they generally hook people up with a hotel room, and it's a good show compensation-wise.

The people there, maybe because it’s in between the bigger markets of Lincoln and Omaha and those further west, the people are very supportive and they’re excited that something new is in town. Some bigger cities that get a lot of music, it’s so saturated, so when you go into smaller towns like that, it’s usually a really fun show.

HN: Now, for a final question, you've talked about bandmates having to leave the band to work other jobs or spend time with family. What keeps you playing music and touring?

DT: Well, at this point, this is what I’d do. Music is my life. I’ve worked really hard to be able to sustain myself with it and to be able to pursue it. You have to fully commit, to give everything to it. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to pursue something so aggressively, though I’ve had to make a lot of those opportunities, but I’ve had a lot of help along my way, whether it’s things other musicians have done, those involved in music production, or what my wife has done for me. That’s helped this whole experience.

I totally understand why others might move on to other things, but this is what I have to do, so there’s nothing, from a career perspective, that will come in the way of my music. That's the bottomline.

Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. He can't wait to take his car, J. Alfred, down to Austin. Reach him at michaeltodd@hearnebraska.org.